update: my boss will not physically acknowledge me in social settings

Remember the letter-writer whose boss would not physically acknowledge her in social settings? Here’s the update.

Thank you for answering my question! It was so helpful and validating to know that yes, this was bizarre, as well as encouraging me to broach it with my boss. Because it didn’t affect our working relationship hugely, I didn’t know if this particular sleeping lion was worth poking. I also loved your wild speculations – as well as from the AAM commentariat. I’ve spent a lot of energy speculating what might be going on, so it was pretty nice and amusing to see so many other people getting so invested too! I still don’t know for definite what was happening with him, but I do think I have a clearer idea now. 

I have a bit of trouble believing sexism or discrimination is a factor. He seems to connect a lot with people who often get sidelined (not only with women, but also people with less natural charisma, the less attractive, minorities, things like that) — nothing I can describe really well, but I get a very welcoming and accepting vibe from him that’s honestly refreshing, so I found the discrimination theory kind of hard to believe for that reason.

While I may be biased, I also found it hard to believe he has a crush on me… or on my husband, but that’s less easy to pin down. He is, however, definitely fond of my husband (they have similar interests) which I think I brushed off before, but like some commenters pointed out, he does go to somewhat of an effort to talk to my husband. On one occasion a couple of years ago he had a pretty serious injury that landed him in hospital, and while recovering, my husband was one of the first people he rang. I certainly don’t know of any other colleagues he rang. I’ll also add to that incident — my husband and I sent him a “get better” card. He texted my husband to say thank you. He didn’t contact or mention me.

I still don’t find the crush idea plausible, but maybe a version of it might be? You could call it a professional crush perhaps? Though I don’t think that can be the only reason he doesn’t look at me – he avoids looking at me when my husband isn’t around too.

Some commenters suggested he might find me attractive, a few others suggested he might find me the opposite – I’m not conventionally attractive, so that’s unlikely to be a factor, but I am pretty large and busty, so it might have something to do with those.

As far as I’m aware, I’m not a ghost.

His wife I’ve only met once, maybe twice, and she seems lovely and normal.

A lot of the commenters suggested calling him out when it happens, but that’s not really so simple to do. While there are occasions where he’ll clearly be talking directly to me and looking at someone else, that doesn’t happen very often — more often we’ll be standing or sitting in a group of about ~5 (maybe over a coffee) and he’ll chat and glance at everyone in that circle in turn except me. Or sometimes he’ll make a comment to someone and I’ll think “that was an odd comment to make to John about sailing — I’ve not known him have any interest in sailing.” And then later remember I recently told him about going sailing when younger and realise that comment was probably meant for me. Put enough of those occasions together, and you start to notice a pattern.

So I decided I would speak to my boss, using the script you provided (I’d also love to shout out to commenter animaniactoo, who gave some helpful scripts as well). I asked him privately using your script: “Can I ask you something a bit awkward? Have I done anything to bother you or make you feel uncomfortable?” He was pretty taken aback (I guess predictably), and I told him that he often didn’t look at me but did seem to look at everyone else.

Talking to him worked — for a while. After that conversation, he did start to look at me a lot more. It did sometimes feel a bit forced or awkward, but I didn’t mind that. But a few months down the line, I started to notice it happening less, and now he’s … maybe marginally better than before? But not a lot.

From what I’ve learned since, I think the key factors have to be:
1) I’m not neurotypical, and
2) neither is my boss.

I have Asperger’s syndrome, and I suspect he does as well. After I spoke to him initially, he did explain he has some degree of neurodivergence, and that might be why he often didn’t make eye contact with people when they might expect him too, though I didn’t think that explained why he did this primarily with me. I shared with him that I have Asperger’s (I’m not normally “out” at work). From his reaction, I think he’d maybe guessed, and he did seem to suggest my neurodivergence might be a factor too. I think perhaps he feels a bit socially awkward sometimes, and he senses a similar energy from me which is why he can’t look at me? I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but I think that has to be something to do with it.

I don’t know what my next move’s going to be, but for now I’m just trying not to care.

Thank you again for encouraging me to talk to him, and for validating that this was definitely unusual. Aside from this, my job is going really well, and I’ve had the chance to take on more responsibilities, which have gone well and I’ve really enjoyed. I really enjoy my work and believe in the company, so this one behavior did bother me, so I feel happier knowing it’s probably not me. Many thanks for publishing my letter and for your advice!

{ 111 comments… read them below }

  1. bamcheeks*

    I have Asperger’s syndrome, and I suspect he does as well

    This sounds like quite a plausible thing to me, OP– I know the conventional wisdom about people with autism and Aspergers is “struggles with eye contact”, and that’s usually taken to mean “avoids eye contact, but I’ve found in some cases that means that eye contact is just slightly more intense and focussed than when NT people do it. Maybe for your boss that extra focus is a bit more uncomfortable because it’s something he struggles with too?

