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Office Macks

I’ve been in a relationship with a wonderful man for three years. Last year, I met a really great co-worker, “Brian,” who’s also in a serious relationship. We hit it off from the start. We talked about our stressful work environment and quickly began hanging out outside the office -- getting coffee, going to lunch and happy hour. We’ve discussed our mutual attraction, and, on occasion, have flirted past the point of friendship. However, we want to stay friends, and not jeopardize what we each have at home. How do I tell my boyfriend about my friendship with Brian without hurting his feelings? I believe honesty is always the best policy, and I’m afraid if I start hiding feelings or keeping secrets from my boyfriend it could lead to other bad behavior on my part.

--Ready To Come Clean

Whenever I write that honesty actually isn’t the best policy, I get piles of e-mail from people who’ve heard 75 different therapists earnestly tell some TV chat-tron that you can’t have “real intimacy” with your partner if you don’t spill everything. Please. If two people lack closeness, are they really going to bond over the news that one of them has taken to bumping uglies in the janitor’s closet with some third person?

Brian started out as your “office husband,” that one special person you share your life with, but just from 9 to 5. The term started catching on after a 1987 Atlantic Monthly essay by David Owen describing close platonic relationships in the workplace: near-marriages in which a man and woman spend lots of time together, can talk about their underwear bunching up, and feel free to ransack each other’s desks for change for the vending machine. The limitations of this “office marriage” are part of its advantage. Your office spouse knows you well, but not too well, like your spouse-spouse, who has not only seen you on the toilet but heard you on it, too. The bottom line is that you don’t have sex with this person (which, of course, for many unfortunate people, mirrors their situation at home).

With Brian, there had to be a point at which you sensed Happy Hour could turn into Meet Mr. Happy Hour. That’s when you should’ve reminded yourself that you’re in a relationship with “a wonderful man,” and you’d better stick to well-lit lunches -- lest you find yourself “flirting past the point of friendship.” (Exactly how far past friendship would that be? “Deep Space Nine,” or just a little lunch cruise to second base?) The problem isn’t being attracted to somebody else, which is a part of life, but being attracted to somebody else and having ethics that stretch like a gold lamé thong on a 300-pound man.

If you must be honest now, be honest with yourself: Mentioning Brian in anything more than casual conversation about goings-on at the office is a sneaky way to use your boyfriend’s ego to lighten your guilt load and police your ethics. (Why stick to self-flagellating when you can slap your boyfriend around?!) Great, so like Jimmy Carter, you admit, “I’ve got lust in my cubicle.” This knowledge will help your boyfriend how? You broke it, you pay for it -- by leaving your boyfriend out of it. If you can’t refrain from future sexual outsourcing using good old-fashioned self-discipline, refrain from staying in a relationship. This should cut down considerably on the need for uncomfortable revelations -- save for those times public health demands you inform somebody that last week’s “staff meeting” actually turned out to be a staph meeting.

Posted by aalkon at June 26, 2007 10:31 PM


What Amy says, in her inimitable style - staph meeting, indeed!

Sexual attractionis a slippery slope. You like what you see, then you want to be close, to talk, then to touch ... one thing just leads to another. It's lovely - when you're both available. If you value your relationship with your wonderful (but oddly nameless) man, then you're not available. Don't do anything that you would be guilty about him knowing about. Don't start on that sweet, delicious, slippery slope.

Things you have done, and now regret, keep to yourself. Your guilt is yours to keep. Trust it - guilt has evolved over zillions of years to let you know how to behave in these situations. If you try to get rid of it by giving it to your man, he won't thank you for it. Of course, if you'd rather be with Brian, the advice would be different!

Posted by: Norman at June 26, 2007 11:49 PM

Amy I'm still trying to remove the mental image of a 300 lb man in a gold lame thong (shiver).
I'd say come clean for the simple fact that that's what I'd like my wife to do if this happened. However be ready for the consiquences. He may leave, he may just get even by bumping ugiles with someone else (this is probably what I would do). The other option to assuage your guilt is just slowly start ramping up the nice for the boyfriend. Cooking dinner a bit more often (my wife dosn't cook), getting him some toy for his special day what ever it maybe (if he likes video games a PS-3) pretty much anything will make you feel better and he'll be happier. If you ramp up the nice too fast though he may start to suspect something. That is of course if you do not let the flirting go too far again.

Posted by: Vlad at June 27, 2007 6:34 AM

Or, as once Dennis Miller said, "Guilt is the pruning shears developed by society to keep you from becoming a bigger asshole than you already are."

Keep your mouth shut and find a new job, far away from Brian, lady. Your "flirting past the point of friendship" is coming dangerously close to flirting with disaster.

Posted by: Flynne at June 27, 2007 6:35 AM

So you put a dent in your integrity? Telling someone else about it -- like your wonderful man -- may help you to feel less bad about it, but it won't fix the dent. Only you can do that. Reestablish your boundaries and live happily within them.

Posted by: Highlander at June 27, 2007 7:09 AM

P.S. Don't worry that keeping a secret will damage your relationship. Unshared secrets can also strengthen a relationship if you can see that keeping this secret is a actually a gift to your lover.

This from Kahlil Gibran: "... you shall be together even in the silent memory of God. But let there be spaces in your togetherness, and let the winds of the heavens dance between you."

Posted by: Highlander at June 27, 2007 7:21 AM

"With Brian, there had to be a point at which you sensed Happy Hour could turn into Meet Mr. Happy Hour."

LMAO!! Great one Amy! And great advice too...

