Blurring the Lines

What are inappropriate behaviors? That is my “loaded question” of the week.

The Human Resources departments of many companies set guidelines on appropriate behavior in the workplace. I usually agree with and respect those policies. Behavior between male and female co-workers, in both words and actions, are regulated for good reasons.

However the lines of appropriateness for men and women who know each other on a non-work social level are somewhat blurred.

Some examples …

- Can a single man and a married woman have lunch together, if at some point in their past they were in a relationship with each other? Back in the early 1990s my Mother was horrified that I was having lunch with an old girlfriend who was now married. I was not married. We had lunch. That’s all. My Mother thought that was inappropriate, although her words were more like “it’s not right.” What’s not right about that? Sleeping together could be considered “not right” but having a meal in a restaurant together? C’mon, what’s not right about that?

- Can a single man and a single woman who are friends and not involved with anyone else be physical with each other? That line seems a little less focused. I have had friendships with women that involved varying levels of kissing, making out and sex. Is that in some way inappropriate? By the way, most of my friendships with women have NOT included any of that. But who besides the two individuals should really make those decisions or judge them? Being judgmental on that matter is something I would consider inappropriate, not the behavior. It’s up to them, not anyone else.

- Can former lovers be friends with their old flame and his or her new flame? Getting blurrier, isn’t it? I spent time this weekend with an old girlfriend and her husband. She and I were in a relationship more than two decades ago in another city in another state. Part of our breakup was due to my move halfway across the country. There were other issues but that was a big one. We did try to make it work but it didn’t. Meanwhile she and I each found others. She married one and, surprisingly, they moved to my part of the country. I saw her once shortly after they arrived (20 years ago) because she interviewed for a job I was leaving. We spoke by phone a couple of times a few years later but had no further contact till about a year ago when we found each other on a web site. She has been happily married the whole time and I am truly happy for her. We emailed about meeting for dinner some time but did not, until this weekend when I invited them to join my party at a baseball game. We all had a great time! It was a three-hour fun fest. I really like the guy and it is clear to me that they were meant to be, which makes me even happier for her. He knew about our history but there was little, if any awkwardness in the time we all spent together. Do you see anything inappropriate in that story? Some people might; I don’t. Our time together was not about trying to recapture some kind of feelings from back in the day, it was about seeing if there was still a friendship in the mix. I think there is.

- Can a male and a female who are ‘just friends’ have frank discussions about sensitive and personal matters such as relationships and sex? Is that inappropriate? Is it inappropriate to ask each other deeply personal questions, either in a serious context or just about fun stuff, like, uhhhh, sex or relationships? I am intensely curious about other people and am a ridiculously open book about my own life. I probably have a line but it’s never been crossed. But I certainly have reached it with some women in my past and even some in my present.

Maybe the lines of what is appropriate are just blurry for me. Or maybe I just question the appropriateness of being appropriate. Do you have lines? Where do you draw them? Do I over-think this whole matter? Or do I not consider the consequences enough? Have I been inappropriate with anybody lately and don’t even know it? Because it doesn’t seem appropriate to them to tell me?

Am I crazy to think I’ll hang out with that former girlfriend and her husband again? I was surprised at how much we all have in common now. He is the kind of guy I could be friends with. Or is it not appropriate for me to even harbor that thought?

Blurry, isn’t it? Or is it?


Linda V. said…
You're over-thinking it. You decide what is acceptable to you. And you take your cue from those whom you want to spend time with. If you respect the person, opening "lines" of communication is critical, because that's how you define your uncrossable, or moving lines. Hanging out with an old girlfriend and her husband, with no ulterior intent, and enjoying their company is great. It all comes down to your "intent". Do you have ulterior motives? Are they positive or negative? Pure or tainted? And what are the motives of the other person? As long as you give the person an "out" and respect them enough to ask permission first (personal questions), and being clear about their choice to answer or not, you will have a clear idea of what is, or is not, appropriate for them, and for you.