    Also, it sounds like you and your boss have a really nice relationship that you were able to raise this, and I hope you’re able to reframe it as a thing that doesn’t matter as much as the overall warm and positive relationship.

    1. Alex the Alchemist*

      That’s what I suspect as well. Or, in my case, as an ND person, when I know or kind of spidey-sense that someone else is ND as well, I make less eye contact because I feel like there’s an unspoken contract where we sort of “get it” and don’t have to mask as hard as I would around NT people.

      1. Olivia*

        Yeah, I do this too. I’m autistic and if I think that someone else probably is, I will pay attention to how they react to eye contact. If I notice them look away when I look at them, then I try to not make eye contact with them because I assume it makes them uncomfortable.

    2. zalla*

      yeah, I think this is it! I’m autistic, and I think what’s happening here is actually a sign of him feeling comfortable with you. if he’s forcing himself to make eye contact with neurotypical people all the time, having a ND (neurodivergent) buddy can be a relief, since a lot of ND people will find not making eye contact so much easier. personally, the more comfortable I feel with someone, the less I make eye contact: I can trust they won’t think I’m ignoring them or shutting them out or whatever, because our relationship is strong enough and they won’t interpret it incorrectly.

      it’s probably not a conscious thing: he probably just feels comfortable with you, knows you’re ND and is paying less attention to his masking. (masking = hiding ND traits, and definitely includes forcing yourself to make eye contact. if he’s done it his whole life, he may not even know that’s what’s happening.) he probably puts a lot more effort into masking at work (I know I do…), but feels more able to relax slightly in social situations.

      this is a classic example of ND cues being totally different from NT ones! also, autistic folks tend to be VERY different from each other other – that’s why we have the saying “if you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met…one autistic person.”

      1. just some guy*

        Same here. The more comfortable I am, the less I’m focussing on “act like a NT person paying attention would do” and more on “actually paying attention in my own autistic way, even though it looks like inattention to NT folk”. If I’m staring at the wall and playing with a pen, I’m more likely to be listening to you than if I’m looking you in the eye.

        1. misspiggy*

          I don’t know why it took your comment for me to properly ‘get it, but thank you – will make a big difference to my own work.

      2. Katie*

        This post and your explanation has just given me a massive revelation about my own behaviour. I had never really thought about it before but as soon as I get an ND “vibe” off someone, I immediately relax my eye contact efforts. It probably happens even more obviously in group settings because I’ll stop making eye contact effort with folks who read as ND, but then keep up the effort with the NT people.

      3. kicking_k*

        Yes, I thought this too! I had a professor in college who I’m certain was autistic, as am I. We had some very strange face-to-face tutorials with both of us apparently addressing the tabletop or the curtains. I hadn’t told him (my diagnosis was very new at this point) but he may have been able to pick up on it.

    3. Reluctant Mezzo*

      And yet he deals well with your husband. I realize that this is very far afield, but could he have a crush on your husband and think you get in the way?

        1. John B Public*

          Same. The focus on ND/NT seems like a red herring- I think the source of the issue is more likely to be an overlooked LGBTQ-related answer.

          1. Very Social*

            Overlooked? Did you read this update (or Alison’s answer to the original letter, for that matter)? The potential for a crush or attraction is as thoroughly addressed as it is reasonable to do.

      1. Mme. Briet’s Antelope*

        If the husband is neurotypical, there’s no reason to assume the boss would treat him differently than other neutrotypical people he knows. As people have said upthread, he’s likely masking less around OP because he got the vibe that they’re also neurodivergent, not intentionally being nicer to the husband.

  2. Myrin*

    I continue to be mystified but it sounds like you’ve more or less made your peace with it so I’m happy for you.
    May I also say, OP, that you sound like a wonderfully reasonable, down-to-earth, all-around lovely person? I only know you from your original letter, the comments there, and this update, but there’s something very calming and approachable about how you write and I very much admire that!

    1. MEH Squared*

      I agree with this. And a great sense of humor (from the first letter). OP, it’s pretty clear that it’s him and not you, and while I hope you get some clarity as to why he acts this way, you seem to be handling it well.

      1. Marco Diaz's Red Hoodie*

        I also agree with this!! I love how OP is so chill and down-to-earth about solving this predicament.

        …I’m also desperate to hear from the boss about the reason for this behavior!!

        1. MEH Squared*

          I will admit I’m very curious as to why the boss is the way he is, but I doubt we’ll ever know why that is.

