I have to go to an awkward Valentine’s Day work dinner right after a breakup

A reader writes:

I am a 53-year-old woman. I have just gone through a surprising, disappointing, and painful breakup, and so far I’m coping and keeping my turmoil out of the workplace.

As a single woman in years past, I’ve taken to traveling the few days surrounding my Valentine’s Day and my birthday (which is near Valentine’s Day) to avoid moping. I turn it around and do some charity work, or learn a new skill, or visit family. In other words, I’m plucky. In light of this recent breakup, that might be welcome.

This year, that’s not an option, because my company is sending me to an important, high-level think tank conference February 12-16 in a nearby city. The conference has classes and discussions during the day but also has a networking event each night. The networking event is always a dinner, and it’s strongly suggested that we attend. This nightly networking is vital to my employer and is one of the main reasons they are sending me.

Unfortunately, the organizers have now realized that one of those nights is Valentine’s Day, and they felt bad for making us work on Valentine’s night. To solve this, they are making that night’s networking event a “Sweetheart’s Dinner.” Each participant invites their significant other (nearby folks), and couples will share a round table — perhaps three couples to a table. I just saw the seating chart, and I am the only participant who is not on it, because it was explained to me that I am the only person who is not part of a couple, not bringing a guest. They are trying to figure out where to put me.

The dinner has been announced and everyone else is looking forward to it, so it’s too late to ask anyone to change it now. I know I could skip it, but this is the biggest night of the conference with people in attendance who won’t be there the rest of the time, so it would be a glaring omission if I didn’t attend. (Again, this is not just a dinner. It is heavily love-themed with a photo booth, as well as “tell us how you met” and “how well do you know each other” activities.)

I offered to help with the dinner somehow so I won’t feel so … exposed … but the organizers won’t hear of it. I’m a guest and they want me to enjoy the dinner, too.

I don’t know what to do. I think my only option is to sit there (once they’ve figured out a place to put me) and grin and bear it for the three-plus hours … but not just grin and bear it, but participate meaningfully.

Thanks for listening. I guess I just needed to write all that out to figure out what my options are. I don’t think I’ve got many, but that’s okay. I can do it. Gah.

Is this nearby city … not on planet Earth? But rather on some planet where attending your significant other’s work conference is seen as a highly sought-after Valentine’s Day activity?

Because I am baffled that the conference organizers think this is a good idea, and really skeptical that everyone else is looking forward to it (as well as that you’re the only conference attendee who’s not part of a couple or bringing a guest).

Who are these people who want to attend their partner’s work dinner for Valentine’s Day?

And who want to play “how well do you know each other” couple games in front of work colleagues who they’re there to network with?

Truly, this is incredibly odd.

Anyway, I think you have three options:

1. Talk to the organizers and be more candid this time: “Honestly, I feel really awkward about attending a couples-themed event on my own; it sounds really uncomfortable. It would be an enormous favor to me if you gave me a different role, like (insert things you’re willing to do to help out).” Frankly, you’d be doing them a favor by spelling this out because it might nudge them into realizing this is a bad idea that they shouldn’t repeat.

2. Go, but with the determination to find it hilarious because it is. Feel sorry for the significant others who got roped into this, and take mental notes for your upcoming sitcom script. Drink heavily. Ostentatiously hog the photo booth. Give yourself permission to leave early.

3. Opt out. Is there really going to be useful networking that happens that night that you can’t do on other nights of the conference? I know you said there will be people there who won’t be attending on other nights so maybe this isn’t an option, but I question how useful it’s really going to be, particularly when balanced against how awkward you feel about it.

4. Hire an escort and file for reimbursement as a business expense. Be extremely honest during the “tell us how you met” and “how well do you know each other” activities.

Sorry you’re dealing with this.

Read an update to this letter

{ 815 comments… read them below }

  1. londonedit*

    This sounds horrendous. I would absolutely be opting out if at all possible! Are the organisers completely mad?

    1. Artemesia*

      What kind of ‘networking’ gets done at a table of three couples, half of whom don’t work there, where the discussion is going to be cutesy crap about their relationships. Yikes. I guess the person who planned this was the person who planned their prom. This is awful. And you know there are going to be many couples there who are not thrilled about it and probably a few who are already contemplating divorce.

      If you can manage it, view it as a hilariously comical event. but if it will genuinely make you feel miserable, then skip it. And if the boss says ‘but NETWORKING’ – you say ‘I am networking like crazy at all the other events, but there isn’t going to be much useful networking at a table of couples talking about their great love. ‘

      And if you can’t get out of it you need to spend some time diminishing its importance — it is awful, but at the moment you are making too big a deal of a really stupid thing.

      1. Rose*

        I would venture a guess that more than half of those people don’t want to be there. I always feel bad when the OPs in these frankly insane situations are convinced they are the only ones not happy about it.

        When these things are shoved on me I always just smile and act highly enthused so that then when my husband tragically “gets a migraine” that night it’s less suspicious.

        1. Kay*

          I say this ever so lovingly but you terrible terrible human you! This is the kind of justification I hear from organizers every time I complain – regardless of whether their source is the same person commenting about how horrible all their events are, and who’s plus one is in the back heading up the poker game complete with Doordashed fast food and airplane bottles of booze. Cuz ya know – company awards, plus ones and lack of food and drink for hours – its just not okay!

        2. Ellie*

          I think I’d join my husband in having that migraine. Honestly, I’ve been in a committed relationship for over 20 years, and this sounds absolutely awful. There is a not a time in our history together where either of us would have enjoyed this. It would be pure hell for anyone single like OP, anyone newly divorced, or the most awful one of all… widowed.

          Surely there won’t be any meaningful networking happening with such a theme? This is fundamentally different from previous conferences, most people will be talking to their partners. Can OP suggest to their employer that they don’t go, and substitute in someone else who has a spouse ready to go? This is insane.

      2. Momma Bear*

        I highly doubt OP is the only one who isn’t going to enjoy the theme. Even if I had an SO to bring along, a work dinner is not romantic in the least and I bet some couples would be uncomfortable with the games. I hope OP speaks up about how Awkward this is going to be – not just for them but others. You simply don’t know the status of people’s relationships (if they have one), or why their partner might not be able to attend.

        If there’s absolutely no ground gained from a follow up conversation, I’d invite my best friend to come have drinks and laugh at the absurdity of it all.

        But theme aside, I also echo the concern that this is not really conducive to business networking. The organizers picked a bad span of days. It would have been better to skip the theme and just do a business event that’s squishily mandatory.

        1. KateM*

          Or it would have been better to leave that evening without an event, so everyone who wanted could go to a romantic dinner wioth their SO if they wanted.
          I’m imagining myself into the role of a spouse who celebrates Valentine and who gets taken along and I feel like “not only did they ruin our romantic dinner, they made ME to attend his work event as well”.

          1. Lily*

            “not only did they ruin our romantic dinner, they made ME to attend his work event as well”.

            This is my take as well.

          2. Mattheq*

            I’m also thinking, this can’t work if two places do it. Which they won’t, because it’s stupid, but if your partner’s work was doing a similar event and you were going – what then?

        2. Dahlia*

          I struggle with the idea that every single other person at this conference is in a relationship!! That’s just wild.

          Also as an aromantic I would feel so incredibly uncomfortable with this.

          1. Mad Harry Crewe*

            It’s completely unrealistic that everyone else would have a romantic partner, who is available that night and willing to go to this nonsense. Think about how many people bring friends or family as their +1 to weddings or holiday parties. Of the ones that *are* partnered, nobody is traveling in from out of town for this conference? Nobody’s partner works a night shift or travels for work and simply won’t be available? Nobody has trouble arranging childcare or elder care?

            1. AnotherOne*

              I imagine there were a lot of people who hurriedly asked random friends to be their plus ones.

              Free trip to !

          2. MigraineMonth*

            As another aromantic, can I bring my cat? What, bringing pets would be inappropriate for a work event? Guess what: so is forcing people to bring a romantic partner and be gushy about them at a work event!

            Maybe bring a close friend? I’ve decided that “+1” on any invite I receive means bring a close friend/roommate/platonic life partner. If organizers meant for the “+1” to be romantic, they shouldn’t have sent it to me.

            OP, be assured that no matter what the seating chart says, you are NOT the only person who is dreading this Mandatory Romance Fun.

            1. djlindee*

              I did wonder if OP might be able to bring a friend as their +1 … someone with a good sense of humor who might be willing to do this for the sheer ridiculousness and the stories, and who’d make it more bearable for OP?

        3. MM*

          I feel like there’s a decent chance OP might find out if she goes that there are plenty of people eager to commiserate with her about how ridiculous the whole thing is. It’s pretty unlikely that everyone else will be rapturously swept up in their coupledom. It seems like the kind of situation that can ironically lead to some strong connections if you can find a way to make it funny, honestly. Obviously none of that is ideal, but I think it might not turn out as bad as OP assumes.

        1. ProducerNYC*

          It’s not just the dinner, it’s the being surrounded by couples while dealing with personal heartbreak. It’s compounding the OP’s personal pain in a completely unnecessary way. OP, I’m so sorry you’re going through this. Breakups are bad enough on their own, especially when so unexpected. To have ‘relationships’ shoved in your face by work is beyond the pale, and it sucks. I hope they come to their senses and realize how inappropriate this is for a WORKPLACE event!!

          1. Princess Sparklepony*

            In the general scheme of things, the fact the LW had a recent breakup isn’t that big of a deal. It’s uncomfortable for her but not something that everyone knows about. The bigger deal to me is assuming everyone has a plus one. And that the work networking event is being turned into a romantic dinner. I don’t want to do romance at work events.

            I am wondering if a fair amount of people attending will have plus ones that suddenly develop migraines and stomach flu. So there may end up being a table of singles.

            The entire set up is weird. And who doesn’t know that February 14 is Valentine’s Day? Even Japan celebrates (so not just a Christian adjacent celebration.) Whoever planned and picked the dates needs to be taken off of the planning committee because they have no clue what they are doing. (I used to do scheduling and I had my calendar set up so Jewish and Muslim holidays/holy days showed up on the calendar just to avoid say scheduling a meeting on Yom Kippur or arranging a lunch during Ramadan.)

            It’s not like VD is an obscure event. And everyone knows it’s fraught with issues.

            1. Emily Byrd Starr*

              At first, I thought you meant “VD” as in venereal disease! Though the last two sentences could certainly apply to that as well.

        2. MigraineMonth*

          Agreed, but this seems like the kind of thing you either minimize and laugh at, or end up crying about.

          1. Lydia*

            OP is dealing with the recent breakup of a relationship, OP is also having to deal with the organizers “finding a place for her” because, as she said I am the only participant who is not on , because it was explained to me that I am the only person who is not part of a couple, not bringing a guest.”, OP went on this trip because it’s an important networking opportunity for her employer and is now having to spend one of those nights sitting around other couples talking about how they met or their weddings or whatever, while minimally doing networking stuff in between. The OP shouldn’t have to “minimize or laugh at” this obnoxious example of a bad idea.

            1. Princess Sparklepony*

              Although what other options does LW have at this point. I actually liked the crossed out option! If LW had a friend to ask to come, they could make the best of it… while doing a lot of cringing.

              The whole you are the only one without a date and we don’t know what to do with you is just bizarre.

              The entire conference is poorly planned though. What sentient human plans a conference that includes Valentines Day? That’s just a non-starter. There are so many reminders of VD from stores and card companies. In pretty much every calendar. To miss it, means you really aren’t paying any kind of attention. On the flip side – what if someone else’s SO has a super romantic VD wedding proposal planned? Can’t do that at a corporate event – way too weird. This thing is blowing up everyone’s plan IMHO.

              Now I’m wondering what the food is going to be like. Saltines and carrots for any vegetarians? This may end up giving us one of those stories about Worst Work Event Ever that will live on in infamy.

      3. GalentinesDay*

        I have been told I can be a bit melodramatic but I would consider shamelessly leaning into it … wear a large badge with a huge S and “single and ready to network,” find one lone high top table somewhere, put up a “Valentine-free networking corner” sign, steer every conversation back to work/networking themes.

        1. She of Many Hats*

          Or have the organizer leave an empty place at each table and do each course at a different table. You get to network with everyone while they have to stay put with their guest.

          1. Lizzo*

            ^^Oh this is a good one! And in this scenario being single is the most beneficial status possible!

          2. Media Monkey*

            and if you’re not planning to get drunk, do magic tricks and play the piano i would consider it an opportunity missed!

      4. Richard Hershberger*

        Others have chimed in on various bits, so I will focus on the question of how much networking potential there is here. In my experience, actual networking gets done in the least programmed environments. These can include a meal, but assigned seating, alternating people who are there to network with +1s, with organized group games? This looks specifically designed to prevent actual networking, even apart from the various hideousnesses.

      5. goddessoftransitory*

        I agree with Alison’s advice to drink copiously and I don’t even drink. And yeah, whoever came up with this planned their proms, homecomings, winter formals, spring semiformals, and every single high school/college reunion.

        1. Princess Sparklepony*

          And planned them badly… (narrator voice over either Keith Morrison or Morgan Freeman.)

    2. Antilles*

      Mad or not, I do know they’re *definitely* are assuming that nobody has kids or a spouse that works (or both!) because Valentine’s Day is on a Wednesday this year. Travel to another city (even a “nearby” one), on a weeknight for a three-plus hour dinner, then drive back when I have to be up at 6 am the next morning to get myself/kids ready?

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        Good luck getting a babysitter on the busiest night of the year. If both parents work it means that one of them has to take time off work to get to the event, assuming they don’t share a car and have to arrange transportation. It’s a lot of work and planning for a very small benefit.

      2. daffodil*

        yeah, I’m really surprised they haven’t gotten more pushback. Surely there is more than one single person in the industry, or like others said, more partners who can’t or don’t want to attend.

        1. Ellie*

          Well, we don’t know how many people will actually turn up yet, and how many will be genuine couples, rather than, ‘My husband had to work so I brought my Mum’ types. I’m thinking politicians are the only profession I can think of where the spouses are expected to put up with this stuff, but there are probably a few others. Medicine? Professional sports? Judges and lawyers? There really aren’t many though.

        2. Nebula*

          Yes, this seems really odd that the LW is literally the only person not attending with a plus one. I’d really like to know how it’s worked out like that. Would also love an update on this after the dinner, because I’m just so curious about what is guaranteed to be a car crash of an event.

        1. Stinky Socks*

          And are fasting. Fun times.

          Even despite that, I’m cringing at the thought of having to accompany my husband to something like this. What a deeply awkward, frustrating waste of time!

        2. Gumby*

          Clearly the best thing for OP to do is to show up with ashes on her head at this dinner.

          (I need to find a noon-day service because an arts organization I am a patron of is having a particular one-time-only performance on Feb. 14 at night. It is not a Valentines themed thing. They just decided the best night for this would be February 14 and I bought the ticket before realizing it was Ash Wednesday too.)

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            I totally would show up with ashes, but simply because this is a totally normal thing in my tradition. My church is next to city hall. We offer ashes to go in the morning. I lot of city hall workers are very appreciative.

        3. Southern Gentleman*

          Thank you for pointing this out. It seems obvious to some, but apparently not to most.

      3. IT But I Can't Fix Your Printer*

        Maybe the OP can take someone’s child as their date. Win/win???? (Honestly I would much rather take photos with a small child than network but if it were my actual partner inviting me to this thing I would choose him taking a fake wife over me attending, it sounds terrible.)

        1. Anne of Green Gables*

          I would absolutely take my son, age 10, to something like this before I would take my spouse. The planners are wearing bright yellow banana pants.

          I’m so sorry, OP. I hope you are willing to say something to them again about giving you a role to play, and maybe that will clue them in.

      4. goddessoftransitory*

        Yes! It’s our mutual day off and Husband and I are very much looking forward to our annual V Day tradition brunch of Monte Christos, mimosas and a “bad romance” movie–past films have included A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Only Lovers Left Alive, and Candyman. We would not be putting these plans aside for something like this giant mess.

        1. coffeespoons*

          A+++ to your tradition! That sounds like the best possible V-Day to me. My partner and I usually watch something deeply NOT romantic (one year we went to the Lego Batman movie in a theater on Feb. 14th–we were basically the only adults in the room who were not accompanied by one or more children under the age of 12), but this is gold. Hope you and your partner enjoy your brunching and films this year!

      5. Mice is different than good*

        And on Ash Wednesday when some people will be fasting or have religious services to attend

    3. Beth*

      Absolutely. I’m shocked OP is the only single there!! Between people who aren’t in relationships, people who don’t live locally and whose parters aren’t traveling with them, people whose partners are handling childcare or other responsibilities while they’re at this conference, people whose partners have other conflicting plans, people whose partners are massive introverts who opted out, and people who just don’t want a work conference to be their valentines day activity–I would have expected the vast majority to be running solo for the night.

      OP, if solution 4 doesn’t feel appropriate (lol), another option could be to bring a friend and see how long it takes your table mates to realize you’re not dating?

      1. Anonychick*

        This was going to be my suggestion: bring a friend (of any gender, if you don’t think that will harm you politically), answer all questions truthfully, and see if/when anyone realizes that you’re “just” friends.

        (Then again, I may be talking from unusual experience: I brought a 100% platonic friend to my sister’s wedding, because I hate events like that and announced I wasn’t going without backup!)

        1. Cmdrshprd*

          I have friends that I love dearly and would do anything for them (well until now I would have said anything, I guess not anymore) I would/have helped them move drop/pick up from the airport, but I would not attend a 3 hr work conference dinner, even less likely to attend a valentines day themed one with them. I have much better things to do with my time like watching paint dry.

          1. SLG*

            I’m not sure if this makes me a bad person but here goes: I can think of a few close friends for whom I would not only go to this dinner as their “plus one,” but would absolutely commit to the bit and then some. I am chuckling just imagining the hilarity. BOTH of us would have the best stories to share at future parties, plus an inside joke that keeps on giving, probably forever.

            1. Austen is just a starting point.*

              I have literally done this before for friends, and if OP lives near me (New England) would do it for them. When viewed as a lark, it is actually quite fun. I come equipped with a backstory about my 6 ex husbands who left me fabulously wealthy.

            2. Elitist Semicolon*

              Oh, same! It’s shenanigans, chaos, hilarity, and malicious compliance – all my favorite things rolled into one!

            3. datamuse*

              Honestly if I *had* to go to something like this, I would probably invite a friend willing to do this even though I’m married, because my spouse would rather have a root canal without novocaine than be subjected to enforced socializing with complete strangers that also had a romantic theme.

            4. MM*

              I not only would do this, but have done this. Granted it was less of a friendship and more of an unspoken situationship disguised as a friendship, but that just adds to the fanfiction trope madness.

            1. Ellie*

              My husband would attend this, if the drinks and food were any standard of free. He’d probably get a laugh out of it. It would be me that would be cringing.

            2. Nebula*

              Yeah I would totally go along to something like this for a friend if we can get drunk and have a laugh about it.

        2. SparklePlenty*

          Back in the 80’s my recently widowed mom and her single female best friend were both secretaries/admins in the same corporation . They were voluntold along with the other minions to attend a corporate “we’re family” event featuring (of course) husbands/wives/significant others. They had The Best Time letting corporate know that they were SO’s. Sassy ladies

        3. postscript*

          I have been the +1 for my sister and various friends at events like this! Large corporate Christmas parties, etc.

      2. sparkle emoji*

        I’m also surprised that LW is the only single attendee for all the reasons you listed. I’d think this would have to be a very small gathering for this to be true. Maybe the organizers are just assuming all the invited couples will attend as pairs? If so, there may be other single attendees after more RSVPs come in.

      3. Duckles*

        This gets to the assumption (that’s often true) that at a certain age, everyone is coupled. At my last company they had a dinner where spouses were invited and I was the only single person with 17 couples. It was incredibly awkward and terrible.

        1. RVA Cat*

          Imagine the awkwardness if a widowed person brought their spouse’s ashes and interacted with the urn as if they were alive?

          1. Relentlessly Socratic*

            If I were a widow, I would 100% do this. Alas, I am single (although I do have ashes of dear, departed pets. What are they going to do? Check?).

          2. coffeespoons*

            I could 100% see my mother doing this with my late father’s ashes if she had no choice but to attend malarkey of this magnitude.

      4. Invite a Friend*

        Yep. In college (a small one) I (a woman) was invited to the President’s banquet…so for college leaders, with faculty big-wigs, a really nice dinner, etc. I got a plus one. Boyfriend couldn’t go. I asked a friend, who found her old prom dress (it was a fancy deal), and off we went! I didn’t think of this at the time (it was in the 70s) but much later I wondered if people thought we were a couple.

      5. merida*

        My thoughts exactly!! Not that OP needs to have a plus one there in order to be socially acceptable (societal norms be darned!) but if a plus one would make the night more bearable for OP and they know someone who’s available to go, do it! As someone who’s been the lone single employee many times at plus-one work events, personally I’ve always fancied the idea of bringing, say, my hair stylist or a person I just met in the grocery store line, to a work dinner just to make a point to my company the the over focus on plus ones is infantile and silly. But hey, that’s just me. :)

      6. goddessoftransitory*

        The whole “we need to find a spot on the cindery hearth for you, OP, because you are the only person in this entire company that isn’t in a romantic pairing” is what puts the monkey on the banana tree they fashioned their pants out of. How on EARTH would the organizers know this? Did they go around asking at this multiday event???

      7. Princess Sparklepony*

        Don’t forget that other category of people who celebrate VD like it’s never coming again and go all out with a romantic celebration. Either special dinner out or special dinner in!

        The timing of this event is just super problematic and stomps on the toes and insteps of so many people for so many different reasons.

        I’m hoping though for a super cringeworthy story out of this about corporate events gone very wrong…. as a silver lining.

    4. T.N.H.*

      Right, there won’t be any important networking going on cause all those VIPs are going to be looking after/taking photos with/telling fake stories about their partners. I guarantee nothing meaningful will happen at this event. Just skip it.

    5. Lea*

      I would be opting out too and I would try to convince my favorite coworker/random new acquaintance/etc to skip with me!!!

      I am astounded that no one else is solo, some people must be bringing friends or family cause there is no way

      Unless it’s in Vegas and everybody just picked up someone who wants to go, are they paying for a second person to TRAVEL???

    6. Lizzianna*

      Oh no, I think I ate something that will upset my stomach a couple hours before this dinner starts, but worry not, I will miraculously recover before the morning session. Watching trashy reality TV from the comfort of my hotel room will aid greatly in my recovery.

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        Ah, sorry I missed y’all last night — my friend Emma called in tears as I was walking out the door. She discovered her husband is having an affair with his secretary and I couldn’t just hang up on her! She’d seen her husband buy a necklace at a jewelry store but when she unwrapped her present from him it was just a CD that she already had…

        1. Wow, really?*

          Nice one! I’m just glad they’re not asking her to play Cupid or whatever would be worse. Hopefully the food is good enough to make it almost worth it. I’d give it a couple of hours, long enough to meet everyone, and leave early.

