The ill-advised but often-sought business-trip tryst

When I was younger and traveled more for business, I got hit on by just about every man I traveled with. This is not uncommon among women I know.

Of course, most times it’s not that bad. The guy usually looks a little silly, and the next day the girl usually feels a little more powerful in the client meeting because her counterpart showed such pathetic judgment the night before.

Please do not write to me about how this situation is sex harassment and can get very bad and whatever. I know. But let’s be real, men hit on their travel partners all the time and it’s mostly just a fumbling bunch of absurdities like, “I’ve never asked anyone this before….” Or “I’m so attracted to you I can’t help myself…” Lines the men think are original but actually are standard fare for dark corners of hotel lobbies.

Last week, I was in New York City to talk to editors about my book (coming out in May, hooray). Each day, I looked really good for the meetings, and I had a swanky hotel room and an expense account to boot.

Now I can see why affairs happen so often on business trips. If you are single, a business trip is just an extension of your single life, and if you don’t sleep with random guys in real life, it’s unappealing to do it on a business trip.

But if you’re married with children, a business trip is like an escape to Disney Land. There are no kids to feed and bathe. There’s no husband for annoying talks about checkbook balances and the next day’s school lunch. There is only freedom and fun. And what does anyone want to do with freedom and fun except have sex?

I wish I could tell you that I’m too busy with my great career and big ideas to think about a little one-night stand. But really, I was consumed with the idea.

A lot of people send emails to me to ask about issues related to marriage. Mostly because people who have a career and young kids don’t really have time for the marriage. And they think that because I have career advice I have marriage advice. And I do, sort of: It’s very hard to do kids, career and marriage. And be on guard that often the easiest thing to let go is the marriage.

I know what you’ll tell me: The best thing to do to save the marriage is date night. But the thing about date night is that the best time to do it is on a business trip. When there are only inappropriate dates.

Instead of acting on my fantasies and destroying my marriage, I did what all good journalists do: buried myself in data gathering.

This cheating issue is widespread: Sixty percent of men and forty percent of women have an affair during marriage. And these are not long-term events. Ten percent don’t even last twenty-four hours. This screams business trip to me, but maybe because I was just on one.

The Des Moines Register reported, in an article that I can’t link to, that thirty-two percent of people feel like they are married to their co-workers, and in fact, people do better work when they have this sort of relationship with a co-worker. So it’s not that big a leap to cross the great divide and suggest a rendez-vous while you’re in a grand hotel.

Oprah’s in-house therapist has addressed this situation — where you feel very close to someone you work with all the time. And, in a shocking turn of events, she recommends that you don’t act on it. (For you pragmatists, the increase in workplace performance you get from feeling very close to a co-worker dissolves when you start swapping spit.)

Of course people ignore this advice in droves, and forty percent of workers actually have an on-going relationship with someone at work. (Considering that? Here are some tips to do it without killing your career.)

Based on my experience and my research, I am declaring that it’s normal to think about having a one-night stand with a co-worker, and it’s normal for your mind to travel to fantasy land on a business trip. I used to think it wasn’t. But it is. I think if we all admit this, we can all get good at having the feelings and not considering the option of acting on them – which would not only help save marriages but also help stop sex harassment at work.

Posted in No image, Office politics
20 comments on “The ill-advised but often-sought business-trip tryst
  1. August says:

    Amen to that!
    So what are you doing later…wanna get a drink?

  2. Steve says:

    Excellent post once again Penelope. This might sound jr. highschoolish, but I’ll add that the other dynamic at work here is that our spouses are not around to see us succeed and/or share in the celebration. Whether on the road or not, we want to impress those we love and know that we impressed them. Unless we’re fortunate enough to work side-by-side, that doesn’t happen. Instead, I compliment my female co-workers and they compliment me. After awhile, the lines can blur.
    Keep up the good work,
    Steve

  3. Chris Yeh says:

    Hmmmm, maybe I need to cut down on my wife’s business travel!

  4. Recruiting Animal says:

    Penelope, I appreciate your honesty though if I was your husband I must admit that I would feel a bit depressed.

