Adapted from a recent online discussion.
If flirty co-worker is taken, keep your dating thoughts to yourself
Cube farm: What's the best way to handle a flirtatious co-worker when there's no easy answer? It's a complicated work situation, and rumor is they started seeing someone "casually" not too long ago. This person shares a lot with me, but not this, and we deal with each other a lot.
Carolyn: There's no easy answer because I'm not sure what the question is. If you're interested in this person, and you're asking whether the co-worker means anything by the flirtation, then I would say the dating of someone else answers your question.
In general, I would say to be very careful, and remain strictly professional. In three sentences, you have flirting, secrets, rumors, "it's complicated" and work. That's a loaded situation even if your behavior is unimpeachable.
Another cube farm: In the past you've said work is an acceptable place to meet dates (as long as they're not in your chain of command), and also that it's still okay to express interest in someone when they're casually dating someone else. Have you changed your mind?
Carolyn: Nope. Workplaces are where adults spend the bulk of their waking hours, and as long as there's no crossing of personal with professional, workplaces are fair game. "Cube farm" works closely with the person, who is also flirty, and dating someone else; combined, that says, "Don't get involved."
And as far as poaching, people don't possess each other. If the mere mention of your interest in someone would lead that person to end a relationship with someone else, then that relationship wasn't going far.
That said, I don't abide hovering opportunists, the people who want someone, insinuate themselves into that person's life as a "friend," and then proceed to wedge themselves in between that person and his or her mate, casual or otherwise. That's insidious — which is why my advice has been that expressing your interest is okay, when there's no formal bond between your coveted and someone else. That way you're not deceiving anyone about your intentions, and you're not home-wrecking.
Whenever I'm not sure where the line is, I imagine a movie character in the situation. Is it possible to find the person sympathetic? What would the circumstances have to be?
Best person to ask about your black sheep in-law is spouse
Maryland: My new husband comes from a big family whom we see often. However, there's one sister of his I know exists but have never met. I know she lives in-state. My husband clearly doesn't want to talk about her, but I feel that, after knowing me for years and being married for months, he should feel comfortable confiding in me about whatever makes her the family outcast. My curiosity is getting the best of me. Would it be wrong to ask another member of my husband's family?
Carolyn: Ask him. How about: "I feel very uncomfortable being married to you and not knowing the story of your sister. Clearly it is a painful subject for you, but my not knowing the truth doesn't keep it from being true. It only keeps me from knowing this huge part of you"?