    7. tamarack etc.*

      Yeah, holy sh*tballs, Sherlock. What kind of heavy-handed nonsense is this?

      In any event, if this conference has a networking event (with the same crowd!) every night, the OP should not feel bad about opting out. There’ll be 3 or so other events to network with these people.

    8. goddessoftransitory*

      This company synchs perfectly in my mind with the “we’re family” ones in the previous post. It’s certainly a drag to work on Valentine’s Day if you had plans, but really–this version of “we’ll fix it! We’ll fix everything!” has a desperation vibe I associate with teenagers and being really overinvested in what was honestly not that big a deal until they made it one.

      I wouldn’t need to have to be dealing with a breakup to find this over the top and frankly kind of creepy, OP. I wouldn’t want to drag my significant other to this thing, or be dragged there either!

  2. anononon*

    I’m very happily married but my husband would literally leave the the country, scrub every toilet in the town or offer to bathe the cat before he’d agree to come to a work dinner with me.

    I’d definitely go with Option 4. And hey, it’s on expenses. Get a good one… ;)

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      Also happily in a relationship. My SO and I would both hate being the guest in this case. (And would 100% not go.) It sounds truly awful.

      1. Rose*

        It’s a very close call but personally I think I might hate being the non guest half of the couple even more than I’d hate being the guest.

        I tend to feel much less awkward when I’m with people I know I won’t have to (frequently) see again. Doing this with coworkers… I would never be able to make eye contact again. The shameful look on the dogs face when I catch her eating the garbage comes to mind.

        1. Alexander Graham Yell*

          Completely. If I was asked to bring my partner, I would want to crawl into a hole and he would have a “work emergency” that looks VERY MUCH LIKE sitting on the couch being “on call” for a client.

          If my partner was invited to something like this, I would maybe not be super enthusiastic about going, but I’d be happy to help him if he really needed it – while mocking everything about it with him before and after. And maybe asking for a bribe.

        2. Hannah Lee*

          Plus it’s one thing to socialize with random strangers at an event, including one that seems like a bad idea for a casting call for an awful reality tv show (what else would you do with the “So, how’d you 2 crazy kids meet” stories of a couple hundred people …) if neither you nor your partner will likely never ever see them again.

          But it’s another, entirely, to be doing so at an industry event where at least one of the couple WILL at least some of the other people there in a future work context down the line.

    2. Margaret Cavendish*

      Same. My husband loves me very much, and there are very few things he would not do for me. This is one of them.

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        I mean, I recorded half the voices for my husband’s cartoons on his YouTube channel. I have proved my love and devotion. This, however, would earn a gigantic NO.

      2. Freya*

        Yep – my husband knows very well that he’s not comfortable in these kind of environments, and would rather not either be bored out of his brains, be visibly antisocial where that would potentially have consequences for me, or drink far more than he wants to for lack of anything else to do.

    3. Keeley Jones, The Independent Wonan*

      Having just returned from a conference, I can confirm it is absolutely the last place my husband would want to be, and the last place I’d want him to be. Conferences take up a lot of my mental energy as it is. Having to work in “work mode” and manage his reasonable uncomfortableness would be exhausting and zero fun for anyone. Especially on a romantic holiday. Even though we don’t really celebrate Valentines’s Day and aren’t PDA people, I’d feel we’d have to “preform”, lest anyone question the stability of our relationship. The hardest pass on all of it.

      1. UKDancer*

        Yeah I was at one last week and I’d entirely agree. I need to be in “professional and calm and competent” mode and they are tiring things. I don’t want to be trying to be the person I am at home when I’m in a setting where I need to be my most focused and sparkling self.

      2. JustaTech*

        My husband and I have done plenty of work-social things at each other’s companies over the years.
        A conference is not that. At least with the work-social stuff it’s the same people (generally), so you get to know them enough to have a conversation about something other than the weather.
        Once I attended the wrap-up happy hour for a conference my husband presented at – and it was OK, but only OK. We’re not in the same industry, and his industry tends to be very guy-heavy, so I was already instantly “a wife”, and while no one treated me like a potted plant, I couldn’t contribute in any way to any of the technical conversation, so I still felt very out of place and slightly dumb.
        As for my conferences, he wouldn’t be able to contribute to any of the conversation either, and at every conference I’ve attended I’ve been so exhausted at the end that I cried on the trip home. There’s no way I could simultaneously be my “conference self” and “attentive romantic partner self” at the same time.

    4. Plain Jane*

      Seriously, I think my husband would rather have dental work than attend something like this! plus it is just soooo problematic for so many people, I’m genuinely surprised that no one else has an issue with this.

    5. NotAnotherManager!*

      Same. My husband is amazing and the more outgoing of the two of us, but he has zero interest in my professional industry other than its contribution to the mortgage and household expenses.

    6. The New Wanderer*

      Same here – no way would my husband go anywhere near this dinner, he thinks forced public socialization is one of the circles of hell. I absolutely think the OP was told “everyone loves this idea” by the organizers and zero actual attendees. I also think the organizers are bad at their jobs if they never considered there might be some serious awkwardness at holding a romantic-themed business dinner or that there might be more than zero people who would be coming to dinner solo. This dinner idea is garbage.

      Personally I’d go for a drink or two (if they’re free, otherwise skip this step) and then come down with a terrible headache.

      1. Miette*

        As a sometime event planner, you are 100% correct. The “everyone” who loves it can be counted among the planning committee and not much further, I suspect. I hope OP will send an update to let us know how many people actually did bring their SOs, because there’s no way they’re realistically going to achieve the level of participation they think they are.

        1. sparkle emoji*

          Yeah, they claim everyone is bringing an SO but I’m wondering if that’s confirmed or just the planners’ assumption that all couples will rsvp “yes” or “no” for both parties vs the conference attendee saying yes and the SO declining. Also curious if they have confirmed everyone is part of a couple or if they just gave everyone a plus one and LW is the only single who’s raised the issue. There may be other single attendees who just haven’t mentioned it to the planners.

          1. The Prettiest Curse*

            Conference dinners are always an absolute nightmare because there are a ton of last-minute changes. (My entire department refuses to do a seating plan for our dinner, for this exact reason.) There are substitutions, last-minute illnesses, people bump into an old friend and go to dinner with them instead, etc. I imagine a lot of people will want to go for a quiet dinner with their partner instead (assuming the partner is around), so I have a feeling the dining room might be half-empty!

            1. sparkle emoji*

              That’s a good point, this would create a temptation to skip the dinner that isn’t normally there.

      2. Lea*

        I can’t imagine why they are having this plated dinner with pre assigned seats instead of some sort of cocktail mingle deal seems ill advised!

        How are supposed to network well if you’re stuck at a table???

        1. Kyrielle*

          With, in theory, no more than two other people you actually could network with (unless you’re lucky and end up with a couple who are both in the industry)!

          1. MigraineMonth*

            Plus mandatory topics of discussion that *aren’t* anything you want to network about. WHY.

            1. whingedrinking*

              Because it’s “fun”! /s
              I’m all for a quick icebreaker at the beginning of an event to get people to start talking to each other, but this sounds both boring and agonizing. I’d be tempted to tell people I met my partner at a sex dungeon or in jail, just to shake things up.

      3. ICodeForFood*

        ‘OP was told “everyone loves this idea” by the organizers and zero actual attendees’ Yes–exactly! Among all the attendees not ONE is single? And not ONe attendee or guest is an introvert who would absolutely HATE this? I sincerely doubt that all the attendees love this idea… I suspect the organizers love this idea, having only recently realized that Valentine’s Day falls within the event!

      4. Hannah Lee*

        This just strikes me as a bad decision, bad planning pile-up on the part of the organizers:

        – didn’t bother to look at an outside of their bubble calendar to realize the conference overlapped with Valentine’s Day BEFORE finalizing conference dates (it’s not like February 14th moves around the calendar like Monday holidays or Easter or whatever)
        – when the conflict dawned on them, the decided to host one mass event for ALL attendees (not considering that some people might not want to spend Valentine’s Day will work associates)
        – went 197 steps further by going full on Romantic Couple Themed Dinner for ALL conference attendees (as opposed to doing something that might possibly be tied to the industry or conference’s purpose) WITH assigned seating for maximum discomfort. Plus failed to consider that some conference attendees might not have romantic partners, might not feel safe introducing their romantic partner to a whole conference full of work contacts (for a whole lot of unfortunate societal and workplace realities) or might not want to/be able to conjure up their romantic partner to a conference in a city that they and their family might not live in due to financial, conflicting work commitments, child or other family member commitments or simple logistics)
        – double and tripled down by not wavering or modifying their plans when actual conference attendees pointed out the looming disaster.

        Conference planners: Stop! Just Stop already!

        LW I like Alison’s options. If it were me I’d probably go with Noping out entirely. Or maybe if I were feeling sociable, doing a breeze through at the start for 1-2 drinks, a bit of light chit chat whatever face-time, mingling you can get before the seating chart police start chasing people into chairs, and then duck out (possibly after grabbing a bunch of the ‘good’ snacks circulating around) .

        No one is going to be networking once the night’s programmed events start, nothing is going to happen there that could possibly be of professional benefit to you, spare yourself the awkwardness.

        The only exception to this is if you are a fiction writer, or a murder mystery event scripter/performer, and can treat this event as a research outing, and mine it for unique anecdotes, character mash ups and random dialogue.

        1. Relentlessly Socratic*

          All of your outlined steps above very briefly made me wonder if anyone could possibly be so unhinged to plan an event like this. Then I remember my old dumpster fire of a company, and yes…I could absolutely see them planning something exactly like this and making it mandatory to attend.

        2. MigraineMonth*

          I will be very disappointed if no one writes the AAM fanfic where a murder mystery is set at this train-wreck of a “networking event”. C’mon, writers, there’s an official tag but we need more AAM at AO3!

    7. Janie*

      My husband was in the military. I was once asked if I wanted to bring him to a work event, and I said he’d rather be deployed for another 6 months.

    8. Toast*

      I would rather have an appendectomy then attend. If my partner told me about this I would find some sort of excuse not to attend very quickly.

    9. Clara*

      Just on this chain – I get everyone is being nice, and I’m glad you’re all in happy relationships, but I’d venture in writing this OP doesn’t actually need a load of people telling her how great their relationship is.

      1. Rosemary*

        This is a weird take. I think the people are commenting to say that even in the context of having a S.O. there is no way in hell they would want to attend this event. No one is commenting just to tell the OP that they are in a great relationship.

      2. Bunny Lake Is Found*

        Given that she gave the context about her feelings around the break-up and keeping them out of work, I think everyone is weighing in like that so that the LW doesn’t mistakenly entertain that she only is against this idea because of her recent break-up–or that her colleagues who are in couples would somehow view her dislike of this event (or her eventually skipping it) as some indication she cannot compartmentalize her “emotions” from a networking event. It is a level setting device that, nope, everyone finds this super icky.

      3. Rose*

        She’s a seemingly quite well adjusted woman in her 50s. I bet she’s very aware a lot of people are on happy marriages and relationships.

        OP says in her letter that she doesn’t feel she can push back because everyone else is partnered and looking forward to the event. I think people are making the point that she likely has a lot of silent solidarity from partnered coworkers who also think this idea is awful. I hope it either helps her feel better about pushing back or if she goes and the event planners make her feel incredibly awkward and left out, as seems to be their MO, that she’ll know she’s not the only person there who is very unhappy.

        1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

          This is where I am at. If this disaster meal goes ahead and LW goes, I think it is clutch for her to know there are totally going to be colleagues and their partners in attendance who would have much rather this just been a regular networking dinner at the conference.

          Or if she skips it, know that she will likely hear a very lot of people truthfully saying “It was maybe the most awkward event I have ever been to.” Followed likely by some horrifying take on “We all got to hear the Boss’s 4th wife answer a question about the “romantic little things” she just for him and it is real clear she thought that question was looking for quite a different response than the one the organizers intended. I had never wished so much I had just faked a migraine.”

      4. Abundant Shrimp*

        My love life in its entirety is nothing to write home about, and I didn’t feel any kind of way reading those. To me it read more like a comforting “trust me OP, no one else’s partners want this either, you won’t be sticking out like a sore thumb in a sea of happy couples sharing with conference organizers the details of how they met”.

    10. Lilo*

      I am married, and I even go to work dinners with my husband. But in Valentine’s Day, the worst day to get a sitter? Absolutely not.

      1. Anonymoose*

        I loved this too! One of my favorite uncles always used to say he had to give the cat a bath when he didn’t want to go somewhere. He passed away almost 4 years ago but it made me happy to think of him when reading that.

      2. Abundant Shrimp*

        An ex had me help bathe his cats once. I still have vivid memories ten years later of a cat paw, claws out, covered in flea shampoo, coming towards my face. Specifically, towards the one eye I’d already had two surgeries in. Performed to the lovely soundtrack of kitty howling and yowling! That one’s spouse would prefer that to the dinner is all one needs to know about how “everyone is looking forward to” the dinner!

      1. Iris Eyes*

        Not even just fan fiction, how many movies and books are there with that trope? If LW is looking for a new relationship either escort or down on their luck actor who is up for anything is a solid choice.

      2. Csethiro Ceredin*

        I immediately thought of that too. The funny thing is I always thought the scenarios concocted in those stories are VERY implausible, but clearly there are indeed event organizers that bonkers.

        OP, I’m very happily single and indifferent to Valentine’s day but I would skip this. They have very explicitly made it NOT about networking by having significant others there and the love theme.

        1. Lydia*

          I really think this is an option. The networking is important, but, as others have pointed out, there will probably be little of it happening at this particular dinner, and there are other events and dinners planned for just that kind of thing. OP, take a nap and accidentally oversleep, or feel unwell, or anything that will let you gracefully avoid a horrible idea for networking.

        2. MigraineMonth*

          I’m imagining the segues:

          “I met Blair in college, when they swept me off my feet. Speaking of being swept off my feet, your presentation today on workplace training compliance monitoring was really compelling and I’d love to hear more about it.”

        3. goddessoftransitory*

          This, forever. I can’t believe a work event is being forcibly shoved against its own best interests this much.

        1. Properlike*

          Two, until that crazy water leak turned one into a pool, and soaked the carpet, and of course the hotel is completely booked….

      3. Student*

        This trope is so old we learned about it when studying ancient roman literature in Latin class when I was in high school. See also: the poetry of Catullus, circa 55 BCE.

    11. Whyamihere*

      I am very happily coupled and my boyfriend would go to one event for my old company yearly, a baseball game which included an open bar at a restaurant with pretty decent catering and then we would go to the game. Most of the company would not go to the game and one year we were the only people in our section. Last year we sat with my friend and her boyfriend who were fun. After leaving that huge company that friend is one of the very few people I still talk to.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        I am surprised that the company didn’t rent a luxury suite. They are well set up so that the handful who want to watch the game can do so, while everyone else eats and drinks.

    12. Richard Hershberger*

      Back when we were first married, my wife was nominated for teacher of the year. This was sponsored, IIRC, by the chamber of commerce and at that time involved a sit-down dinner. I went, and fell into full-on introvert “must get out of here” mode. This manifested itself by my hurriedly excusing myself and going out to sit in the car until I could face going back in. This cycle repeated itself multiple times, and I was seriously considering hiking the three or four miles home. Apparently the other people at the table assumed I was having GI tract issues, and she let them think this. She has been nominated various times since then. She doesn’t ask me to go. The lavishness has, I am told, much declined, so now it is more of an awards ceremony in a high school auditorium. I would have to reread Dante to figure out which circle of Hell this is.

    13. Siege*

      Assuming I was the partner, I would 100% go and talk with enthusiasm about my industry, which is unions. I always enjoy the opportunity to discuss unionizing opportunities and what a unionizing campaign looks like with unhappy employees who deserve better than to be stuck in a weird hell of date-networking on Valentine’s Day.

      1. I Have RBF*

        LOL. Having you along would be a blast at my tech oriented conferences, because so many bigwigs in tech are right-leaning libertarians who despise unions. Watching other people squirm all night would be entertaining as hell.

        I wonder if you could set up a side business as a “Rent a Plus One for Business Dinners”?

        1. A.K. Climpson*

          As a union lawyer who lives in a tech mecca, I would love to join this side business! I genuinely enjoy gatherings with friends of friends who are all in very union-unfriendly companies. (“Oh, me? I help people who are unionizing or in unions! I’ll be over here if anyone wants to chat.”)

    14. Stebuu*

      My wife of 20 years would absolutely run far far away (and use our joint account to pay for said trip) if I even asked her to go to something like this.

      She’d probably send me a nice postcard from Hawaii, though.

    15. So they all cheap ass-rolled over and out fell out*

      What industry can field an entire conference worth of people with 100% compliance with bringing a significant other?

    16. Abundant Shrimp*

      As I was reading OP’s letter, I was mentally running through the list of my exes and current new-ish partner, and I can’t come up with a single one that would’ve been able, or willing, to drive over to a nearby town for a lovey-dovey work-conference Valentine’s dinner with me. That includes the father of my kids to whom I was married for close to 20 years. Just no. And they wouldn’t have expected me to come to theirs either. Option 4 all the way (or bring a friend and have fun with it all? is that an option?) Honestly, I would bet money that a good % of the plus-ones will bow out in the end, because to expect them all to travel to a partner’s work dinner where they’ll be simultaneously bored out of their skull and put on the spot for awkward couple activities, is a lot.

      PS. I love OP’s idea of helping with the dinner, and would’ve greatly enjoyed that myself. Too bad it got shot down.

    1. Moo*

      Yeah and it’s right in the middle – so the very time that it’s perfect to recharge your own batteries. After years of conferences and networking events I realised that the ‘working’ part of networking is what matters – making connections with the purpose of doing something together is what is important, and generally you don’t need to attend every minute of every event to do that meaningfully. This is how I survive these things as a social introvert. Seek out purposeful networking – arrange to meet certain people to talk about specific things, and then give yourself a pass for this event.

      I am also single and sometimes stuff like this is truly hellish, even if you aren’t going through a break up. Sounds to me like enjoying a movie and room service in your hotel room might be the best night anyone has at this event (I also recommend making a fort in the bed)!

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        I attend an annual early baseball conference at the Hall of Fame. These are my people and it is a total nerdfest. Yet even there I make time to quietly disappear and hike the three or so blocks to a pretty good used bookstore. Partly this is because, well, used bookstore, but some time on my own is definitely also part of it.

    2. Grumpus*

      I think it would be an excellent night to develop a 12 hour illness. Order room service and watch a favourite film.

    3. I'm on Team Rita*

      I think the reason there are only couples in the seating chart is that all the unattached–this includes people whose SO said “Nope!”– have already opted out. Have an alternate event with those folks.

      1. linger*

        Even worse, the organisers only put in the names of those attending as couples (hence why OP was not included in the seating chart even initially). For that subset, and only that subset, this exercise actually might count as “networking”, but it sure as hell excludes everyone else.

      2. Nebula*

        I figured this has to be the case, it seems so weird that the LW is literally the only single person there.

    4. ragazza*

      I see so many other problems with this. What about people who may not be out at work? People in unconventional relationships? Just no.

    5. OMG, Bees!*

      And also, if there are more people than on the other nights, would OP be noticed for not being there? I find larger gathering more chaotic and easier to not be seen

      1. I Have RBF*

        I think an “escort” service of people who just dressed up and played plus one for business dinners would be useful, even for people who were partnered, but to introverts. No PDA required.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          I remember on Law & Order there was a subset of gentlemen known as “walkers;” they were polished, high class types who specifically escorted Society Ladies of a Certain Age to museum openings, the opera, and so forth. They were basically a poised, dapper arm to hang on and witty companion to gossip with who owned a range of formal attire and could discourse on everything from Aida to Miro.

    1. cindylouwho*

      “How did you all meet?” “Well, he was living in a dumpster behind the local Waffle House. I found him eating trash, and I had to coax him into my car with some chicken. I got him cleaned up that day and have loved him ever since!” “…” “This is Scruffy!” “Oh, he’s a dog….”

      1. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

        I love dogs. I love Waffle House. I’m not bringing a dog found in the dumpster at a Waffle House into my car, let alone my car. ;)

        (This is said as the office rescue pitbull snores at my feet.)

        1. FricketyFrack*

          More Waffle House trash dogs for the rest of us, then! I volunteered for a rescue and we found out that one of my fosters really didn’t like the car because he pooped in it, then panicked and tried to get away from it which didn’t work because he was a 120lb retriever in a Ford Focus, and stomped the poop into my seats. I think I’d take a dumpster dog over that.

          1. Rage*

            Former dog/cat foster parent here, and I am joining you as one who has also “had poo stomped, smeared, and plastered all over the interior of my vehicle, not to mention pee and puke.”

            OP1, I’d probably take the poop-filled vehicle over being forced to attend a Valentine’s “networking” dinner. Single or otherwise – how very uncomfortable and annoying! I would come down with a migraine, or perhaps food poisoning, and send my regrets.

            1. Sacred Ground*

              This is why the Honda Element was so popular among dog people. You can hose out the interior.

          2. Princess Sparklepony*

            I had a paralyzed dog poop in my hand while going through airport security.

            No one want to help the lady with a handful off soft poop… Can’t imagine why.

            But it’s much easier to clean your hand than your upholstery.

    2. Always Tired*

      I was going to suggest a large photo album (not the phone, actual printed photos) of her pet, or adoptable animals at the shelter. Just lean way into the crazy cat lady trope.

  3. High Score!*

    I would go for option number 4. :D. OFC that may be why I don’t do well in roles that require that sort of networking. No regrets :D

    1. You want stories, I got stories*

      Which is why you are hiring someone to do that networking for you. Identifying weaknesses and delegating. Sounds like manager to me.

    1. MPerera*

      Or rom-com novel, though then you’d have to pretend you were in a happy relationship and maybe have a one-night stand later, for which the escort wouldn’t charge (showing his hero cred).

    2. Properlike*

      I think she should go back to the organizers and tell them she needs a +2 because her polyamorous partners have been fighting over which one of them gets to attend and it’s made things SUPER uncomfortable at home.

    3. KenzosHooman*

      Option 4 sounds like the beginning of a Valentines movie on the holiday channel that shall remain nameless, *cough H_l_m_rk*.

  4. SJ*

    This sounds like an absolute nightmare, and I think you should give yourself a break and not attend! If it’s truly going to be all-couples-all-the-time dating nonsense then you won’t be getting in any meaningful networking anyway!

    1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

      Yeah, I’m not seeing how this night could be meaningful for business networking. The conference has set it up to actively impede networking.

      Everyone has their partner there. Partners will not be ignored in favor of networking. The photo booth will be full of couples – not colleagues alone looking for someone to talk to about the day’s panel.

