Work-y Love Triangle: Help Me Keep It Simple.
May 7, 2012 9:03 PM   Subscribe

I like him, I am pretty sure he likes me, yay! Complications: we essentially work together, and he theoretically has a girlfriend. Tips/suggestions needed for navigating this situation with maturity, honesty, and a minimum of hurt feelings. Stories and anecdotes about similar situations--with good outcomes or otherwise--VERY welcome.

Me: a 24-year-old staff member at a nonprofit organization with a tiny staff and many volunteers. After many years and some therapy, finally a mostly well-adjusted person with strong interpersonal skills but with a (well-managed) anxiety disorder and some insecurities from shitty previous relationships.

Him: Of similar age and background, heavily-involved volunteer at said organization.

The situation:
He started volunteering late last year but I literally did not notice him (a combination of incompatible schedules, at the time I was in a relationship myself etc etc). Around February of this year I started noticing "vibes" from him--nothing serious or overt, just something pinging in my intuition. Didn't think too much of it other than to sort of note that it was there and to be sort of careful since I knew he had a girlfriend (but I know very little about her or about their relationship). Over the course of this time we begin to work together more and more often (he in a volunteer capacity, but very seriously and with commitment).

Then suddenly one day, BLAM. There he was. From a Cool Volunteer to a Cool Person I Really Want To Make Out And Go To Movies With in the space of, like, a day. Still keeping in mind that he has a girlfriend, we start to talk more about non-work-related stuff. I figure once I get to know him better my romantic feelings will blow over.

They haven't. We spend more time talking (over e-mail and text) and in each other's presence (always at work) than ever, and perhaps accordingly I like him more than ever.

I like him enough and in a significant-feeling enough way to not want to let this simply slide. I am confident that there is a genuine attraction between us and it's not that I am bored or looking for drama or what have you -- in fact I happen to be in a very stable-feeling, happy place with lots of pursuits and success at work and good friends etc etc.

I don't want to jeopardize that. (My workplace is a very social one where many friendships are formed, both between staff and volunteers and among volunteers.) But I also am getting to a point where the romantic and sexual tension with this person's presence is getting unbearable to me and beginning to interfere with my productivity and happiness.

We have made plans to hang out outside of work, one-on-one, for the first time, soon. There may or may not be drinking involved. In any case, should I say something to him about my attraction, in a hey-maybe-you'd-like-to-know way? As I mentioned, I definitely feel like he is attracted to me but I do not think he has any idea how attracted to him I am. Or should I just keep on keepin' on, in lustful silence?

My general policy is that honesty is best, but I just don't know in this situation.

Things to know:
- My position at work is somewhat high-profile and as a result many people feel they know me/would like to get to know me, but I keep a strict separation of work and personal lives and so am not usually Friends with volunteers. (And I have never been romantically involved with one.)
- As I mentioned, I don't think he knows that I am attracted to him. I have been warm and friendly to him in e-mails and in person, but again, that is part of my job and most thinking people realize that. If he could read my mind or is an EXTRAORDINARILY good judge of women, he probably knows. Short of that, wouldn't count on it.
- I only know he has a girlfriend through third-party sources. The words "my girlfriend" or her name have never passed his lips. I do think that is a little strange, however there are many personal things about his life that I do not know about. (We have a lot of conversations but they are always sort of second-level conversations, not a whole lot of "so where are you from/what did you major in/etc")
- The girlfriend was once a volunteer but is no longer. I have met her a few times and seen them interact - she is nice enough but bland on first impression (I am sure there is more to her later) and their dynamic, physical and social, is much more friendly than romantic or sexual, to the point where it seems cold.

Thoughts? Suggestions? My primary objective here is to maintain a semblance of order at work and in my personal life; secondary is to retain this person in my life, even if only as a friend; tertiary is to advance the friendship into a romantic sphere.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (63 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
If he has a girlfriend, don't interfere. You should, however, find out if he still does have a girlfriend. But if he does, you owe it to them to have their relationship. Keep this a friendship for now. You sound like you're really into him and willing to compromise his relationship -- don't put him in that position. How would you like to be his girlfriend in that circumstance? As a high-profile person in this organization, it will reflect especially bad on you if it gets out that you were involved in him cheating/breaking them up...
If, however, he is single, then you should just take things slow and see if they go anywhere, which it sounds like you've been doing a good job of so far.
posted by DoubleLune at 9:10 PM on May 7, 2012 [11 favorites]


No-win here. If he cheats on her with you, he will cheat on you with someone else. If he doesn't, then you dont get what you want. If he breaks up with her, you will want it to have nothing to do with you, otherwise you'll always question the relationship. I say move on and chalk it up to bad timing.
posted by softlord at 9:10 PM on May 7, 2012 [9 favorites]


- I only know he has a girlfriend through third-party sources.