    2. Alessandra*

      100% agree. I laughed out loud at “As far as I’m aware, I’m not a ghost.” OP seems like a very chill and approachable person.

  3. Madtown Maven*

    Fellow Aspie woman here! To me, it seems like this may be a quirk of his that may be related to his own neurodivergence. It’s weird and uncomfortable for you, and you’ve notified him about it. That was an excellent move! I know that for me, when people clearly tell me when something’s bothering them and what they need from me–that helps me do better. And reminders can help, too. Maybe he’s slipping into old patterns. If the behavior is bothering you enough again, please say something. Your feelings matter!

  4. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP — Thanks for sending such a thoughtful update. Your boss’s behavior still sounds odd, but not toxic.
    I think the real question is: does he treat you like his other employees? Do you get assigned to appropriate projects, are you included in email chains, etc.? Does he meet with you as frequently as he does with other reports? If his failure/inability to look at you isn’t connected to treating you poorly at work, then you may be able to just treat this behavior as a quirk he has and work around it.

    Thanks for getting back to us.

  5. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

    I bet the issue is the neurodiversity. This is pure speculation but maybe in social situations he feels really awkward and anxious and is consciously trying to work on his awkwardness. However he sees some of his traits in you or you remind him of his neurodiversity and so he finds it easier to just not look at you.

    1. Monty*

      I am also autistic and have a tough time with eyecontact (despite it being drilled into me from a young age). I can usually force myself to make eye contact with new people, but then feel more comfortable not doing so once we’re friends. I also find that, in group situations, I look at the person I’m most comfortable with because group settings can make me anxious. It might be that the boss either feels OP is close enough that she’ll understand or is uncomfortable on group settings and seeks out people who make him more comfortable.

    2. Lizard on a Chair*

      That’s what I was thinking — like when something funny happens in a situation where laughter would be inappropriate, and you’re desperately trying not to look at your friend/sibling/partner because you know if you make eye contact, both of you will start laughing.

  6. Hawkeye for the Details*

    I wonder if “crush” isn’t quite right, but because your husband is clearly a good match for the neuro-divergency you seem to share with your boss, it may be that your boss has latched onto him as “safe” or “easy” to communicate with.

    And then because he may have picked up on your similar traits, perhaps he subconsciously decided in social settings that there was no need to try as hard to connect with you, that you’d understand. (Not that I’m saying it was an actual thought process, just all done under the surface of his brain’s awareness.)

    1. Monty*

      I have autism and tend to latch onto people with shared interests. Like, I’ve definitely been that person in the group chat to share 600 memes about something we all enjoy without realizing that everyone else is sick of it. Because a) shared interests are a safe topic when you have a hard time reading the room and b) reading the room is 10000% harder in writing.

      1. Anne Shirley*

        Yes I was coming here to suggest (only half jokingly) that the crush on the husband theory might not be entirely off base even if neurodivergence is a factor but since OP said he and LW’ husband have shared interests too, I think it’s a just case of one neurodivergent person vibing really well with another person. The boss, the LW, and her husband all seem like lovely people.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      This seems like a very reasonable and likely explanation for all of it. If the manager is neurodivergent and sees the same in the OP, it makes sense that he would find her spouse to be a kindred spirit (in the sense of knowing the spouse is someone who is good with neurodivergent people). And he may subconsciously have figured that both he and the OP would be more comfortable with a lack of eye-contact, not realizing that perhaps he needed to spell this out to the OP, rather than make the assumption that she had a similar preference, or ignore the difference and make a point of treating the OP exactly the same as everyone else.

      As long as the OP is okay with the outcome, and is comfortable that the manager is treating her fairly and equitably, I would probably leave it alone now. The rare, voluntary glimpse of eye-contact from someone on the spectrum is something very special to aspire to.

  7. Imaginary Number*

    This update makes me think that he struggles with eye contact in general and has to be very intentional about it, but since he’s actually pretty comfortable around OP, he unintentionally doesn’t try with them.

    1. The Tin Man*

      I agree, while writing my comment below I forgot I had a similar thought. Boss could feel so comfortable with OP that he doesn’t feel the need to do performative social cues that are not natural to him.

    2. Emma*

      Yeah, I thought this. I don’t know how likely this is to be the actual answer, but maybe it would be comforting to assume that, because the boss is ND and so is OP, he has (perhaps unconsciously) put her in a category of “people I don’t have to force myself to make uncomfortable eye/face(?) contact with, because they Get It and won’t be offended”. This is possibly a miscategorisation – not all autistic/Asperger’s people are the same! But it’s a way of thinking the best of his behaviour and might make it feel less like a personal slight.