      Truly, I question how this is actually a “high-level think tank” with these kinds of amateur-hour shenanigans on the schedule.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          True, but on the other hand I have no difficulty imaging Option 4 at the Aspen Institute.

    2. Southwlkr*

      Agreed completely. Even if this is normally an excellent networking event, no one is going to be doing the kind of professional networking that they would do if they didn’t have to entertain their significant other with nonsense that’s meant to make people feel better about “missing” Valentine’s Day. just opt out and realize that this year is a wash due to poor planning on the part of the organizers. I’m also extremely skeptical that every single person will actually attend with their SO, even if they say so, and also! aren’t there people who are from out of town? Surely you can’t be the only person who can’t/won’t bring a SO. This whole thing is bananapants.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        And the SOs who do attend are going to be bored out of their skulls if the talk swings in a work direction.

    3. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      At worst, pop in for a bit, then leave early. There is some urgent project! A family thing that needs dealing with!

      This is really reminding me of a wedding I attended many years ago. Big wedding, nearly all couples. Weddings always make me sad as a long-time singleton. Fortunately, another single friend was also a guest. We found the only two other single people and made it a good time. Though it involved more alcohol than is appropriate to drink at a work event…

      1. Bruce*

        There is probably a short mingling period before seating, maybe pop in for that and then pull the rip-cord?

        1. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

          This. I suspect a lot of marrieds will be there solo after all (babysitter on Valentine’s Day is a great excuse) and you may end up having the type of networking evening you were expecting/hoping for.

    4. Csethiro Ceredin*

      Exactly. They have plainly stated this is not a work dinner by making it a couples dinner.

      And even if you were into that, off, the awkwardness sounds painful.

      I vote room service.

    5. juliebulie*

      “Nightmare” was absolutely the first word that sprang to mind. Also, “mean.” Being a single person has its benefits, but it also has a lot of inconveniences. One of the things I like about work is that I don’t have to bring a date. These people are literally going out of their way to make things difficult for single people – I mean, I’m sure that’s not their intention, but it sucks.

  5. Lilac*

    Ugh, that’s awful. You have my sympathies, LW!

    I agree with the advice here, except for the suggestion to “drink heavily” (unless it’s meant tongue-in-cheek). If this is a networking event, that could…backfire horrendously.

    1. LifeBeforeCorona*

      Yeah, the heavy drinking will be the couples who are on the verge of splitting up. The more drinking, the more unintended drama.

      1. Miette*

        And the more enjoyment OP may have at the event… perhaps I’m rethinking my disgust at the horrendous event planning lmao

    2. Good Enough For Government Work*

      …yes it’s obviously meant tongue-in-cheek.

      Why does almost nobody on Beyoncé’s internet understand how to read blatant humour?

      1. Venus*

        It isn’t necessarily only a joke. I’m a happy, quiet drunk. I have gone to events where my boss has told me to ‘get the company’s money’s worth’ in alcohol. He wasn’t pushing me to drink, but he was encouraging me to have a lot if I so desired.

        OP isn’t going to be able to do any networking in that situation with all the extra people, so if she’s a happy, quiet drunk and enjoys a drink or three then I’d say go for it.

    3. Miss Muffett*

      But maybe if there’s heavy drinking there will also be magic tricks and songs at the piano? (Please someone help me find the link for that letter…)

      1. Hlao-roo*

        “the best office holiday party date story of all time” from December 5, 2019 (this is the original posting, it’s been reposted a few times since then). Link in a follow-up comment.

        1. Hlao-roo*

          Original post here:

          More details from an open thread here:

          Marvel fanfic of the story:

          Once Upon a Time fanfic of the story:

          Star Wars fanfic of the story:

  6. Chairman of the Bored*

    Skip it.

    It’s an unreasonable ask regardless of somebody’s current relationship circumstances; if the employer misses out on the benefits of any networking that occurs that’s their problem.

    1. Rose*

      Agreed, totally unreasonable.

      Start expressing enthusiasm now. You can’t wait! You love love! You’d like to wear a diaper and wings and carry a bow and arrow around, if that’s ok.

      It will make your sudden, completely unexpected migraine on Feb 14 all the more tragic and believable.

  7. MsMaryMary*

    I would read/watch this romcom. I would not attend this in real life.

    There is no way you are the only single person and I’m sure there are couples where a significant other can’t attend, doesn’t want to attend, and/or thinks this is ridiculous. It’s incredibly tone deaf.

      1. Good Enough For Government Work*

        You do have a fantastically appropriate handle for this particular post, though

    1. ferrina*

      Yeah, this is romantic in fiction; an absolute horror story in real life.
      Whoever thought this was a good idea needs to get outside their bubble.

    2. MarieMmmac*

      Agree with this. I guarantee there will be other people attending who think it’s ridiculous too. Good luck getting through it.

    3. Daisy-dog*

      Different chapters for every table.

      There’s one person who has a jacket on the chair and explains that their spouse stepped out for a call when really they haven’t spoken in months. A person who brought a random stranger. One newlywed discovers a secret their spouse has been hiding for their relationship and they not-so-secretly bicker all night. It all explodes with one climactic scene.

      1. Daisy-dog*

        Oh, one person brings their roommate and that person’s plan is to seduce one of the other plus-ones!

    4. Warrior Princess Xena*


      I would watch this romcom and/or SNL skit (with Allison option #4) with tremendous glee, but IRL I think I might actually burst into frustrated tears over the idea of having to sit through this nonsensical nightmare.

      1. She of Many Hats*

        Option #4 With SNL’s talent for taking stereotype and costume extremes in their fully glory: The horrendously teased and moussed hair, the plunging-est neckline ending below the belt, the tightest bottoms, the biggest gold-plated accessories, the loudest animal prints in neon colors…..

    5. Roja*

      That’s my first thought as well. There’s no way OP can be the only single person and/or the only person whose significant other isn’t able to be there. If that’s what the organizers are saying, I really question their veracity. Every single other person at the conference is in a relationship, and every single one of those partners is able and willing to be there? Really?

      My husband works for an incredibly close-knit, relatively small company where pretty much everyone gets along and all the partners do too. Even so, there were plenty of missing partners at company events, even the biggest ones!

  8. Not a Real Giraffe*

    Is there really going to be useful networking that happens that night

    This is spot on. No one is going to be doing worthwhile networking this evening. They will be “enjoying” the Valentine’s Day spectacle with their significant others and talking with other couples about, I would imagine, more domestic things. Is there a cocktail and hors d’oeuvres portion of the event before being seated for dinner? If so, join that, and then leave before the formal dinner begins. If not, please give yourself the pass to opt out.

    1. Csethiro Ceredin*

      I suppose there might be some trauma bonding?

      The only way I can see this being fun is if you had a friend there to commiserate and stifle giggles with.

    1. A cat named Brian*

      Askamanager dating service starting here. Maybe make a Facebook group and put him in :D

  9. The Prettiest Curse*

    As someone who has planned many conferences and conference dinners, I am internally screaming and also cringing so hard at these conference planners. OP, on behalf of sensible conference planners everywhere, I apologise. And I very much doubt that you’re going to be the only single person there (or the only person without a plus-one), so I am just baffled as to what on earth they were thinking, if they were thinking at all.

    1. Artemesia*

      I can imagine some valentine themed decorations on this day but. not the couples focus which is ridiculous and the idea of discussions around relationships.

      1. Warrior Princess Xena*

        Even that would be more than I’d be happy with, though I wouldn’t do more than roll my eyes at them. Workplace activities and romance are two things that should never ever be officially mingled – not talking about dating coworkers here, I’m talking about workplaces getting involved with one’s romantic life. I’d mark it as being even less advisable than a workplace activity surrounding one’s diet or mental health.

      2. Nina*

        I’m kind of anthropologically fascinated here tbh, because in my country Valentine’s day is something only the supermarkets really celebrate, and the ‘Valentines’ chocolate tends to be complete garbage compared to what’s usually available so ‘St. Half-Price Chocolate Day’ is barely a blip as well.

        1. Laura*

          oh interesting. In the US, Valentine’s Day has the BEST chocolates of all the chocolate-related holidays, so getting it discounted is great. It’s followed by Christmas, Halloween, and Easter, in that order, IMO.
          Halloween is kind of an outlier because plain chocolate isn’t as popular as other types of candy, but I love getting discounted Reese’s.

          1. PepperVL*

            I guess I’m exceptionally blessed with two independent, make-on-site chocolatiers nearby, because the fact that you put Easter last just boggles my mind. All I see for Valentine’s Day is the normal stuff just made in heart shaped molds. For Easter, they both make cream filled eggs in flavors I can’t get the rest of the year. They’re so amazingly decadent and I love them. in my opinion, Easter is the best holiday for candy. Unless we’re looking at it from the perspective of my waistline or my wallet, in which case, yeah, it’s the worst. I don’t expect either to survive March intact.

    2. Ama*

      As someone who has also planned conferences, I can envision a couple of scenarios:
      – They have new event planners who don’t fully understand the purpose of this event.
      -They have an event planner who has a habit of taking one piece of feedback and acting like it is something the entire group wants. (For example, one or two people asked if they could bring their spouse to dinner because it’s Valentine’s Day and the planner went overboard.)
      -The idea for doing this comes from a VIP/senior level person and the event planners don’t feel they can say no.
      -They are the kind of event planners who think something that “most” of the group wants is fine even if it makes one or two people feel excluded. (I find myself fighting this one a lot — in my opinion any activity or menu that makes even one attendee feel actively excluded from full participation is a bad choice, but a surprising number of my colleagues don’t seem to see it this way.)

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        Any of these scenarios is possible, but #3 or #4 is probably the most likely. This reads to me as a higher-up having a ridiculous idea that nobody felt they could veto. Though “someone started with a few decorations and then went overboard” may also be in there somewhere!

      2. You want stories, I got stories*

        Having to fight for stuff, I don’t understand it.
        I was simply on the social committee for my job. I had to fight for vegetarian choices. (No, they can’t simply eat sides)
        On ice cream day having some low carb or non dairy choices. And not just buying cheap ass ice cream, which is what one person wanted to do. I want my klondike bar and not the generic cheap version.

        I’m not any of those things, but I made sure we thought of them always.

        1. ThatOtherClare*

          Sorbet is delicious whether you can eat dairy or not! I can’t believe you had to fight for that of all things. I can’t imagine any sensible committee saying anything other than “What a genius idea, thanks for the suggestion!”. Wild.

      3. KateM*

        How about option 2a) – that the feedback they got was that one or two people mentioned that actually they had wanted to spend Valentine’s Day with their SO meaning they’d rather skip an event that particular evening, and organizers thought “oh no… I KNOW! let’s have a Valentine’s Day themed event so they can bring their SOs!”?

        1. The Prettiest Curse*

          Yup, that’s certainly another possible scenario. I’ve often seen event planners over-correct in response to a small amount of feedback (I’m also guilty of having done this myself) and the results can be disastrous.

    3. Generic Name*

      Seriously. And since Valentine’s Day is a weeknight, I’d wager that most couples would ordinarily plan to celebrate on the closest weekend. I don’t mind brining significant others to work social events in theory, but the emphasis on love and “how we met” is weird in a work context. Ugh. Sorry you’re dealing with this on top of an already painful breakup.

  10. Lily*

    I would come down with a last minute migraine. Or stomach bug. I’d be ‘distraught’ at missing the fun, and then I would go enjoy a lovely evening in my hotel room with a movie and a very nice glass of wine.

    1. Lea*

      I would
      Probably flat skip it without making excuses but this is a viable second alternative.

      Drop a hint or two earlier in the day…

    1. Mo*

      You cannot be the only person who doesn’t have someone to bring. I suspect there are going to be a lot of #4s there.

      This is an astonishingly bad idea. Waiting for the letter from someone else at this event about how a spouse forced to attend got a little too real about a respected colleague’s affair with a younger employee.

  11. RabbitRabbit*

    I once had to fly out to a 2-day work conference that for some unknown reason was booked on Valentine’s Day (13th and 14th). They had it at a lovely resort and encouraged you to bring your significant other – except mine could not randomly book days off like that. I flew in with a tiny suitcase, arriving on the 13th just before the “mingling” session, and left at 1 pm after the day’s conference was done to get home.

    1. Portia*

      It’s horrifying.

      I haven’t been part of a couple since I was in college, and I’m fine with that; I am one of nature’s single people. But being visibly singled out (so to speak) at an event like this would be incredibly demoralizing.

      OP, ask the organizers if they would like to be the seventh person at a three-couple table, and insist that they give you something else to do if they really do want you to “enjoy” the evening. What a ridiculous situation.

      1. Zandie*

        As another of nature’s single people, thank you for saying this. It is definitely an event that is not for everyone.

      2. Hi I'm Troy McClure*

        As another of nature’s single people, I love this phrasing so much and will be using it from now on.

      3. Jshaden*

        Plus, in many of my former workplaces, if you were one of nature’s single people and you so much as talked to another human who was single and of the gender you were assumed to prefer, everyone automatically assumed you were a couple and wouldn’t shut up about it for at least two weeks. Solidarity with my fellow nature’s single people!

        1. Good Enough For Government Work*

          One of the joys of being both single and very openly bi at work (I co-lead our LGBTQ+ network) is that it REALLY confuses the hell out of people who do this

  12. Lady_Lessa*

    Long shot, probably poor idea.

    Is there any way that you are religious and back out of the dinner because it is Ash Wednesday?

    1. AthenaC*

      Oooo …. that’s not a bad idea. “Dear (conference organizer), as I’m sure you are well aware, Feb 14 is Ash Wednesday this year and of course I will be fasting in observance. As such I would consider it a religious accommodation to be excused from a food-centered event due to the solemnity of the day.”

      But that’s me and I get wordy when I’m irritated.

      1. ferrina*

        I get wordy when I’m irritated

        Me too! You can measure how annoyed I am by my vocabulary- if I’m speaking at a 6th grade reading level, I’m slightly annoyed but not too bad. If I’m at an 11th grade level, it’s not a good situation. When I go into a post-grad thesis, it’s time to run away.

          1. I Have RBF*

            I do both, alternating, depending on how ticked I am. If I’m talking in an extremely pedantic manner with twenty-dollar words interspersed with F-bombs, things are about to detonate.

        1. linger*

          I’ve found that when I go into a post-grad thesis, people do run away.
          Surprising how fast some of them can move.

      2. Clara*

        I don’t know if it’s worth missing breakfast / lunch, or them making a show of you being there and NOT getting to enjoy the food / drinks (which might be the only enjoyable bit).

      3. Lea*

        This is super valid, I will be doing ash wed valentines this year and I’m not sad about it

        Ashes seem appropriate

      4. Sara without an H*

        I’m Catholic and I’d take this and run with it. If I really, really couldn’t get out of the dinner, I’d find a local church that was dispensing ashes and show up with the mark still on my forehead.

        I couldn’t eat the dinner but, in my experience, conference dinner menus aren’t that great, anyway.

        1. Chinookwind*

          I was thinking the same thing – Ash Wednesday is a perfect excuse as it is a major religious day of obligation for Catholics (with the added bonus of it being a day of fasting – so no dinner for you!). With luck, you won’t be the only one skipping that dinner for that exact reason.

    2. Jezebella*

      Oh my gosh! I just added this up and realized Valentine’s Day is on Mardi Gras! The organizers had a Mardi Gras theme RIGHT THERE and opted for this nonsense? What on earth?

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Mardi Gras is the day before (Tuesday), but yeah. Opportunity missed. They should do it on Tuesday night.

      2. Miette*

        Technically the day before Ash Wednesday would be Mardi Gras, but I’m in agreement with you and honestly don’t understand why they didn’t lean into that instead.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          My money is that they didn’t know that. If you don’t belong to a religious tradition that observed Ash Wednesday, or at least are hooked into the New Orleans party cycle, then Ash Wednesday and Mardi Gras simply aren’t on your radar. Yes, I expect the family will have pancakes. We are more a Shrove Tuesday than a blow-out party people.

      3. Lily Rowan*

        Well, it’s the day after, which is all the difference in the world when it comes to observation.

      4. riverofmolecules*

        Because the organizers weren’t looking for a theme for that night, they were trying to make up for the attendees missing Valentine’s Day with their partners.

        Of course, this is a bad idea any way you cut it. Very few people who would be looking forward to a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner would appreciate a conference networking event THEMED for Valentine’s Day instead.

    3. Anonymous Demi ISFJ*

      Or: make a light, vaguely cross-shaped smudge on your forehead with black eyeshadow, go to the very beginning of the event to chat with whoever it is you need to chat with, then…leave, go back to your hotel room, wash your face, and do whatever you want for the rest of the evening.

      …I’m only half-joking!

      1. Chinookwind*

        If you want it to be legit, leave the mark on until you are done for the day.

        And depending on where the nearest Catholic Church is, you have to include commute time to the place, of course. Which means leaving early. :)
        – signed a Catholic who has had to use this as an excuse miss a very important Wednesday night staff meeting (and was told not to make a habit of it).

        1. Satan’s Panties*

          “…and was told not to make a habit of it.”

          Did you tell them that that’s kind of the way it works?

    4. Madre del becchino*

      Yes! “Steak dinner for Valentine’s Day? So sorry, I am fasting and abstaining from meat products on that day…”

  13. Maude*

    This sounds like a nausea inducing event just hearing it described, so you can clearly skip it on account of illness.

    1. Pocket Mouse*

      Next morning’s script: “Something didn’t agree with me and I had to skip it. All is well today though! [Network network network]”

    2. Miss Cranky Pants*

      Have a vision problem that evening.
      “I just can’t see myself attending this event.”
      Yep, vision problem… Can’t go, too bad, so sad.

      1. Fruitbird*

        My dad once called out of work for a mental health day and his supervisor, who gelled pretty well with him, said jokingly “You can have the day off if you give me an excuse I’ve never heard before.”
        “I have anal glaucoma.”
        “I just can’t see my arse coming into work today.”
        He got the day off.

  14. CL*

    Having organized many events and talked with many event planners, I’m wondering how many people will show up with their non-significant other…the affair partner, the spouse that was just served divorce papers, etc. Spend the evening looking for those couples and drink heavily.

    1. Dobby is a Free Elf!*

      Sounds like a fun Bingo game to me. I’d set it up on my phone beforehand and have a friend to text and giggle about it…but my (grown) kids and I already play Bingo at family events. (X relative brought up politics…Y relative complained about their disability…)

  15. soontoberetired*

    The conference organizers are out of their minds. Most people don’t bring SOs to conferences in my organization. In all my conference going days, only 3 people consistently travelled with their spouses in large part because the spouses aren’t included in the meals and other events that are going on!

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      I’ve traveled with my SO to conference locations, if they are interesting places to visit. I do tourist stuff and give the conference venue a wide berth.

      1. TPS Reporter*

        I’ve also brought my SO along to desirable locations so they can do their own thing while I’m at the sessions. I would never want them to attend any parts of the conference and they wouldn’t want to come either. Even for Valentine’s Day, we don’t celebrate regardless. It’s made up!

      2. UKDancer*

        Yes. I’ve brought my ex boyfriend (when we were together) away once when I had a meeting somewhere nice and he went sightseeing and had a good time because there was a museum there he really wanted to see and I had no interest in. The meeting finished on a Friday morning so we went on somewhere else for the weekend. To be honest it’s not my favourite thing in the world because I prefer not having to go from “work mode” straight into “partner mode”.

        But I’ve never routinely brought a partner or come with someone as a partner because I don’t work a sector where it’s common and neither have any of my exes.

      3. Richard Hershberger*

        My family occasionally lobbies for this at my annual early baseball conference. I am not opposed in principle, but Cooperstown is a tiny place heavily devoted to baseball. During the summer there is lake stuff, but the conference is in April. There can be ice still on the lake. In practice, they would stretch it out to about one morning’s worth of stuff to do, then they would sit around the hotel room.

      4. Lea*

        People at work do this, sometimes bring a spouse if the destination is fun. One of my friends brings her mom but we never see her cause they do their own thing

    2. ferrina*

      Yeah, I was wondering what industry this was in. I have never had an SO attend any conference I went to, and the same is true for most of my colleagues (few exceptions). I do have a relation that would semi-regularly attend her husband’s conferences, but that was big law in the 80s and 90s and she was a homemaker.

    3. Csethiro Ceredin*

      When my dad was working my mum and I went to quite a few (astronomy) conferences with him. Some were in great locations (Savannah, Belgium, Washington DC).

      Occasionally we attended a meet and greet or something, because astronomers tended to be interesting to chat to and there were usually grad students from all over the world which was fun for 20s me, but generally we did our own thing.

      No way would my mum have gone to THIS, though.

      1. Satan’s Panties*

        There was a letter from someone who was in charge of a *large* conference, and her mother and sister wanted to come along. They wanted to see the city, and the consensus was, “Tell them they can visit the city that weekend if they want, but they’ll be exploring the city by themselves.”

  16. Brain the Brian*

    Those of us in queer relationships and working in queer-unfriendly industries are cringing especially hard. Yikes. Yikes. Yikes. Big yikes.

    1. Artemesia*

      This too. It is just an event filled with traps and miseries. My husband would actually be fine coming to a dinner like this and I would enjoy his company and I think it is banana pants to plan something like this. There will be people with alcoholic husbands, others who are estranged or on the brink of divorce, people in gay relationships who are not interested in making that highly visible at work and like the OP people who have just broken up with someone. She will not be the only one for whom this is awkward.

    2. Good Enough For Government Work*

      My first thought too. So they expect everyone to just be comfortable outing themselves to EVERYONE they work with? Have they seen the news lately??

      1. Brain the Brian*

        Honestly? Probably not. The capacity of people in information-rich countries to bury their heads in the sand about the most important things is very high.

  17. Keymaster the absent*

    I’d be tempted to bring my cat. He HATES people. I mean, the hissing and spitting and rage peeing everywhere would make for an entertaining time.

    (That’s the cat btw. I haven’t rage peed on anyone. Can’t say about the hissing though)

    On sensible advice: honestly? Take yourself out for coffee/dinner somewhere else, or stay in the hotel and order room service and watch whatever you like. Because it’s doubtful any event that is ‘couples only’ is going to be focused on work and thgus your career shouldn’t suffer anything for this.

    Fake a migraine, temporary stomach ache, nasty dose of the trots. But no, I wouldn’t go to this either.

  18. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

    Option 4 reminds me of the (possibly apocryphal) story of the Craigslist ad from someone offering to be your date to [insert family holiday here] to horrify your family in whatever way possible.

    Alas, both of these are probably more entertaining in fiction than in reality. (Now waiting for the fanfics based on this letter…)

    1. AthenaC*

      Hmm – I think the chaos of all of those extra people would be ripe for a heist, espionage, or something similar. Lots of options for fanfics.

      1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        I’ve read multiple fics based on the Craigslist story. And yes, Rule 34 definitely applies to some of them. I’m sure the same would apply to anything based on this.

