I was, however, attracted to my husband. And before I was attracted to him, I had a crush on another guy at work, who sometimes wanly flirted back but clearly wasn’t interested. I kept trying anyway, in my own awkward and fumbling way, despite him having a girlfriend. I’m sure I touched his hand in a bar or tried to get close to him when I could, even though deep down I knew he wasn’t into me. Maybe I even made him feel uncomfortable. There was also another guy, the office flirt and star writer, who recently emailed to ask if he had ever harassed me. I get why he wrote—it is cliché at this point to note that men are rethinking their old behavior—but no, that wasn’t harassment. It was fun.
Of course not all workplaces are the same, and I have no interest in arguing that every office should be flirty and fun, or that all bosses should feel free to flirt with abandon. My point is not that I know where the line is. It’s that, even in the midst of the most public reckoning with atrocious and abusive male behavior of my lifetime, the line is not as clear as much of the dialogue would have you think. We spend a huge portion of our waking hours at work, and particularly when you are young and single or childless or divorced or simply working all the time, much of your social life revolves around your colleagues. We have work crushes and work wives and husbands, and sometimes we kiss our co-workers or sleep with them. Sometimes that turns into something real—my husband and I are not the only long-married couple to come out of that now-defunct magazine. But sometimes it turns into everyone at a bar, drinking a little too much, and a man touching a woman’s arm or leg or rubbing her shoulder, trying to make a move, and that woman not being into it. That’s an uncomfortable situation, but we all make each other uncomfortable sometimes, particularly when sex and attraction are involved. The goal should be for a person to say “no thanks, dude,” without consequences, not for rejection to never be necessary at all.
I remember the night I first realized John might be into me. The magazine had invited the staff on a booze cruise. We were all on this boat—me, John, the guy I had a crush on, all of our colleagues who were also my best friends—tooling around New York Harbor, getting drunk and talking shit. John was probably getting the drunkest and talking the most shit. We eventually docked and ended up at a karaoke bar on the Far West Side. People started to peel off. It was getting late. My friend asked me if I wanted to share a cab home, but John was singing “Sweet Child of Mine” very poorly and for some reason I wanted to stay. I’m not even sure I liked John that night, but I know that neither of us was in a position to use our best judgment. Alone at a bar with my drunk boss: It reads today like a nightmare situation for any young working woman. But for me, it was the start of something good.