- The girlfriend was once a volunteer but is no longer. I have met her a few times and seen them interact - she is nice enough but bland on first impression (I am sure there is more to her later) and their dynamic, physical and social, is much more friendly than romantic or sexual, to the point where it seems cold.


Wait, what? Either way, this is Not Good Drama. Be a professional and a good human being and do nothing until he has been degirlfriended on his own terms.
posted by two lights above the sea at 9:13 PM on May 7, 2012 [24 favorites]


When you hang out, one of the first topics of conversation should be, "So, tell me about your girlfriend."

I find it really fascinating that you self-identify as having "some insecurities from shitty previous relationships" and then manage to zoom straight toward a guy from your workplace who's in a relationship. As if these two factors are not somehow related.
posted by hermitosis at 9:15 PM on May 7, 2012 [64 favorites]


When you are hanging out away from work, ask, "Hey, that friend of yours, Shauna, is she your girlfriend?" If yes, retreat to a safe distance. If no, ask him out for dinner. (It's possible that after you ask him out, he'll inform you that "Oh, hey, no, um, you haven't met her, but yes, I do have a girlfriend" or "Yeah, sorry I really need my volunteer life to be separate from my love life, or I'd have asked you out ages ago." This is when you just suck it up. Life's nothing without risk.)

(Also, the reason for the suggestion you retreat is not that I think monogamy's all there is, or that Shauna deserves to be happier than you just because she got there first. It's that relationship drama in the workplace is a stupid path to total life chaos, and is completely preventable in this case.)
posted by gingerest at 9:18 PM on May 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


Back off. Don't go after someone who is not available -- it's not respectful, even of him, and it's shitty.

It will also be bad professionally.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:18 PM on May 7, 2012 [11 favorites]


Do not try to date someone at work (which is tricky to begin with) who has a girlfriend.

I would also steer away from drinking with him one-on-one unless you're 100% sure you'll feel good about the choices you make the next day.
posted by insectosaurus at 9:22 PM on May 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


You are allowed to ask him if he's seeing anybody. You are not allowed to say anything else remotely romantic unless he's not seeing anyone. That is all.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 9:26 PM on May 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


We have made plans to hang out outside of work, one-on-one, for the first time, soon.

Don't do this. This is the path to disaster.

You want simple? Avoid drama.
posted by rtha at 9:26 PM on May 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


Oh dear.

I have met her a few times and seen them interact - she is nice enough but bland on first impression (I am sure there is more to her later) and their dynamic, physical and social, is much more friendly than romantic or sexual, to the point where it seems cold.

Is this kind of rationalizing to yourself why it would be okay to get involved with her boyfriend behind her back? This is not a great idea for all kinds of reasons, but I just want to talk about one of them.

Sometimes some workplaces administer tests that are supposed to measure how honest you are. Many of the questions are along the lines of: "How many people do you think would break a law if they knew they could get away with it? (Choose an answer - few, half or most)." "How many people would steal from their workplace if they know they would not be caught?"

The idea behind these tests is that people see what they do as normal and common. So the idea would be that someone who would break a law if they could get away with it, would think most people would break laws if they could get away with it.

I think that applies here, because what you are doing is a great way to become insecure yourself, if you are kind of denigrating this girl and their relationship to yourself as a way of justifying cheating. If you do this you may start seeing it as something most people would do. It is a great way to make yourself crazy every time you meet a female friend of his - old or new - who makes you feel "bland" by comparison. I have had the experience, dating someone, where his friends said behind my back that I was too ugly for him. It hurt, but I can only imagine how much worse I would have felt if I believed something like that was a justification for someone else to step in and try to hook up with him. Also, you may get really neurotic about whether your relationship with him comes off as romantic and sexual enough. I can't tell from what you wrote if you have ever had an LTR longer than a year or two. But for most people it doesn't outwardly exude romance and sex as much as new relationships do. So what if you get like 2 years in, and are blissfully happy, and along comes this new young friend full of sparky sexual energy? I think this is a way to never feel secure.