    3. MEH Squared*

      I had this thought as well. But there was that weird bit in the first letter about talking to her husband rather than her about a work issue. That doesn’t fit into any of this.

      1. Marco Diaz's Red Hoodie*

        Agreed, there are still some loose threads that aren’t quite making sense…

        1. Morning Flowers*

          As someone with Asperger’s, it really might be enough explanation. The performance of “correct” social cues can be exhausting and the conscious and unconscious temptations to let up on the performance with people where you think it might be less necessary is a very, very real thing. (This isn’t *good* for those relationships mind you — in fact it often means you spend all your getting-along energy on people *less* close to you, and act in really unkind ways towards the people *more* close to you not out of malice, but out of not-thought-through exhaustion. My entire immediate family has Asperger’s too and, uh, this is a problem.)

          I bring this up because adding a degree of remove of some kind is just such a social coping mechanism I’d expect to see in someone with Asperger’s who’s “falling back” to less exhausting interaction performances. For comparison — my sister once talked about herself in the third person under stress, for years. It was exactly as weird and uncomfortable as it sounds, but it helped her when she didn’t have the spoons to fully inhabit the conversation she was having. “Talks at someone else when actually talking to OP” sounds like the same kind of “detachment” coping mechanism to me. If so, it’s most certainly not conscious — not that that makes it any easier or more pleasant to deal with. Just my two cents’ worth.

    4. Melanie Cavill*

      This is what I was thinking, too. My neurodivergence means I almost never look at people when I’m talking to them unless I remind myself that I need to – for job interviews, for example, or if someone has made it clear in the past they prefer I do so. But as far as I’m concerned, you don’t need your eyes for talking. The alleged politeness of it is a bit beyond me. It’s possible Boss is the same way.

      1. coffee*

        Eye contact is used to regulate “turn taking” in conversation, i.e. how you know if the person has finished speaking or not, and how you indicate that you have something to say.
        I bring this up because a) I find it easier to do something if I know it has a purpose, and b) I find it quite interesting.

        The Role of Eye Gaze in Regulating Turn Taking in Conversations: A Systematized Review of Methods and Findings by Ziedune Degutyte and Arlene Astell:
        “The findings confirm that eye gaze facilitates turn yielding, plays a role in speech monitoring, prevents and repairs conversation breakdowns and facilitates intentional and unintentional speech interruptions.”

          1. Everyone else is too tall, I am normal sized*

            This is helpfully infuriating to find out so late in life, thank you for the (comprehensive!) link. Still trying to sort my way through the academic language, but it partially explains why I keep having to interrupt instead of being given a turn to speak – I am LITERALLY beneath their notice.

        1. misspiggy*

          Fascinating. As someone with probable ADHD, turn taking eye contact is how I stop myself from talking over everyone all the time.

          As a result, remote working is extra tiring for me. As well as anyone unlucky enough to be stuck on a call with me…

      2. Timothy (TRiG)*

        As an aside, one of our college lecturers told us that he knew we could hear the interpreter voicing, and could listen while looking out of the window instead of looking at him, but still, as a Deaf man who communicated in a visual medium, he found it rude.

        Besides, it was a good idea to watch him and get used to his signing style, because we were going to lose the interpreter in third year. (This was a Deaf Studies course. This lecturer was not teaching us to sign; he was teaching us sociology. But we were learning the language in another class, with another lecturer.)

    5. Jora Malli*

      Yeah, it sound like that to me, too. OP, if you would feel better if he were looking toward you in conversations, think about whether you feel comfortable saying “You don’t need to make eye contact, but it would make me feel more included if you would at least look in my direction when you’re talking to me.”

      1. WFH with Cat*

        I like this. Or, OP, you could focus on practicalities rather than feelings: “It will help me to know that you are speaking to me if you could glance in my direction. When we’re in social situations with other people, it’s sometimes hard for me to tell, and I don’t want to miss anything directed at me.”

    6. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      It’s not about eye contact, though, it’s about physical orientation, which is different. I am ND and dislike eye contact but I face the direction of the person I’m talking to. I would thik that if the autism accounted for it, he’d be that way with everyone, because I don’t know autists who dislike pointing themselves at a person the same as they dislike eye contact and he does it with others.

      1. Morning Flowers*

        Not all autists are the same. I would be totally unsurprised to find a family member behaving this way, for example. It doesn’t make the behavior pleasant or kind, but it could easily happen. My father in particular will often not turn from his desk to talk to you, and may give no indication he’s even heard you or is planning to answer. People who don’t know him well can be very intimidated by it and it’s not a kind or fair way to react to someone, but it’s how he talks sometimes.

        1. KoiFeeder*

          Yeah, I’m like your father (I promise I’m working on it!). It just doesn’t even occur to me to orient myself towards someone without being reminded.

