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 nine to five. 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.
"You've Got Tail!"
A married co-worker confessed to wanting me, but said he didn't know how I'd react, plus, he has "obligations." Friday, he e-mailed saying he couldn't sleep after telling me, and that he meant everything he said. I replied that I could never have an affair. He e-mailed back, acting confused, wondering where I got the idea he wanted an affair. How do I handle this on Monday so things aren't awkward?
What were you doing during his confession, conference-calling the Far East while brewing an espresso and operating a lathe? If you want a man to take no for an answer, you have to actually say no. Anything other than no tends to be perceived as "Sweet! Maybe someday" -- and leads to inquiries as to whether "someday" could possibly be Tuesday, 7:15pm, at the motel down the road. Your response: "Well, I never!" Well, in that case, he never. And you can go in on Monday and pretend that's exactly the case. P.S. He still wants to jump you but can't chance the I.T. guys spotting the word "affair" in the intra-office e-mail -- which can ultimately translate to "sleazy married guy tries to feed a wife, kids and a divorce lawyer on unemployment."
Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, No. 280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail AdviceAmy@aol.com.
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