    2. Danish*

      I also thought of that! Less of a good idea to hit on other women or pick fights when you’re at a networking event, but tempting…!

    3. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

      I was thinking there might be a broke college student who’d be willing to go to a fancy dinner for the food. Preferably from the drama club. Ideally one with a baby face.

    4. Cedrus Libani*

      We can get some AAM cross-overs going. Take me to your conference, OP! I’ll do magic tricks, then I’ll whip out my boombox and play piano covers of songs about unrequited love while I mournfully sing along and stare at you. Meanwhile, your job is to get drunk enough to start hugging strangers… (Haven’t you always wanted to be well-known in your field?)

  19. Lovely Tresses*

    This really does sound awful! A possible 5th option: bring your best friend and breezily own the fact that yes you’re single, but since there’s a fabulous dinner being put on you figured the best person to bring is your best friend. You can still play (and possibly win!) the “how you met” and “how well do you know each other” games. Best of luck to you, stay plucky friend

    1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

      I did this once for a horrible mandatory corporate Christmas/Managing Director’s kid’s Bat Mitzvah combo (yep). My BF had a great free meal and we got a great photo of us all dressed up together.

      1. Margaret Cavendish*

        I’m sorry, what? I thought you said “mandatory corporate Christmas/Managing Director’s kid’s Bat Mitzvah combo,” but you couldn’t possibly have said that, because that’s not a thing. I must have misunderstood. Right?

        1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

          The Managing Director also required all employees to bring gifts for his daughter, whom most of us had never met. I was one of the lowliest peons and I couldn’t really afford it, but I was told that was also mandatory. It was the most awkward event I’ve ever been to.

          I was only 5 years out of college and it was one of my first real jobs, so I had no idea how dysfunctional the whole thing was. I later quit when the Office Manager secretly changed my time sheet, forged my signature on the new one, and the MD wouldn’t do a thing about it.

          1. I Have RBF*

            I later quit when the Office Manager secretly changed my time sheet, forged my signature on the new one, and the MD wouldn’t do a thing about it.

            Holy illegality Batman! Quitting was very smart.

      2. LovelyTresses*

        I had to re-read “Christmas/Managing Director’s kid’s Bat Mitzvah” several times! The world is a rich tapestry, as they say

      3. Lily Rowan*

        OK, “Christmas-themed Bat Mitzvah” is actually worse than “Valentine’s Day Ash Wednesday Conference Dinner.”

      4. pope suburban*

        Well. That certainly took some Hanukkah balls for him to pull off. What on earth made this person think that was a good idea? And that poor kid, there’s no way she could have had any fun with a bunch of strange adults hanging around her party.

      1. La Triviata*

        My sister once attended a wedding reception (at our mother’s insistence, since it was for the daughter of her best friend). She knew no one except the bride and her mother. It was a sit-down dinner, but no arranged seating. She found a seat, was asked to move to a different table so a couple could be seated together. It happened again. And again. After the third move, she called some friends and went to dinner with people she knew and liked. And mom never lived it down.

        1. Satan's Panties*

          Wow. That makes me want to bite someone. Was your mom not there, like Sis had to be her proxy because Mom was unable to attend?

    2. LovelyTresses*

      Also! Aside from being horrified for the single people attending this event (which is such a thoroughly regular, normal thing to be OP can’t possibly be the only one), I’m horrified for the attendees who recently lost a spouse, has a spouse that’s deployed, a spouse that’s seriously ill or literally any number of other (regular) things that happen throughout life that would make it very difficult to attend a *romantic themed work event*. I honestly cannot even.

    3. Throwaway Account*

      I might bring the friend but explain that since you were single, THE ORGANIZERS DID NOT KNOW WHERE TO SEAT YOU so you brought a friend so you could have a seat at the table.

      1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

        Yeah, this is such a weird part of an already weird scenario. Like, a) you are planning a conference dinner, not a royal wedding, you don’t need to engage in the active and planned seating of people AT ALL, let alone at such a level as to be positively stymied by a solo diner, and b) why in the name of all that is holy would you tell the ONE single person she is the ONLY single person going to this LOVE THEMED event and tell her you are simply FLUMMOXED by where you could POSSIBLY seat her?!

        My only thought is that they were trying to get the LW to say “Oh, if it is couple’s only, I don’t have to come–after all it isn’t like it is a professional event at a conference I am attending–it’s a mini couples retreat!”.

    4. mskyle*

      Yeah, I once went on a “reward” trip with my sister when her husband was on his own work trip. It was at a couples-only resort so we hand to share a king-size bed (flashbacks to childhood trips!) and the place was so hetero-oriented that I was repeatedly addressed as “sir” (I am a woman and totally conforming in my gender presentation but I’m a little bigger than my sister so I guess they slotted me into the “man” side of their couple schema). It was super-weird but hey, free trip to the Bahamas and all the blender drinks I cared to drink!

      I’ve never been big on V-day and I’m a widow – would happily join any friend in this or a similar situation!

    5. Richard Hershberger*

      Have we established that the dinner will be fabulous? I don’t see anything in the OP suggesting that it will be better than the typical catered rubber chicken meal.

  20. N*

    This is my worst nightmare.

    It’s just so bizarre….I’ve had to travel for work on Valentine’s Day several times, and no one has ever even mentioned it.

    Maybe you could heavily bribe a friend or family member or coworker to go with you? The “love” theme would still be awkward but at least you wouldn’t be the odd one out.

      1. Kate, short for Bob*

        yep, wouldn’t need a bribe. Would probably drink too much and/or amuse myself making up as many different answers to the same questions as I could, but I’d be there in a heartbeat

    1. UKDancer*

      Yeah. I wound up in Paris on Valentine’s Day with my boss once and the restaurants were all heavily leaning into the romantic theming (no doubt to make money from tourists). So we wound up having a candlelit dinner looking at the Seine which felt very romcom (apart from the fact we had no interest in each other). We were comfortable enough and had worked together long enough that we enjoyed watching all the people in love being embarrassingly romantic and had quite a fun evening. But I could see it being really awkward if you didn’t like your colleague.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Ha, that reminds me of going out to dinner with a friend one Valentine’s Day, and the restaurant staff were definitely staring at us trying to decide if we were a couple or not.

        1. UKDancer*

          I think they definitely thought we were a couple (probably because we were having fun – more than can be said for some of the other people there). Paris restaurants get a lot of flower sellers coming in (trying to sell over priced roses) and the waiter told my boss off for not buying me a rose. We both thought it was quite funny.

  21. Angela*

    #4 is her movie plot

    but what an asinine move by her job to make a work dinner romance themed. HR dropped the ball there.

    1. Phony Genius*

      Her job isn’t the organizer. It’s a conference organized by others that she’s attending as part of her job. Her HR did nothing wrong. I’m not sure the organizer’s HR would get involved, assuming they have HR.

  22. mb*

    This is horrendous. My significant other wouldn’t go no matter what. We don’t really do Valentine’s Day anyway, and this sounds like a nightmare. What if the “how we met” story is NSFW? What if there are same-sex couples who maybe don’t want to be out? I can’t believe that OP is the ONLY single person there. I like the suggestions about attending hors d’oeuvres and then skipping out on the rest. Or if you have to go, make everyone uncomfortable by making up a terrible/ridiculous story about your breakup – really make people regret putting together and/or attending something like this.

    1. Ginger Baker*

      As someone who has a number of VERY NSFW “how we first met” stories, here to co-sign on this. I LOVE these stories and will happily and gleefully tell people about them…in my *personal* life. Not at work and work-adjacent events ffs.

      1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

        I have a how-we-met story that is “safe for work” in the sense of being G-rated, but not something I’d have brought out at work: my girlfriend and I met because she started dating my boyfriend. Phrased that way, it tends to stop conversation, at least briefly, even if I’m talking to people who know we’re polyamorous.

      2. Agent BossyChaps*

        I met my life partner at a gay BDSM club. I’m not out at work about my kinks, but under these ridiculous circumstances, I’d out myself just to watch other attendees squirm at the inappropriateness of it all.

    2. TPS Reporter*

      yeah this event really presumes a heteronormative, monogamous non-kink vibe to these relationships which may not be the case at all. or what if these couples are having severe problems/on the verge of divorce. you wouldn’t know, because they’re you’re co-workers. you have no need or want to know!

      1. LWH*

        It is definitely assuming monogamy, but what about it is heteronormative or non-kink? We have no idea if some of the couples coming could be queer, and I don’t know what level of kink you think would be accommodated in a work event (at least outside of possibly something covered already by monogamy) so…what about it falls into those categories?

        I say this as a queer person who doesn’t care about Valentine’s Day myself, there’s a lot of stuff around Valentine’s Day that’s heteronormative but that doesn’t mean the sheer idea of having a couple’s dinner for Valentine’s Day is in and of itself heteronormative.

    3. sparkle emoji*

      Major yes on the “how we met” issues. I met my SO on Tinder which is a perfectly normal thing to do in our modern world, but also not something I want to discuss while networking.

    4. I Have RBF*

      What if there are same-sex couples who maybe don’t want to be out?


      Sure, I’m out at work. But I’m not necessarily out to everyone attending a conference from all over the country, including people who like being from more “conservative” areas. Yes, I have the metaphorical balls of steel, but being in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people is sometimes a risk I won’t subject my spouse to. Better to be thought a wet blanket than have to deal with some other attendee’s passive-aggressive disapproval of my “lifestyle choice”.

  23. irritable vowel*

    If there’s some kind of pre-dinner cocktail hour, you could just stop by to say hello to the people you wouldn’t otherwise see at other events and then say you’re not feeling well (“nothing contagious!”) so won’t be staying for dinner. Another option would be to bring a friend that you would have fun with for the evening, do it up in the photo booth, etc.

    1. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

      If the OP is in contact with the planners and they know they’re situation, surely they could make an accommodation for the OP to mingle during cocktail hour or during dessert and then seat them at the bar or their room for the meal? It’s definitely not a GOOD situation, but those are the times people are up, moving around and schmoozing, and not in their seats eating. It’s less weird to walk around with a drink and a cookie or cheesecake on plate than it is mingling while trying to cut a steak…

    2. My Brain is Exploding*

      Maybe I would schmooze around and tell everyone I was leaving before dinner because the organizers didn’t know where to seat me.

  24. OlympiasEpiriot*

    A couples event has no place in a work networking event.

    That said, I’d opt for #4. If you need recommendations, ask Alison to put you in touch with me.

      1. Shy Platypus*

        I think it’s in the same tier as the escort stuff, and yet it’s not barred. I agree this is probably not serious advice, but jokes are not always easy to spot in text! So please, God, relax a little bit when people ask for clarification?

  25. Maggie*

    Do they have actual RSVPS from each of those couples? It almost sounds like the made the chart based off who is a couple, but even IF they do have RSVPs from every single significant other, there still won’t be 100% attendance, someone will have sick kids, forget, someone themself will be sick or decide to bail or whatever. Is there any option to bring a friend or even another co worker? I think that might be the least awkward because you could theoretically still answer some of the questions even if it’s in a joking manner. Like “where was your first date?” You can say “we have a standing date at the Starbucks by the office” or whatever. Yes, it’s SUPER lame but it might keep you afloat

  26. Sick of Workplace Bullshit (she/her)*

    This sounds horrific! What were these people thinking?! I have always hated Valentine’s Day, both when I was single and now as a partnered polyamorous person. It just sucks.

    I’m sorry you have to deal with this, OP. Good luck!

  27. Reba*

    I think there is a slight chance it won’t be… quite as bad as we think…maybe? In any case I hope it helps to read us all agreeing that this is bananas.

    I agree with Alison to continue bugging the conference organizers about it. Try to be (professionally) blunt and stress that this is a *work* event.

    “The way you are planning this night is effectively making me into a third wheel at a work event where I and my employer (who has paid for my attendance) are supposed to benefit from professional networking. I don’t want to skip it entirely, but I’m sure you can see how the focus on romantic relationships at this work event is putting me in a really awkward position. Can you work with me on my suggestions for participation?”

    This would also suck for many others for so many reasons. Loss, not being out at work, the list could go on! Sheesh.

    1. sparkle emoji*

      I really like this script, I think emphasizing that the Valentine’s Day focus detracts from the work and networking aspects(for everyone) is the way to go.

    2. Elitist Semicolon*

      This is a brilliant script, though I’d de-personalize it. “The way you are planning this night is effectively making some attendees” may go a bit further in emphasizing that this is a large problem that needs a large solution – a solution that isn’t the organizers saying to one person, “okay, fine; you can go eat in your room.”

    3. JustaTech*

      Yes! The emphasis on the fact that people (and specifically employers) are *paying* for a *professional* networking conference should (hopefully) help the organizers see how utterly outside of the norm this is.

  28. Alex*

    Did it not occur to them that some people may be single????? This is insane.

    I think an excellent option is to pretend you have an imaginary partner that you assume everyone can see. “Oh, hi, this is Bob, my husband!” Smile enthusiastically. Get him a drink. Sit next to him and steal his french fries. Pretend to be flirted with. “Oh, Bob, not in front my colleagues! I’m sorry everyone, he just can’t keep his hands off me! *giggle.*”

  29. Llama Llama*

    Ha. I love my husband dearly and if we had the childcare taken care of, he would come to a silly event like this because he loves me. Not because he truly wanted to go.

    Now once my sister went to a conference where they had Disneyland to themselves for a night. I can see that one being a coveted event for a spouse.

    1. Expert Paper Pusher*

      If anyone has a private night at Disneyland for a work event, I am happy to be your faux spouse with whatever ridiculous or boring backstory you would like.

  30. Karen*

    I can say with 100% certainty that my spouse would rather have an invasive medical procedure than attend a work event with me that would force us to play games & network . The organizers of this event are so far out of touch with what is acceptable as a company networking event that frankly I am worried for their long term job prospects .

    1. UKDancer*

      Yes. Who are all these people with spouses / partners who are willing and able to travel to another city for a networking event? Most of my colleagues and team all have partners with jobs / family commitments / their own plans and can’t just drop everything to come to a networking event in a different city.

      This would be really out of touch with everything in my field as well so I would worry about a company which thought this was a good idea. I’ve gone to an odd Christmas party when I was with my last boyfriend but that was because it was fun and I was at a loose end and his company took a “more the merrier” approach. I would not have been willing to travel to something elsewhere for networking.

      1. I Have RBF*

        My spouse is retired, so they would be able to go with me. In fact, one conference that I went to, we both went, and she did the hallway track with an expo pass. But they wanted to go because she was interested. A romantic dinner at a work function would not go over well.

        1. RetiredAcademicLibrarian*

          I got my sister an expo pass for a library conference I was attending. She had a blast – picked up a suitcase full of free books, although she was very honest and told the publishers she wasn’t a librarian. She also enjoyed playing “Spot the Librarian” at the various places we were around the convention center.

  31. The Terrible Tom*

    Why I am I always so worried that I’M bad at MY job???? Who are these other people who are just wandering around going, “I can do whatever I want, I’m great!” and then planning a VALENTINE’S DAY DINNER NETWORKING EVENT with INTIMATE GAMES that people CANNOT OPT OUT OF and then openly telling someone “we don’t know where to put you because you, a human being doing a job, is not the target audience for our WORK CONFERENCE because that target audience is COUPLES playing INTIMATE GAMES.”

    1. Katara's side braids*

      This is an excellent point. I’ll think of this every time I feel impostor syndrome from now on.

    2. Margaret Cavendish*

      Right? These are actual people who exist in the world. I think the rest of us are doing fine.

    3. Blarg*

      That’s a good chunk of what I get out of this site. “Well, at least I didn’t …”

      Also works for when I’m annoyed at my boss and org, “At least they’ve never…”

  32. amoeba*

    Wow. That’s absolutely horrifying. Sorry you have to do this!

    I’d probably go with option 2 – it would probably help that even as part of a couple I’d find that dinner incredibly bizarre and cringeworthy! One thing I’d suggest if it’s still possible: could you bring a good friend, preferably one that you could make fun of the even with after/a good target for your eyerolls? Or is it literally limited to romantic partners? In that case, honestly, I’d consider lying (“yes, that’s my new girlfriend!”), unless those are people you see so regularly it might get confusing to keep track of.
    If that’s not an option, I’d definitely at least do a “life commentary” of the weirdest moments for my friends on WhatsApp (or consider protocoling it and then submitting it as an update here?)

  33. LifeBeforeCorona*

    This event sounds very cringeworthy. What about the couples who are in the process of breaking up? Couples who prefer not to talk about their personal life for various reasons? How is this evening any way related to the conference beside the coincidence of landing on V Day? Personally, I’d try to round up a friend with a sense of humour but yeah…it’s a hard no.

    1. ExAdmin*

      My thought was to bring a friend too as you might to a holiday party where SOs or guests are invited. I’m surprised that the organizers even know the employees relationship statuses. Then also knowing that there was one person who would be obviously singled out and still thinking this was a good idea!

    2. Bunny Lake Is Found*

      Or what about the very new couple: “Hey, I know we haven’t even stayed over at each other’s apartments yet, but want to awkwardly talk about our relationship plans for the next 5 years with Jim from Accounting and his wife and mother of his 6 kids, Marcy, who I literally didn’t know existed until now? Bonus points, because how our very new relationship seems to people may impact my entire professional trajectory.”

  34. Kate*

    I have read some bonkers stories on the internet in my day, and this one is right up there. I cannot imagine why anyone thought this was a good idea.

  35. Jovana Jankovic*

    Another option is to write an anonymous note to the conference organizers and copy all the HR departments of the organizations whose employees are expected to attend. You can be very frank that this is a completely inappropriate over-stepping into employee personal lives (What if someone is polyamorous? Or queer in a non-queer-friendly city? What if someone comes from a country/culture where Valentine’s Day isn’t celebrated? It’s not a global holiday.) and should be seen as highly unprofessional bordering on harrassment. Even if the conference organizers don’t see their mistake, they might be contacted by numerous HR reps from organizations participating in the conference, and they might bow to pressure.

    1. Brad Pitt eating with Penguins*

      Or OP can proactively reach out to all attendees, volunteering up their +1 spot for anyone in a polyamorous relationship who needs the extra spot. How’s THAT for networking?

    2. Throwaway Account*

      I keep thinking about NOT BEING ABLE TO SEAT SINGLES, like if you have no partner, you cannot participate in a networking event!!

      And exactly what Jovana Jankovic said — what if you have more than one partner or don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day or are queer in a non-queer-friendly workplace?

      This is awful from any way you look at it!

      1. JustaTech*

        The whole “can’t seat singles” just feels extra wrong on top of everything else. Anyone who’s been to any kind of event with assigned seating knows that there is a bit of an art to it (don’t seat those two people together, they hate each other, or seat this person near the door to the bathroom, or seat that person against a wall), but it’s not rocket science.

        Even not-very-good seating planners have a “people where we don’t know how to seat them” table. This might be the “awkwardly aged cousins” table at a bat mitzvah, or the “family friends who won’t know anyone else” table at a wedding – but you still put them *somewhere*.

  36. Ashley*

    I really hope the conference organizers realize what bad taste this is. There are times spouses have to attend work events for some industries, but nothing should be considered romantic or getting into folks personal relationships like this event suggests. I would just give as much feedback to organizers at the end of the event as possible. If you can pick folks your want to mingle with maybe asked to be seated at that table?
    But really you have the start of a book / movie if you ever want it after attending an event like this.
    And for the record I have someone who I can drag to events when I have to and I can’t imagine suggesting this one to them because I would be so uncomfortable sharing anything so they would probably wake up that morning not feeling well if I felt the pressure to RSVP with them and fake enthusiasm for the event.

    1. MyStars*

      Of course the organizers don’t realize what bad taste this is, elsewise they would not go through with it.

    2. Madre del becchino*

      Feedback to the conference organizers: ” ‘The Newlywed Game’ is not what I expected for a networking event.”

  37. Emmy*

    Yeah, work and personal should not be mixed when it’s a professional conference. I might feel differently if my department or worksite did something family-oriented. But when I’m “out of town” (even if the town is nearby), then that is strictly work. Especially if networking is involved. My spouse has ZERO interest in watching me rub elbows with other professionals in my field.

  38. CommanderBanana*

    As a conferences professional I am cringing so hard right now. We did have a conference that ran over Valentine’s Day one year and did a vaguely-Valentine’s Day theme for the reception that night, but it was limited to some Valentine’s-themed decorations and that was it, not…whatever this mishegoss is.

    Honestly, if you think it’ll be really weird if you don’t go, I’d make an appearance, make the rounds so that anyone who needed to remember that I’d been there saw me, and dip.

    1. Ink*

      Seriously. Stick a bowl of conversation hearts in the middle of the tables and do red tablecloths. Then just do what you can to avoid eating up the whole day, if possible, and say you’re sorry the dates worked out like this. Anything further is SUPER none of your business!

    2. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      Thanks for your insight! I was hoping conference professionals could weigh in and try to help us understand what *these* conference professionals are thinking.

      I suppose it’s good to hear it makes as little sense to you as us.

    3. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

      I wouldn’t mind if they went for a chocolate theme. Chocolate cake, maybe a cocoa rub on the meat. Maybe make random stuff heart shaped, it’ll still taste good.

      1. Student*

        My last memorable Valentine’s Day conference meal was from a conference center that always, always served chicken-with-sauce, plus mashed potatoes as the meal.

        Some mad person decided that the Valentine twist would be to make the sauce into raspberry sauce, poured onto the poor, abused chicken in the shape of a heart. I learned that night an important fact: raspberry sauce does not go well with chicken, nor with mashed potatoes.

    4. Simply Tracy*

      I’ve been planning meetings for more than 20 years now. I honestly can’t imagine doing this. If I had to hold a meeting over this time and had to do a themed dinner, there’s like 10 ways I could think of that and not one would be a sweetheart’s dinner. It is so tone deaf to potentially make any person feel awkward. This is just terrible.

  39. I don’t post often*

    There has to be something we don’t know here. Everyone at the conference is bringing a significant other? All these people work in the same city/ town? None of them have to have partner at home to keep children?!
    All that aside, who thought this was a great idea?! Beats head against the wall. Know that we all stand with you in the stupidity of this, OP.

    1. Ink*

      It’s wild enough to think this is OK (to plan in general and to be so nasty to the LW re:seating in specific) that I have to wonder if the organizers have just *assumed* everyone will be overjoyed. Took the people who think it’s great, put em on the seating chart, and then moved on to putting the other spouses they know on the chart with no actual agreement from the partners in question. Regardless, we need an update on if/how this goes further off the rails, fizzles out as a irrelevant footnote, or somehow miraculously goes off without a hitch!

      1. sparkle emoji*

        I have to assume that this is early in the planning stages and that once more RSVPs start rolling in the planners will find out that everyone was not in love with this cockamamie plan.