        2. kicking_k*

          I would make more of an effort to act neurotypical with someone else, but my husband and I have conversations with each other’s backs all the time. And my son doesn’t always acknowledge that he’s heard what you said, which I found annoying until I realised I do it too… My daughter, who might be the only non-autistic one in the house, will repeat herself if she didn’t get a response, even “oh yes” or “that’s interesting”. That’s raised my awareness of it.

    7. Irish Teacher*

      This is definitely possible. I have a colleague who I share some traits with and I only noticed after we’d been working together for maybe 4 years how differently we react to teasing from each other than we do from most people. We will quite literally respond to jokes from each other completely seriously and carry on the conversation from that. Like *laughs* “you’re obsessed with that” “Oh, yes, I got interested in that because…” *starts conversation on topic one of us is obsessed with and why*

      With other people, we either make an attempt to joke back or in my case, say something awkward and slightly weird. It’s not intentional, at least not on my part and I don’t think it is on hers either, but somehow, unconsciously, we seemed to grasp that we don’t have to show each other “I know you’re joking,” that not quite knowing the set response and instead saying what comes naturally to us is just fine.

  8. The Tin Man*

    Fascinating. My wild speculation is related to the fact that he clearly considers OP’s husband a friend. Maybe he has internalized some subconscious social cues about friendships between men and feels uncomfortable looking at his friend’s wife aside from when they are talking directly at, and about, work? Especially if he finds OP attractive (even if not wildly in love with her)?

    Okay speculation over.

    1. Properlike*

      I was wondering if, being on the spectrum, forming male friendships is challenging, and he sees an opening to do that with OP’s husband – because he’s not a colleague! Yay! – but it’s still awkward, which makes it awkward in other ways, and he worries that husband may be saying things to wife about how weird it is, cue the discomfort, etc etc.

      A lot of neurotypical men get weird about making friends, so I can see that it would be an added layer of difficulty for someone trying to do it with overlapping connections. :)

    2. DataGirl*

      Kind of where my mind went. Perhaps because he considers OP’s husband such a close friend, he is being extra careful about not showing any romantic/sexual interest in OP because he doesn’t want to risk the friendship.

      1. Properlike*

        I don’t assume there’s any attraction/romantic/sexual interest in the wife/OP. I think it’s only, “I work with this person, and there are work rules.”

        1. DataGirl*

          I don’t think there is attraction either, I’m saying that he might be afraid that showing any attention to OP might come across as attraction and he doesn’t want anyone to think that because he doesn’t want to loseher husband as a friend.

          if it were just work boundaries, he would be doing it to other people at work too, not just OP.

  9. Nonny Mouse*

    I know that there are certain branches of some religions (I won’t say which ones because I don’t want this comment to be about that) in which men are not supposed to look at women at all.
    Sounds like that’s not the case here, but it was what I thought reading the original letter, especially as he seemed to think he should talk to your husband if he had a complaint about something you’d done.

    1. Twenty Points for the Copier*

      That’s what I though until I got to the bottom of the original letter. Talking to the husband about a work thing is WEIRD but I can see it being that the boss has sort of glommed onto the husband and really likes him and saw it as an excuse to call.

      Everything else about this update, though, makes me think he’s just uncomfortable with eye contact and some combination of his neurodiversity and the LW’s leads to not making it with her. That fits really well with eye contact not being an issue during work-related conversastions.

  10. Purple Cat*

    As far as I’m aware, I’m not a ghost.

    I LOVED this update. Although have you seen the Sixth Sense? You might not know it if you are ;)

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I did too. And I admit I kinda smirked at “Additionally, “I’m not conventionally attractive, so that’s unlikely to be a factor, but I am pretty large and busty so it might have something to do with those.”
      Could be.

    2. Campfire Raccoon*

      It was a big part of commentariat’s initial speculation that OP was, in fact, a ghost.

  11. Pants*

    Should he be neurodivergent, that could explain why he is more open with your husband. There aren’t really professional strings attached to him. Technically you are a string as his wife, but on a base level, talking with your husband doesn’t involve work. Just a thought in my head.

    I’m glad you updated! I’m also glad it isn’t malicious. Really glad about that!!

  12. anonagoose*

    As an autistic woman, the eye contact explanation makes a lot of sense. It doesn’t explain everything, but if you’re satisfied with this conclusion, that’s great…though I’ll admit that reading this, I kind of still think he has a crush on someone involved.

    1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      Question from one autist to another–don’t you orient yourself in the direction of the person you’re talking to? Separate from eye contact?

