Temptation in the Workplace, and Accountability
Reader and commenter Rob, who owns a full 1% of the comments here at Clever Dude (we have thousands), posed a question to me via email this past weekend. We had a good discussion of ideas and I got his permission to write about it. I will warn you that this article is lengthy.
Rob emailed me about a problem he began encountering at work with regards to a female coworker. As a preface, Rob has read my “Guys, Protect Your Hearts” and “Bounce Your Eyes” pieces, which is why he sought me out for some more help from a guy’s perspective. Here are Rob’s words (with bold emphasis added by me):
Let me start off by saying that the only reason I’m sending this to you is because I get the impression you are the type of guy that I would have met in my old church men’s group. My previous men’s group is very near and dear to my heart, but I’ve moved away and now it’s not as easy to talk with my fellow ‘brothers’. The other thing is I’m at work right now (yes I read Clever Dude at work) and need to ‘spew’ the junk that’s in my head to someone, and tag, you’re it.
I’ve been married for two years to a wonderful woman. No complaints there. Throughout our dating period, I had to justify our age difference (7 years) to myself though. At the time, I knew that I couldn’t marry her until I came to terms with the age difference. Eventually I accepted it and proposed. What’s followed has been a great two years. It’s not a perfect marriage, then again what is?
Recently though, I’ve been put in a position at work that forces me to with someone with whom I get along really well with. This woman is my age, and well,.. we’ll just say she’s “my type of girl”. Don’t get me wrong,.. it’s not that she’s drop-dead gorgeous or flirty or whatever. She just is the type of girl I would easily consider a friend. The trouble is, when I was single, that was the same type of friend that I would end up dating.
Here’s the thing though,.. we’ve only just started working together (for only about an hour out of the day) and my alarm has already tripped, telling me that I need to be careful. Once again, it’s not like I have this insatiable desire to be with her. It’s much more subtle than that. But at the same time I know that subtle situation can creep up on you and become a full on war zone before you know what hit you. The other thing is that I found myself thinking “I wonder what it would be like if I married someone like her – you know, closer to my age” as we were talking casually. The last thing I would want to do is betray my wife, and I sincerely doubt that anything would ever happen between this woman and I. But then again, how many cheating spouses ever expect to cheat on their partner?
I guess I’m writing this to vent and also to get some sort of accountability. You don’t necessarily have to reply, but if you want to through your two cents in, you are welcome to…but either way I like reading your posts and gathering your insight. – Rob
I responded by admitting that I also had the same problem at my old job, but I don’t have the age difference to consider as well. Honestly, I had lustful eyes, but because I was in a professional setting, and because I was married, I refrained from any type of flirting. It was a major challenge because my nature is to be friendly and talkative to people around me. Also, the “other woman” was on my team, sat one desk away and we worked on a number of problems together.
The fact that Rob already recognized that gut feeling that things weren’t right is a major step in the right direction. Many men just ignore this and flirt, without realizing what that feeling really means. It’s always easier to dispense advice than to give it, but here goes:
- Stay Professional – Sometimes easier said than done, but here’s a few pointers:
- Keep it transparent – Don’t ever be alone with her, even if it’s solely for work. If you have an office, always keep the door and blinds open. If you need to work late on a project together, keep your wife updated with phone calls (i.e. accountability).
- Avoid flirting – Flirting comes in many flavors from posing questions to check her response to full-on sexual harassment, but keeping the conversation work-related is obviously one way to avoid flirtatious behavior.
- Question your motives – Why are you attracted to this person. What do you think she can provide that your wife isn’t or can’t?
- Reach out to a counselor – If you need help determining the root cause of the temptation, talk with a trusted friend (who has the right morals for this situation), a pastor, or a professional. You can also find a “mentor couple” who has some more experience, good morals, and can help guide both you and your wife in fulfilling each others’ needs in a stronger marriage. These meetings can be over dinner, game night, or any other type of relaxing social atmosphere.
- Confide in someone/Be accountable – Confide in another coworker, but keep it professional. Perhaps this coworker could take some of the work burden away (i.e. transferring the problem to someone else), but the confidant must be trustworthy.
- Request a different shift/reassignment – A more extreme option, although not unheard of, is to request a change of duties or work times. Not all managers are professional enough to handle this type of interpersonal issue, so only he knows his boss’ ability to deal with it.
In my case, I’m always completely honest with my wife, even when it hurts. Thus, my wife knew about my coworker attraction early-on. Openness has just been a part of our relationship and it’s worked, even if I’ve often had to force myself to tell everything. Sure, sometimes I give little white lies, but holding something big back could really come back and bite hard (literally, she has sharp teeth!). If, in his marriage, his wife knows him as always honest and forthcoming (i.e. not just tell the truth when she asks the right questions in the right way), then perhaps it would be good to get this out in the open early on.