    2. Student*

      I think we should consider the possibility that many of the +1s have not actually been told by their partner about this yet. Their partner signed up for the event and, when asked, claimed their SOs would be happy to attend, without actually checking first. Many of those +1 seats will probably be empty, due to practical and social considerations.

  40. L*

    This is INSANE. Besides everything else, this has the strong possibility of outing someone who doesn’t want to be outed, especially if it’s in a conservative leaning area? And what about widows, widowers, asexual or aromantic people? Jfc. This is so wrongheaded.

    1. different seudonym*

      The point about people who have been widowed is particularly striking. That would be so cruel!

  41. Chocolate Teapot*

    It sounds like a terrible idea. Also the topic of partners attending work events has come up here before and there are few occasions when either partner is happy.

  42. Precious Wentletrap*

    Variation on #4 but it’s some rando you met on the street like ten minutes before showtime who agreed because they wanted a free dinner

  43. Oh, just me again!*

    Oh, but I loved option 4! I m so sorry Allison crossed it out! I was going to suggest taking a blow-up doll but that’s a bit , um . . . “strident!”

    How about taking a teddy bear or Raggedy Andy doll instead? We NEED someone to stick up for the single people, because this plan was incredibly insensitive!

    (Why did they schedule the stupid event for Valentine’s week anyway? There are about 45 non-holiday weeks they could have chosen. )

    1. Throwaway Account*

      Haha, I thought of blow up Doll too – to drive home the point that she could not be seated at a networking event without a partner.

    2. Carit*

      Bring one of those super creepy ventriloquist ‘s dummies. Possibly one painted to look like a clown.

    3. metadata minion*

      “Why did they schedule the stupid event for Valentine’s week anyway? There are about 45 non-holiday weeks they could have chosen.”

      Probably they got a good price on the venue. I would seriously side-eye anyone who wanted to move a professional conference over Valentine’s Day.

  44. Insnerd*

    My husband has one of these to attend this year in another state, so this partner sure isn’t attending but even he, in a relationship, thinks it’s weird trying to make a work event cute and lovey dovey. Talk about potential boundary blurring ‍♀️

  45. A Simple Narwhal*

    Omg option #4 needs to be a movie if it isn’t already, kind of like The Wedding Date.

    But in all seriousness I’m sorry this is happening OP, it’s completely unhinged. Are all the spouses supposed to take time off of work to be able to travel for this dinner in a nearby city? Do they assume everyone has a stay at home spouse? Does no one have kids to worry about? Is absolutely EVERYONE attending in a happy relationship?

    I’m sure the “logic” is they assume everyone took the night off/got a babysitter already, but what if they didn’t? Even if they got a sitter, there’s big cost difference between hiring someone for a couple hours while you go to dinner nearby and hiring a sitter for an unknown number of hours, probably at least 5+.

    This is mindboggling, I hope you can get out of it.

  46. LHOI*

    Volunteer to DJ and then pull a Chis Traeger and only play music from the soundtracks of super depressing movies.

    1. amoeba*

      Hah, yes. Or, you know, other fun and absolutely non-romantic stuff. “All the single ladies” comes to mind. So does Weird Al. Or hey, why not some Death Metal? I’m sure I’d have tons of fun…

  47. Ink*

    How well do the organizers know every single guest? Unless you’re in a very small industry, my money is on “not well enough to be 100% sure no one is widowed and grieving.” Or in an abusive relationship. Or going through a health crisis, divorce, etc. Or just really big on over the top PDA! You get to plan things that don’t account for possibilities like that because it’s a work event and they’re private matters, but if you make it not just partners welcome but EXPLICITLY romantic you forfeit that right! Which is why you shouldn’t do it! I’m sure historically someone at this dinner, sometime, has stuck their foot in it with a “How is Sandra?” “We’re divorced,” and this year it’ll be much harder to move the conversation forward gracefully. I literally keep thinking of new reasons this is a terrible idea, but in the interest of preserving SOME brevity… yikes.

    1. sparkle emoji*

      Do they even know people well enough to know the basics of relationship status? Unless this is a conference for one small company, I’m not sure the planners would have that info for everyone. I’d bet the organizers gave a plus-one to everyone just assuming all were partnered without checking. LW may be the only one who has raised the issue, but I doubt they are truly the single attendee.

    2. JustaTech*

      Having once spectacularly shoved my foot in my mouth with a friend (“How’s your other half?” “She left me.”) good grief don’t set people up to do this to their professional contacts!

  48. LCH*

    They really didn’t consider how this would work with single people? Wow. I hope at least once they got to the seating arrangement issue they realized mistakes were made.

  49. BecauseHigherEd*


    What if someone has been recently widowed? Is polyamorous? Is just single because they want to be? Is gay but not out at work? I’m all for “Bring a +1 if you want” but this is…weirdly old-fashioned.

    1. Twix*

      As someone who is polyamorous, queer, and recently divorced, yup. This is the normal nightmare of trying to navigate work events with +1s turned up to 11. I’m not closeted about any of those things, but I tend to keep my work life and personal life separate for a reason. There is no way to say “Yeah, so my wife and I got divorced since I last saw you, but this is my boyfriend of 10 years” that doesn’t have the potential to alienate people I’m supposed to be networking with, and the fact that I don’t really talk about my personal life at work doesn’t mean I want to have to lie about it.

      1. Relentlessly Socratic*

        I may be watching too much Our Flag Means Death, but this is the PERFECT opportunity to show up with 20 spouses.

        1. Csethiro Ceredin*

          Not sure it’s possible to watch too much OFMD.

          There are two parties on that show, both go horribly wrong, and both still sound like more fun than this one.

  50. Serious silly putty*

    Do you have an extroverted friend/family member who thrives chatting with people and is good at telling stories after?
    Or even just somebody who will find the experience more amusing than awkward?
    Having somebody like this around would really help. I’m not even extroverted per se just definitely Not Shy and I would totally make smalltalk with strangers to support a friend in a ridiculous situation like this — ESPECIALLY if there was free food.

    Or a youngish adult in your life (junior colleague, if you’re both straight women so it’s clear there’s nothing inappropriate?) who may find a networking event a good thing to practice?
    If not, is there anyone you know there well enough to know that THEY won’t see this as romantic evening, and would enjoy you joining? (My husband, for instance, would feel really awkward at one of these events and so he would be fine if one of my colleagues turned our duo into a trio of ridiculing the whole thing.)
    I think it will be VERY easy for other to see how this is Not Normal, and having someone to share that with would make all the difference.

    1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Wonan*

      My dad would absolutely love something like this. Talking to strangers and a free meal?!? He’s all in. But even he knows he’s in the minority and most people do not enjoy this type of event.

      1. bamcheeks*

        Actually taking one of your parents or your kid to something like this might be fun. “How did you meet?” “Well, I don’t remember it, but apparently the midwife said, “Here’s your baby!” and then I weed on her.”

  51. Everything Bagel*

    I’d seriously just opt out of dinner that night. Alison is right, what networking that would be beneficial to your job is going to be taking place on that particular night? If you have opportunities on the other nights for dinner networking, isn’t that enough?

  52. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    Fremdschämen: Valentine Edition

    I have seen this show before. And watching the waitstaff (or cooking/yoga/paired event teacher) note, “and for MARY, by herself, you will use half the wine” “you will hold up your own leg”
    Hilarity ensued.

    In this case, ones who should be embarrassed are the people who thought this was a good idea! Are they by chance the same people who thought having staff bring a red/yellow/green light party was a good idea for an office Valentine activity?
    My nephew is in fifth grade and they don’t have classroom Valentine activities anymore.

  53. Alan*

    Maybe I’m out of touch, but I’d ask a friend, either male or female, to go with me. Almost option #4, but not quite. You can explain what’s happening un front so that you don’t send the wrong message. But at least you wouldn’t be alone. It really sounds like a bizarre situation though.

  54. FitPro not Fitspo*

    secret option number 5: RSVP plus one, take a life size cutout of Keanu Reeves (or any crushable celebrity) and eat two dinners instead of one.

    I know that is not consistent with being taken seriously as a professional, but neither is the event, so…

    1. Twix*

      I think I’d be inclined to take a professional who could pull off a power move of that caliber more seriously.

    2. Decima Dewey*

      Find a life-size cutout of a celebrity you are known to loathe. Spend the evening bickering with (okay, at) the cutout until everyone at the table decides they need to talk to someone across the room (and never come back to your table).

  55. Stopped Using My Name*

    I am similar situated regarding this upcoming Valentine’s Day.

    I think LW has gotten into their own hear with the belief “…this is the biggest night of the conference with people in attendance who won’t be there the rest of the time, so it would be a glaring omission if I didn’t attend.”

    Making this a Valentine’s Dinner really changes the “networking” optics. The number of people who would not want to business network with the President of Paperclips while they were sitting at a table with with Significant Other of Paperclips. I don’t think much business networking would take place, folks would be ending their evening as soon as possible.

    1. Oh, just me again!*

      I think you are right. Making this about Valentines Day changed the focus. It’s a completely different event now.

  56. Twix*

    Do you ever see an absolute train wreck of an idea and think “How did this make it past multiple people who do this for a living without anyone pointing out the giant, glaring problems with it?” Because this is at least, like, 3 of those times.

    1. Lilo*

      Yeah, look I bet most of the couples don’t want this either because doing romance stuff at a work event is just so inappropriate and cringey. Like it sounds like an event from The Lobster.

      1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

        Exactly! Only if you don’t sufficiently perform being a couple correctly instead of being hunted, you might not get that promotion you were angling for. Relationships and dating are already high stakes enough, we do not need to add (gestures wildly) THIS to the mix.

  57. Ilima*

    Could you take a friend for moral support like I did at prom? Bonus points if you dress like you’re actually going to prom.

  58. ecnaseener*

    The fact that you’ve been told you’re the literal only person not bringing an SO does seem really weird, unless it’s a very small conference. Any chance that everyone but you interpreted this as “we’re replacing the networking dinner with an optional couples’ dinner,” and opted out if they didn’t have an SO or their SO wasn’t available?

  59. Bluz*

    I’m cringing over the whole dinner thing. Honestly why would I want to drag my spouse/GF/BF, etc to a dinner where they wouldn’t know anyone and would probably be bored hearing about work stuff they’re not a part of.

    I would opt out and stay in my hotel room, order room service, and rent a good movie.

  60. Essentially Cheesy*

    I truly would not attend and would privately, professionally, calmly share with anyone that pushes the issue with the numerous reasons why this is not optimal with you.

  61. Dennis Johnson*

    It sounds absurd, but maybe you can bring a friend and laugh about it, or just attend briefly if it’s important?

  62. OrigCassandra*

    Option 5: Counterprogram.

    The conference probably has a bulletin board or similar attendee-to-attendee communication. Gin up a spontaneous go-out dinner for everybody who doesn’t want to do the V-Day conference fiasco.

    You’ll probably have to pick a chain restaurant because it’s Valentine’s Day and non-chains will be fully reserved up, but I don’t think that’s a complete turnoff the way the awful conference dinner is.

  63. HBJ*

    “Who are these people who want to attend their partner’s work dinner for Valentine’s Day?”

    *raises hand* Sure, it wouldn’t be the first thing I’d choose, but it’s also pretty far from the worst, and it’s a far cry above “at home alone.”

    I don’t think it’s that weird that SOs might want to go? This is one thing I’ve never understood about this site – the idea that people who might enjoy or choose to go to their spouses work events are freaks of nature. I’ve enjoyed every work event of my husband’s I’ve ever gone to, and they’ve been not bad date nights, too.

    Just for the record, yes, I think it’s weird a company is doing this. This isn’t about whether the company should do this, just a response t
    since they already are.

    1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

      I think it is specifically a networking group couples event that is a big “who would want to go to that?” If it was an end of the year company awards dinner, or a sports event/concert, then it might be a lot of fun. If it was just some sort of stuffy “team and SOs go to a holiday dinner” thing, then that is probably not a thing you and your SO would typically do as a couple, but you would absolutely go to spend time with your partner and have a nice meal.

      Once you get to “mandatory icebreakers about your relationship upon which your SO’s career development may depend”, I think then it would actually be very weird to be like “I WANT to go to this”–as opposed to a “I hate everything about this, but I will do it because I want to support my partner.”

    2. Andrea*

      I am the same. My partner’s coworkers are nice. His old company was small and the boss took everyone to a fancy dinner for the holidays + partners. It was always really nice.

      And when it’s in a nearby city (I am picturing an hour or so drive; maybe that’s way off), I’ll go and then come home and it doesn’t affect my own work schedule at all. I actually think it’s nice when companies say “we’re eating up all of the time you normally spend with your partner; we’re happy to feed them one night”.

      But yeah, that’s not what this is. “Your partner can come” is a nice gesture; “this is now a date night and no one will be single” is way, WAY out of line.

    3. Moo*

      I don’t think its strange that some people might want to go. However I do find it unbelievable that they seem to think EVERY SO wants to go and also will actually attend. That seems like an impossibility to me.

    4. Antilles*

      To me, the key thing is that this is happening on a Wednesday. If this was on a Friday night or a weekend? Sure, I’ve gone to plenty of work events with my spouse and enjoyed them. Totally reasonable.

      But when you add in the context that I’m leaving work at 5, drive to another “nearby city”, spending 3+ hours at dinner, then driving home? That really changes things.

    5. duck feet*

      It’s not necessarily weird to think that partners might *want* to go, it’s weird to think that there are no mitigating factors (eg having to take care of kids, working evening shifts, having urgent deadlines) that might prevent partners from going. And, you know, “just get a babysitter” isn’t really something all parents are comfortable with. We weren’t. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times we had babysitting, including from family. My partner & I didn’t really go out without the kids. Somewhat relevant: luckily, our employers held mostly family-friendly events (I skipped my work’s christmas party that wasn’t); and my partner’s work threw an amazing Eurovision song contest, family friendly, that we attended many years.

    6. JustaTech*

      So, two thoughts (as someone who has enjoyed to lots of parties at my husband’s company and with my husband’s coworkers):

      First, that it is a conference rather than a single company changes the dynamic. These aren’t people the OP sees every day (and that any of the SO’s might already know), it’s professional contacts that the OP sees *maybe* once a year. So unless this is a really tiny industry, it’s unlikely that any of the attendee’s SO’s will know anyone other than their partner, which is going to be awkward for most people. So it’s more awkward for the attendees, and it wastes a valuable networking opportunity.

      Second is the way the organizers are saying that the OP is the *only* single person and they have no idea where to seat her. That’s just so unlikely (that literally everyone else’s SO is willing and able to attend) that it seems at best very unkind to the OP. (OK, I think it sounds like the pointed cruelty of a middle-school Valentine’s day party planned by the popular kids.)

      Thinking about it, I have attended a Valentine’s Day dinner at my husband’s company – it was a regular dinner in the cafeteria except that there had been a kids card-making and cookie-decorating event earlier in the evening and there was glitter and sprinkles *everywhere*.

  64. Bunny Lake Is Found*

    So, there are just…no single people, people in long distance relationships, people who just started seeing someone so it would be weird to bring them a date to a work event, people who have SOs who work nights, etc. attending this conference other than you? Is this conference REALLY small? And EVERY SO is down for this? The Oscars doesn’t have that kind of RSVP “Yes” rate!

    Something is rotten in the state of Denmark–I think that maybe SOME attendees and conference organizers are SUPER jazzed about this, so they are telling LW that absolutely everyone else has an SO and that SO is coming. Because I would bet my boots that a lot of attendees when asked if their spouse/gf/bf will attend gave a non-committal “Yep, they’re going to try. It’s just really hard with the [insert excuse they will eventually give when partner does not attend]”, and only gave THAT answer when the organizer also insisted to them that this will be great because EVERYONE is bringing their SO.

  65. ZSD*

    Imagine if this were flipped! Imagine if the conference organizers assumed everyone was single and thus made Feb. 14 a “singles’ night.” Speed dating, hookup rooms, a Dating Game event, etc. Presumably people would immediately recognize the problems with this…so why didn’t they recognize the problems with a couples’ night?

    1. Juicebox Hero*

      The organizer is happily married/partnered, therefore everyone else in their universe else is, too. And weilds too much clout in the organization for anyone to tell them that this idea is stupider than a glass hammer.

  66. Juicebox Hero*

    Dear Plucky LW,

    Please update us if you go to the dinner. Pretty please with pink heart-shaped sprinkles on top. It could become an AAM Valentine’s Day classic the way “amateur magician playing sad piano at mortified, tipsy date” is for Christmas.


    1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      I second the request for an update!

      And I am just petty enough that I will be very disappointed if said update does not include something about the planners of this atrocity ending up with massive amounts of egg on their faces, because boy howdy, do they deserve it!

  67. Throwaway Account*

    OMG #4 – I don’t know why Alison crossed it out as I would totally do this and also tell people that the organizers did not know where to seat me as my significant other lives too far away to attend – so I hired a significant other! haha! Great idea, right!?

    I know sig other is out of the picture but they are in a “nearby” city and that is too far for them to travel so not fully a lie.

    Also, not only are the rest of the sig others willing to go to a work Valentines event, they are willing to travel to do so! I’m sure it is not that far but still …

    1. Juicebox Hero*

      I think the strikethrough is equivalent to the /s sarcasm marker, since it can be hard to convey tone through text, and peoples’ perceptions vary. This way everyone gets that she’s joking.

      1. Throwaway Account*

        My point was, why is Alison joking about that!
        I would do it!

        They are being completely ridiculous that they cannot seat her for a networking event because she is single! Bring the awkward right back to them!

  68. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

    I’m curious who is giving you the information that *everyone* attending this conference a) has a partner who b) will be attending and c) is enthusiastic about being there, because I guarantee you that’s just not the case. And if it’s the conference organizers or anyone in there team who’s giving that impression, I’d bet it’s because someone high up really wants this dumb V-day dinner to be a success and is therefore advertising it as hard as possible to all of the attendees by making it sound like everyone’s on board. It reeks of a high schooler throwing a party and claiming that “everyone who’s anyone will be there,” thus guaranteeing that everyone’s who’s anyone *will* be there because they don’t want to be left out.

    In other words: don’t go. This is bullshit. If you truly must go, ally yourself with the other skeptics at the party who will no doubt be standing in a corner fiercely clutching their cocktails and trying not to look as nauseated as they feel. And good luck; I’m sorry you have to deal with this.

    1. Umami*

      The only reason I can see anyone being enthusiastic about this is because it means they don’t actually have to plan and pay for an evening out for Valentine’s Day. Which … is also pretty lame.

    2. HonorBox*

      Oh your last suggestion is great. I think there are going to be some others there who would gladly view this in the way it should be viewed… as a both ridiculous and fascinating example of how humans interact with one other. Standing in the back of the room and dubbing your own dialogue over the din of lovebirds is something I kind of want to do now.

    3. Kristin*

      Yeah, I was just thinking this! Most conferences I’ve been to have been notably poor at keeping track of very basic and important information about attendees, like dietary restrictions and access needs. It boggles the mind that this conference somehow knows everyone’s relationship status AND that they’ve gotten RSVPs from every other attendee and their partner.

  69. ferrina*

    We need an update on this one! This is just too ridiculous and I’m on tenterhooks- will someone actually figure out that the couples theme is ridiculous? Will it be super awkward for all the couples, or will they actually enjoy it? (and if they enjoy it, who are these people?) Who is the worst couple there?

    OP, we need answers!!

  70. Sparkles McFadden*

    This is ridiculous. A love-themed networking dinner event? Who would want to do this? It’s not as if anyone is going to say “The best Valentine’s Day we ever had was when we went to my networking event!” The only thing that would be worse is if they held it on a boat and you couldn’t leave.

    There’s nothing wrong with saying “This is very couples oriented so I am opting out” or whatever you want to do. Decide what you want and tell them “This is what’s happening.” I’m pretty blunt so I would tell the organizers that this is the dumbest idea in the history of ideas and to leave me out of it. Either that or I’d ask if I could be the emcee for some type of “Who knows who better” game and see if I could stir up some drama.

      1. HonorBox*

        I’m thinking of all kinds of terribly inappropriate questions you could ask or conversation you could initiate.

    1. HonorBox*

      Telling boss and the organizers, “It appears that this is very couples oriented … so much so that after flagging that I’m not bringing a plus one I’ve still not been assigned a seat … and I’m pretty sure there will not be quality networking done” should be enough.

  71. Coverage Associate*

    Am I the only one with religious objections to this idea?

    If you’re a western liturgical Christian, Ash Wednesday is an additional reason to opt out, and I am sure other religions never observe St. Valentine’s Day.

    1. Drago Cucina*

      I have to been at a work training that week and I’m so happy that Ash Wednesday is on Valentine’s Day. No awkard work group trying to make up for the fact that we are all away from our partners, dogs, stuffie, etc. Nope, I’m going to church.

      1. allathian*

        Honestly, I’d rather go to church than attend an event like this one, and I’m not even religious (culturally Christian, but not a believer).

  72. Bruise Campbell*

    “This idea is the feces that is produced when shame eats too much stupidity.”
    Dale Gribble, circa May, 2005

  73. Umami*

    Oh man, just go ahead and opt out! I doubt much networking can even happen with the way they have this dinner planned. Personally I would attend just to see how cringy it gets!

  74. Relentlessly Socratic*

    It’s really a shame that whatever you ate for lunch on Feb 14th gave you such an upset tummy..no no, you’ll be fine in your hotel room with some tea and toast. (Order yourself something delicious)

  75. nnn*

    I just keep thinking thinking how much easier it would be for everyone involved if the organizers had said “Since the 14th is Valentine’s Day, we aren’t having a networking event that day.” Perhaps with some arrangement to make it easy for people to get dinner reservations in the hotel restaurant that night.

    1. HonorBox*

      Or, “I get it, it is Valentine’s Day, but we are all adults and you’ll be fine. We are proceeding as normal.”

      1. Umami*

        THIS. No doubt when everyone was registering for this conference they realized this and registered anyway. Valentine’s Day isn’t some kind of sacred holiday that must be observed.

    2. Csethiro Ceredin*

      Yes exactly! Who wouldn’t be THRILLED to have a night off in the middle of a conference, whether they had plans or not?

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      Just a nitpick. Mardi Gras is February 13th this year, the day before Valentine’s day.

      But, if the organizers want a fun day, then celebrate Mardi Gras (or Fat Tuesday)

      1. Jezebella*

        Oh DERP. You’re right. So it’s on Ash Wednesday. I think I’d claim I can’t go, I have to go to mass. (NB: not Catholic)

    2. Person from the Resume*

      Valentine’s Day is also Ash Wednesday the day after Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday).

      I never celebrate Valentine’s Day anyway. Yes, I have spend the majority of my adult life not in a relationship, but even if I am dating I do not need marketers forcing me to appreciate the person I am in a romantic relationship with by buying stuff.

      But fortunately this year in south Louisiana, Valentine’s day is being overshadowed by the hang over for a real holiday.

