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According to this Workplace.SE post, romantic relationships with co-workers/subordinates are discouraged due to perhaps the suspicion of unprofessional behavior. However, a co-worker (who is female) and I (male) frequently have chats (facetime,etc.) and are always together even outside of the bounds of pure professionalism (such as going to lunch together, etc.) We are great friends and have been doing so for a while, but recently it has come to our attention that people believe that we are a "couple".

How do I dismiss these allegations without coming off as defensive or harsh?

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Maybe you shouldn't... –  Deer Hunter Jan 28 '13 at 11:40
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Sorry if you are "Always" (your words) together outside of work then you are a couple... you just may not realize it. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Jan 28 '13 at 14:21
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@Chad so you're saying a male and a female can't be (best) friends? –  MrFox Jan 28 '13 at 15:16
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BTW, this kind of social situation really does grind my gears... why do people suck at minding their own business –  amphibient Jan 28 '13 at 17:07
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If she is your "work wife" (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Work_wife ) then most of the rationale against relationships applies to you two. Whether or not you kiss and have sex is not the point. It's whether your bonds to each other are stronger than to the firm; and what might happen if your bonds to each other broke. –  Kate Gregory Jan 28 '13 at 17:39

8 Answers 8

up vote 40 down vote accepted

When this happened to me I took the attitude that, if the gossips were picking on me, they were leaving someone else alone. I spoke to the woman involved, and to my then-wife, made sure they both understood what was really going on and that they might hear things through the proverbial grapevine.

Had I worked in a company that frowned on intra-company relationships, I would also have informed my boss.

Honestly, that's all you can do. Gossips will gossip. They just can't help themselves. Just protect yourself against the rumours reaching the wrong people, by telling those people about the rumour before they hear it.

It's not so much that it sounds more believable if they hear the truth before the rumour than the other way around. It's that people, by nature, like to feel like they're included. That means knowing what everyone else knows. Whichever group includes an individual first will likely gain their trust.

People are weird like that.

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I like this answer over the others because it does not compromise the relationship. Suggesting that people hang out less or go to lunch with others is a non-solution that avoid the problem rather than addressing it. –  MrFox Jan 28 '13 at 15:19
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great point, @suslik. by no means should he let the roumors interfere in the relationship to the extent of changing it even an iota –  amphibient Jan 28 '13 at 17:44

I have exactly the same issue in my current workplace - I didn't do anything outwardly to dissuade rumours but I did make a point of mentioning "we're just friends" to anyone who asked, mentioned it etc then let the office gossip take care of it.

Another option, is to invite people out to lunch with you - thereby increasing your work social circle so it isn't "just the two of you".

Our particular rumours stopped when we both started dating different people but until then I don't think you can really stop people gossiping, just correct them if/when it comes up around you but don't go out of your way to bring it up.

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I'll point out, first, that in the referenced post, there's a particular nuance in the Boss/Employee dating relationship that can be more problematic than any relationship between co-workers. While peer-to-peer (or mild variants where there is no direct line of reporting) can still cause endless office drama, they are quite different and some of the liabilities don't apply. Also, the realm of teasing and gossip goes way up when it's just two of the gang, since your peers will find you both safe targets for gentle mocking.

1 - Avoid the perception

It may be too late. If it's gotten into someone's head, it may be there to stay. But at times, the perception can be avoided or reduced by limiting the exclusivity of the relationship and watching your non-verbal cues. Both are fuzzy things, but here's a few ideas:

  • do have lunch together, but also include others at times. 2 people having lunch together once a week or so isn't a big deal. 2 people having lunch together every day is pretty exclusive.

  • watch your timing - 2 people disappearing for a 2 hour lunch is a lot different from 2 people having lunch for half an hour in plain view of everyone in the office cafeteria. Those are two extreme cases. The standard out to lunch period in US offices is 1 hour. Plenty of groups take a Friday lunch that pushes into the 1h + 15-30 min range, but if you are gone for 2 hours, some lewd person in office is thinking "quickie (wink, wink)".

  • be aware of non-verbal cues - I have plenty of male friends (I'm a woman) who I don't mind touching on the arms or giving a big hug to - I don't think of it as romantic, and different cultures have VERY different norms here. But in Corporate America, impersonating Mr. Spock may be a better model for physical contact. It's usually the mismatch of cultural expectations that leads to confusion here.