So that's that issue. Another issue is exactly what people said above, that if he'll do it with you, odds are that he will do it to you. Even if you feel in the beginning that you have this special amazing connection that nobody else could understand, I'm willing to bet the previous girl felt that way in the beginning too. And he did too until he got bored, or things were hard, or he just wasn't feeling it anymore but just didn't have the backbone to end it properly. Or was just horny and felt like seeking out something new.

I see you have been making a lot of progress in therapy and feel like a well-adjusted person which is awesome. IMO, truly well-adjusted people don't hook up with taken people, so I think getting involved with him before he is single will do damage to the progress you've made.
posted by cairdeas at 9:36 PM on May 7, 2012 [52 favorites]


It would have been better if you found out whether he does in fact have a girlfriend before asking this question.
posted by bearette at 9:39 PM on May 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


I suspect that Hermitosis is on to something. But, let's assume for a second that this guy is an upstanding gentleman. He is flirting with you. All the texts and emails could be harmless flirting, but making plans to explicitly hang out one-on-one? If it was "my friends have a game night on Tuesdays, come play D&D with us!" it could be an interest in a platonic friendship.

Relationships don't always end at a fixed point. Often there is that grey area where you are drifting off into singledom and flirting with the idea of dating again. You aren't cheating, necessarily, but you aren't being 100% emotionally committed either. Perhaps he is or was in one of those places.

Look the dude up on Facebook to see if he is in a relationship. If that bit of espionage doesn't work, agree to meet him at a very public place and be absolutely sure to ask what is up within the first ten minutes.
posted by munchingzombie at 9:40 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here is what you can do to stay on the RIGHT side of things. Next time you see him at work...

You: So, are you still dating so-and-so? (Be sure to use her first name!)

Him: Yes/No.

If he is still dating her, change the subject. In a few days, and BEFORE your date - break the plans politely (something came up!) and leave making new plans non-committal.

See this as a test of what you are saying. You want non-drama? FINE. Then do the right thing here by yourself. Do not see this person one-on-one if he is still with girlfriend. period.



PS. Yes, I think he's probably into you, too. If he's been vibing you AND still with girlfriend, train yourself to see that as a very unattractive thing for him to do. I promise adopting this perspective will instantly nullify any tensions or attractions. It's hard to be enticed when the game has been exposed. Force yourself to see the truth.

PPS. I really hope he's not still seeing her so you guys can get together! But y'know, find out one way or the other before you proceed. Again, you owe it to yourself and all of the difficult self-work you've accomplished thus far in life. Good luck!
posted by jbenben at 9:43 PM on May 7, 2012 [25 favorites]


I like him, I am pretty sure he likes me, yay! Complications: ... he ...has a girlfriend.
[cut a bunch of less relevant detail]

So, are you the kind of person who encourages someone to cheat on their girlfriend or not? If not, then it sounds like you need to stop being friends with him, because you say you 'can't just let this slide'. Be polite but firm and turn down his date and avoid him at work. If necessary, tell him that you try not to make friends at work.

If you are convinced that the 'theoretically' justification you put in your question is real, then ask him at work, before your planned date 'so, do you have a girlfriend?'. If he says no, then I'm sorry, go ahead and keep flirting, my bad. If he says yes, see previous paragraph.
posted by jacalata at 9:48 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I cannot see how this will turn out well for you on a personal or professional level. You work in a tight-knit environment consisting of a small group of people. And you have a high profile position.

Professionally, if things between you and this man turn out bad then I can only imagine there being gossip and possibly a ruined professional image which may affect your career.

Personally, this man is currently in a relationship with another person. This relationship may or may not be open, so ask him if you are curious. But realize that regardless of whether or not the relationship is open, if people at work find out then they will talk.

It's up to you if you are willing to take this risk which may affect your career negatively.
posted by livinglearning at 9:48 PM on May 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


she is nice enough but bland on first impression (I am sure there is more to her later) and their dynamic, physical and social, is much more friendly than romantic or sexual, to the point where it seems cold.

