Hey Salty: Two years ago I moved with my girlfriend to a new town, and we latched onto a brand-new distillery. We have been going there ever since and have a pretty friendly relationship with the owner and the longer tenured bartenders.
In particular there’s a bartender who I’ll call Katie. Katie has been there as long as we have been going, knows little things about our drink tendencies (light on syrups for me, heavy on the fruit for my gf). Katie has also given us multiple recommendations on places to go or things to do. All in all, she’s everything you could want in a bartender.
The problem is I invited some coworkers to go out one night to show off a favorite spot of mine. Katie was her typical attentive self, nothing unusual, but I guess our familiar attitude caught at least one of my coworkers off guard. He dropped the “you know he has a girlfriend, right?” line. I quickly explained that she is well aware of my girlfriend and this is a complete non-issue, but ever since then Katie has been noticeably more reserved.
The new and more distant interactions have been noticed by my girlfriend when we go out but I’ve been hesitant to say anything. My question is: How do I explain that my loudmouth coworker made her feel awkward without upsetting my girlfriend, and how do I break the awkwardness with Katie?
Distressed at the Distillery
Is your coworker always this much of a social bonehead? You already understand what I’m about to say, so you can skip ahead to the next part while I repeat this for the less savvy: 99.9 percent of the time, bartenders are not flirting with you, they’re doing their jobs. Katie was being friendly with a regular customer—nothing out of the ordinary—and because a woman was paying attention to a man, his friend assumed it was flirtatious. Bartenders and servers make our living being friendly. It’s literally our jobs. Unless one of us slides their number across the bar on a napkin, don’t assume it’s anything more than being polite. We enjoy our regulars and we work for tips, which tends to make us a friendly lot.
Now then. How can you right the awkwardness with your girlfriend and with Katie? Let’s start with your girlfriend. Can’t you just explain the situation to her? If you did, why would she be upset? It sounds like she’s observed you interaction with Katie often, and the tone of your conversations haven’t bothered her in the past. All of the misunderstanding stemmed from your big-mouth coworker’s comments, so maybe it’s easiest to lay that out for her. Honesty is always my policy with significant others. If they can’t handle hearing the truth, well, they’re going to have a hard time with me.
As for Katie, I think this is actually a situation where you should keep your mouth shut. I’m usually an advocate for straight-up communication, but in this case, addressing it with her—by what, pulling her aside at work?—just risks making nothing into A Thing. She’s probably second-guessing her friendly conversations with you, worrying you could be reading into them. Your coworker said a dumb thing; you corrected him; it’s over. In time, as you have your typical conversations with Katie and your girlfriend at the bar, Katie should realize it was no big deal. If she doesn’t let it go after a few visits, maybe your coworker had a point all along.
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