  • be aware of husband and wifey behavior - I have seen a number of patterns where a male/female friend pair fall unconsciously into some of the standard husband/wife patterns - for example - the woman nagging the man about his bad diet and lack of exercise. Certainly something I joke with any of my friends about, but when it falls into standard gender patterns it gets misinterpreted, especially if the two are unusually close in how they spend time together.

  • be aware of overall norms - if you are the only two going out to lunch together, and the rest of the office works through lunch, you're going to get noticed, regardless of any other of these tips.

Overall - it's important to not give up some of the things you actually like about the relationship. There may come a point here where you simply decide that the friendship is good the way it is, and the rest of the world can stuff it. I'd certainly rather see that than to see a good friendship get screwed up by caring too much what other people think.

2 - Response

Awareness usually comes in the form of teasing. The gentleness/craziness is largely a factor of office culture and the dynamics of your team. I usually trust that if I'm hearing it overtly, it's not a big deal - people just like to joke around. The cues I'm most sensitive to are actually the unvoiced cased of awkwardness or withholding, or tacit assumptions that it really is a romantic relationship - these can be a lot harder to see easily than someone simply joking about your "girlfriend".

If what you get is overt joking, and you want it to stop - explain once, seriously, that it isn't true and then show that the mocking doesn't bother you or interest you. A joke generally only keeps going if it's funny, and if you show you are hot under the collar or reactive to being prodded, then it stays funny. I've even seen work "couples" join in the joking, because they were so confident in their friendship that they really didn't mind the teasing - note, this was a case of two independent contributors - neither one aspired to management - at all.

It's harder with the unvoiced issues - it may be time to take aside those displaying the most obvious awkwardness and tell them earnestly that nothing is up. It's usually a case with stuff like this of "try it once, then drop it".

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Mention the fact that the two of you are not together and are just friends any time the topic comes up in casual conversation. Sometimes it is as simple as telling your coworkers the simple fact when they start assuming things.

If that doesn't work, ignore it. Gossip is unprofessional but still very common in the workplace. If you make too much of a fuss about it you will come off as defensive as you said and people are likely to think you are lying, which only leads to more gossip. In any case the rumors are likely to pass quickly because the people that make up rumors are always looking for something fresh to talk about.

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+1 for ignoring –  amphibient Jan 28 '13 at 19:14

Never let idle people's recreational curiosity into none of their business and roumors affect your daily routine. Keep the friendship with the lady. Be professional though and kind to your coworkers, even those you suspect of spreading the roumor. See, I think you should not be trying to dismiss the allegation actively because you should act as though you are unaffected by them and are in fact above them. As soon as you start being defensive, you concede to their frame of argument and begin allowing them to get to you, which is bad. If you start doing so, even if you have the best of defense in facts, you in fact lose as you give recognition to their impertinent banter. You should go on and act like you have a million other better things to concern yourself with (as I hope you do). By no means compromise your seemingly wonderful friendship with this person--relationships like that are worth a lot more than what some office busybody thinks.

Contempt is the best way to deal with this situation. BY NO MEANS let this very inappropriate social activity get in the way of your relationship with your friend.

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I agree the best way to handle it is to refuse to dignify it with a response. As long as you are not breaking any rules it is no one else business what your status is. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Jan 28 '13 at 16:39
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nice phrasing "refuse to dignify it with a response". gonna steal that in the future –  amphibient Jan 28 '13 at 17:06

However, a co-worker (who is female) and I (male) frequently have chats (facetime,etc.) and are always together even outside of the bounds of pure professionalism (such as going to lunch together, etc.)

First, you need to see this in the perspective of other coworkers. You two, as a man/woman, are:

  1. Video chatting frequently (your words)
  2. Always together even "outside the bounds of professionalism"
  3. "Go to lunch together"
  4. "Are great friends"

Any normal person would see that activity and make a very logical inference of romantic relationship. Why? Because those are the types of things any actual couple would do.

In some sense, it might even be more - because if you were actually a couple you would be likely more aware of how your actions are perceived.


This is important because it affects the answer to:

but recently it has come to our attention that people believe that we are a "couple". How do I dismiss these allegations without coming off as defensive or harsh?

So your situation is in such a position your coworkers will very easily (in my opinion very reasonably) make assumptions you are dating.