Please don't use her reserve towards him in public as justification for you choosing to make a play for him. You don't know what their relationship is actually like. You are not fixing a wrong by dating him. What you are doing is being disrespectful of their relationship. He may be complicit in that lack of respect, but it doesn't make it right.

If you want to make a play for him, be honest with yourself about it. Go in knowing the risks. You may lose the respect of your coworkers and your ability to function at work. You may end up in a relationship with someone who doesn't know what he wants at best and is a cheater at worst. You may end up feeling pretty guilty for hurting a girl you don't even know and who never did anything to you.

And yes, going for drinks alone with him is a bad idea. Invite a third party or find an excuse to cancel. It's tough to wait for him to be single before pouncing, but it's worth it.

Ah, you wanted an anecdote. I was the girlfriend in a very similar situation. They spent a ton of time together because of work, and yes, we were having relationship problems. She became closer to him than I was, and then helped him through breaking up with me. Then when she asked him if they could be together, he said no--he wasn't really into her. I'm not sure what the problem was, but I think in many ways she was a rebound. He is dating someone else now.

I don't really know how to express how painful the entire experience of losing him in bits and pieces to her was. I understand why she did it; she too was young and insecure and had some chemistry with him. It still doesn't stop it from hurting. I used to have nightmares about her. I don't know if this matters to you.

posted by sockomatic at 9:51 PM on May 7, 2012 [60 favorites]


I don't really know how to express how painful the entire experience of losing him in bits and pieces to her was.

This has also happened to me as well, including the nightmares about the other girl. And personally I am saying it not even to much to get you to sympathize with the potential pain of the girlfriend, but to warn you about what might be in your future with a guy who does this.
posted by cairdeas at 9:59 PM on May 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


A few things:

The words "my girlfriend" or her name have never passed his lips. I do think that is a little strange, however there are many personal things about his life that I do not know about.

Some people are just really keen on keeping work and life separate. Maybe he's one of these people, maybe his relationship is unsatisfying. In any case, it isn't really your business to find out.

I have met her a few times and seen them interact - she is nice enough but bland on first impression (I am sure there is more to her later) and their dynamic, physical and social, is much more friendly than romantic or sexual, to the point where it seems cold.

This kind of rationalization will only lead to heartache.

sockomatic and cairdeas have both explained well the pain of losing an SO to someone else. I will warn you that it also feels awful to look back and realize that YOU were the "someone else" responsible for another person's pain. There's no way to ask a total stranger for forgiveness, and there's no way to justify hurting someone you don't even know. You're just left with your own regrets. It might seem like it's not a huge deal right now, because you like him and she just seems like an inconsequential obstacle at best, but if you pursue him and he cheats on her with you, you will have to deal with the emotional ramifications over the long term. This is a can of worms you do not want to open. Trust me.

I suggest avoiding the one-on-one hangouts until you know for sure that he's single. Even if you really, really like him, you do not want to be the subject of his girlfriend's nightmares. It is not a good feeling.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 10:08 PM on May 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


Girlfriend. Tempting though it may be - girlfriend.

Just say no.
posted by mleigh at 10:08 PM on May 7, 2012


Oh yeah! Anecdotes!

Yes I have been in this position. Yes it was a colossal personal and professional disaster.

I'm older and wiser now. "Younger Me" - do not go down this road unless all lights are green and there is no girlfriend!!!
posted by jbenben at 10:09 PM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm worried that I may have downplayed the work consequences of this by saying it would be "bad." More like disastrous. Regardless of whether he stays with her, leaves her for you, or cheats on her with you, you will damage your reputation. You will be seen as immature, unprofessional, and a home wrecker with all the moralistic overtones that implies. You would be sabotaging yourself at your nonprofit, and maybe much more generally in your profession-- especially if it blows up (as drama often does)! Life isn't The Office and you're not Jim and Pam.

