How to handle a workplace connection in the midst of divorce and downsizing (in other words, when I am crazed with loss?)
August 10, 2011 6:09 PM   Subscribe

Divorce, downsizing and dealing with a workplace crush/connection: how do I behave like a grown-up when all I want to do is curl up under his desk and cry?

After years of working in the same department, but knowing each other only tangentially, Variable and I were put on the same project: he was the manager and I was the author. I was married. He was flirting, although I didn’t even get it(I was in an emotionally abusive marriage and my self-esteem was in the toilet). I just noticed that when I sat in his office his neck would turn red on one side.
And then suddenly, six weeks or so after we started work, I felt like I got hit with a brick. I was in complete, overwhelming, haven’t felt-this-way since college lust. I didn’t say or do anything untoward, although the tension between us was pretty obvious. "Googly-eyes" abounded. I left him alone at the office Christmas party. I didn’t email him at all during the holiday break. I felt horrible, as I was pretty deep "in-crush", but no one knew it.
After break, Variable and I started emailing each other outside of work - mostly chatty, funny stuff. Finally, Variable casually dropped that he had a girlfriend. I felt stupid and ridiculous and then all hell broke loose in my life. My husband punched our 8-year-old son in the stomach. His teachers and doctors called Child Protective Services. I kicked the SOB out of the house and filed for divorce. I won primary custody of our son and relocated to the university town where I work.
And the relationship with Variable continued at work and via email - he supported me through the divorce, and the tension still existed but was more of a slow burn, and anyway he had a girlfriend, right? We have very similar sense of humor and laugh and laugh when we're together, and crack each other up over email. To be honest, I felt like we had this great connection, but the timing was wrong to get together now but we would eventually one day.

And then right before my son and I relocated, it hit me. He has a girlfriend! I went home and reassessed. What the hell was I doing? I really,really like this guy. But he is taken. And whether or not he’s behaving in his relationship the way I think he should or not, the fact remains that his girlfriend does not need someone at her boyfriend’s workplace making googly-eyes at him. So I've pretty much cut out the personal email, feeling the chatter isn’t appropriate. I have to be honest. I want to have sex with him. Repeatedly. And with great frequency and vigor. Now that I live here with my son and will soon be legally single, the attraction seems not so theoretical.

And now our work project has been sold to an outside vendor and most of the people we work with will be losing their jobs (ours are safe, although we are on different projects again).

And it's very uncomfortable between us. We start an email exchange and then cut it off. We begin chatting in person and then it quickly becomes too comfortable, at which point I mention the girlfriend and it suddenly becomes uncomfortable.

And I want to know what I should do. I HATE feeling like this: sad and lonely and missing him. I know I sound like a ridiculous schoolgirl, but he's the one I want to go to for advice about the problem of him; he's the one who makes me laugh hard enough to forget what's going on for a moment.
Do I just suck it up and hope these feelings fade? (I am overwhelmed with bad feelings at the moment: pain over the divorce, loneliness from relocation, exhaustion from single-parenting, sadness over the changes at work and the loss of friends and relationships there.) Do I talk to him about and explain what I am doing and why (I suspect he knows, but I think I might feel better if I say something)? Essentially, I have lost my marriage (not a bad thing to lose, but it was 14 years of my life), my house, my friends and lifestyle, and the workplace I knew for seven years, and I am just BULLSH*T crazy right now and terrified of doing something wrong. And I am hoping the hive mind will help provide clarity and a course of reasonable action.
posted by Fierce clam to Human Relations (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'd frame it this way:

Is Variable the man that you want helping you to raise your son?

If he doesn't live up to that, he isn't worth it.
posted by k8t at 6:10 PM on August 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

You're dealing with a lot right now and it's easy when in pain to find something to fantasize about as a way to escape. For you, it's this guy. You've done a really good job of managing things so far- keeping your distance has been the wise choice, because he's in a relationship with somebody and he's your co-worker. Continue to keep your distance and your crush WILL fade over time, I guarantee it. Talking to him about this won't make things better; it could only make things worse.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:17 PM on August 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

Here's the thing - crushes are great for exactly this kind of thing at this time in your life. You need something safe: a happy place with feelings you need to practice having again, like hope and butterflies, to get you through this bad time. If you try to make it real, it's not the same thing. You may be fulfilling the same needs in him right now.