Unfortunately, many aspects of this situation are an “it depends”, as are most things in life. I agree that it’s important to be accountable to someone, but usually it’s best if it’s someone physically nearby such as his wife or best bud (as long as the bud has the morals he needs in the situation). It needs to be someone who can monitor his progress, but if he still needs a sounding board, I’m here, as I am for all of you. The reason for my site is to help people, as well as myself, in our physical, spiritual and financial journey.
One thing I wrote about in “Guys, Protect Your Hearts” is that temptation starts innocently. You like the girl as a friend, and then you feel like you bond with her more like your wife. In certain work environments, you’re with her just as much or more than your wife. You start to compare her with your wife, and then things go downhill. Why? Because “the grass is always greener on the other side”. You begin to think that the other woman doesn’t have the problems that your wife has, like self-esteem, stress, or other problems or shortcomings such as sexual prowess.
It’s all a lie that you begin to rationalize into truth. No man or woman is void of issues. We all have baggage, and even Playboy models are airbrushed. Real-life doesn’t have an airbrush, a mute button, or an eraser. You can’t ignore your problems and hope they go away. You have to deal with them or they will keep compounding until something bad happens, such as divorce, bankruptcy, jail or death.
So Rob, I’ll be here to help you out, but keep in mind that I can only bring my own perspective to the problem. I’m not a professional, and even professionals can’t fix the problem for you. It’s up to you to handle the situation and take initiative where it’s needed.
And for my other readers, feel free to ask for my opinion (note I said opinion, not answer) for any problems you might have. If I don’t think I can be of help, I won’t BS you, but I will try to refer you to someone or something more capable of helping.
Rob, good luck bud.
Photos Courtesy of StickBus
Mrs. Micah says
Good post, cleverdude. I especially like your points at the end. It seems like a lot of people feel that somebody new wouldn’t have problems, wouldn’t have things that get on their nerves. But the truth is that we all have quirks and issues. Everyone has different quirks and issues, but they’re still there.
Good luck, Rob.
Hmm. I think I’ve been in the opposite situation to this (i.e. been the single girl) a couple of times. It isn’t very much fun. I mean, whilst it’s kind of flattering, I don’t want an affair with a married man I’ve got my own issues to think of. I also don’t want to be publicly cold-shouldered by a guy that I though I got along with fine, through no fault of my own.
What a wonderful response! Temptation is inevitable; this is exactly how I hope my significant other would respond.
What a great read! I have gone through this myself and it is one of the reasons I wonder if I will ever trust myself to get married. I do not know if I have the strength to resist the temptation. However I have found that are things I will find myself holding back on when around the temptation. So when I find myself holding back thats when I force myself to talk about those issues. Like I will force myself to talk about being in a relationship, what me and my girlfriend did over the weekend. All things that in my mind but up blocks between me and the temptation.
Thanks for making me feel like I am not alone. Good article!
Tough situation that happens. I commend the author for seeking some kind of help in the situation. clever Dude was right to point out that being open and honest with your wife helps, even if it hurts temporarily.
Hey folks,.. Rob here. I’d like to mention that the situation I was/am in wasn’t as dire as it may seem. I don’t want anyone to get the impression that I was reaching out for help right before I knowingly did something stupid. It wasn’t like that at all. It was just that, for the first time in my married life, I met someone that clicked with me the same way my wife does – and it was a little unsettling.
I have no intention of breaking my vows or pursuing any ‘extra-curricular’ interests. That can turn into an ugly downward spiral. My concern was that I was witnessing a situation develop in my own life that I recognize could get out of control if I didn’t check myself – even if a bit prematurely. Heck,.. I don’t even know (or want to know) if the other person was interested in me.
Fact is, it doesn’t matter. I just needed to reach out to someone to steady me before I ignored what I was faced with. I’m just glad Mike was willing to be that person. I could just as easily written the open letter to myself, keeping it as a means to face my own demons. But it meant a lot more to me to have someone else (albeit a relative stranger) back me up on this one.
Clever Dude says
Your welcome Rob 🙂
Yeah, I relate to Plonkee’s comment above. How in the world do you respond, as a single female, when an older married man seems flirtatious. I find it incredibly uncomfortable and do everything to discourage it from continuing.
On the other hand, one of my favorite people to work with is this married guy who’s just easy to communicate with. It’s never been slightly flirty/awkward. So I wonder where the line is and what makes it feel strange with some people.
Clever Dude says
GG/Plonkee: Both parties have to be responsible and professional adults. However, I recognize it’s hard to be both fun and serious when you are the slightest bit attracted to one of your coworkers, so it’s basically a “hold back” type attitude until it becomes a problem. You have to be vocal about your boundaries, though, but be prepared for a surprise reaction from the other party, such as “what? I wasn’t flirting” or “don’t flatter yourself”.
Luckily, I don’t have to worry about advances from the opposite sex at work. I try to portray the stupid fool all the time so no one is distracted by my sexual glow.