Is a crush on a drama-enmeshed guy you barely know worth that?
posted by J. Wilson at 10:10 PM on May 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


Yeah, I should clarify: if your "there's a girl but they seem unaffectionate" means "I think they broke up" or "Maybe they never went out", then get confirmation and make your move.
But if it's just "Huh, I know she's his girlfriend, but I like him soooo much, and maybe he's not that happy," then cancel drinks and knock it off, missy. You don't know, you can't know, you're not an impartial anything, and there's no excuse for making this big a mess where you work. Someone somewhere will probably give you permission to do this, if you keep looking, but it's a terrible idea.
posted by gingerest at 10:10 PM on May 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


Statistically, it is very rare for "the other woman" to get the guy. Typically, the other woman is a tool to help him ditch her. Once the SO is gone, she soon will be too. If you aren't sure what his relationship status is, find out. If it is "taken", move on, post haste -- especially since this could also be very bad for your job.
posted by Michele in California at 10:11 PM on May 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


J. Wilson speaks the truth, as do others, regarding your professional standing.

To quote RuPaul, "And, Don't F#ck It Up!"
posted by jbenben at 10:14 PM on May 7, 2012


I just realized I actually do specifically have an anecdote about a workplace hookup with a taken guy. That would be my dad. My mom found out and went apeshit on him for years. They are still together though, even though their relationship never repaired. The other woman, I don't know what she was thinking, but she contacted *me* and tried to pry out info about their relationship from me. (I was a kid). I don't know if it had work consequences for them since I wasn't privy to that, but they both left very shortly after to different companies. She sent me an random email forward recently. (It has been over a decade and a half later!WTF) It's different for you guys since there are no kids involved, but just saying, it can be really ugly. And you never know who will go Fatal Attraction.
posted by cairdeas at 10:20 PM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Warning: harsh Womanly Advice Ahead.

Don't be dumb. Throughout your career guys at work are going to hit on you and 90%* of them are going to be in a relationship that they are vaguely unsatisfied with so they look around their immediate environment to see who else is available and might be up for a side thing or a test the waters fling or just be a shoulder to cry on or an attentive womanly presence because they feel neglected. Don't walk around with a giant neon arrow saying "That's me! I'll do it!" You say yourself you didn't even notice this guy until he started to pay attention to you. Are you really that easy? Do you react this way to every guy who shows interest? Because, on average, this is going to happen 1-2 times a year for the rest of your career so better stop letting this turn your head sooner than later.

Plus if a guy who is in a relationship and is thinking about bailing doesn't look any further than the next cube over at work then he ain't putting a lot of effort in and you should treat him accordingly. If he does the stand up thing and approaches you openly and as a single person, by all means consider him but this "oh lets have drinks and see what happens" is not OK from a colleague.

*5% will be clueless fools, 4% you'll have to report to HR and the other one? He might be worth it.
posted by fshgrl at 10:28 PM on May 7, 2012 [48 favorites]


Also remember he's a volunteer so he doesn't stand to lose much here. You do.
posted by fshgrl at 10:30 PM on May 7, 2012 [8 favorites]


I dated someone who I worked with about four years ago, who had a girlfriend when we first hooked up, when I was 21. I worked in a bar so it was "okay" in that most of my coworkers were doing similarly stupid things. I think I was definitely judged negatively for it anyway, and he ended up cheating on me several times over the course of the relationship, once with the girl he had cheated on with me. The relationship was really not good at all for my self-esteem and luckily by the time I broke up with him we no longer worked together. I would never condone doing something like this in any work environment that you care about at all, and if you do it, expect to be cheated on.
posted by queens86 at 10:35 PM on May 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


If you're so visible, the gossip will travel faster.
posted by salvia at 10:38 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


*If = Since
posted by salvia at 10:38 PM on May 7, 2012


In addition to the excellent point that he is a volunteer whereas this is your job, he is the one in a relationship and you are not. That means that if you become the other woman, he will have all the power. You will be sitting by the phone waiting to hear from him and unable to call him and crap like that.

I have a history of relationship drama. This will sound really bad to most people, but don't ever become "the other woman" unless you are also in a relationship. It puts you on more even footing. What you are contemplating doing amounts to cutting your own throat six ways to Sunday: heart ripped out and career ruined does not add up to love.
posted by Michele in California at 10:41 PM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


So:

1. He has a girlfriend (however "technical")
2. He is your coworker in a small organization in a small field

Two very good reasons not to go there. And J. Wilson is right about this reflecting poorly on you at work. Pursuing a relationship with a coworker is usually a bad idea even when no one is otherwise committed; pursuing a relationship with an unavailable coworker may portray you in an especially unfavorable light with your supervisors and colleagues. That could undermine your current position and tarnish your professional reputation for future positions (references, anyone?).