If you focus on yourself for the next while, and just get your new life together, either the right person will happen at the right time - or you and Variable'll both be in a better place further on down the line and can make it work. But for now, just give everything space and time.
posted by peagood at 6:27 PM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

You are kicking ass and taking names with life right now, and for all your sadness and difficulties, your communication here is impressively clear and emotionally smart on both the details and the big picture. Either you are wise beyond your years, a great editor, or probably both. You sound self-aware and emotionally open.

Given that, this crush ...almost doesn't merit space in this answer because all I want to do is tell you that however you decide you proceed, you will make it through these difficult months to a better place and eventually a better relationship full of hot, frequent, vigorous sex.

That said, my two cents on the crush is: it's his job to protect his relationship but your job to protect yourself, and you don't need annnnny more drama, so I'm glad to hear you are keeping yourself safe from the drama of helping him cheat. Maybe one day you can be together. You DO probably need distracting crushes! Perhaps OK Cupid? And you could maybe use another friend. Any chance he can be a friend and not a crush? (Probably not.)
posted by salvia at 7:38 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

You know, if you can manage things casually, you could say something to him.

For instance, you could drop into a conversation about how things have been tough and you've been lonely, "If you were single, I'd really be into you. But you're not, and that's probably a good thing because I'm not sure a relationship is right for me now."

If you frame it as a huge confession, it will be awkward and painful. But if you can just throw it out casually that you would if you could but you can't, hearing him agree will probably still be painful, but could help with the moving on.

I think part of your issue is that a bit of you hopes that he'll dump his girlfriend in favor of you. Hearing him tell you he won't would probably help that irrational part of your mind move him to the "friend" category and not the "crush" category.
posted by psycheslamp at 7:58 PM on August 10, 2011

You're dealing with so much right now. I think you are doing great. You probably don't need advice so much as a place to vent and some sympathy. Well, you have mine! The work stuff would be bad enough without the scumbag ex-husband punching your son - you're a hero for surviving all this intact.

So, Variable. As he is now he's basically an asset, right? An ally at work, who likes and respects you and thinks you're hot. Keep him as an asset. He won't be an asset if you become a bit player in his relationship by letting him cheat with you. Don't make any moves, disclosures, etc. A wistful work crush is really not a bad thing for you right now. When you're through this troubled time, when you're not overwhelmed, you can consider what you want to do about him.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:04 PM on August 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

I hate to point this out. You have become more excited about him over time because you were moving from married to single, and you saw him as a potential real, monagamous boyfriend all along, so your marriage was an obstacle. What you're failing to realize is that he's become less excited about you over time for the exact same reason- you're too single and available and real now. The obvious conlcusion is that he liked you better when you were a safe, married crush, because he never had any intention of it becoming real. I'm sorry if that's true, and I suspect it is. It will be very hard to accept.
posted by Nixy at 9:19 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Unfortunately probably the best and safest thing you could do right now would be to, with a bare minimum of understated explanation, eliminate contact with him as much as is feasible. Your feelings for him aren't reliable right now and what can they do except torment you? From what you've said he hasn't given a hint of having any intention of breaking up with his girlfriend. I fear there is a good chance of Nixy being correct: you are no longer an opportunity for fun, transgressive, forbidden-fruit flirting: you are a very available potential relationship with complicated personal baggage. A supportive friendship with him seems like a pipe dream as long as you are in the midst of a strong, lustful crush over him. I hope you have some drama-free sources of emotional support that you can tap into because you need them right now.
posted by nanojath at 10:17 PM on August 10, 2011

I just want to say that I am hugely - hugely! - impressed by the strength you have shown. You left an abusive marriage. You filed for divorce. You cut off personal e-mail with your crush - and you did this even in the face of temptation and at a time of great vulnerability, because you know it is inappropriate and you (wisely!) don't want to be a party to cheating. And I agree with salvia - you come across as highly self-aware, and your communication is lucid and empathetic as well.

You clearly have great inner resources and exceptional character. I predict that you will come through all of this stronger and more unstoppable than ever, even if it doesn't feel like it now. I think you are doing the right thing in resisting temptation here, and later on you will look back on this and thank yourself for your forbearance. Do you have anyone besides your crush - family, friends, counselor - who can provide you with emotional support? If so, now's the time to call on them. If you go to him for this, you'll only be fanning the flames, and I think you know it.

