I work in an office of mostly young co-workers. Almost everyone is what you could call cool, but I still sometimes feel like I am being judged by them for my swingin’ social life (by which I mean my sex life). Am I?—Maryanne
I’ve worked in straight-up office-offices, where the office-y ladies always liked my shoes (and where I was found, only once, in sock feet, eating microwave popcorn and watching vintage TVO on YouTube), and I’ve worked in certifiably “cool” offices, where two hours might be legitimately devoted to riffing on metal-band logos or Britney Spears’ weave or where flirting falls on the infidelity continuum. A cool office is like a gift, sent to earth from Elvis in heaven, wrapped up in 100-dollar bills, but it’s still an office, and the boundaries of appropriateness can be hard to find.
Jill Filipovic, who is a lawyer and a long-time blogger at Feministe, thinks you might have one of a few problems. First of all, she advises (though not legally), don’t talk about your sex life. “Yes, your co-workers are young and cool, and everyone probably comes in on Monday morning talking about their awesome weekends. Of course you have every right to participate in that kind of friendly banter, and sex is a necessary and wonderful part of life, and I support having as much of it as possible in whatever demented way you like. But this is still a workplace, so stop participating in the conversation right after telling everyone about the great ’90s dance party you went to and right before the details of whose pony you rode in private.”
Filipovic says that your co-workers might also be jealous, especially if they have more recently crossed over into being committed-or-married-but-still-totally-cool. Or you might just be grossing them out—maybe what you’re reading as judgment is really just disinterest in hearing the slimy deets of your get-downs. Filipovic says, “This seems the least likely, but perhaps they’re not actually judging your sex life and rather who you’re having sex with? If it’s awkward because you’re gay or bi, then your coworkers are not ‘cool.’” This is when you take it to HR. But first just try shhhhh-ing about it. Mystery is sexier, anyway. And, Filipovic adds, “No workplace sex-talk means no workplace sex-judgment.”
I’m in my mid thirties, just out of a long-term relationship, and slowly getting back into the dating scene. I’m clueless and I can’t differentiate between interest and simple eye contact. Can you offer some great wisdom on what a woman does when she’s checking a guy out?—Jim
Women check out guys all day long, but it is a complicated and deeply personal formula involving height, shoes, posture, ass, wedding ring, beard status, hands, smile, speaking voice, probable net worth communicated by suit-jacket cut, sounds emanating from headphones, evidence of cigarette pack, hairline, and onward. Some women look at “packages,” or so I’ve been told, even though most non-Jon Hamms aren’t leaving theirs out on display. The sexual cues provided by straight men, sought by straight women, are like the stars in the sky, my friend: infinite and only semi-knowable, until you just know, in a vibe-y, sparkle-oomphy way.
There are some, as they say, “clues,” like if a woman touches your arm or clothes; bats her eyelashes; exposes her neck; shows her inner wrists; gets naked and climbs onto your bed and spreads her legs open and says, “Let’s do this,” or whatever. But none of those are really real. Some women are just generally, easily warm, and a lot of women behave in this sexual-simulacrum-y way because Being Hot, even when you’re in line at Tim Hortons with a cold and a bad attitude, is just what women have been told to do since the dawn of time.
So, armed with all of that non-information, learn by participating. Smile back, talk to everyone who talks to you, be incredibly friendly and interested and engaged with every kind of stranger, and you’ll start to read the subterranean sexual codes that exist beyond more common dinner-party kindnesses. And if you’re not in a situation in which a woman is alone and vulnerable (like, don’t yell “YOU GOT A MAN?” at a girl who happens to meet your eyes on the #6 bus at midnight), and she is asking you questions and laughing and is maybe putting some of that vibe-y sparkle-oomph into her moment with you, ask her out.
Have a question for Kate? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.