If the prospect of becoming involved with a man who is committed to someone else isn't enough to dissuade you here, please consider the implications for your professional life when you bring drama to work with you.

tl;dr: No. This is a spectacularly bad idea.
posted by anonnymoose at 10:52 PM on May 7, 2012


P.S. Most professional fields are smaller than you think, especially in the non-profit sector. Don't underestimate the millions of connections between your current colleagues and your future colleagues. People love to talk and they love to share information when it comes time to hire new staff.
posted by anonnymoose at 10:55 PM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is really a question you needed to ask? Others have said it better than I ever could.

Simple = Steer clear. Anything else is an invitation to personal and professional disaster.
posted by FlamingBore at 11:05 PM on May 7, 2012


Tips/suggestions needed for navigating this situation with maturity, honesty, and a minimum of hurt feelings.

Ask him directly if he has a girlfriend, and if so, back off. Don't confuse this with moral posturing, this is about sending a clear message to a prospective partner that you have boundaries, and that the terms of entering a relationship with you include being disentangled from other romantic relationships.
posted by eddydamascene at 11:08 PM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Last comment, but I just re-read this and saw that the guy is a volunteer. Which may or may not put you in a "superior" or supervisory position as a regular/high-profile employee depending on your interactions--I don't know, I'm not a labor lawyer. But: oh hell no. You do not want to even touch this with a ten-foot pole. If romancing a potential subordinate went bad--well, perhaps the fallout for you could be worse than just a tarnished reputation.
posted by anonnymoose at 11:11 PM on May 7, 2012


(And by "worse fallout" I mean potential administrative repercussions and/or litigation if someone decides there is a sexual harassment element afoot. Again, IANAL.)
posted by anonnymoose at 11:18 PM on May 7, 2012


He is a volunteer. You are a staff member. I cannot quite work out if you're taking advantage of your position to spend more time with him or not, but I can tell you that as someone who volunteers and has had a move made on them by a staff member it was extremely awkward and uncomfortable and I didn't even have a partner at the time. I thought he was just being friendly, whereas he clearly thought there was a vibe. He was a nice enough person, but yes, still super awkward and I just stopped volunteering there.

FWIW, there a fair few volunteer couples formed when I was there, but no staff-volunteer ones. Aside from all the other issues here, you might want to look around and think about its culture. And how much damage you could do not just to him, yourself and his girlfriend, but to this organisation, whose mission I would bet you believe in.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 1:14 AM on May 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also if you go ahead with this one on one meting have no more than one drink. Better yet don't drink at all. The last thing ou need is a drunken hook up with someone you work with or supervise. It might be hilarious in films, but in real life it is far more likely to be a total disaster that wrecks your working life.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 1:18 AM on May 8, 2012


- You are his superior
- You are in a high-profile position
- He has a girlfriend
- Yes, until you hear it from his lips that he doesn't you assume he has a girlfriend

Dating a coworker is a recipe for drama. Dating someone lower on the org chart is a big recipe for drama with a side of abusing your authority. Now put that in being a high-profile position, so this is going to be extra-noticeable and gossip will spread even faster. Add the girlfriend and the homewrecker gossip? When you're in a non-profit, where there is this stereotype that workers are supposed to be ethical and kind so when something contrary to that pops up people just love to jump on it? Why don't you just videotape yourself kicking some kittens with "I'm [anonymous] and I work at [blah company]" and put it on YouTube, if you're so intent on tanking your professional reputation?

Look--I'm guessing you're relatively new to the professional workplace, and because you work with so many volunteers the lines between staff and volunteer blend in your head. But in the adult world this is something that Is Not Done.

If you must pursue this, then at least only do so if he's confirmed that he's single. Because it's that element that really takes the situation from "immature and unprofessional" to "God almighty, how could you be that stupid".

Oh yeah, and confirming the girlfriend thing? Needs to be done before the meet-up and drinks, given that I'm betting you're hoping the drinks will turn into Make-Out City.
posted by schroedinger at 2:07 AM on May 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


primary objective here is to maintain a semblance of order at work and in my personal life; secondary is to retain this person in my life, even if only as a friend; tertiary is to advance the friendship into a romantic sphere.