Whatever else you decide to do, though, please give yourself a hefty dose of well-earned credit and self-respect for the amazing things you've already done. You deserve it!
posted by velvet winter at 11:04 PM on August 10, 2011 [6 favorites]

First of all, nthing the kudos. You did what it takes to protect your son; now do the same for yourself. If you think for an instant you can tell him to "clear the air" and move on, you are WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. Once that genie's out of the bottle, you can't stuff it back in. Best case scenario is you'll be really embarrased/uncomfortable around each other; worst case, you'll end up acting on those horny impulses and helping him cheat. You deserve to take care of yourself!
posted by kate4914 at 11:33 PM on August 10, 2011

Do I just suck it up and hope these feelings fade? (I am overwhelmed with bad feelings at the moment: pain over the divorce, loneliness from relocation, exhaustion from single-parenting, sadness over the changes at work and the loss of friends and relationships there.) Do I talk to him about and explain what I am doing and why

Hmm. Re-reading. Is this one of those times where meditation or just plain having a good cry would help? Not to be too cheesy, but your paragraph made me remember Thich Nhat Hahn's line about cradling the hurt/angry part of yourself like a little child you care for. Sometimes, I'll escape something by turning to something else... and from that to something else... to something else... And when I run out of solutions, I feel really, really, really upset about that last thing. But what I really need is my own sympathy on all the stuff upstream. Is he, like, the easiest thing to be sad about? Does thinking about it that way make this at all easier, to think of him as actually kinda insignificant?
posted by salvia at 2:34 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think the thing to keep uppermost in your mind is that it's really okay to be attracted to men, even attached men. You don't have to act on that attraction. It doesn't have to be something that turns into sex. It can simply exist in your mind as wild fantasies that you don't have to feel bad about because they are simply thoughts.

I think once you begin to be comfortable with having those thoughts and see them non-judgmentally, you will begin to be able to pay attention to the attraction you feel towards other men--perhaps not now, but when you are ready. Think of this current crush as beginning to open a door for you, a door that leads to a world where you are appreciated and loved for who you are and where your feelings and thoughts and spirit are not only valid, but cherished by someone who cares about you.

I realize that the feelings you have to consummate and resolve this crush are very strong right now and it feels urgent. But really, it isn't. Relax and focus on healing yourself first.
posted by hecho de la basura at 1:24 PM on August 11, 2011

Good for you for kicking that SOB of a husband out the door of your life. You and your son will be much better for it.

Don't have much contact with this crush guy anymore; it's not healthy. Why? You just got out of a horrible marriage and you need to figure your life out and stabilize in your new place. But, more importantly: he's taken, and yet he's still flirting with, emailing, and hanging around you. What do you think he would do if you were his girlfriend someday? Do you think he'd somehow be different and actually be committed like he's not with his current girlfriend? I know you haven't had sex or even kissed, but the fact that he has no problem emotionally attaching to you when he's already in a relationship -- that's a red flag. He's not relationship-material, much less marriage-material. What would that kind of guy teach your son?

So, have your crush, that's cool. But have it from afar and don't engage anymore. Find a good man sometime later after you and your son are bonded together well and he's more comfortable with the weirdness (or happiness) of not living with your husband. You've had a lot of trauma; don't let more into your life.

Take care :)
posted by minx at 5:35 PM on August 11, 2011

I am so grateful to everyone who has posted here: the support from you all has made me feel much better about the situation. I think all of you are right to some degree: my crush is an asset at work at the moment, and I should put my energies into maintaining the status quo. Which of course, means saying or doing nothing. I should try and think of this situation as a gift: if he were single, I might be tying myself in knots trying to be a great girlfriend in the workplace (!) after having been separated for all of six months. Your posts have been a much needed and appreciated reality check. After having been monogamous for fourteen years, my sexual fantasies seemed so transgressive, when really, they're just, well, normal. They only become transgressive if I act on them, and I won't. I am going to take the "people find each other for a reason approach" and focus on the fact that after many years of being treated like dirt, someone who saw me regularly and read my work thought I was desirable. Which is a great and surprising thing in my mid-forties! And he acted the way he did for his own reasons, which I won't find out because I am going to limit my interactions with him. I've been around the bend often enough to feel that while his behavior wasn't totally on the up and up, it wasn't despicable either. If in another six months, if I am healed and he's available and there's still a connection...we'll see. In the meantime I consider myself so fortunate to have gotten such thoughtful and perspicacious advice! I wish the best to you all...
posted by Fierce clam at 5:03 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

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