      1. KoiFeeder*

        Not anonagoose, but I don’t! I mean, if I remember to, I will, but it’s not something that I just do naturally. I’ll talk to someone while facing my monitor, hanging upside down, laying on the roof… Brain does not consider that this might be odd.

      2. anonagoose*

        Yeah, I do; I generally also approximate eye contact, though I don’t actually look people in the eyes. Not everyone does, though, and in my personal experience, autistic women are way more likely to have adapted to those kind of social cues than autistic men (though even that is a pretty broad generalization).

      3. Lead Balloon*

        Not anonagoose but also autistic, and I do usually face towards people I’m talking to unless I’m deeply uncomfortable. E.g. on a video call with someone whose face is too close to the camera, I’m going to look away. And if what I’m talking about is difficult then I’m more likely to look away so I can think better.

        Some of it may be deeply ingrained masking – looking at someone’s forehead for example because that’s a bit more socially acceptable than looking away from someone’s face.

        I find it interesting that the letter writer can tell if someone is looking at them when speaking as I can’t. Although perhaps I would notice if they were facing away from me all the time!

  13. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    OP, you went as far as you could with it, and I am impressed. It could not have been easy to advocate for yourself. Ultimately you were told that some part of it was your “fault.” You know that is not true, this is his quirk. He believes this is the best he can do and you are graciously letting him have that. Well done.

  14. Gerry Keay*

    Man I love how bizarre we are just like, as a species. People are weird, and sometimes that’s all it is! It’s great when we can just… be okay with that weirdness. I love this update.

  15. Monty*

    I remember reading your first letter and just thinking “yeah, this is just autism.” I realized in adulthood that have autism (because high-achieving girls never get evaluated) and your boss does a lot of things that were trained out of me, like avoiding eyecontact, and things I still do, like befriending other loners or glomming onto somebody based on a shared interest. I’m really glad you got to the bottom of this and I hope this leads the team to foster a workplace that is safe and understanding for all workers.

  16. raincoaster*

    I refuse to believe the update. In my heart LW will always be Harry Potter and boss will always be Dumbledore.

  17. kittycontractor*

    It sounds like he’s also closer to you than his other colleagues, I wonder if that plays a part in it. It’s still weird but he doesn’t sound like a bad guy, none of you do, so at the end of the day it might just be one of life’s little quirks. Thanks for the update though, it’s till fascinating.

    I’m also not 100% convinced you’re not a ghost… ;)

  18. ADHD_doc*

    OP as I was reading your letter and then your update I kept thinking to myself, this sounds like neurodivergent behavior, and then lo and behold you brought that up yourself. I see this a *lot* – even people with ADHD sometimes struggle with eye contact in social settings – anyway, thanks for the update and for being aware of all these possible issues.

    1. Making up names is hard*

      ADHD brain here and yes eye contact is also a struggle for me sometimes, but my impression is that it is different — though maybe other ppl experience it the same coming from me as from an ASD person. Basically I have trouble gauging sometimes the passage of time and appropriateness of the length of time I’ve maintain eye contact. So sometimes I look a bit to intently at someone, especially if I’ve hyperfocused on the conversation. Or i don’t look enough if I’m having trouble focusing on the conversation,so my eyes wander looking for something to engage my brain while still also listening. Fidget toys have helped a lot, as has looking at the nose of the person I’m talking to!

  19. animaniactoo*

    Thanks for the update! Glad the scripts were useful, sorry the change isn’t lasting necessarily, but glad that you’re more generally comfortable with where you are.

    If you’re up for it, you mention that you’ve noticed it happening again, and would he like you to let him know when you notice that it seems to be happening more often? Maybe a signal in the moment where you can catch his attention for something else and then tug on your ear, or “brush a crumb off your shoulder” to indicate you notice “you’re looking at someone else while talking to me”? Obviously, this is only if you feel uncomfortable enough to try and raise it again. If you feel like you’re comfortable enough because you know it’s not you and you can let it go – let it go is a perfectly valid option. :)

  20. Ask Me About My Cats*

    Autistic person here. I love talking with neurodivergent people because they generally don’t care that I don’t make eye contact with them.

    OP, can you take it as a compliment, maybe, that he trusts you to be himself around you and not have to mask like he does with everybody at work?

  21. metadata minion*

    Yup, fellow autistic poster and there’s a special kind of weird social dynamic when I’m around another autistic person whose autism manifests in a very different way than my own. It’s like, if you were neurotypical I could fake neurotypical office norms just fine, and if our autism was on the same wavelength we could just be gloriously weird together, but instead we’re speaking two completely different languages without actually realizing that’s the problem.

    1. Hanani*

      Oh this explains a couple interactions I’ve had over the years, where my usual masking wasn’t working but not masking/masking less also wasn’t working. Thank you.

