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Carolyn Hax: Wife insists he wear a shirt when working from home

(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)
3 min

Dear Carolyn: My wife insists that I wear a shirt when working from home, even when I’m not on camera. Neither of us has been to the office since March 2020. I rarely spend more than an hour or so per day on camera, and, of course, I’m wearing a shirt then — and pants — and if I’m on camera with a customer, I’ll be wearing a button-down shirt with a collar. This exceeds what I’ve seen my colleagues wear on customer-facing calls, but I feel it’s appropriate.

However, when I’m working at my desk, no videoconferencing app is running, my camera is switched off and the lens cover is in place, I don’t see why I can’t work buck naked if I feel like it and the temperature permits.

My wife says that, because we work for the same (very large) company, and thus people who know me know her, at least by association, I owe it to her to follow this convention. She even said that the day I appear shirtless on camera, even by accident, she will quit her job, change her name and file for divorce. I suspect she’s not entirely serious, but I also think I’m willing to live with those odds, because there’s zero chance of what she’s concerned about actually happening.

When I pointed this out, her fallback position was that it is a social norm. Is it? I think it’s HER norm, and she does have a tendency to invest emotional energy in how others live, whereas I could give zero [stuffs] about such things. If she hates seeing me without clothes on because she finds my body unattractive, that would be extremely hurtful to me but at least an honest reason. But she never complains about my nudity around the house outside of work hours, and we do enjoy conjugal pleasures from time to time, so I don’t think that’s it.

— California

California: A million managers thank you for the motivational speech to get their employees back to the office.

I struggle to recall a piece of writing that better captures what happens to people when they spend too much time in too little space, putting too much energy into the same people who know them too well. Since Sartre, at least.

More than you need a shirt, you and your wife need some air.

I will back you with the full force of … whatever, I have no force beyond these words, but I will back with all of my words the principle of your being entitled to work as you see fit. If I could make your wife drop the issue, I would.

At the same time, hello? This is not about your brave resistance to investing “emotional energy in how others live.” This is about your refusal to invest T-shirt energy in how your wife feels.

I know, I know. My take, though, on her “honest reason” for asking you to cover up: She has no idea, no rational justification, and she’s making stuff up because it’s just erfing driving her erfing nuts. Because that’s what happens to people who are part of couples who need some air. It doesn’t have to make any sense to be honest. Or reasonable, sometimes.

So your decision isn’t shirt or no shirt. It’s which principle do you want to serve: personal autonomy or marital harmony? Your call, not mine. Though I recommend all spouses choose the latter until their integrity won’t allow it and they have to embrace the former.

Or how about this instead: Put on a shirt, and I’ll stop typing.

Either way, A-plus on the pants.