  76. JustMyImagination*

    LW: Are you the only one attending the conference without a guest or the only one who RSVPed to attend the dinner without a guest? I imagine many of the other solo conference attendees will be by the hotel bar that evening and you can get some meaningful networking done there in a more casual setting.

    1. curiosity killed the cat*

      this is such a good point.

      the fact that everyone else has someone to bring is very surprising (given all the reasons someone wouldn’t bring someone) so I bet that many of those people are skipping.

      That’s why I’m especially surprised this is the most important networking night of the conference!

    2. HonorBox*

      It seems really odd, and quite inhospitable, that the organizers still haven’t figured out a seat for the LW. That would be enough for me to go to my boss and tell them I’m not attending this, as I’m apparently the only single person and the organizers haven’t figured out where I’m going to sit.

  77. ConstantlyComic*

    This situation would be hilarious as a set-up for a Hallmark movie or romance novel but sounds really crummy in real life. Are there really no other single people at this entire conference?

    1. Ellis Bell*

      I would absolutely accept this as a first chapter of a romance novel, knowing full well the heroine would meet someone else there who is also uncoupled, and also that they’d get a better job before the novel’s end because wow is that hopelessly thoughtless as well as commercially useless. The whole time you’re reading, you’d be thinking “making a work event romantic stretches credulity a bit, tho”. Solidarity OP! This is bonkers …

  78. pally*

    Rather presumptuous to assume everyone has a significant other. Or wants their significant other to be known to their fellow workers.

  79. Mztery1*

    Is this not something you could talk to your employer about? Realize they are sending you for the networking opportunities but I think you can make a good case they won’t be much at this

  80. Good Enough For Government Work*

    Why in the name of everything holy is any workplace even MENTIONING Valentine’s Day? Do they think you’re all teenagers or something?

    1. Double A*

      Yeah like… Valentine’s Day is not that big a deal to I would say the majority of people. My husband and I have literally never even acknowledged Valentine’s Day.

      I’m doing Valentine’s Day stuff this year because I have a kid in school for the first time, and we’re having a lot of fun with doing crafts and decorating. But if I had a work event on February 14, it would not even occur to me that it could be conflict.

  81. duck feet*

    Just so I’m clear: you’re travelling for this? And the organizers have checked with every other person going, and either none of those people are travelling, or if they are they are bringing their significant other with them? Because no one else’s partner/SO/spouse works? And no one has kids? Or the ones that have kids are fine finding family or babysitters for the week or the night?

    None of this makes any sense.

    I mean, there are times I don’t mind showing up for my SO’s work events (we’re in related fields), but there is 100% no way I would get a babysitter for this.

    1. Sparkles McFadden*

      Yeah, it seems like it would be a logistical nightmare (and general annoyance) for many people, not just the LW. I am betting no one is looking forward to the event except for the person who made the suggestion.

      1. pope suburban*

        It would in fact be a nightmare. My old boss had to attend a conference that encompassed Valentine’s Day, at a hotel in wine country. It was, predictably, difficult for the other attendees who were traveling and having to stay there to book hotel rooms. There apparently really was no other choice for dates, and the location was just a fluke because the org is headquartered in wine country, but it still sounded rough. People were permitted to bring SO’s, and there were no events planned for the night of, which was reasonable and which probably actually worked out well for the people who would like to do that kind of trip for Valentine’s Day. But it was a hard thing to organize for sure.

  82. CRM*

    OP – As much as I want you to choose Option 4 for the update alone… I think you should go with Option 3. Seriously, how much actual networking will be done if everyone’s significant others/+1s are there? What is everyone going to do – talk shop while their guests sit there awkwardly in silence? I doubt much will be accomplished on that night.

    I am so sorry you have to deal with this absurdity! I really hope that the rest of the conference is reviving.

  83. curiosity killed the cat*

    For me, the most analogous situation I’ve encountered is when I’ve had to attend baby showers when going through infertility. The strategy that worked for me was to pretend I was a person in a play. Like just completely try to separate myself from “myself” and go and say my lines, do the smile and the game, as if I was acting. I had enough experience at these events that it did feel like I could “play the part” convincingly and it was very helpful to just wall off anything authentic. (And then I’d leave early if I could).

    Just what worked for me — a pretty different (non-work!) scenario so YMMV. Good luck!

    1. Throwaway Account*

      I think that is super helpful advice. But also with the complication that they don’t have a place for her to sit since she is *gasp* single!

    2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Dang, that’s rough, curiosity. I’m glad you found a strategy that works. I hope you did something nice for yourself afterwards, since that whole situation has got to be pretty hard on your well-being.

    3. allathian*

      I’m so sorry about your infertility issues and glad you found a way to make the baby showers a bit less stressful for you. I also hope you did something nice afterwards.

      For me, the most analogous situation was joining the drama club as a freshman in high school. I was very shy and socially awkward, and I found my people there. Getting a standing ovation from a gym full of parents was also very satisfying when I was used to (and mostly happy with) being largely ignored in social situations.

      When I worked retail, my uniform was my superhero suit. The customers didn’t really see me, they saw a cashier who was there to ring up their shopping. It didn’t really matter how shy and awkward I was in my private life, when I was working, I used my friendly and helpful work persona as a shield. As I grew up and gained confidence, I became a lot less shy and awkward.

      Sometimes you have to fake it until you make it, but I’m not sure how much that advice helps the LW.

  84. Critical Rolls*

    What’s the dude equivalent of the girlfriend who lives in Canada? Mr Highly Classified, maybe? “Where’s the fella?” “Oh, duty calls unfortunately.” “Oh, what does he do?” “I’m afraid that’s classified.” His work: Classified. How we met: Classified. Name: Classified.

    1. Moo*

      If anyone asks if you’re here with someone, just shout “SHE GOES TO A DIFFERENT SCHOOL” – that should cover it!

      1. Properlike*

        Framed yearbook photo.
        Framed photo that’s the dude in the photo frame, but with a strategically placed construction paper heart covering up the product copy.

  85. Iheartbrains*

    The people who are notoriously bad at Valentine’s Day are thinking “YES! Someone else is planning it for me this year so I don’t have to!” and a few others who are thinking, “SI was upset I’d miss Valentines Day to be at this conference. They’ll be so excited that problem is solved!”

    1. Ellis Bell*

      If the people who think this event has “solved” Valentine’s Day, and they have a partner who’s into it; enough that they’ve been waiting for a solution, … well, they’re in for a shock.

  86. HonorBox*

    4. Announce to your boss that you will be opting out. Explain that it will feel awkward to try to network with someone when they’re seated with their spouse or they’re sneaking off to get their photos taken.

    If I was paying for an employee (or myself, for that matter) to attend an industry event and one of the evenings was Valentine’s Day themed, and people are bringing their spouse, I’d be pretty upset. This is a work event and even if everyone is coupled, one of your major networking events is being coopted. While it may be too late in the proceedings now, if I’m the boss, I’m making a call or two to express my disgust with this and then I’m telling you to take yourself, and ideally someone with whom you want to network, out to a nice dinner.

    Also, I’m sitting here trying to imagine my reaction if my wife invited me to something like this if it was her workplace. The only reason I’d consider it was just to come away armed with all kinds of jokes and hilarious observations. But I would probably just go with no thanks…

  87. Person from the Resume*

    I want to apologize the the LW. I thought she was overreacting to the fact that this dinner was Valentine’s Day, and she preferred to mope on that day of the year. I made this incorrect assumption because I could not imagine the insanity of a work conference dinner that was romantically themed. I refuse to believe that the majority of the LW’s colleagues and their partners who are being pulled into this are enthusiastic about this.

    Also I have spend more of my adult life not dating than dating. What industry is this that every single person except the LW is coupled up? This is not the usual statistics for adult Americans.

    This is crazy, LW. I am sorry you are being subjected to this. You should not be. This is incredibly tone deaf.

  88. anywhere but here*

    February 14th is also on Ash Wednesday this year, a day of fasting and penance for Catholics as well as other denominations of Christians. Not only is this insensitive in terms of personal relationships, it’s religiously insensitive as well.

    1. Chinookwind*

      Eh, we’re Catholics. We are used to being told that, since not every Christian observes our religious holy days, they can’t be that important.

  89. ImOnlyHereForThePoetry*

    This year Valentines Day is on Ash Wednesday which you may be able to use as excuse depending on your religion.

    I don’t usually attend Ash Wednesday services but it still seems weird to me to celebrate Valentine’s Day on Ash Wednesday

  90. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    Are there any other people who will be attending who you figure also won’t enjoy this, whether single or coupled? If so, perhaps it’s an option to find a few other folks and do your own mini-networking dinner.

  91. CV*

    “ This nightly networking is vital to my employer and is one of the main reasons they are sending me.”

    Your company has just had 1/4 of the value taken away from the conference. They may have opinions about this.

  92. Pinto*

    I don’t even enjoy networking dinners, I’d never ask my husband to join me. And I always find it odd when people do bring their spouses. This would be bonkers to me,

  93. Tootiredfor this*

    I hope there is a lawsuit over this. I am so sick of HR/DEI only caring about SOME people. I hope the organizers get hammered.

    1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

      What claim would this lawsuit have? Lawyers would charge at least $450 an hour or take a case on contingency and get 1/3 of the damages if the plaintiff wins. What are the damages here? What standard of care or statute is being violated here? What is the cognizable harm here?

  94. One HR Opinion*

    This brings up so many feelings as a person who has 3 very close family members of a similar age who have either never been married or are currently in the throws of divorce.

    Based on what was shared, it’s highly unlikely that you would miss out on much if you went to the other after-hours networking events and skipped this one. And, if I were your boss, I’d heartily encourage you to skip it.

    If you’d really like to go, maybe you could volunteer to be a “seat filler” for when someone else’s SO happens to magically not show up. Because I guarantee you not only will not all the attendees show, neither will all the SO’s

    1. Tootiredfor this*

      ARe you in HR? How can justify this stupid plan as not being hostile for non-traditional couples? Not fair to LBGT, not fair to singles, divorces, widow. This is indicative of a hostily enviornment.

      1. anywhere but here*

        Attempting to provide helpful advice to the OP and not explicitly bashing the event isn’t the same as endorsing the event. Try a good faith interpretation maybe?

  95. Sparklecat*

    Tbh I actually do *not* believe that every single one of these attending couples are romantic partners, for exactly the reasons Alison described. I would bet many of them were as horrified by the event as LW, had no idea what to do, and are just bringing a friend! At least I hope that’s what is happening bc otherwise…I mean why????

    Anyway, I would just bring a game bff who could laugh with me about all this throughout the night. I would also be up front with everyone at my table that this was just my friend, not everyone is attached (srsly wtf?!) while still participating in the “how we met” activities. Sends the right message and gives you some support to survive the evening.

  96. Sarah*

    This doesn’t sound right, and I wonder if there is a communication breakdown, because there is no way that every single person attending is partnered up AND their partner will attend. What about out of town participants? Participants with small children that won’t have a babysitter? And I am skeptical that every other participant thought this was a great idea especially as it is a networking event.

    1. MsM*

      I’m curious how the RSVPs are looking compared to past years. Maybe the only people who have confirmed they’re attending are the ones whose spouses wouldn’t be willing to make any V-Day plans if there weren’t a free dinner involved. (Or me and my husband, who are in the same field and could theoretically get some benefit out of pairing date night and networking, but I’m not sure others at the table would actually appreciate that.)

  97. JS*

    maybe this was already mentioned, but what about LGBTQIA+ couples who may not wish to be “outed” at this event if they fear repercussions on their job?

  98. Nicosloanica*

    Solidarity, OP. I was once the only single person in a wedding, and the only “grooms maid,” and they made me walk down the aisle alone while everyone else went in pairs. I did feel very conspicuously Single with a capital S. Then the officient, of course, gave a long speech about how love is the only thing that makes life worth living, and without love, we’re nothing, etc etc etc, while I did my usual trick of mentally adding “yes, like the love you have for your many friends and family!!!” which was definitely not at all what he meant. Good times, good times.

    1. Tootiredfor this*

      You can do what you want at a wedding. This is work, and employers are obligated not to discrimate.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        Not the point. Obviously you can do what you want at a wedding, but that doesn’t make it okay and the analogy is still relevant. And employers are obligated not to illegally discriminate. They can, and do, legally discriminate all the time. Marital status is not a protected class in every state, even though it is in mine, and since the conference is not being run by the LW’s employer, it is unclear to me what obligations they would have even in a state where this kind of discrimination would be prohibited.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      I have never understood why they do this at weddings. The coolest weddings I’ve been to treat the couple like unique individuals with personality and a back story, and talk about how these experiences (while single!) complement each other. Friends (even shamelessly single ones) are also treated like individuals who discuss what the people getting married mean to them. And then you have the type of wedding were being united with another person is treated like some kind of faceless cult, and once you’re in you have to shun the more independently minded.

  99. JennG*

    I think this is horrible.

    But to problem-solve, is there anyone more junior in your office that you have a vaguely mentoring-type relationship with? I would bring that person and explain that they are very significant to your work. (Although you may want to watch optics on this.)

    1. anywhere but here*

      That seems really inappropriate. . . I don’t have a date for this couple’s themed event, so I brought my junior colleague? Ick

      1. Dahlia*

        It kinda says something about this event when the idea of bringing a colleague to a WORK EVENT is seen as inappropriate.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      This isn’t what you meant but… I would be so irked by this Work Valentine’s that I would be putting my evil brain to work to think of the most inappropriate person to bring in a “see what you made me do” kind of way, but I don’t think a person with less power, like a mentee or junior employee is appropriate in either a “make do” or “fuck you” kind of way. It’s really not fair to make this Debacle of Awkward the problem of another innocent bystander. In a similar situation, I might have brought my grandmother actually. She was one of those people who was very irreverent and loud, and she would have no fucks to give, but I would be able to just stand by her beaming saying: “This is just the person I love the most”. (I don’t really advise the wildcard plus one though, even if OP has one.) OP’s main three options as I see it are 1) Just go to the party with the words “I’m single” as your date. There isn’t anything wrong with being single and OP doesn’t need a cover up person 2) Bring someone like a great friend who’s truly good fun in a more demure way and who will make it more bearable as your plus one. 3) Tell the organisers it doesn’t seem to include single people, and that’s why you aren’t going; there really isn’t going to be any networking happening anyway and the organisers deserve to hear this is exclusionary.

  100. EmmaPoet*

    I’d be seriously tempted to borrow a dog/cat/gecko/alpaca and call them my partner for the evening.

  101. Tea*

    I want an update on this so. Bad. I need to know how this shit show goes down, LW. I’m so sorry they’re putting you through this.

  102. Forrest Rhodes*

    I’m a happily unmarried/unconjoined contrarian who would absolutely lean in to this. That room is likely to contain a substantial number of spouses/partners who are so bored that even their teeth are falling asleep—there’ll be lots of folks to chat with.

    I’d attend for a while—probably one hour max—and celebrate my solo-ness by finding the people who appear to be as left-out as I am. I’d unleash my inner archeologist, observing the relationships (I almost said mating rituals, but not that) of some ancient society with archaic matrimonial practices … heck, I don’t know.

    I just think there’s no reason LW should be apologetic about anything, and yes, I know, Valentine’s Day. If and when asked, LW can get a distant, semi-sad expression and refer obscurely to a tragic and doomed Great Romance, without providing details.

    For just an hour, this might even be enjoyable! Then LW quietly and politely heads for the exit to enjoy a large, private martini (or other beverage of choice) and revel in the solitude.

  103. Holy Carp*

    If this were me, I would SO order a “standee” (a sturdy cardboard cutout) of my favorite celebrity (Brad Pitt, are you available?) and take it as my date.

    It would “sit” next to me and be my date in the photo booth.

    Other women would be jealous.

  104. RVA Cat*

    This horrifying on so many levels.
    It’s bad enough when the OP just had a breakup. Imagine if one of the attendees’ partner had *died*? That is a non-zero possibility with any large group, especially after Covid.

    1. RVA Cat*

      …and a less tragic and more salacious angle, how many of the “couples” are the Office Affair Partner?

    1. The dark months*

      She also recommended drinking heavily at a work event. This is definitely one for the books.

  105. Double A*

    Did you perhaps at some point trip through a magic portal and you are now living in a “Fake Relationship” romance novel? Because those set ups usually stretch credulity, but so does this set up.

    But if you happen to have an enemy with smouldering eyes and a crooked grin with whom your contentious banter may have something *more* underlying it, you should watch out for an equally implausible scenario in which you two simply must attend the function together. Just saying.

  106. Immortal for a limited time*

    “High-level think tank.” Uh, okay. I’m gonna have to question the notion that these people are really that good at thinking.

  107. Pam Adams*

    Where is the polyamorous person who wants to bring all their relationship partners when you need them?

  108. Snoozing not schmoozing*

    LW, are you sure your company isn’t part of a creepy family-values cult that emphasizes heterosexual marriage? I can’t think of any other explanation for no other partner-free attendees at a conference.

  109. Victoria*

    There’s no way this is the actual situation: every other attendee is in a relationship, with someone who is willing and available to attend their partner’s conference dinner and lives close enough to the conference to do so. Either the planners are misrepresenting the attendance or the OP is misunderstanding.

    Either way, if the event has couple photo booths and couple-themed games, it’s not going to be useful networking for the OP. Enjoy some nice HGTV and room service.

  110. KitCaliKat*

    This sounds like the set-up for a romance novel. But seriously, who on the organizing team for this event thinks this is a good idea? There are so many different ways this could be a painful experience for the attendees!

  111. AnonInCanada*

    Hey, OP, if you really want to make a statement, go for Option #4. Hire a Chippendale’s dancer, and as you’re introducing your new beau, he starts doing his thing, maybe showing off his ding-a-ling. That ought to open some eyes pointing towards whoever’s dumb idea this was. :-P

  112. Crazy Plant Lady*

    Do you have any friends with a kid in their early 20s who’s an aspiring actor (or who did some acting in high school)? Bring them along and have them pretend to be your post-divorce fling. You could pay them less than an escort and probably would have more fun. It might not help your networking, but I know I would enjoy the event far more if I were making a mockery of it.

    1. WestsideStory*

      Better yet, have them propose to you in the middle of the dinner. Fun times.
      OP, we feel for you, which is why we keep imagining scenarios where the guilty are punished for being so stupid.

  113. Choggy*

    Can’t you network and get the vital information from the attendees before you go to the dinner and then skip it altogether?

    It does not sound like much work will be discussed if the theme is around Valentine’s Day and people are bringing their significant others.

  114. Evil Queen of Dysfunction*

    I would tell them I am happy to come, but since I do not have a significant other, my father will be joining me. He loves new people! When I got there and to my seat, I would reach into my bag and pull out his urn.

    I would then make sure he gets an expensive dinner, and lots of drinks.

    Yes my father is gone, but he would get a real kickout of this.

  115. Sue Nunemaker*

    I haven’t made it through all the comments yet, but has anyone mentioned that Valentine’s Day is also Ash Wednesday, which is a day of fasting for many Christians? How many participants and spouses might not even want to participate in the meal, especially if there is meat on the menu?

  116. Dawn*

    Is your organization a cult? That is the only way I can imagine this making sense to everyone involved.

  117. CindyLouWho*

    In addition to the outrageous idea of the Valentines’ Day networking dinner, what’s up with a networking event EVERY NIGHT?!

    I’m not sure what a think tank event is, but it sounds hard. Yet the participants are given no nights off? Yuck.

    Don’t go, OP, and tell the organizers why.

  118. Gemstones*

    OP, you can’t possibly be the only single person here. (Plus I’m sure other SOs may not be able to attend for a host of reasons.) What is happening with the other single folks or folks whose SOs can’t come?

  119. Ashley*

    My husband travelled for a work conference in NYC last Feb 13-16 and I actually did tag along! However, on Valentine’s night I was enjoying Hamilton solo before seeing my husband for all of 1 hour before he had to go to bed for another early morning. There is no conference event on earth that I would have gone to with him as a +1 even if I DIDN’T have tickets to the greatest musical of all time. LOL

  120. ChurchOrganistamongotherthings*

    I haven’t made it through all the comments yet, but has anyone mentioned that Valentine’s Day is also Ash Wednesday, which is a day of fasting for many Christians? How many participants and spouses might not even want to participate in the meal, especially if there is meat on the menu?

  121. Grace*

    As a pastor, allow me to point out that this year, Valentine’s Day coincides with Ash Wednesday. Which offers OP two additional interesting options:

    1. opt out because of a religious obligation
    2. attend, but wearing sackcloth and ashes and talking exclusively about what you’re giving up for Lent. Bonus points if she claims to be giving up some particularly interesting fetishes.

    1. Properlike*

      Atheist here, but you’re my kind of pastor! Why wasn’t religion this great when I was young and impressionable?

  122. Jam on Toast*

    In addition to the impact on single participants, parents, and employees with outside commitments that other commenters have already identified, this networking activity also carries outsized risks and the potential for a negative impact on anyone who is not straight.

    Are they out at work and/or in their personal life? Is their partner?
    Do they want to share details of their sexual identity with their larger professional network and what might the impact be if they do?
    Is the conference taking place in an area of the country where it is safe to be identified as a member of the LGBTQ+ community?
    What kind of microaggressions might they face from other attendees if pressed to answer the planned questions about their romantic or sexual history as a couple?
    What are the career impacts of not participating versus (not a team player!) participating as part of a queer couple (shoving their agenda down our throats!)?

    Valentine’s Day is chock full of creepy heteronormative romantic assumptions to begin with. this just seems to add a whole extra level of potential harm on top of an already bad idea.

    1. I'm just here for the cats!*

      Besides what you all said this screams to me male dominated work. Like of COURSE everyone is going to have a wife/girlfriend who
      1. could NEVER not be with their husband/boyfriend on Valentines day.
      2. Would LOVE to hang on their man’s every word, laugh at their jokes, and help him climb the corporate latter, all while looking wonderful and being charming (Gag!)

      This just gives me vibes of those old 1950’s magazines for housewives on how to help their husbands succeed by hosting dinner parties for the boss.

    1. Government Worker*

      I’m not sure anything will ever top the answer that started with “what in the double fried fuck?”. I still laugh over that every day.

  123. La Triviata*

    I work for an association that has conferences throughout the year. At the major one, we have a spouse program – it’s separate from the main conference and provides spouses with an opportunity to go on tours, have separate events but still have dinner and, often, lunch with the spouse attending on business. It works out well for us and it’s been popular enough that we repeat it, but otherwise, I can’t imagine anyone wanting to go to a spouse’s conference. If you’re not in the business, it’s going to be boring and, since it would probably require the registration fee, expensive.

    The emphasis of this dinner on couples and romance, is wildly inappropriate, awkward and borderline flat-out discrimination.

  124. Media Mouse*

    Just chiming in here that this is banana pants level of idiocy. The LW can’t be the only one who is single, right?