    Regarding your stats, they seem way too high to me and if it was so common surely I would have heard about it a lot more.

    Is it something related to a specific age group? If so, then some people would hear about it and not others.

  5. laurence haughton says:

    On the link page above the 60/40 number you will also see:
    “22 percent of married men have strayed at least once during their married lives. 14 percent of married women have had affairs at least once during their married lives.”
    So estimates vary wildly. But whatever… I’m sure you are right. Some business people believe it’s just a cost of business when they break promises to customers, associates, and partners. Why not add the spouse to that list?

  6. Female Traveler says:

    Interesting post. There’s another side to all of this too, that I’ve noticed when traveling on business and in the “backpacking scene.”

    Men and women who are in committed relationships (whether officially married or not) often seem to seek out the platonic companionship of someone of the opposite sex for a day or two. Somewhat similar to a “first date” the idea isn’t really to “consumate” the relationship, but simply to enjoy getting to know someone better.

    WIth men I’ve worked with, hanging out together for an evening on the road and getting to know each other as people was enjoyable and a little like being on a first date except no pressure to go further(since both people knew the other was committed relationship). Maybe one person or the other had a slight fantasy of going further, but both people knew it wouldn’t happen so no tension, no pressure, just an enjoyable time away from spouses and kids and mortgages and check books.

  7. Sandi says:

    Hi Penelope — Funny timing – here’s a story in yesterday’s Washington Post about work spouses: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/10/AR2007021000012.html?referrer=emailarticle

    But I can see why you’d also be solicited for marriage advice. Job hunting and dating have many parallels.

    * * * * *

    Great article, Sandi. Thanks for posting it. The research to support the benefits of a “workplace spouse” is so good…

    -Penelope

  8. Ron says:

    “I think if we all admit this, we can all get good at having the feelings and not considering the option of acting on them…”

    …or at least just processing them by ourselves back at the hotel. Another reason even married couples should be willing to embrace a healthy self-love life!

  9. Recruiting Animal says:

    Inc Magazine is covering it too. Just in time for Valentines Day.

    http://www.inc.com/criticalnews/articles/200702/dating.html?partner=rss

  10. Matt B says:

    “And what does anyone want to do with freedom and fun except have sex?”

    …Well I am a married man with a young child and I can tell you that there are lots of things besides cheating on my wife that I would do with freedom and fun. Namely, take a nap, enjoy a movie uninterrupted, workout at the gym… This strikes me as a rather immature post and quite stereotypical of the “boorish businessman.” At least you plugged the book.

  11. Noel Jensen says:

    Good post! The advice (Don’t act on it!) from Oprah’s therapist is not only useful here but in many other situations.

  12. melanie gao says:

    I’m thoroughly depressed. No one has ever, ever hit on me during a business trip. What is wrong with me?!

    :)

  13. Lisa says:

    Penelope,

    This isn’t the first time that you’ve mentioned being hit on in the workplace. I know this is a common phenomenon and have heard one or two friends with a common story.

    I am 27, fit, relatively attractive, and very intelligent (I imagine you are thinking that the majority believe they have above-average looks and smarts!). I have not been subjected to obvious sexual discrimination or been hit on in any way. What’s more, I work in a heavily male-dominated industry.

    My question is this: do you think not being hit on is actually a negative when it is so commonplace? I am not talking about overt sexual harrassment. But perhaps a senior being flirtatious means he is at least paying attention to you? Or is this simply the wrong type attention to begin with?

  14. michael says:

    When i came across this site i thought i was going to find a valuable resource; instead, i read the first few lines of your posts and immediately feel the condescension with which you treat your husband and how full of yourself you are because of your “great career”. I am not coming back to this blog again.

