Advice on manners and morals.
April 10 1999 3:30 AM

Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com.

Advertisement

Dear Prudence,

I work in a small office (10 people). Two employees (married male, unmarried female) are spending an inordinate amount of time together during office hours. People are beginning to talk. These two spend at least an hour a day in closed-door "meetings," another 15 minutes here and there during the day chatting and occasionally whispering. They go out to lunch together, and she even came into the office on a Saturday just to talk to him. (They went into her office, shut the door, and emerged a half-hour later. Then she left.)

Neither of them has any business reason that requires "meetings." It is at the point now where other employees are making comments about this relationship. These two monopolize each other's time, and the bad part is that now he is telling colleagues he is too busy to do some tasks.

Prudie, I don't think this is anything more than a flirtation (I guess I'm an optimist). But my colleagues and I cannot figure out a way to tell him (or her) that this is affecting the work environment, their reputations, and our morale.

Advertisement

I'm writing because I need to know who should talk to him or her. My colleagues don't feel close enough to either of them to say what needs to be said, but neither do we want to make a big thing of it by telling his manager. He is the senior of the two people involved. How should we handle it?

Thanks,

--Anonymous

Dear An,

Advertisement

Let's review: He is married, they have no business reasons to get together, the whole office is chirping about their lengthy closed-door "meetings," they whisper, leave to have lunch together, and you think there is no more than a "flirtation." This is like imagining that a dinosaur died in a standing position at the museum of natural history. Ofcourse they're having an affair, but Prudie compliments you on your high-minded and generous assessment of the situation. Now, what to do about it?

You and your colleagues must rethink your reticence about not saying anything to anybody. The fact that you are an office of only 10 people, and Lothario now finds himself too busy for some tasks, means the involvement has begun to impinge on the workplace.

Do you have a human resources department? It is pledged to confidentiality and could intervene. (Prudie agrees that speaking directly to the parties would probably not be useful.) If your company is too small to have an HR unit, then a designated representative must go to the man's superior--he being senior to the woman--and lay out the situation. Prudie is all for romance (she doesn't even mind it in the office), but when it complicates the lives of co-workers something needs to be done. Please note that we are not dealing with the fact that the man is married because that is none of our business.

--Prudie, proactively

Advertisement

Dear Prudie,

Your response to "Bummed Out in San Francisco"--recommending that a soon-to-be-married couple break off relations with highly unsupportive soon-to-be in-laws--struck a deep, dark chord in me. My problem is similar except that my fiance doesn't always realize the extent of his mother's manipulations or their possible effect on our relationship. Mostly she tries to make him feel like hell via barbed remarks and/or the silent treatment for "deserting his family" in order to be with me. (She has always relied heavily on him for emotional support following her divorce from his father.)

Obviously I can't point out what a horror his mother is, but it's very difficult to watch him take these unrelenting guilt trips. Plus, I worry that this ever so slightly Oedipal situation is going to get in the way of his commitment to me. Is there any hope?

--Do Tell

Advertisement

Dear Do,

There is not only hope, there is a strategy. Prudie will now give you the roadmap.

Do not point out that the beloved's mother is a witch. He already knows. This is a wonderful opportunity to cement your relationship as partners: Be his ally, not his attacker. In the interest of seeing the big picture, Prudie hopes you can get him to talk about what he is feeling when Jocasta does a number on him. Discuss, in general terms, the nature of guilt and point out--as sympathetically as you can--that her divorce had very unhappy consequences for her. For that is the crux of her acting out: She has made your intended into a husband-substitute.

You also might try killing the old girl with kindness. Include her when you can, and let it be your suggestion. It will disorient her totally. Just know that her neurosis has nothing to do with the love you and the beloved have for each other ... and then see to it. You can do an end run around her by understanding the game and by not responding in a destructive way.

--Prudie, strategically

Dear Prudie,

I truly like my wife's sister's husband, but is he technically my brother-in-law--as her family insists--or--as I believe--a) my sister-in-law's husband or b) my wife's brother-in-law? The polite answer is, of course, call him whatever he wants to be called, but we are all curious as to which appellations are technically correct.

Yours faithfully,

--Genealogically Confused in New York

Dear Gene,

Though Emily Post is long gone, her answer to your question has been preserved. She relied on the dictionary, which said, "A brother-in-law is a brother of a husband or wife, a sister's husband, or loosely, a wife's sister's husband."

So ... your wife's sister's husband is a "loosely," and Prudie is sure he's a swell guy.

--Prudie, Postally

Dear Prudie,

Recently a friend of mine posted something untrue about me--using my real name--on an electronic bulletin board. The subject of his posting has caused me real embarrassment and discomfort. What should I do?

Thanks for your help.

--Good Golly

Dear Good,

Prudie is thinking of the forest ranger's adage: Fight fire with fire. Make your own posting on the same bulletin board refuting the erroneous message. Prudie would also question your appellation of the person as "a friend."

--Prudie, correctively

Dear Prudence,

My girlfriend wants to have sex even though we have only been going out for four weeks. I feel that this will change our relationship and make it more complicated. She says that if I were a real man I would have sex with her. Should I hold out until I feel the time is right or give in now?

--Luke

Dear Lu,

If your dilemma is genuine (though Prudie feels a faint pull on her leg) by no means should you be maneuvered into bed. Tell your shy violet that if she doesn't approve of your timetable you're certain she can find someone who will accommodate her.

--Prudie, suspiciously