    Also Valentine’s Day is such a marketing day that the organizers should have ignored it. Geez.

  125. Problem!*

    I can imagine my husband’s face blanking out, the blood draining away, and him simply passing away at the mere thought of attending something like this. What about people who have just started dating someone? Extra awkward. Or even plain boring things like spouses who work second/third shift and can’t/won’t take the time off for this?

    1. HonorBox*

      Or plain boring things like kids who need adult supervision. There are certain days when it isn’t super easy to find a sitter. Sometimes its because the sitter has plans of their own. Or the sitter is in demand and has already been booked. Or its a school night and they’re not able.

  126. Liz Lemon*

    Oh man. I feel they had two (normal) ways to respond when they realized the conference would include Valentine’s Day: 1) Treat it like a normal day, no acknowledgement, or 2) Have that as a night off or conference events.

    They created a third option that’s worst of both worlds.

  127. Cadmium*

    This sounds like an absolute nightmare! And what happens when those “fun” little ‘how did you meet your partner?’ games turn a little too graphic after everyone’s had a couple cocktails? It’s an HR complaint just waiting to happen!

    Actually, the exclusionary feel of their comments about not knowing where to put OP and singling them out (no pun intended), could put it on the very outskirts of a harassment situation where one misstep by the company might slip them right into valid lawsuit territory.

    1. Ellis Bell*

      I feel like this could definitely be an epic update based on all the things that could easily go wrong (obvious divorce brewings, escorts who are bad at acting, and office affair partners getting pissed while the spouses are around) but in no way should OP feel like they have to be our correspondent if they want to bail. In my mind though it’s going to end up like the “I will confront you by Wednesday of next week” and “if you cannot control your spouses you should not bring them to a work event” letter.

  128. I'm just here for the cats!*

    How big is this event that you are the only single person? This seems so weird to me. There has got to be at least a few other people who are single. Is there anyway you could find out and maybe you all single people can meet and network.

    1. BellyButton*

      My comment is held up in moderation for some reason. I said the same thing, and what about people who may not be “out”, or people who are poly/triad? Maybe other single people have invited a close friend. I was often my gay best friend’s date to his work events.

      1. I'm just here for the cats!*

        Yea some one else mentioned this upthread too and I commented that not only does this cause problems for folx outing themselves and could cause issues but it also feels very 1950’s ish that the workers are Male and of course their wives/girlfriends would want to spend Valentines day schmoozing with their partners coworkers to benefit their careers.

  129. Excel-sior*

    “Who are these people who want to attend their partner’s work dinner for Valentine’s Day?”

    i can kinda see the appeal of it in that it’s a big dinner which you might not otherwise go to (preferring to stay in and save money) which you won’t habe to pay for. beyond that, unless everyone is fairly close, I’m baffled.

    1. Green Goose*

      If I were tagging along on my husband’s work trip I’d probably go. I’m pretty extroverted and enjoy these type of things though I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

      1. HonorBox*

        Indeed. If you’re tagging along. I’d want to do the same if I happened to be tagging along with my wife on a work trip.

        That said, if it was even, hey would you drive across town to attend this work sponsored Valentine’s Day dinner with me, I’d probably find a quick case of strep throat to contract. I mean maybe there’s a scenario in which I’d entertain it. But if it meant a nice dinner but I needed to figure out childcare or bounce home and back to take out the dogs or something like that, it wouldn’t take me long to beg off.

  130. Lime green Pacer*

    Don’t go, it will be a misery and you won’t miss anything.

    My mother doesn’t work, but she volunteers extensively with her church. One year, the church planned a Valentine’s dinner. My mother, a widow, begged off for obvious reasons, but the lead pastor insisted. “My wife is out of town then, so you can sit with me!”

    Well, his wife’s schedule changed. She came to the dinner, and the pastor not only failed to warn my mom, but he ignored her throughout the entire evening of romantic coupledom. Ten years later, she still talks about how awful that was.

    1. pally*

      Awww! Terrible that your mom was abandoned like that!

      That pastor should have found someone to escort your mom for the evening. I can’t believe there wasn’t any other singles available to escort her.

    2. allathian*

      Oh my, is she still a member of the same church? People have changed churches for less.

      I’m so sorry for your mom, that pastor was a jerk. I hope he apologized afterwards.

  131. Love to WFH*

    Alison, if you’re planning a year-end round up of “Really Stupid Ideas for Company Events”, here’s the first one for 2024!

  132. Green Goose*

    The only way this makes sense to me is if attendees were encouraged to bring spouses to this conference. I went to a conference years ago that was for professional development and it was in San Francisco. Everything was covered by the conference except for flights and I think to encourage teachers to go the conference encouraged people to bring their family to “see the city on us”. They even covered an additional night at the hotel.

    But then one of the nights we had an activity that our plus ones could not attend that was a “surprise” which involved us being bussed away until late like 8:30/9pm and I was kind of annoyed because my husband was just sitting in the hotel waiting for me since they wouldn’t tell us what we were doing/how long it would take.

  133. Owler*

    How about an option 4:AAM where you share the region and get a companion from this rowdy Ask A Manager crowd? I’ve been a work +1 for several events for friends (male and female) because I love a meal on the company dime, and, if I’m honest, I give off that supportive-spouse vibe. You know the people here would probably be able to work a networking event on your behalf, and it would be a fun story to post afterward!

    1. Properlike*

      Was coming here to suggest something similar. If the event were in a city where one of us roughly matches the physical description of OP, we go as her stand-in and report back here!

      I feel bad because I’m now desperate to know how big a trainwreck this will be for the organizers, but I don’t want OP to feel bad.

  134. Daisy-dog*

    I celebrate Valentine’s Day on the weekend before/after. Not sure why the organizers didn’t think through the fact that some paired individuals won’t actually care about the holiday and will instead just want to maximize the value of the conference networking by being able to actually network.

  135. Bluebell*

    Count me in as another person who loves option 4, or possibly wonders who you might be able to make friends with at the luggage carousel at the airport. One other possibility would be to tell your company that yes, you have a new significant other, but they are required to be at a Valentine’s work event that night as well.

  136. The dark months*

    It may be that all the single folks/sensible people are boycotting the dinner. Go to the conference and ask you network what the heck they think of this. Then either band together and disrupt the seating chart, go for dinner with the other sensible people or chill out for the evening with no guilt.

  137. GladImNotThereAnymore*

    Drink heavily and hit on other people’s husbands? “So… how flexible is your relationship with your wife?” (as she sits next to him).

    1. BellyButton*

      I posted in one of the holiday threads about this happening to me! Several other commenters also said they had been propositioned for swinging at company events!

  138. BellyButton*

    “I am the only participant who is not on it, because it was explained to me that I am the only person who is not part of a couple, not bringing a guest. They are trying to figure out where to put me.”

    What in the ever loving f*ck is this??? I have planned plenty of events/conferences and your job as the event planner is to make sure every person attending feels comfortable and is accommodated.

    AND… how in the world can LW be the ONLY single person?? AND… what about people are LGBTQA+ and may not be out, AND… what about poly/triad people?? LW, I can assure you, you are not the only person who is annoyed and put in an uncomfortable position by this nonsense.

    Maybe my friends and I are the rarity, but who, as a grown adult really cares about Valentine’s Day? Other than it is an excuse to maybe go for an overpriced fancy dinner and eat some Resse’s peanut butter hearts??

    LW, I am sorry the recent break up makes this sting a bit more. Alison’s take really is exactly how I would handle it, the whole thing is absurd, and I would play right into the ridiculousness of it all and turn it into a great story. I relish in the absurd and try my hardest to find the story in the event.

    An escort is probably more than I could do, even if I channeled my beloved RomComs and meet cutes, but if I couldn’t stand going alone I would invite a close friend. I was often been my gay best friend’s date to work events. We loved the mystery that everyone thought he was gay, but didn’t know for sure, then he shows up with a woman on his arm, a woman he treated like a princess and showed off. It was hilarious to us.

    Good luck, and please please update us after your conference.

  139. General Izable*

    This happened at a conference my sister ran! She was organizing a two-day seminar on cover crops (sexy, right?) and the one dinner fell on Valentine’s day. Except that all the farmers just decided to bring their SOs without telling anyone, so they ran out of food! She was absolutely scrambling and could not for the life of her figure out how a cover crop seminar was at all romantic.

  140. artladyboss*

    I’m an executive with small kids and have frequent networking obligations. I compile a list of the people I need to connect with at an event beforehand. When I finish the list, I’m done–I go home. Not sure if that could help here, but if you catch up with your key contacts before dinner is served you could go get take-out and call a friend that evening instead of sitting through the awful–and you could also confidently state that you’d done your duty!

  141. Nancy*

    So if you had a partner they wouldn’t have a place for either of you? Either there is a table somewhere with space for 2 seats or there isn’t, correct?

    1. Nancy*

      Every non-local person brought their romantic partner? Every local person has a romantic partner? Sorry, this stretches into unbelievable territory.

      Tell them you’ll sit at the table that has space. Enjoy the free dinner.

  142. FutureBusinessPerson*

    I would 100% skip this event and just order a pizza to my hotel room. It sounds awful and awkward for everyone including the couples.

  143. Mrs. Hawiggins*

    Yeah this doesn’t sound forced at all.
    “Gee you’re single we don’t know where to place you.” That just adds to the magic that is Valentine’s Day.

    I would opt out, and probably be the envy of all the people who wished they had.

  144. Anne Shirley Blythe*

    Mandatory compliance with a Valentine’s Day theme? This is so tactless and insensitive. I’m sorry you are dealing with this. I think leaving early is a great compromise and I hope you can do it. And try to smuggle some treats in your purse.

  145. ariel*

    This is the plot of a 90s made for TV movie, I feel certain that’s where the organizers got the idea. OP, I hope you do something that feels good and right, xo a 40 something singleton who shudders at the thought of turning conferences into date nights

  146. BellyButton*

    My comment is held up in moderation but her are a few points:
    1. No way LW is the only single person
    2. What about people who aren’t out
    3. what about poly/triad people
    4. What about people who are observing Ash Wednesday and whatever than means
    5. What about couple’s with kids, and one parent needs to be home with them
    6. What about people who aren’t allowed to celebrate, like Jehovah’s Witnesses
    7. What about if someone’s SO works nights

    Every single thing about this is wrong. LW isn’t the only who is uncomfortable about this whole thing.

    1. Satan’s Panties*

      8. What if someone’s SO has social anxiety, or something like a speech impediment that makes meeting new people the opposite of fun?

  147. Alwaysb@work*

    My strong inclination would be to think deeply about what you WANT to do, and do that. I would be really surprised if your employer would insist on you attending this weird, clearly not networking, event if they were aware of the details. I honestly think this is so, so awful and bizarre that absolutely anything you do would be perfectly acceptable. That includes photo bombing all the couple pictures. Maybe ask the organizers if there’s any couples that would like to become throuples and if they can introduce you before the conference? Then they won’t have to worry about what to do with the single and you’ll have a fantastic “how did we meet” story for the event…

  148. ANONTMI*

    “how did you and your SO meet?”
    *3 drinks in*
    “oh it is a funny story! we both were struggling in our marriages. We met at one of these conferences and had a little fling that turned into real love! We both ended up in years long messy divorces, but look at us now!”

  149. Katherine*

    Someone on my “discuss advice columns” FB comm suggested 4a: Invite your nuttiest, most extroverted, up-for-everything gal pal as your plus one and call it a hilarious girls’ night.

    1. Good Enough For Government Work*

      I am this person in our friendship group, which is otherwise composed almost entirely of extroverts. My motto is “I extrovert so you don’t have to!”

      I’d totally be down for this so long as the drinks were plentiful and the food was free

    2. HonorBox*

      I’d be happy to be that friend for someone in a similar spot. While not always extroverted, I would absolutely enjoy dialing it up to 11 when in a room of total strangers.

  150. The Other Sage*

    Can you invite a group of people to come with you and pretend you are in a polyamorous relationship with all of them?

  151. Lisa Simpson*

    My husband’s a professor, where spousal and family tag-along conference travel is pretty common. This wouldn’t be that weird in that context.

    A lot of smaller conferences/workshops in his field have been moved abroad, mostly to Canada and Europe, thanks to MAGA BS making it more difficult for foreign researchers, especially ones with Chinese passports, to enter the US. Which in turn makes it easier for us to travel.

  152. works with realtors*

    I’m just raising my hand as I have firsthand experience in not only having to work a conference that was over Valentine’s, but that was used as a draw to get attendees to bring their spouses and “let loose.” It was a nightmare – and a yearly occurrence.

  153. Susannah*

    This is just.. gross. And offensive. And non-inclusive. And tone-deaf. Like, uncoupled people aren’t reminded enough that they don’t fit some social ideal?
    And Alison is spot-on on how uncomfortable it is for the coupled folks. First of all, Valentines Day is not a religious holiday or sacred even for the coupled. And if it is important to you – why on earth would you want to spend it with work colleagues – let alone explaining how you met! Ick.
    I’d be sorely tempted to bring a well-behaved dog or cat.

    1. Jam on Toast*

      We regularly describe our dog as Mr. Jam’s dog girlfriend. She is fond of the rest of us, but she LUUUUVES Mr. Jam. She would be a marvellous date for an event like this. She loves meeting new people, will eat almost anything, and just wants to spend time with her ‘soulmate’.

  154. Mike*

    This sounds like it would have been a great premise for an episode of Mad Men.

    Speaking of Mad Men drama, I kinda wonder how those who are having office, field, or conference affairs are going to navigate this very awkward dinner.

  155. Lizy*

    Since it’s nearby, do you have a friend you could take? Or a niece or nephew? Or a friend’s kid? I mean, it still sucks, but you could spin it as “yeah we met in kindergarten and we knew we were soul mates” or “we met in the hospital after they were stuck somewhere for 9+ months and couldn’t get out”.

  156. LilPinkSock*

    Not one other conference attendee raised an eyebrow at this work-themed date night? No one else is unattached? Everyone in a relationship is comfortable bringing their partner? Yeah, ok.

  157. sulky-anne*

    This is amazingly weird. I vote for roping a friend into being your plus one and making up the most ludicrous “how we met” stories you can get away with.

  158. TX_Trucker*

    My husband works in an industry where it’s common to bring the entire family to the annual big conference. So common, that the conference planners arrange touristy activities for the family to happen during conference hours. And even they wouldn’t come up with a crazy scenario like this. If #4 isn’t an option, I would go for number #3. I don’t see any useful networking happening during this time.

    1. HonorBox*

      I work in an industry where bringing a spouse or family along to a conference happens from time to time. Especially when it is in more touristy locations. And while I’ve seen spouses at some of the cocktail hours, it isn’t happening at the exception of someone who has paid having opportunity to have a seat or do actual networking. They’re usually there for a drink and then everyone goes separate ways to grab a bite.

  159. Malarkey01*

    I am just shocked that everyone else has a plus 1 unless there’s a lot of sisters/friends/parents. Statistically there’s a huge unattached adult population.

    I’m also shocked that all these couples that needed them got babysitters for the second holy grail of babysitting day after NYE.

    This seems so incredibly implausible (not doubting OP, doubting how this will actually play out). OP please please please consider going just for the update factor!

    1. Filosofickle*

      Yes, statistics do not support any part of this situation.

      1. Every single other person has an SO (or has opted out so the seating chart remains paired)
      2. Every one of those SOs is free and willing/able to join
      3. Every one of those SOs is within reasonable travel range of the conference venue — which presumes the “think tank” event is only for nearby people?

      I am not an absolutes kind of person, but I give it zero chance that the LW is the only one in this boat.

  160. IT But I Can't Fix Your Printer*

    1. OP, I would talk to your employer. Say that you understand that the nightly networking is one of the significant reasons they are paying for you to attend but that unfortunately this year the conference has replaced one of the networking nights with a romantic couples date night party. Forward them whatever bananas details you have received so they know you’re not exaggerating. Promise that you’ll do your best to get the company’s ROI out of the remaining networking time. Ideally your company and its peers would band together and tell the organizers that this is unacceptable and not what they pay membership/conference fees for.

    2. If there’s any kind of conference app, listserv, hashtag, whatever, send a message as soon as you get there: ‘Hi all, I find myself without a date for the Valentine’s shindig. If your SO is unable to make it [unspoken: ‘or you agree that this is a terrible idea’], I would love to repurpose that time for work chitchat and you can find me in the hotel bar at 6:30 on Wednesday.’

    1. HonorBox*

      I think probably the most pertinent detail is that OP doesn’t have a seat assigned. That speaks volumes and shows that money is being spent on an opportunity that doesn’t exist and the conference is actively excluding someone because of relationship status (or a SO’s availability).

  161. Menace to Sobriety*

    I 100% agree with opting out. If “significant others”/”sweethearts” are going to be there, and it’s Valentine’s Day themed, IMO it is NO LONGER a “Networking Event,” and you have every right and reason to opt out of that one night. Take yourself to a nice dinner, elsewhere with a good book. Order room service and indulge in 3 pints of ice cream and a bad movie. Or a $70 steak and an entire bottle of wine, or whatever else will get you thru that stupid night and that incredibly stupid idea of the organizers. Heck I’d find some local funky bookstore and spend hours perusing and reading in a comfy chair, etc… But seriously: OPT OUT. Then OPT IN to whatever YOU want to do.

  162. CommentKoi*

    Yeah wow, this is a spectacularly bad idea. I’m also baffled that the company thought this could possibly be a good idea.

    My vote is for Alison’s #3: opt out, treat yourself to a lovely dinner/copious wine and cheese in your hotel room/video games/eating candy in a bubble bath/whatever feels like wonderfully indulgent self-care to you, and enthusiastically participate in the other network events.

  163. She of Many Hats*

    Offer to (insist) the Emcee of the event. Run the games and play up the fact that you don’t have to share the cutesy couple stuff while the rest of the guests do. Claim ex dumped you when they learned about the event theme & expectations.

    1. HonorBox*

      I’d second your suggestion and add… why not get a little tipsy and start asking (slightly) inappropriate questions in the games. Make it even more awkward.

  164. samwise*

    What is wrong with these people?

    Did it never occur to them that some people might be single?
    Did it never occur to them that this puts people who are not out in a difficult position?

    1. Ex-prof*

      As does Valentine’s Day itself, but at least people are free to ignore VD. This makes VD compulsory!

  165. Liz HD*

    This is so weird, I don’t like going to my husband’s work functions at all let alone on Valentine’s Day. If there is a portion of the evening that is not a seated dinner, like a cocktail hour or something, or an after party that’s more casual, maybe go to that, make one trip around the room for your networking purposes, and then make up a reason to leave before the weird couples work dinner starts.

  166. Bookworm*

    LOL @ option 4. (This also has the makings of a rom-com!).

    In all seriousness, I am sorry, OP. It sounds like a nightmare and I do hope you find some sort of alternative.

  167. Dulcinea47*

    There’s just no possible way the OP will be the only single person there. This is too dumb of an idea for *everyones* spouse to be going along with it. I simply don’t believe it will happen.

  168. AAM fan*

    I am married and I truly cannot fathom bringing my spouse to an event like this. It made me wonder if this was some sort of faith-based occupation and conference?

  169. EtTuBananas*

    Confession – I’ll be tagging along to a work conference over Valentine’s Day with my spouse! The conference is offering couples activities (for free!) as part of the conference, but nothing is either compulsory, nor would abstaining affect anyone’s professional reputation.

    This whole theme is so…yikes. What if someone has a spouse that died? What if someone just got out of a horrible abusive relationship? What if someone is asexual/aromantic?

    1. allathian*

      What if someone’s in a same-sex relationship but not out at work? Or in a relationship with a parter who’s visibly trans, agender, or non-binary but not out at work? Or is polyamorous and doesn’t want to choose which partner to bring? What if the couple has young kids and can’t get a baby sitter on one of the most popular date nights of the year? What if they celebrate Ash Wednesday and don’t want to attend for religious reasons?

      There are lots of reasons why the Valentine’s Day conference dinner is a bad idea…

  170. Romcom lover*

    This is definitely a romcom premise. Of course, Alison’s idea about the escort made me think of that . Free idea everyone.

  171. Khai from the Temple of the Winds*

    Wait, what? Are they actually trying to tell you that every other conference attendee has a significant other? I don’t see how that’s even possible.

  172. Jiminy Cricket*

    This is awful. I would straight up say to the organizers, “I won’t be there. You are hosting an event that explicitly makes me unwelcome, so I have made other plans.”

    I know there’s a lot of harrumphing, “Well, I’d tell them!” on discussions like this, but I’m serious: I would use exactly those words.

    1. Jiminy Cricket*

      Also, this is no longer an event with any networking value at all. How can you talk shop with someone who’s playing Newlywed Game with their SO?

      I would tell the conference organizer that, too.

  173. Lacey*

    You know your situation best, but will meaningful networking really be happening during a COUPLES dinner? Even one as awkward as this one is bound to be?

    Also… is it possible that everyone who wasn’t able to bring a significant other (whether they don’t have one or bc that’s the worst valentine’s day ever) just… opted out?

    That’s the only way I can see you being the lone single attendee.

    I brought my husband to one work event when we were newly engaged. It was awful and I promised he never had to attend another. We are, 11 years later, attending a function for his work together. But only because the food is going to be amazing.

  174. Chirpy*

    As a single person, I’m not sure if I’d rather report the organizers for a DEI/HR violation (outing LGBTQ people, including asexual people, prioritizing couple status over single people, etc), spend the whole evening making it as extremely awkward for as many people as possible (breaking into the cutesy mixers for networking purposes? crying loudly at the table? ) or just not go and tell everyone why – return awkwardness to sender.

    (and the fantasy option would be to set off the fire alarm during dinner, preferably with sprinklers.)

  175. Jane M.*

    I don’t understand, since this is in a different city, presumably people will have to travel. Do none of the partners of attendees have jobs of their own? How can they be expected to drop everything and attend a random conference that is irrelevant to them? Are they supposed to take vacation days? What is wrong with these people?

  176. SJ*

    I know the escort suggestion is framed as a joke but you really can hire for this kind of thing. Men do it all the time. Now whether you can get someone top notch for this date on this short notice is highly doubtful. But it is a real thing that you can get a professional for!

  177. Ex-prof*

    I’d go with #3. Especially if any of the organizers is one of those precious folk who make a sad little moue at you when you say you don’t have a +1.

  178. not a romance-y person either*

    Or take option #4, bring a friend, and mock the entire thing while getting wine-drunk. That’s what I’d do. (Then again, I’m aromantic, so the whole thing would be a farce for me regardless of the breakup status.)

    1. Satan’s Panties*

      I want to know how/if the organizers can reconcile “We want you to enjoy the evening!” with “You’re the only singleton, so we’re figuring out where to put you.” Yeah, have a good time, but keep your cooties away from the Happy Couples.

