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Wayne and Wanda: A colleague attacked me on a business trip. What am I doing?

Dear Wayne and Wanda,

I am part of a close work team that regularly travels together across Alaska for full-time work and sometimes overnight travel. We are all about the same age (let’s say “young”), close-knit, and hard-working. On overnight trips, we almost always grab drinks and dinner after a long day.

There is one woman in our group with whom I get along particularly well. We just have the same sense of humor and she is always ready to meet up again after a long shift. I feel like the dynamic between us has changed on this last trip. The others had gone home; we stayed outside. The conversation was more personal than normal. When we finished our drinks, she suggested I come to her room for another drink.

She knows I have a girlfriend. I know she's seeing someone. Still, it felt like an invitation to something more. I declined and made a joke about age. As we said goodnight in the lobby, she surprised me with a kiss on the cheek.

Now I feel weird and kind of horrible. Everything is normal at work, but I definitely feel like she's doing something and I'm afraid to say anything to anyone – her, our boss, my girlfriend, anyone. Ultimately, I think it's best to keep the secret and move on. What good could it do to share it? But I'm also worried about our next business trip in six weeks. Will she try something again? What should my next step be?

Wanda says:

Have you ever heard of a “working spouse”? Google it – it’s a thing. Basically, a “working wife” or “working husband” is someone you would otherwise be sexually attracted to, but in this case it is a professional soulmate. It's someone you can confide in, vent to, laugh with, and connect with in other ways.

This relationship can be incredibly valuable, especially when a job requires long hours and time on the road. It can also be risky. It is all too easy to give or get the wrong idea, and the lines can become blurred very quickly.

You will travel with your colleague again. The only way to avoid confusion in the future is to actually talk. The alternative – silence – could lead to further complications. Have an open conversation and explain that you need to set social boundaries for both of you to protect this friendship because you value her as a sounding board and friend. No doubt she will have an opinion on the matter, so be prepared to listen.

Wayne says:

Why do people always have to make life complicated? And now that it seems like everything at work remains “normal” and she’s acting like nothing happened, it’s up to you to clean up the mess before it gets even messier.

I agree with Wanda about talking to your co-worker about boundaries and hopefully she understands. But even if she apologizes, I would go a step further and be proactive to avoid putting myself in situations where something like this could happen again. Drinks with the team? Great. One more drink with her after everyone else leaves? No. Talk about working with her? Secure. Do you talk about your life and your relationships with her? That's why you have real friends. Work hard with her? Yes. Play hard with her? NO.

Look, this is your career and your professional life. And while it's a really nice perk to have cool colleagues and bosses on your work team, especially when the work is demanding and stressful, having a stable, happy, and anxiety-free life outside of work is even better. Going forward, create and enforce your boundaries at work so that you can hopefully achieve the best work-life balance.

[The benefits and potential pitfalls of a ‘work spouse’]

[Wayne and Wanda: Why do I feel jealous of my boyfriend’s close friendship with another woman?]

[Miss Manners: How can I stop myself from referring to my co-workers as ‘girls’?]

Anna Harden

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