Thursday, 20 February 2014


A Single reader with a boyfriend sent me this link, thinking it explained her office dynamic. Further questioning revealed that the most recent conversation about her chaste relationship with her boyfriend was mostly just her colleague putting her foot in it, e.g. "So are you and your boyfriend going away for the weekend? Why not? Doesn't he stay over? He doesn't? Why not?"

I don't work in an office, and thank heavens, for offices feature bored female administrative assistants who long to win the lottery and get the heck out. The gossip and tittle-tattle and attempts to divert oneself with the personal lives or emotional reactions of others are just soul-killing. It's one reason why I worked so hard to get into a PhD program; one slip in my grades, I felt, and I'd be back in the file room. (I should state, however, that I have warm memories of the women in the file room of the ODSP, who taught me a lot about humility and getting along with others.)

Young people often lack the calm confidence of the middle-aged, taking refuge in frightened anger or in-your-face bravado when someone treads on your toes. But in the West all kinds of laws have been passed to prevent harassment of women in the workplace, and these apply not only to men but to other women. It is not okay for people at work to give you a hard time about your sexual choices or to pry into your personal life. However, you are still the one primarily responsible for protecting your private life. You can't just call up HR the minute someone says, "So are you and your honey going away for the weekend?"

The way to take such a question, which 90% of the time is just as friendly attempt at passing some time, is lightly and in the spirit it is meant. "Nah, we'll kick back here, maybe see a movie" is an excellent response, and may lead the conversation right to the safe territory of movies.

Of course, 10% of the time, the question will be part of an office lady plot to find out your business, possibly because you have said something imprudent that put you on the "This girl is different" radar. Unless you are self-employed like Saint Paul, making tents beside the stall of your neighbour the spice peddler, mentioning topics like chastity at work is a bad idea. Just mentioning that you have a boyfriend is a bad idea, unless directly asked. But remember that at all times you are allowed to subtly change the subject. Throw your questioner a tidbit: "Yeah. Rob's really into film." If Rob's into film, you can change the subject to film EVERY time anyone asks anything personal. "What are you and Rob doin' tonight?" "Ah, probably watching a film." Make old Rob sound cozy and predictable, and everyone will assume you're "just normal," whatever "just normal" means to them.

Of course, if there is a real problem, with jerks making fun of you and your sexual choice not to have sex, then it may very well be time to go to your manager or Human Resources. Say you don't push your religion on anyone, and you are sick of people pushing their sexual beliefs on you and humiliating you for your choices. Nobody should be sexually harassed at work. Ever. By anyone.

Update: Thanks to the reader who linked to this in the combox. It's pretty good. In fact, when I think about the girls who gave B.A. a hard time for, well, being B.A., not their idea of who B.A. SHOULD be, I also conclude that they were idiots. However, I'm grateful that they WERE idiots, because that meant they left B.A. for me. Yay, them!


Kate said...

I saw this last night on BuzzFeed and thought it was great. I really like to keep my personal life out of the workplace, but it's almost impossible when my sister has a child every two years and I take mornings off for Holy Days. I will never understand why sex lives are discussed so openly in a group setting. Every so often I might drop a comment about a guy I dated, but I would never go into details. When athletes like Tim Tebow and Lolo Jones are asked if they are virgins, I cringe. Why is that anyone's business? Why is that even a topic of conversation? Whenever news like this comes out, I know I'm going to be defending whoever it is at every bar and sporting event. I don't think anyone needs to know about my sex life (or lack thereof), but it's hard to keep quiet when other virgins are being humiliated.

It's very sad how far society has come. I was talking with two female coworkers about an ex-boyfriend of mine...who ended up dating six other girls while he was dating me. I made it into a funny story, because we weren't serious at all (he wasn't Catholic) and I was amazed that he managed to pull it off. The first response I got? "OMG! Did you get tested right away??"

I have a friend whose boyfriend would just announce that they were both waiting until marriage to have sex. While she would be totally embarrassed, she ended up being very proud of him. It must be a lot harder for men whose "manliness" is put in question over this.

Seraphic said...

Oh geez. The modern office. Such a minefield. And yet another place where Singleness makes you vulnerable. YARG!

Domestic Diva said...

LOVE the article you linked to in the update. I don't have a boyfriend (and haven't for several years), but a few years ago I came to the realization that my singleness isn't about something being wrong with me, it's about not having found the right guy. Sure, there's lots of room for improvement in me. But I know lots of married people who don't have it together either. Glad to see a piece like this.

Bee said...

I also just read that article last night, and my first thought was "See, this is why Auntie wisely counsels us not to broadcast our status or choices." And for the most part I tend to put that into personal practice, and most people extend the same courtesy I give them (not asking about sleeping arrangements, level of intimacy, etc.), though I do get queries about how I manage my longish distance relationship. "Gas cards are great presents, hint hint."

However, I do also feel a little for the people who see being honest about chastity and their choices as being part of being a disciple, sharing the good news, etc. etc. Because chastity is a part (yes, just one) of it, and it can be uncomfortable to think you're letting people presume sin and also weaken the beautiful teachings of the Church by professing to be Catholic, but not when it comes to all the "rules". My way of dealing with that tension is when appropriate to speak generally about the teaching and avoid personal application and let the "Yes, I believe that" do all the talking before changing the subject.

I've yet to use my really sharp retort to potential harassment: "Didn't you say something the other day about tolerance...."[you hypocrite]

With regard to the workplace--well, I've been at a Catholic company for a few years now, so the issue is more professional boundaries with what I share with great advice-giving co-workers, and not what's asked by others. But when I temped for a secular company, it was really unfortunate that everyone was comfortable to hear about my cubemate's civilly recognized relationship with a person of the same gender, but I felt that me walking in with ashes one Wednesday in winter would be very uncomfortable.

And I think that article his it on the head. Precisely. And it goes against this other article I recently read in the NYT that posited marriage was now visaged as meeting the highest of needs (self-actualization) and not lower needs like shelter and companionship. And then the Atlantic Monthly has an article that child-rearing focused marriages tend to be the best (Duh. but there were some other issues with the reporting that make it not accidentally Catholic.):P

Maggie said...

This reminds me a bit of a headline from NBC the other day; an young Olympic athlete who won gold was described as having an "alternative lifestyle;" he is married at age 23 and has a child with his wife, a child who was conceived after they married. Interesting that the "marriage, then sex, then kids" paradigm is so foreign it can be classified by a major media outlet as "alternative." Sigh, sigh, sigh.

Seraphic said...

Whoa. Still, that could be helpful for outed virgins: "I'd appreciate it if you respected my alternative lifestyle."

If they have a sense of humour, they'll think you've got a great sense of humour, and if they don't, they'll be scared silent.