  179. fhqwhgads*

    Who the hell is putting on this conference anyway? Are they just…comping the dinners of all the suddenly-invited partners? Yes, the premise is cringe and bizarre, but I’m mostly shocked they seem to be eating the costs? Like, there’s one conference I go to annually that has ONE night where people are allowed to bring spouses/family to the dinner, but it’s so not a networking event, it’s a giant party. And you have to pay for the non-attendees. And they charge the actual costs. And it’s effing expensive. So I’m most puzzled by these conference organizers thinking this is a good idea from the money side of things. They think Valentine’s Day is a big enough deal to “make up for it” to the attendees by changing the theme of this night? And not charging anyone extra? Or they are charging for the guests and genuinely expect more people than not to pay for it and bring someone? Cluess nonsensical corporate overlords I can see making doofus decisions. But if the attendees aren’t paying extra, I can’t believe it didn’t already get squelched. And if they are paying, I can’t believe it didn’t get cancelled due to lack of participation.

  180. asturdysoul*

    I’m so curious to know what industry/”high-level think tank” this is. I can’t believe serious professionals in ANY field would be eager to exchange “how we met” stories and play couples-themed GAMES (??!?!) with colleagues and their spouses. What do these people do for a living that this reads as normal? This event description reads like someone asked a group of fourth graders to imagine they were in charge of planning a corporate event on Valentine’s Day.

  181. leeapeea*

    Another vote for bringing a friend, family member, or coworker! The letter states everyone else is bringing an SO or guest – that’s a pretty wide open door. OR rsvp with a “guest” and oops, they got sick last minute and can’t attend oh well here’s my table!

    My first reaction to this event was similar to many of the commenters, but I can see a networking dinner with “guests” being valued in some industries, and I can see why your company (and maybe you, until the theme was announced) feel like this is an important event to attend. The timing of a couples-themed work event and your recent breakup is so unfortunate, I’m really sorry. You’ve got a whole commentariat on your side, and I’m sure people you actually know in real life too that are there for you.

  182. BikeWalkBarb*

    “Hey, honey, I have this GREAT idea for Valentine’s Day. Let me drag you to a company event where I’m expected to network and you’re expected to be charming to total strangers so you make me look good to my superiors. Super romantic, right?”

    Go for the early part before dinner to do actual networking. Once people get seated they’re only talking to the people at their table and your networking opportunities reduce to the people at the table who work in your industry; given the couples format that’s only half the table. That’s when you make a graceful exit.

  183. Spicy Tuna*

    Regarding option #4 – I once went with a guy I knew from the gym to a work function as his date. We were not dating, we just knew each other from the gym and also had some mutual friends outside of the gym.

    I was feeling particularly spicy that evening and frankly, a little depressed at my romantic prospects (this guy wasn’t a prospect; he had a long term girlfriend halfway across the country and was just waiting for her to finish her degree so they could get married).

    When his boss asked how we met, I said, “Oh, he picked up me up on XYZ Blvd on the way over here”, as if I was a woman of the night! Fortunately, that was a joke that went over well, but if I had a more mature person at that time in my life, I definitely wouldn’t have said it!

  184. Awkwardness*

    Is there really going to be useful networking that happens that night that you can’t do on other nights of the conference?
    Nothing more to add.
    All the small talk will likely not revolve your industry, but will be accomodating to spouses who will otherwise feel left out.
    I would go work option 4. Or do you know any of the attendees there, or are other coworkers coming with you? Could you maybe teach out and “couple up” with them?

    This is stuff of nightmares. The event organisers are out of their mind.

  185. merida*

    I really second Alison’s first action idea of circling back to the conference organizers – because, ugh, any good event planner would want to know how badly this is landing with an attendee. (And as many commenters have pointed, it’s highly unlikely it’s just you who is unhappy with this Valentine’s theme! I know I’m way more likely to speak up about something if I’m advocating for other people plus myself rather than only for myself – so frame it that way for yourself if you need to, that you’re helping out anyone else who would also be rightly uncomfortable and frustrated by this dinner.) But if you didn’t get a chance to speak up again before the conference, please please do so afterwards!! That’d be a good point to raise on a satisifaction survey or just directly with the organizers. Good luck, OP!

  186. Coverage Associate*

    New idea: That most problematic dinner meeting between Trump and Comey was on Valentines Day. Here in San Francisco, just suggesting anything is like Trump will get things turned around. Of course, Trump didn’t invite Mrs Comey, but there must be some way to twist this.

  187. Mermaid of the Lunacy*

    Gag! A lot of schools around my area aren’t even doing Valentine’s Day celebrations anymore because little kids don’t need all the girlfriend/boyfriend jokes and weird emphasis on romantic love. If they do anything they call it “Friendship Day.” Why can’t a workplace full of grown-ups figure out it’s just awkward to focus on it?

    1. allathian*

      Yes, I’m in Finland and here Valentine’s Day is called Ystävänpäivä, literally Friend’s Day. Kids at school embrace the friendship part, and when my son was in elementary, they used to make cards for the whole class and say something positive about each classmate (easier said than done for some kids, but his class was a good one with little or no bullying, the school had a zero tolerance policy). Now that they’re teens in junior high, they ignore it.

  188. LadyVet*

    Good Lord! I have always LOVED Valentine’s Day — my favorite color’s red, I prefer smaller portions of candy, I enjoy corny puns — but even I think this is just absurd.

    I hope you find something better, or at least more professional, to do that night, LW.

  189. Just Here for the Llama Grooming*

    Just when I think the supply of tone-deaf, brain-dead Astoundingly Offensive Workplace Ideas has been exhausted, along comes this dog’s dinner of wretchedness. Who ARE these nincompoops?!

    My husband has attended a few work functions with me, because he’s a nice man who loves and supports me, but I would jump off a bridge sooner than ask him to this thing. I agree with other commenters who say you can’t be the only attendee who thinks this is a recipe for no networking, no business, and no good.

    If you can’t convince these … people … to alter the trajectory, I vote for an extremely nice dinner with very nice wine, or your personal equivalent, in the peace and quiet of your hotel room. Sudden nonspecific illness (“nothing catching, just my trick back!”) is an excellent reason. Even if the only trick your back has ever played on you is wanting more expensive clothing.

    And sorry about the breakup. That sucks.

  190. Jessi G.*

    Or option 4: invite someone random, do magic tricks and order them mudslides instead of wine all night. Hope they get drunk, declare love to your colleagues, and then send their story to AAM on some later date.

  191. OliviaGamora*

    Ugh. I would not want to attend this. Depending on the industry or city, some people may not be that open to same-sex couples. I know at my job; I am not out to that many people and I keep it that way. I also can’t imagine how hard this type of event would be if someone was recently widowed. Someone was clearly not thinking about all of the possibilites.

  192. Annie Edison*

    I would like to (facetiously) suggestion option 5, turning the entire night into a bizarre piece of performance art:
    Purchase a puppet. The more unlifelike the better- I’m picturing like a sock puppet or muppet type of thing? Create a name, and give your puppet date an elaborate back story. Play all the “how we met” games with your puppet as your partner, and take the whole evening very seriously. Bonus points if you can make your puppet can speak in a sexy french accent.

    1. Madame Arcati*

      Pet rock!
      “We met back in the eighties, i knew Rocco was the one the moment I looked in his googly eyes. He’s the perfect partner – never criticises, doesn’t make a mess, always a calming influence. [to the waiter] oh yes he’ll just have a small dish of sand please; do you have coral?”
      Also Rocco should be wearing a tiny bow tie to look smart for the dinner.

  193. Stillcynical*

    These comments make me wish for a double “like” button!

    There is not enough money or beer on earth for my SO to ever go to an event like this. And I would have to believe most SO have similar misgivings. I still quite forgiven or forgotten how SO talked me into joining him and his extended team for dinner on my Monday birthday because “they all wanted to meet me”!

    I’d be tempted to ask the organizers to set up a table for those interested “Networking Only”. Or if there’s a happy hour before dinner, perhaps join for that, network, then scoot out.

    Good luck—would love to hear how it turns out.

    1. Stillcynical*

      Oops: I still haven’t (!) quite forgiven or forgotten how SO talked me into joining him and his extended team for dinner on my Monday birthday because “they all wanted to meet me”!

  194. New Senior Mgr*

    5. Go and take notes to bring back to us. Extra points for each eye-rolling act you find yourself rolling your eyes about.

    Seriously though, how awkward and thoughtless of someone to come up with this idea.

  195. Raida*

    Take a hand mirror for the photos and the ‘how well do you know each other’ games – a big one, not like a makeup compact.

    “Honestly I couldn’t tell you when we met, as long as I can remember I’ve been sentient!”
    “Favourite colour: Sky Blue. Favourite animal: Tiger. Nice surprise: Going skiing and getting upgraded as an apology for the blues festival that was on, so I spent my time sipping hot chocolate with fantastic music, snapping my fingers for applause.
    Man I hope there’s a prize for these, because I’m smashing it!”
    Laugh. Encourage others to have fun – you know you can be peppy, so pep pep pep, this is a networking event and you want to be thought of fondly.

    Also, what I’ve found is always good conversation fodder for networking events is to ask the questions: If you could cater this event, what would you have on the menu? What theme would you go with if you could pick the next event? If you could ban one thing from these events what would it be?
    Everyone remembers awful and excellent experiences – you’ll get enthusiastic recountings of tiny onion tartlets, sequin-covered tables, and laughter around eating pasta with their fingers and their drink on the floor due to terrible planning!

    Remember in that to say “I wouldn’t plan it at this time of year because it’s my birthday tomorrow, and I love to travel for my birthday!” And compliment something about the event even just “I would definitely keep these tablecloths and lighting I think we’re all looking amazing in this colour scheme.”

  196. MCMonkeyBean*

    I definitely vote skip it–Even if there are people there who won’t be there other nights, I can’t imagine any productive networking will occur! If I were you I’d lean in extra hard on the networking other nights and then treat yourself to something you want to do instead that night.

  197. WestsideStory*

    I feel obliged to point out (if no one else has yet) that THIS year Valentines Day is the same day as Ash Wednesday, one of the more somber holy days in the Catholic Church as well as other Christian denominations. Observant Catholics actually fast on that day and are not encouraged to party down at dinner (that’s what Mardi Gras is for).
    So I would not be surprised if a few other attendees decide to skip this. Or their spouses have different ideas for a romantic V-Day that doesn’t involve sharing a table with Harry from the branch office. Opt out and rest yourself for some actual networking rest of the time.

  198. Skytext*

    Do people actually care about/and or actually celebrate Valentine’s Day? Except for those in a new relationship? Or single people who feel bad they aren’t in a relationship, so they make plans with friends? I’ve been married for 38 years, and the last time we did anything to celebrate Valentine’s was probably 39 years ago.

    I am just shocked that the organizers response to “oops, we scheduled our conference over Valentine’s” wasn’t “let’s give people a night off so they can be with their partners” but instead was “let’s make them bring their partners, oh and by-the-way let’s make it the MOST IMPORTANT dinner so they can’t opt out!” WTF is wrong with these people?!

    1. Modesty Poncho*

      I mean, some people do. I love the excuse to be sappy and give a gift and hang out to do something nice with my boyfriend. I also like getting super-cheesy schoolyard valentines with like erasers and temporary tattoos to give to my friends.

    2. allathian*

      I’m with you on this. My husband and I celebrated Valentine’s Day when we were dating. We started dating one year in September and were exclusive by our second date. The first three years of our relationship we were LDR because of his job, and then we went out to dinner the weekend before or after VD.

      After we got married and became parents, we’ve only celebrated occasionally. When I was single, I hated everything Valentine’s Day stood for. Now I’d rather celebrate our wedding anniversary in March.

      Work/life separation is very important to me. I don’t particularly care about meeting my husband’s coworkers or introducing him to mine. He feels the same way.

    3. HonorBox*

      My wife and I do enjoy (differing degrees) celebrating the day. Not in a helicopter ride or major gift kind of way. But we enjoy it and have enjoyed some really fun celebrations because they weren’t as over the top as some (great pizza because the other sit down restaurants had a 2 hour wait…yep).

      But if there happened to be a work event that one or the other of us had to attend, there’s a zero percent chance that the other would want to attend, unless it was something spouses were invited to and not at all focused on the romantic side of things. Fondue dinner for couples? Nope. Standup comedian? I’m in.

      Aligning what appears to be a very important aspect of the conference with a couples only activity (and I do say that correctly because why else would OP not have a seat?) seems icky for a lot of reasons.

  199. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    Whoever came up with this idea should be in the running for DUMBEST Boss of the Year!
    Because how better to tank morale and cause resentment among your staff than strong-arming all dating, engaged and married staff members to spend VALENTINE’S DAY at a workplace event?

    And make no mistake about it; despite the frou-frou table decorations and third-rate-TV-show type “games”, these staff members and their partners are NOT at a social event of their own choosing. They’ll be at a job-sponsored meeting at which their behavior will be on display and scrutinized by the staffers’ supervisors, who may also be evaluating the partners for THEIR suitability as “corporate spouse.” This promises to be as romantic and spontaneous as filling out income tax forms. Nothing like hijacking Valentine’s Day to make your staff AND their partners resent the hell out of you!

  200. Abogado Avocado*

    LW, I have to say that this conference dinner idea sounds like banana pants with clown shoes. My husband, who I’ve been married to for decades, would run a broken mile to elude an event like this — and especially if it meant otherwise enduring an allegedly romantic dinner in the company of members of my profession (lawyers). I cannot imagine that the spouses of the conference attendees would enjoy this sort of thing.

    I predict you’ve got a 12-hour bug in your future and it’s going to hit at dinnertime on Feb. 14 (and be gone by 8 AM on Feb. 15).

  201. Betsy S.*

    Given that this is an absurd way to run a conference dinner, I have a multi-part suggestion.

    It is just not possible that each and every other person at that conference is part of couple that will attend as a couple (unless your organization is somehow based on supporting only couples). There have got to be some people bringing friends, or whose partners cannot attend or who will have last-minute opt-outs.

    a) Ask the organizers if they’d consider setting up a ‘friends’ table and reaching out to see if people would like to join.
    b) Suggest they also seat people whose partners can’t make it, at that table.
    (if they do this, I bet some partners will suddenly find that they’re busy that night!)
    c) if they’re willing to do this, it might be easier to reach out to your friends/family network
    d) Do you have any friends at the organization who might be less than enthusiastic about dragging their partner to the dinner, who might be willing to go as friends?

    But really, seriously, UGH.

  202. Despairing Cupid*

    An intimate couples dinner/conference networking session. Wow, romance really is dead. At least we know who killed it!

  203. I Fought the Law*

    OP, please, please protect your own mental health. You do not need to grin and bear it through this. The organizers are in the wrong for making this awful for single people and partnered people, alike. (Not to mention LGBTQ+ people who might not be out at work, polyamorous people whether or not they’re out at work, etc.) I suspect that many people other than yourself will be opting out of this.

    I would find an excuse early… say you just found out that an old friend lived in town and wanted to visit with them, or something. Then RSVP no to the event now and move on and make plans to see a show or something that night in the new city. No networking is going to get down at this anyway, from why it sounds.

  204. Heck, darn, and other salty expressions*

    If you decide to roll with the absurd here are some more suggestions:
    Find a card board cut out of your favorite celebrity and bring it as your +1. Rough up the edges so it looks like you’ve been carrying it around for years!
    Make a sock puppet! Insist they serve Mr/Ms Handy a plate. Talk for them in a funny voice.
    Place a beautifully framed photo on the table. Cover the face and say your +1 is in the witness protection program.

  205. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

    They’ve chosen to make it silly and unprofessional, I wouldn’t be surprised if they lose other people besides you.

    Surely most people’s partners work in different industries? How will these conversations be networking ones? How old are these people? Adults playing games like that at a work event? I am married and can’t imagine anything worse (except maybe having to go to such an event at my spouse’s workplace, but that probably would be marginally better as at least I don’t have to try and network myself).

    Also, this means queer people have to out themselves, etc. My spouse is non binary, I work in a sector where I run into transphobic people not infrequently, who are respected in my industry. I have my own ways of navigating that but why should *they* have to do that all night? I’d never ask them to do that.

    I just watched The Lobster (a great film where people are forced to partner up) and this sounds like something from that. I recommend that film!

  206. Maggie*

    Got any friends who might want to network too? If the motivation to go to this dinner is strictly about making professional connections, then treat it like that. Bring someone from work who wouldn’t normally get to go to these things.
    Or go solo, network like yours do at any other networking dinner, and ask for your “date’s” dessert be boxed up to take home.

  207. Nonono*

    Please just give yourself permission not to attend. Make a conscious effort to reach out and network during other parts of the conference so no one can accuse you of not making an effort, then have that night to recharge. As others have pointed out, it is highly unlikely that any valuable or useful business connections are going to be made during this activity anyway! Ask about it the next day, hear some funny stories, and move on professionally, is my advice.

  208. Never the Twain*

    5. Tell the organisers that you’re polyamorous, and need them to select which of your partners should attend (it’s only fair that they should take the heat off you having to do it), and also explain to the other 7 why they weren’t selected. Feel free to add any graphic details as to why each of the octet may be suitable for or totally disqualified from a civilised occasion.
    Of course, it could be that the organisers then big-love the whole thing and say ‘Bring them all!” in which case you give a selected group of your friends a free dinner and have a table to yourselves.

    1. Never the Twain*

      Ah, on looking through other comments, I see all that has already been suggested at some point…

  209. Old Admin*

    Silly suggestions from an evil mind:

    – Reserve a second seat and bring your pet – “Kitty is my best friend! *meow purr*”
    – Reserve a second seat and paste an “SO wanted” ad on the chair.

    I told you it would be silly.

    1. Abundant Shrimp*

      – Oh no, I should’ve read all comments before suggesting the cat!
      – Oh oh how about a cardboard cutout? of a celebrity? “What can I say, I love Keanu”

  210. Old Admin*

    When I once attended a company event that asked for SOs to attend by myself (because hubby wasn’t in town), that immediately started rumors that I was gay…

  211. Laura*

    TW, don’t know about you, but I would avoid this dinner like the plague if I was fresh from a bad breakup. It’s just too likely that something would trigger me into unprofessional behaviour like yelling at annoying people or crying in public.

    I might be tempted to use the fact that it’s Ash Wednesday to excuse myself, unless I feared that being seen as religious by the people I’m networking with could cause issues.

  212. Semi-Attractive Woman*

    I love how everyone is like “yeah, skip it” as if the LW didn’t lay out the many reasons they had to be there.

    They already considered skipping it, and realized they couldn’t. So what now?

    Option 4.

    1. Abundant Shrimp*

      I went back and re-read the letter and the dinner is normally a big networking event (which I would be all like DO NOT SKIP!), but this year the organizers turned it into this weird VD couples thing with couples activities. No networking is going to be done during this event, unless other people also attend solo (which I suspect a lot of them will). If it is really going to be all couples, I say skip and come back next year when the dinner is back to normal.

  213. 1-800-BrownCow*

    What the wha?!?!?!?!

    As a married person….NO! This does not sound fun or exciting or remotely close to anything I would want to do on any type of business trip. I highly suspicious that everyone else is happy and onboard with all this. Who actually thought this would be a good idea?? And as someone who is not traveling for work over Valentine’s Day, February 14th for my spouse and I is just the day before our oldest child’s birthday. Nothing else. We don’t celebrate and we certainly wouldn’t want to be at some business dinner networking event, yuck.

    My vote is option 4, followed by option 2. But for me personally, I would just tell them I think it’s a bad idea and I won’t be attending so don’t even plan on my being there.

  214. Anita Brake*

    Holy awkward, Batman! I’m so sorry. I do realize it’s not a real solution, but I love Alison’s #4 suggestion. Best of luck to you. And please do hog the photo booth!!

  215. Hell in a Handbasket*

    I can’t wrap my head around the idea that you would be the only single attendee. Is it possible there was some misunderstanding about this? It seems impossible that no one else in the whole group is single, or widowed, or LGBTQ and not out, or asexual, or has a partner who’s away/sick/busy/not interested in attending. I would have guessed that maybe 50% of attendees would fall into one of those categories.

  216. absolutely not*

    No one can prove you didn’t suddenly come down with food poisoning right before the dinner…

  217. HonorBox*

    LW I commented before and I’ve been stewing about this ever since I read your letter. Yes, I probably need something different to focus on, but it has been a nice distraction to stew about… but I digress.

    I’ve read many of the comments that suggest just going. I’d agree just for the story you can tell about the awkwardness of all of it. But you don’t have a seat. You absolutely need to talk to the organizers and highlight that this dinner is paid for as part of your conference registration (assuming that’s the case) and you’re being excluded because you’re not bringing a plus one. You needn’t tell anyone why you’re not bringing a plus one. You’re simply not. But you shouldn’t be excluded or not fully included because the dinner has changed and goalposts were moved. I can’t imagine that the organizers want that kind of negative feedback getting out, now or following the conference.
    If nothing else, ask for a refund for that portion of your registration cost. You are going to need to eat, and you shouldn’t have to pay twice for dinner.

  218. LPUK*

    This sounds like job for a bestie! Have you a friend you could invite along… to drink lots of free booze, play around in the photo booth, troll other people about meeting in a kindergarten etc. a good friend who will help you get through this is a different kind of love to be celebrating

  219. AmyKat*

    I see that a lot of people like Option 4 best, but personally I’m pretty fond of “drink heavily and hog the photo booth.”

    In reality, I’d probably skip it if it were me. I’m ace and demiromantic and would feel extremely out of place and excluded.

    1. Abundant Shrimp*

      My cat says “bring a cat”

      (do not really bring a cat. I’m team Bring A Bestie)

      And yikes, I agree you wouldn’t feel great at that event. I’m neither of those things and it still feels weird to be the one single surrounded by couples. (Especially when, as it has happened to me in public places, the couples start sidling up to you asking if you would find somewhere else to sit “so my boyfriend and I can sit together”, and before I know, there’s nowhere for the single me to sit at all and I’m being shooed out of every seat I try to take – and it looks like OP’s dinner organizers have already proactively arranged that for her *eye roll*)

      1. AmyKat*

        See, there are just SO many ways for this to go awkward and pear-shaped!

        Maybe I would bring my dog…I could put her in a cute bandana with heart print…

  220. Penny Bay*

    What a horrible idea. For those without a partner, due to choice, a break-up, an abusive situation or death, how absolutely awkward. I really hope the OP speaks up enough to point this out…and invites a good friend, neighbor or even stranger to go with them!

  221. Natebrarian*

    Why do I envision an all-company “I will confront you Monday” memo in the aftermath of this event?

  222. Emily Byrd Starr*

    Yikes. What they’re doing is the equivalent of the senior prom. I thought we outgrew that kind of stuff once we transitioned from school to work. In fact, it’s even worse than the school prom, because at least you have the option not to attend the prom if you can’t get a date/don’t want to attend.

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