How would telling him (the boyfriend) about it be for anything but selfish reasons? This is going to increase intimacy?? You don't think Brian is saying anything about this to his GF do you? Hell no! If you TRULY intend on stayng "just friends," then there is really nothing to tell, is there?

Posted by: Morbideus at June 27, 2007 11:57 AM

I completely agree with Morbideus, and Amy's advice summed it up very nicely in the last paragraph. Maybe the LW's relationship with her wonderful man has gotten stale after three years. Maybe the only way she gets any excitement is by playing games with this Brian guy from work. If that's the case, she should break up with her boyfriend, freeing him up to find someone who sees HIM as a source of excitement, and free herself up to find someone she isn't bored with. Otherwise, she needs to quit being such a flake - stop flirting "past the point of friendship" with other guys and keep her mouth shut about what she's already done.

Posted by: Pirate Jo at June 27, 2007 12:54 PM

She wants to see if he:
1) thinks as little of himself as she does of him, in which case she can declare him pathetic and leave with a clear conscience (or worse, stay with him); or
2) has the stones to kick her to the curb, in which she leaves with a clear conscience, having been the victim.

Posted by: Dave at June 27, 2007 1:19 PM

Here's another point. Who would want "Brain" if he's the kind of guy who will cheat on his wife or girlfriend? Either the LW could "get" Brian, in which case he's not worth having, or she has no chance and is delusional about how far their office marriage goes in his mind. Either way it's a lost cause destined for a bad ending.

I once had an office crush on a married man who was my friend, and what made it so great is that I knew how safe it was. We could flirt without any danger of either of us compromising what we had at home. If his character would have allowed for cheating he would have been so unappealing.

If you're healthy you don't want to cheat, and you don't want a man who is willing to go there.

Posted by: jaylyn at June 27, 2007 5:29 PM

My ex-sister-in-law learned that the hard way. She was cheating on my brother, with someone who was married and (obviously) cheating on his wife, and I told her, "If he does it with you, he'll do it to you." She didn't listen, left my brother, married this guy, who left his wife, and caught him cheating on her 3 years into their marriage! (I'll admit, I enjoyed telling her "I told you so.")

Posted by: Flynne at June 28, 2007 5:52 AM

Flirting past the point of friendship? What is that? Did she cheat on her boyfriend or what? I'm only posting to this because I've been there. I've had an office husband before, he actually used to call me his office wife. We were a great team, and at the same time, we fought and cried together, just like a real married couple. For 5 years I might add. We may have briefly flirted a couple times, but, that's as far as it went, because of our real spouses. We were attracted to each other, what can you do? You can't really help it in the situation. You spend more time with them than your real spouse. Being attracted to someone you work with and get to know so well is natural. That's why you don't go out after work. What did she think was going to happen? Duh, lets go get drunk together, nothing bad will happen! If she actually did have a good relationship at home then she wouldn't have let this happen to begin with. Sometimes it takes something like this to happen for you to realize you really aren't in the right relationship after all.

Posted by: Amber at June 29, 2007 10:48 AM

this is yet another article ive seen amy recommend lying about indiscretions in.

in an immediately practical way, its coldly logical. but a few things; first, a relationship has a moral aspect, and being truthful with each other is the ultimate goal to attain. also, if you cant do that, what exactly are you in it for, marriage or not? keeping these secrets creates an atmosphere in the back of the keepers head that does not exist in the partners, which is morally unfair - honesty is not just a situation openly involving individuals, its a state of mind. and finally, without confession, is there going to be a drive to change?

Posted by: red at July 22, 2007 11:11 PM

Dear ready to come clean,

Here's how it works: stop flirting with the guy at work or get out of your relationship.

That's it. Really.

What you are really asking for is an easy way out of the moral problem (yes it is a MORAL PROBLEM) that you have created. Well, sorry, no dice. You want to play the game, you have to pay the fee. In your case, the fee is guilt, remorse, fear and confusion. Welcome to the real world.

The good thing is that you are actually experiencing these emotions. This means that you are a human being and not a reptile. So there's still some hope for you.

You need to take a good, hard look at yourself instead of hiding your moral and ethical shortcomings behind discussions about your 'feelings' and all the little details of this and that. Buy a nice mirror and stare into it for an hour or so and see if you like the person staring back at you.

Dare I say that people must have a clear sense of RIGHT AND WRONG in order for any relationship, whether business, friendship, family, or love, to work?

Anyway, here's my take on the situation:

You and your co-worker Brian are LIARS.

You are already having an intimate relationship. You are already flirting with him, which means that sex is a mere step or two away. Throw in a few too many drinks at an office party and it's a done deal. But still, just because you haven't slept with each other doesn't mean you and this Brian person aren't cheating. You are. You have already become emotionally intimate with each other and you are keeping it from your respective partners. This is called LYING BY OMISSION. Those of us who attended the good old public school system before it was taken over by social engineers learned this as a part of every day ethics in the fifth grade.

Here: let's play a game that today's women have completely forgotten. It's called . . .

"How Would I Feel If Someone Did The Same Thing To Me?"

It's called BASIC DECENCY and FAIRNESS. These two qualities are by their very nature reciprocal. Look them up in the dictionary (along with the word 'reciprocal') and then decide whether or not you should continue in your clandestine affair with your co-worker.

Or, you can go to a therapist, who will lean his/her head slightly to the side as they nod and 'validate your feelings' while you grope for a rationalization for your unethical behavior. The choice is yours.

BTW - your co-worker obviously shares your loose moral and ethical sense. You two will make a great couple when and if your respective partners decide to dump both of you.

Posted by: metalman at November 3, 2007 8:42 AM

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