  15. Charles says:

    I very much agree with the article. I’ve already dealt with a my wife having a one night stand on a business trip. In fact, it was not with a co-worker, but a guy she met while she and her business associated went out for drinks at the end of the day. As far as cheating with your co-worker is concerned, my wife explained to me that as a well respected employee that everybody knows is married, the last thing she’d want people to know is that she’s cheating on her husband. The one night stand was in no way pre-meditated, but as long as we are human, these things can happen. I don’t condone this in any way, but being on a business trip and staying in your own private hotel room alone at night is a perfect recipe for such behavior. We don’t have kids and thank God for that. We have been working through this and seems to be going well, but you just never know in life.

    For those of you that can’t believe your ears, the statistics are not only true, but they are getting worse every year. Cheating on a relationship has been very common for a long time now (women are surely catching up to men) and even more so as women have become more prevalent in the workplace.

    Just think… you’re on the road. You meet someone attractive that you’ll never see again. You have a few drinks and your own hotel room. Nobody but the two of you will ever know. You don’t do it because you have fallen out of love with your spouse; you do it because you are sexually attracted and because you can.. can get away with it. When your trip is over, you come home back to the real world as if nothing ever happened.

  16. Charles says:

    One more thing I have to say. Those that can’t believe this or haven’t noticed it going on in the world around them; WAKE UP! OPEN YOUR EYES AND EARS. And beware of the spouse that seems to be perfect. All marriages run into issues and it’s many times the perfect marriage where somebody is shocked and devastated to find out their spouse has been living a separate life of sex and affairs.

    Good luck to you guys.

  17. hesdatinghiscolleagueonbusiness says:

    Scary. As I write this my fiance is away on a two-week business trip with a colleague – a 25-year-old blonde whose name comes up in conversation all the time. “Suzi does this, Suzi says that.” The other night Suzi came to his room to discuss business. When I said I thought that was odd, he told me they have no where else to go because it’s a bed and breakfast. Why they couldn’t have discussed business over dinner is beyond me.

    He has called me every day and given a run down of what they’re doing. It’s a day of work and then after work they are hanging out, seeing the sights, and having dinner. So it’s definitely part pleasure trip. I have to say I feel extremely uneasy about this and I did the minute he told me they were going on this trip together, alone.

    There ought to be a law against shit like this. But she’s the lead person who is showing him the ropes. I have never met this girl. She has a boyfriend, but attached people get it on all the time. (I wonder how her boyfriend feels about this?) I just find it unsettling that my fiance is off on what is essentially a pleasure trip spending 12 hours a day in face-to-face contact with another woman. Lunches, dinner, and discussing business into the evening. WTF? Should I not be jealous and concerned?

    I don’t know what to do with myself. I’m on pins and needles. If she was a guy, this wouldn’t matter. But she’s not, and I think people are very naive or don’t want to face the facts that same sex friendships work colleagues are different from opposite sex when you’re not homosexual.

  18. Chris says:

    I have had an affair on business trips for the last two years. I love my wife and kids and think it just adds spice to my life. So, the stats are true!

  19. DONMINIC says:

    I ALSO HAVE A WIFE WHO HAS TO GO OUT OF TOWN ON BUISNESS TRIPS ONCE OR TWICE A YEAR.I HAVE ASKED HER IF MEN HIT ON HER AND SHE SAY’S YES -WHICH I BELIEVE BECAUSE SHE IS AN ATTRACTIVE WOMAN.SHE ALSO SAY’S THIS THOUGH-PEOPLE WHO CHEAT ON THEIR SPOUSES ARE INSECURE PEOPLE.I THEN ASKED WHAT SHE MEAN’T BY THAT.SHE SAID THEY MUST HAVE LOW SELF ESTEEM BECAUSE THE AFFAIR OR ONE NIGHT STAND IS SIMPLY A WAY TO RE-ENFORCE THE NEED TO BE DESIRED AND THAT A SECURE PERSON DOSENT NEED THAT.HEALTHY MARRIAGES ARE BUILT ON HEALTHY MINDS AND A DECIEVING MIND IS NOT A HEALTHY MIND.SO WHY DO I NEED TO DO THAT SHE SAY’S.I AM NOT ILL AND LOOK FORWARD TO GETTING BACK TO YOU AND THE KIDS.

In Archive