That Time I Was Caught Cheating, Sucking Face, and Sitting on a White Man’s Lap at Work

Men walk away virtually unscathed by their acts of extra-marital sexuality. Women get contempt and professional backlash.

by Anonymous Author on September 8th, 2014

The title cheapens what was actually a truly erotic and long, tormented love affair. But you clicked on it, so read on.

Sketch of the lower half of a face, with the words 'i kept coming back for more'.

I was attracted to him right from the start. We were sitting around a conference room table, in what would be his final interview before the team decided if he would become our next director. He had soft full lips, intelligent eyes, and a gravelly voice. Those physical traits paired well with the red tie he wore for his last round of interviews and his too-long-for-the-corporate-world curly mop of hair. There was a voluptuous sensuality to his face that I found unusual for a white man, or at least in white men who live in New England.

(PSA: New England dudes don’t have the keenest sartorial sensibility either, just sayin.’)

Over the next many years of mutual employment, nothing even remotely romantic or personal transpired between us. Though we were technically on the same team, we worked in different locations on campus and had different managers.

Observing him in meetings, I found him funny and professionally perfunctory. He wasn’t one to dominate discussions or fill the time with streams of meaningless buzzwords and pointless PowerPoint decks. He never did the “developer dance” I found so obnoxious and condescending, a variation on the refrain, “we can do anything with enough time and resources but…”

I liked and respected him, I admired his straight-shooting communication style. He was very smart. This wasn’t a burning attraction, mind you. I never had “designs” on him. I was, by the time things turned, a devoted married mother of two, and he a devoted married father of two.

But something sparked between us one night when separately live tweeting a presidential debate between Senators Barack Obama and John McCain back in 2008. We exchanged some @name jokes on Twitter. From there the online banter became more frequent and flirtatious.

We started having lunches together occasionally. Slowly getting to know each other. Sharing music. Holding hands.

Holding hands. This sweet, seemingly innocent gesture of affection and attachment, to me was an intense act of intimacy. Much more intimate, to my mind, and his, than the soulless sport-fucking so many are fond of.

There came a sharper turning point. A strange week in early December. Several weeks after we started emailing, DM’ing on Twitter, and instant messaging late at night and on the weekends, in what many might dismiss as a well-coordinated midlife crisis: a mutually desired kiss transpired. If I had avoided that kiss, that seemingly inevitable kiss, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this today.

That kiss was electric. I both regret it and cherish it and wouldn’t mind experiencing it again right now. But I digress.

I want to underscore that this was no sleazy fuck-in-the-supply-room after-hours kind of tryst. There wasn’t a sexual void that needed to be filled. No drunken desperate moment of weakness at the company Christmas party. This was not jungle fever. (I have tasted many flavors, broken a few hues of fever.)

It was just a powerful and mutual attraction: personal, physical, and mental, that we selfishly and stupidly indulged.

Sketch of a lamp.

There was only one thing to think, one conclusion that could be drawn if you walked in on the scene that December evening: You would have seen me, a brown woman sitting side saddle on this handsome white man’s lap, but fully clothed, no skin showed, nothing was hanging out or going in. It was a PG-13 situation. But boy was I ever really leaning in.

I loved just kissing him. His delicious lips. His perfect earlobes. The smell of his neck.

Somewhere near 6 o’clock a quick knock on his office door gave us a start, and without waiting for a response (rude, by the way!), some impatient dude walked right in (careless lovers), as I jumped off his lap, too late. Way too late. Whoever it was saw the scene, in all its undeniable consensuality and then walked out, just as quickly, softly closing the door behind him.

Me: “Oh my god, who was it?”

He: “Bill.”

Me: “Fuuuuuuuck.”

He: “Forgot to lock the door.”

And off I slunk, cheeks ablaze, to the corner of his office, like a shamed child, to (softly mind you, can’t mess up the face) bang my head against the wall. Looking back now I want to go back and yell at myself, “So what, own it, bitch!” Fucking laugh. Own. It.

Well, now I suppose I do own it. In the same way I own my house, which is to say, not at all. I’ll be paying a mortgage for decades, and maybe one day it will really be mine, not the bank’s. I carry this debt like a karmic tab that always hangs in the balance, for myriad reasons, namely, the collateral damage to my marriage and in my own psyche. But that’s another essay.

Two-panel sketch, the first of a woman in profile, her lips open and hair cascading down the page. A triangle-shaped projection emerges from the third eye region, showing a river with a bridge crossing it. In the second panel is a sketch of a heart with the words 'green chakra'.

Double Standards and Sex-In-Tech

So Bill was the head of our department. Our mutual boss.

To my great surprise and relief the issue was never addressed, we were neither given a warning, nor fired. However from that day on — and to this day — Bill never spoke to or acknowledged me in any way ever again. He wouldn’t (couldn’t?) look me in the eye. I can’t say why.

After it became clear that our compromising position would not be acknowledged in any penal capacity, part of me rather enjoyed the fact that Bill knew. I suppose I liked having a witness, it was legitimizing and I wanted to see how Bill’s knowing would ultimately play out. But in the final analysis, how it played out was really quite predictable. No Nate Silver necessary.

I can understand Bill judging me as a salacious adulterer or whatever, if he was also going to have the same attitude towards my male partner. However, he continued to both promote (i.e., recommend him for things) and praise the work of the guy I was involved with; even after he resigned his position and moved on, my white male partner was invited by Bill to speak at events and conferences (back-slap, bro!) and offered freelance consultancies, while I was effectively written off with an invisible scarlet letter.

I’ll never know if Bill told anyone at work about what he saw between us. But given my talents, tenure, and contributions to the organization, and that I found myself in the ensuing months, clearly pigeonholed and going nowhere, I suspect he somehow had me blacklisted.

The thing that strikes me the most from a sex-in-tech and workplace perspective, is that there’s this ongoing, pervasive double standard, that “boys will be boys,” (wink, nudge, clink) while women are viewed as whores and home wreckers if they become publicly “polyamorous” (or bi-amorous in my case) while married and/or intimately involved with a married man.

Males get more dude-bro cred for “messing around” while a woman’s personal and professional reputation and job opportunities definitely and often irrecoverably suffer for straying. They walk away virtually unscathed by their acts of extra-marital sexuality and are actually even buoyed by any male witness of “virility,” (fist-bump, chest-bump, high-five) while women are paid in contempt and professional backlash. In my case, the backlash took the form of being just completely marginalized and alienated. I suspect that if Bill could have rolled me under a bus without also implicating his beloved second-in-command, he would have gladly done so.

So my sisters, the moral of the story is if you are going to lean into your sexuality, act on your big-girl erotic desires with someone you work with, be damn sure you’re willing and able to walk away from that job and that no one you work with is in a position to destroy your professional reputation (or worse) for it.

I was lucky. I had a valuable white man as collateral (though this clearly didn’t help Monica Lewinsky). I was lucky that the man I was involved with at work wasn’t ultimately a predatory prick. Lucky, because in this case I was merely marginalized and dead-ended, and eventually left the company.

But as a brown woman and a lifetime of being the “other,” out in the world, and often the token brownie in the workplace, I’m quite at home living in the margin.