Your primary objective is really the only one to focus on. Advancing the friendship into a romantic sphere will disrupt the first if you don't approach it with some integrity, which means hanging out alone with a guy you're attracted to and looking for ways to drop hints isn't going to support that primary objective.

If he likes you that much and he's not a creep, he'll break up with his girlfriend. If he breaks up with his girlfriend after fooling around with you, you'll never trust him - and you shouldn't.

If you are aiming to get into a stable place without weirdness and with confidence and self-esteem in tact, you'll be better off not distracting yourself with drama or mediating anxiety with the snuggly woo of early romantic relationships.

Just pull back and wait a little. It stands a decent chance of happening even if you take the high road and if it doesn't, you'll still be okay.

Doing a shit thing to another woman makes you feel shitty for a long, long time. Don't do it or allow yourself to justify it.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:26 AM on May 8, 2012


Don't shit where you eat.
posted by THAT William Mize at 2:36 AM on May 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


If the OP is from somewhere other than the US then the advice not to date people at work may not apply. It's how most people meet their spouses in a lot of the world. So just in case the OP is dismissing that advice because it doesn't apply to their culture:

Do not try to date people who are not single. You'll hurt the other woman, he won't respect you for it (unless he wasn't worth getting involved with in the first place), and, if it "works", you'll end up in a relationship with someone you know for a fact is not to be trusted.
posted by caek at 2:53 AM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


The words "my girlfriend" or her name have never passed his lips. I do think that is a little strange, however there are many personal things about his life that I do not know about.

I've been working since you were born (been dying to say that :) but listen to what fshgirl has said - and this observation of yours, that I've italicized? Experience has shown me its a signal of a player (if there is indeed a little woman in the background). Of course it may not apply to the exceptions to the rule but I'm still waiting to see that.
posted by infini at 4:56 AM on May 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


she is nice enough but bland on first impression (I am sure there is more to her later) and their dynamic, physical and social, is much more friendly than romantic or sexual, to the point where it seems cold.

Others have called out this sentence, for good reason. This sort of thinking will mess up how you get along with everyone, not just the men you're interested in. She's not a rival, and there's no reason for you to compare the two of you. And if you get in the habit of comparing, you'll never end and you'll never win. Everyone can be viewed as "better" or "worse" somehow, and you get scornful of the people you label "worse" and resentful of the ones you label "better," and you end up relating to no one.

And even if she was a lame girlfriend? She's still his girlfriend. If he's unhappy in the relationship? It's his responsibility to end it.

I think you already know there's no chance of this going well for you, whether you actively pursue him or just "let it happen." Keep things professional, don't act on the crush, and be proud of yourself for putting your emotional health first.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:01 AM on May 8, 2012 [8 favorites]


On the one hand, I completely, 100%, agree with what fshgirl wrote. Those are words of wisdom (even if the percentages don't add up).

On the other hand, you guys are grownups and sometimes it's the grownup thing to do something dumb but fun. People cheat, people enjoy being the other woman/man, and people do it at work. Once in a while that turns into something great; usually in these threads there are a few people who own up that this is how their own relationship started and now they've been married for twenty years, etc. And once in a while it is a huge disaster and someone gets fired; most often there's just the usual minor relationship drama, maybe a pregnancy scare or a case of herpes, and some tears, not much different than regular dating.

The biggest issue here, I think, is the intimate workplace. Trust me, people will know. Whether or not that is a big deal depends on the workplace culture, your relationships there, and whether anyone is perceived to be getting any kind of inappropriate benefit out of the deal. But people will know, whether or not you want them to. There's a small nonprofit I work with once in a while, and I'm pretty sure that if a main staff member was banging one of the volunteers even I would hear about it pretty soon, and I don't even work there. People love to talk about that stuff because it is fun and funny and everyone can relate.

tl;dr: If you proceed, do so with the expectation of no privacy.
posted by Forktine at 5:19 AM on May 8, 2012


From the OP:
Thank you guys! (This is why I asked Ask Metafilter.) Now I see that I have gotten caught up in my feelings of infatuation and lost sight of the human element in this situation. Thanks for restoring my perspective. I will plan to shelve my attraction and resume business as usual. Go Team Metafilter.
posted by taz (staff) at 5:23 AM on May 8, 2012 [28 favorites]