Some thoughts on how to avoid these allegations:

  • Realize you are basically never going to avoid them. You basically are going to have to "break up" that friendship at work for people to change their impression. If you keep acting like you are dating, people will see it that way.
  • In the same light, you can change these perceptions by spending less time with her.
    • Stop video chatting at work (or however your coworkers all found out about this).
    • Stop going on lunch dates by yourselves.
    • Stop talking to her frequently at work and be very mindful of what time you spend talking to her there
    • Be aware of how much you chat/email her during work
  • Get a girlfriend or get married? (note: if this idea makes you annoyed, it means you probably do have more feelings for this woman than you realize. Free relationship advice for no additional charge...)
  • Approach coworkers and say something the next time these come up like, "I realize we spend time together, but it makes me uncomfortable when you suggest we are dating - because we are not." This probably will not stop people thinking you are dating (see the above) but will help you not be seen as such
  • Have lunch or similar activities with other coworkers rather than just the woman
  • Talk to her about this (I really hope you two have talked this over, because if not, it's entirely possible you are really misleading her about your intentions... more free relationship advice...)
  • Avoid having an exclusive relationship with her
  • Respond "We're just friends" when people bring this up. Sure, you'll get crap about it (see above) but if you do not want to change actions, there is no way to "defend" your non-relationship without being defensive

At the end of the day though, if you act like a couple, people are going to react as such (regardless as to whether it's true) - especially if you get defensive about it.

You can do a few of the above (approaching coworkers) but your only other option is to just ignore things if you want to keep your friendship the same.

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-1 because you are suggestion he give in to the roumors and let them coax him into altering his relationship dynamic with his friend –  amphibient Jan 28 '13 at 17:46
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i'm OK with that, what you're suggesting and i disagree with strongly is things like start putting a different facelift on his interaction like her, like "Have lunch or similar activities with other coworkers rather than just the woman" –  amphibient Jan 28 '13 at 17:50
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@foampile this isn't a discussion forum. It's a Q/A site. The asker had a very specific question. "Don't worry about it, your problem doesn't matter" is not an answer to this question, it's an opinion. –  enderland Jan 28 '13 at 18:07

I can think of my 2 college friends, who were always together, even when they go for interviews for jobs. They were categorised as couples by our other friends. At last, they broke their friendship.

I also have somewhat same scenario as did you, but not this much sever(I am not always with the female friends, even prefer to hang out with my male friends most of the time). I would like to mention few things as said by you,

We frequently have chats

Now, I would like to mention my scenario. I do have female friends, even I do have daily chats with some of my female friends. I cant remember a single day when we havnt talked. Also with one of my friends, I do have late night conversations. We are best friends and we think its normal among the friends to have frequent chats.

We are always together

Now about your second point. Whenever, we are together, we are not always alone. and I dont think a purpose of always being alone all the time. We are always in a group.

We often go for lunch

Now, about the third point. We do go for outings and watch movies. but here also we are in a group

Now I would like you to suggest that, why always you need to be just you two alone all the time. You should involve your other friends and go for outing in a group. Perhaps if you want some time alone, you could have some chats or converstations. But mind my friend, if you two always want to be alone and together, then no matter how hard you contradict, you will always be considered a couple

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As a pastor, this is a professional risk against which active measures must be taken. By the nature of the job, pastors engaging in counseling are often targets of sexual misconduct claims. Additionally, if a pastor's integrity is questioned, he is often unable to lead the congregation.

As a general rule, we recommend:

  1. Always have a third person at common meals or on commutes,
  2. Always leave an open door whenever a member of the opposite sex is in your office (Cubicles, it kinda goes without saying :))
  3. Leave no room in your personal life for people to assume the worst. If you spend time together on the weekends, for example, don't mention it.

    To this, as a working developer, I would add:

  4. Work on different projects, if possible, at least from time to time

  5. Have arguments in front of others - not the knock-down, drag-out fights, but consider during say, a scrum, show a difference of opinion. This way, people don't think you guys are clones :)
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what does this have to do with being a pastor? –  amphibient Jan 28 '13 at 15:37
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By the nature of the job, pastors engaging in counselling are often targets of sexual misconduct claims. Additionally, if a pastor's integrity is questioned, he is often unable to lead the congregation. –  Affable Geek Jan 28 '13 at 15:38
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I would think that arguments would lead towards the impression that the OP is in a relationship with the female coworker. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Jan 28 '13 at 16:22

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