Professional contact

My friends think it's creepy that my married colleague is spending so much time with a much younger single woman. But I swear we're on the up and up!

By Cary Tennis
Published December 16, 2002 8:31PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

Last spring I met a man in a professional context (we worked for separate companies on the same project) and immediately felt a strong connection with him. Initially, we had worked together by e-mail and phone, but the connection was so immediate and our intellectual interests so common that I expected there to be sparks when we finally met in person. (I admit I was excited about it, since I am single and was glad to have cultivated such a great friendship.) Though I realized when we did meet that he was not my type physically, I was still attracted to him mentally and emotionally. Unfortunately, this was when I discovered that he was married with two children and nearly 20 years my senior.

We work in similar fields as colleagues, and because of the disparity in our professional experience, he has been a bit of a mentor to me. We have remained in contact (though the project we collaborated on is completed) and periodically have lunch or drinks together with mutual friends.

My single friends think he is creepy for spending so much time with me, a single woman. And while I have brooded about this issue since I discovered he is married, I haven't been able to square things in my mind.

I am not physically attracted to him, strictly consider him a friend, and respect his marriage. The last thing I would ever want to do is jeopardize anyone's marriage. I really enjoy his company and conversation, as well as value his professional advice. But I know that someone hearing about our friendship or seeing us together could think that he has dishonorable intentions and that I am either knowingly and purposefully dividing a marriage or naively and blindly doing so.

When I raised this issue with him, he told me that the possibility that our friendship might be (or seem to be) inappropriate never crossed his mind. We often talk about his two children and his wife. I know in my heart and mind that I have done and am doing nothing wrong by maintaining a friendship with him and strongly believe he does not have any dishonorable intentions. But when the bare facts are laid out, to friends or an advice columnist, I know things sound far from honorable.

Is our society's taboo on friendships between a married man and a single woman good enough reason to break off our friendship?


Dear Confused,

If your relationship with this man is really on the up and up, have you met the wife? If not, why don't you ask to meet her? Set up a double date, or invite both of them to your house. We all have friends of the opposite sex, often because of business interests. But there are subtle clues about what our motives and intentions are, and one of them is whether we're comfortable with our spouse in the same room.

Who knows what's going on in his head. While you're not attracted to him physically, he might be very attracted to you. And you might be sending him signals that you're not aware you're sending. After all, such a great connection is going to have an erotic element to it. You just don't want it to get to the point where it becomes an affair that nobody saw coming because they just weren't looking, because they didn't want to look, because they thought there was something sort of old-fashioned about certain social conventions.

It's not about social convention. It's about acknowledging reality and not hiding. So I think you should meet the wife and try to get to know her; you might find out some things about the husband that otherwise you would never know. If it is indeed a friendship that's important to you, it could only be enriched by such an acquaintance.

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Want more advice from Cary? Read Friday's column.

Cary Tennis

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