Sthenno was over the other day talking with Wendy and I about our Hit by a bus (HBAB) plans. This is not the sort of plan that is focused around what you do when *you* are hit by a bus but rather the plan to deal with your spouse suddenly being dead for some reason... like being hit a bus, say. Obviously the plan starts with being emotionally devastated and grieving but eventually you have to pick yourself back up and decide what to do from there. I suspect some people would find this excessively morbid or pessimistic, not to mention derisive of the 'one soulmate' type of belief, but all of us are very much Thinkers (in the Myers-Briggs personality type) and we all have our plans in place. Both Sthenno and I had what I would call pretty typical HBAB plans where we talked about some girl we had met awhile ago that would we reconnect with but Wendy's HBAB plan was much more ... amusing.
GirlAtWork was someone I met a few years ago (at work, shockingly) and when I described what happened between us both Wendy and Sthenno thought that her behaviour was a bit questionable. Here is what happened, judge for yourself.
GirlAtWork and I were both fairly new to the company and had a few interesting discussions over email about hobbies and other innocuous topics. I was very attracted to her but did nothing overt to that effect.
GirlAtWork invited me to go out with her to celebrate her birthday - and the invite was sent to just me, not the whole team.
I declined the invite with the entirely true reason that Wendy was working late and I had to take care of Elli that evening. I wished that this was not the case precisely because I wasn't sure if the invitation was 'come along to a party' or 'romantic dinner for two'. Getting flirted with is *such* an ego boost! No more invites followed.
I confirmed later that it was in fact a date and not just a party though nothing changed between us as a result of my declining.
Now, GirlAtWork had seen me on many occasions so presumably she noticed that I am wearing a wedding ring. I talked about having a young daughter and may or may not have mentioned being currently married, I don't recall that exactly. So did GirlAtWork do anything wrong? Obviously if you are going to hit on a coworker who seems to be married you want to be a bit circumspect and she did that perfectly - but it is okay in the first place?
I am a bit conflicted on this point. For one thing she has made no promises to anyone that would be broken if I were to cheat on my wife with her and she is not obligated to assist me in keeping all of my promises. On the other hand becoming involved with someone who is married is usually a gigantic disaster whether or not they eventually decide to leave their partner for you and doing so generally shows poor judgement. As such I don't have a problem with being involved with someone who would feel like my vows are my problem but I am not at all sure I would want to be involved with someone who was fine with being a mistress. Given that, shouldn't I not be interested in GirlAtWork?
But it isn't that simple. Back when I was younger I looked at the world in very black and white terms as most young people are wont to do. These days I recognize the shades much more readily and I think about things with greater tolerance and a healthy dose of "I don't really know exactly what is going on anyway." Maybe that married man in question is separated but stills wears his ring. Maybe his wife has died, maybe they have an open relationship or maybe something stranger yet is going on. It is certainly true that most men wearing wedding rings are either married and unwilling to have an affair (in which case circumspect flirtation is probably harmless) or married and willing to have an affair (which you probably don't want to be involved in) but there are a sea of other possibilities. I got together with Wendy in a set of circumstances that would be right at home in the middle of a plot twist in a soap opera so I can certainly confirm that there are times when starting a relationship can be the right thing to do despite many signs to the contrary.
I suppose what it comes down to is this: Pursuing a married person under most circumstances is not morally wrong but it is a bad idea. However, showing interest in a married person to find out what the deal is and sort out whether or not there is a reasonable shot at a relationship is just fine. A lot of the time you are going to find out that there is nothing but heartbreak there... but sometimes you are going to find real potential. You miss 100% of the swings you don't take. Of course, for this to work you need to be the sort of person who can get mixed up with someone and still say
"You are great, but you are married. If you decide to get divorced then look me up. Bye now."
and then walk away.