  22. OkelyDokely*

    Glad you can live with it because I sure wouldn’t be able to! I’m still stuck on the fact that he called your husband regarding your work and also blamed your neurodivergence for his behavior and also will do the thing you explicitly asked him to do for everyone but you. I would feel targeted and as though my boss personally did not like me.

  23. No Longer Looking*

    I’ve got a niggling unlikely thought, but I’ll share anyway – if he avoids eye contact, are you sure 1) that he is making eye contact with others, and not just looking at them when they aren’t looking at him, and 2) that he isn’t looking at you when you look away?

    Like I said, unlikely, but interesting to consider.

  24. AnotherSarah*

    My speculation is that it’s a combo of “friends with the OP’s husband” and “busty.” Combine those with ND (or even, really, neurotypical and just a bit awk), I think you get an extreme version of trying so hard not to look at someone’s chest that you take it to a weird place.

    1. Jane*

      Agreed. I’ve had two different sizes of breasts as an adult, so have myself as a control for this particular behavior.

      Particularly in professional contexts or contexts where there is a “respect” for the wife or family member of someone I like – both of which are at play here – there is definitely a cohort of people who will avoid looking directly at busty women.

  25. justanotherautistic*

    Hi all! As someone who has the same diagnosis, just a note generally: please don’t use the term Asperger’s. It is now included within “autism spectrum disorder,” no need to break it out/specify. Hans Asperger was a Nazi and eugenicist so it’s a good idea to move away from that. :)

    1. Detached Elemental*

      I was coming here to say this (as an autistic adult with an autistic child). Thank you.

    2. ND*

      Unless the person uses Asperger’s (or Aspie, or what have you) to describe themselves. I think folks’ right to self-definition should be paramount. Generally, however, yep, Hans Asperger was a bad dude who shouldn’t get to live on in any respectable way.

  26. Alexis Rosay*

    My boss also has real trouble make eye contact at times, especially in social situations. He seems somewhat neurodivergent and also to have pretty strong anxiety when meeting someone new or in unstructured situations. I don’t love it, but when it happens I try to remind myself how intensely uncomfortable he is probably feeling at that moment, and that helps me interact with empathy.

  27. Irish Teacher*

    I will add a sort of suggestion. I have some autistic traits and may or may not be fully neurotypical and I sometimes find myself sort of drawn to others who are similar, but…I can get embarrassed. Does it seem like I am staring at them/obsessed with them? Or sometimes I don’t want to make THEM self-conscious by reacting too obviously to…I guess when the mask slips a little. That phrases it badly but I mean there are times when I see something that I doubt would be obvious to most people and which I’m pretty sure the person doesn’t want noticed. So I am trying not to show I notice and that could manifest in looking away.

    My original thought was that it was sort of out of respect to your husband and…I guess now a somewhat different version of that could be true. I WAS thinking a kind of “bro code” thing, but from what you say, your boss doesn’t seem the type for that, but maybe if he is ND, he might find the whole issue of how you are supposed to interact with your friends’ spouses a little awkward? It sounds like he really respects your husband and while it doesn’t sound like he’s the type to think you BELONG to your husband and therefore he shouldn’t even look at you, but he might be very aware of what your husband would think. This is making more sense in my head than when I write it down. Like he might be overthinking his interactions with you because he is worried about what your husband would think if you felt he was rude to you or staring at you or anything.

  28. GreenDoor*

    When OP mentioned they are both neurdivergent, well, here’s my wild theory. My bestie and I (as teenagers) were often in situations where we had an inside joke or secret about someone else in the group and we knew if we looked at each other we would erupt into inappropriate giggle fits. So we totally avoided eye contact so that no one else could even tell we had a secret or an inside joke.

    Maybe he has some weird belief that if he looks at you everyone else will somehow be able to tell that you both have A Thing You Don’t Talk About At Work? Wild, but sometimes people have weird worries that manifest in weird ways – like not looking at someone.

  29. AngelicGamer, the Legally Blind Peep*

    Thanks for the update, OP! I can’t remember if I commented on the original post, but I wonder if your boss might have an eye problem. I know you’re thinking ND, as are a lot of the other commentators, but I’m wondering if something might be wrong with his eyes. I can’t hold eye / face contact for long. I’ll see something and my eyes flicker over to it because my range of vision is small, so seeing something flash along my narrow field makes me look to where movement is happening. That’s not to say that you’re wrong, but just to give you (and others!) a different take on it. :)

  30. Chilipepper Attitude*

    Wait, did OP say what the boss actually said when asked if she had done anything to bother him?

    He seemed taken aback, but did he say no? Was his answer, yes and he did not know how to say that?

