Inside His Head: On male/female work relationships


When we ask moms about their favorite Motherlode features, they often mention “Inside His Head”. It’s just downright interesting (and often entertaining) to see what’s going on in there because heavens know we’re often stumped. Yes, we know they feel the same way about us sometimes, right?. We love receiving questions from NWA mamas, so feel free to send us your most perplexing questions and we’ll pass them on to the guys for their advice.

Here’s a really sticky one right now:

Q: My husband is good friends with a particular co-worker who happens to be a woman. They often go to lunch together and she even gives him little gifts. He says married men and women can have “platonic” relationships – and I’m sure some can – but I think this is probably a bad idea. Am I being ridiculous?

greg1.jpgGRAY: In all likelihood you are being ridiculous, ridiculous not to lock him out of the house, perhaps, but ridiculous nonetheless.

Platonic relationships? Sure, men and women can be friendly, but I don’t buy that a married man would be spending that much time with a woman if he didn’t have a different agenda.

It’s not that we can’t be friends with women, but a married man has to have a sense of propriety and, frankly, ought to know better than to hang around another woman so frequently as to have his own wife guessing at the honesty of the relationship. Aside from the moral aspects, there’s an ethical question too. A “friendship” like this can get the rumor mill at an office going and it’s seldom for the betterment of the people being talked about. And the gifts? No way, Jose!

During my life I’ve had the pleasure of working in the same office as my wife on three occasions, and at no time did we exchange a single gift during work. It’s not that we’re unromantic, but work was work and play was play. If another woman is sending your husband home with presents there’s something rotten going on.

Perhaps it would be clearer if you reversed the roles. Would you really accept it if your husband were buying her little gifts? Doesn’t really matter if money was no object, does it? Same holds true both ways.

The whole situation sounds too much like an affair in the making. One should call upon the immortal words of Barney Fife and nip this problem in the bud!

john.jpgMAVERICK: No, he is being ridiculous, or he’s stoking his ego, or he’s cheating. Men can have platonic relationships with women, it does happen, and  there are some men who can be good friends with a member of the opposite sex, even those they find attractive. They are a rare breed, though. Is your husband a rare man?

And when I say friends I mean friends – a confidant, a pal, a companion, not somebody you say “hello” to in the hall or you happen to know the name of her kids. The danger is, if a man likes a woman, enjoys her company (so much so that they become close enough to be friends) well, it’s likely he is or will become attracted to her at some point. It’s sorta how men work.

It’s not good for a guy to admit he’s even seen this movie, but in the film When Harry Met Sally, Billy Crystal pretty much hits the nail on the head when he says a man can’t be friends with a woman he finds attractive because he always end up wanting to have sex with her. Meg Ryan disagrees. That’s because she’s not a man.

What you describe here is a pretty intimate relationship. They eat together. They spend time together, apparently because they enjoy each other. Even if they’ve not gone over the line already, it’s just too dangerous to ignore. Also, even if he is an innocent, if dopey, by-stander — in this you note she is giving him little gifts. This is a clear sign that she, at least, is becoming invested in the relationship.

I’d suggest putting your foot down and telling him to quit placing himself in this compromising position before something happens. If you explain why the situation bothers you, note her apparent interest in him via the gifts and ask him if he’d enjoy it if you had a similar relationship with another man, he should eventually agree with you. If not, wait a bit and fall back to Maverick’s patented advice: Hire a good detective and see what he’s really up to.

jon.jpgJON: No you’re not being ridiculous. All people have the right to express their feelings. I share your concerns. If you haven’t expressed the level of your discomfort and concerns to your spouse, do so. While I do believe that men and women can have platonic relationships, I see two problems with the relationship as you describe it.

First, you are uncomfortable. I remember an incident that occurred shortly after I was first married that is somewhat similar. I was a bartender and was asked to dance at a bachelorette party in the back room of the restaurant.  I did, got paid $100, and when I got home told my wife and gave her the money. She was furious. She felt I had crossed a line. I thought I had done nothing wrong, but out of respect for her feelings, I never did anything similar again.

Secondly, I believe your husband is in a compromised position. Some of the best marital advice I ever received was that it is impossible to be unfaithful if you are never in the position where it could occur. I know many churches that enact policies regarding male and female contact in hopes of eliminating both temptation and opportunity. 

I believe it is possible to be unfaithful in ways that are not physical. Some choose drink, others work, and still others choose games of chance or other proclivities. People can have only one number one thing in their lives. No spouse or child would feel comfortable being outranked by others. 

On the other hand, I would advise that you seriously evaluate your own insecurities. How much of this stems from past wounds of your own? I believe we must always evaluate our past hurts and insecurities and how they affect present perceptions. Am I mad at my wife for what she said or is it because the way she said it made me feel like a small boy chastised by his mother?

I have many female friends at work. We regularly joke, text, and laugh. The difference is my wife is included and often even recruits my female co-workers to persuade me on a variety of issues. She is not excluded and uncomfortable, but rather a regular participant in our discussions, jokes, and activities. 

1 Comment

  1. These guys have all made excellent points. If the hubby in question is unwilling to put the brakes on the relationship with the woman at work, she may have a serious problem on her hands.

    Maybe she should suggest having the Friend over for dinner with some other friends. It’s surely harder to flirt with a man when you’ve met his family and spent time in his home.

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