    1. Ellis Bell*

      He was taken aback at the idea that she’d bothered him (because she hadn’t) and because he hadn’t realised what he’d been doing. Then he puts it down to this: “he has some degree of neurodivergence, and that might be why he often didn’t make eye contact with people…. he did seem to suggest my neurodivergence might be a factor too.”

  31. Perplexed*

    Giving the benefit of the doubt, I wonder if your boss feels like he’s doing his job as “boss/mentor/protector” by trying to look out for you on things he’d find uncomfortable doing himself. Like he feels uncomfortable with eye contact so he’s trying to spare you from feeling uncomfort, and he knows you feel safer talking to your husband so he is using him to deliver tough feedback. …Your boss going to your husband instead of you over the performance mishap is just so bizarre, that I can’t think of another reason.

  32. WaffleFry*

    At least he’s now aware that his behavior was making you uncomfortable. It must be a relief to get that out in the open.

    But, that still leaves the mystery of why he brought a complaint to your husband instead of discussing it with you.

  33. Dhaskoi*

    I missed the original letter – did anyone suggest that perhaps he was overcompensating against his friendship with your husband, i.e: Trying n0t to play favourites and going too far in the other direction? If the friendship he has with your husband represents an atypical personal connection to a work colleague it’s possible he’s unsure about the best way to handle it (and not being neurotypical could also be a factor in that).

    1. FormerEvangelicalWife*

      Or he’s one of those men of a certain belief set who believe they should mostly interact with the “head of household” in social settings.

  34. Jane*

    Bustyness is definitely my guess.

    As someone who had very large breasts and got a reduction this is definitely a thing. Pre-reduction there was a percentage of people who would micro-stare at my chest every time they looked at me; and another percent of people who had a hard time looking at me, likely because they were avoiding glancing at my chest. Post-reduction both of these behaviors dropped away.

    1. Nina_Bee*

      Yeah I definitely still think there’s a crush or this element at play, even if the OP doesn’t think they’re ‘conventionally attractive’ (attraction is so subjective though!). And deferring to the husband is almost like a way to show they’re ‘safe’ or overcompensating. The boss wouldn’t exactly admit their crush especially if they’re ND :)

  35. English Rose*

    Missed the first letter, this is all fascinating and some great comments. Just wanted to mention an additional bit of weirdness I spotted – how come if boss invites OP and hubby to boss’s house regularly (first letter), OP has only met boss’s lovely wife once, maybe twice. Maybe she hides in the bedroom when they come over.
    Glad you’ve broached this though OP, and updated us.

  36. oh no*

    me reading at the start: he’s autistic
    you: he said he has some degree of neurodivergence
    me: fuckin CALLED IT

    for real, im autistic and for some reason, there are some particular flavours of neurodivergence in other people that set my teeth on edge. i dont know why! it’s not fair on them! they probably wonder what theyve done to offend me! but i just really struggle to interact with them. so, i wonder if this is like, a more intense version of what I experience.

  37. Very Social*

    Thanks for the update! I truly appreciate how diligently you went through all the options!

  38. Saradactyl*

    Just so people are aware, Hans Asperger was a member of the Nazi party and his ‘little professor’ diagnosis was used to divide autistic people who had higher needs from those who did not and could be of economic benefit to the 3rd Reich. Those who had higher needs were usually executed or died of disease, starvation, or abuse in concentration camps.
    Asperger’s Syndrome is no longer listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. We’re all just autistic now, and Asperger’s Syndrome is rightfully no longer (at least in North America). Also, functionality qualifiers are inaccurate and ableist. A ‘high functioning’ person is just as autistic as a ‘low functioning’ one, and one’s support needs fluctuate. Some who were given the label of ‘high functioning’ will end up having a more challenging time in life than those labelled ‘low functioning’, and when a ‘low functioning’ person is given adequate support, they can do amazing things. Functionality labels, like Hans Asperger himself, are highly problematic and end up dividing autistics into ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’ categories. As people who are different and already often seen as less worthy than non-autistics by wider society, we need to avoid using these outdated and problematic terms, as they do a lot of harm to our fellow autistics.
    We’re autistic. We may have differing sub-diagnoses like sensory integration disorder, or co-related disorders like anxiety, but we’re all autistic, and if we’re ever to change people’s attitudes about autistics, we need to examine the ones we’re carrying too.

  39. A fellow ample woman*

    “…but I am pretty large and busty, so it might have something to do with those.”
    Not at all saying this is a justification for his behavior, but do you dress differently in social settings that might emphasize your bust more prominently? That might explain why he makes eye-contact in professional settings, but not social (especially if he is an anxious person) .

Comments are closed.