Best dealt with via basically cutting him off. You can't really make it work with people who already have a partner.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:40 AM on May 8, 2012


Just as a "I've been there" perspective...

almost five years ago I started working in an office and made friends with a bunch of people. One man in particular I got along with really well, but it was always very platonic etc. Him having a wife made try very hard to always keep a teensie bit guarded because I knew right from the off that I could fall for this guy. I met his wife a few times at office events, always marvelled at how unlike him she was, but I figured that she must be different at home. So we just worked together. I went out on dates with lots of people and he was always the first to ask how it went and wanted all the details. He genuinely took interest in trying to find me a partner, which was always really nice. He gave lots of great advice and man perspective on things, etc. We had lots of mutual friends and were in a book club together so I saw him outside of work some, but always as part of larger group. Then, about two years ago, I realised that I was in love with him, and that every date I went on with other people always were disappointing because I kept comparing them to him and how he and I got along. Realising that I was in love with him was actually an incredibly hard time because he was so completely unavailable and I had to see him every day and be reminded about why he was so great. I also never thought I was his type because of age differences (he's 8 years old) and whatnot. But I never let on, kept things very friendly but maybe a little more distance. I occasionally was even a bit mean when I was having an especially hard time with my feelings for him. I kept dating other people but totally nothing compared.

Then, about a year ago, his wife asked for a divorce. She actually had already been seeing someone else, but their marriage had been on the outs for a long time. So they legally separated and a week after she moved out he and I went to a party a mutual friend was throwing. A few drinks and long long very candid conversations later, we both realised that we had feelings for each other and had for a long time but neither of us thought it would be reciprocated. At 5AM that morning we had our first kiss. We're now living together and planning our wedding. Our one year anniversary is next month. We've both never been so happy.


Things that need saying:
1. I was always encouraging to him and his relationship. I asked how she was doing in general conversation, just as I would for any other friend. I never planted seeds for why she maybe wasn't the woman for him.
2. I never tipped my hat and let him know my feelings. To do that would have been disrespectful to him, his wife, and their relationship.
3. Neither of us ever acted on our feelings until we were both single and able to do so without hurting someone else and without drama.

It took four years for us to find our way to each other, and some of that time was really hard, but neither of us would have had it any other way. Being able to acknowledge our feelings for each other at a time when it was okay and morally safe, and knowing that we both kept it honourable and respectful, makes our current relationship that much more meaningful. And even when I knew I loved him I didn't stop living my life and get totally obsessed with the idea of being with him.

So if you really like this guy, respect his current relationship. Trust me, you don't want the guilt of being the reason why a relationship ended. Acting on your feelings when the other person isn't available can only end badly. I have no doubt in my mind that had either of us done anything untoward while he was still married we would not be where we are now. So keep living your life, go on dates, meet new people. Wasting time on a person who is unavailable isn't smart.
posted by gwenlister at 8:07 AM on May 8, 2012 [26 favorites]


Neither of us ever acted on our feelings until we were both single and able to do so without hurting someone else and without drama.

This is absolutely the golden rule of having a healthy relationship with someone you meet while one or both of you is in another relationship. Mazel tov, gwenlister!
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:37 AM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's really no need for me to add to the pile-on with this, as your update indicates that you've made a decision however, let me just add that forming a romantic relationship in this manner will likely exacerbate your insecurities and anxieties.
posted by sm1tten at 10:19 AM on May 8, 2012


The words "my girlfriend" or her name have never passed his lips. I do think that is a little strange, however there are many personal things about his life that I do not know about.

Just say, "Your gf's coming with us, right?"

If he says "No..." you say "oh that's too bad I assume she's as cool as you and was looking forward to meeting her"

If he says "what gf?" just go ahead and suction onto his face like a sink-plunger. I know you work together, but people have to meet each other somehow, and vivons que diable. Just rig it so that he reports to someone else and you should be fine.
posted by tel3path at 10:26 AM on May 8, 2012


Thanks, Sidhedevil. There were times when I wasn't sure I wanted to take the high road, but I'm so glad that I did. It is awesome being able to be with him without any niggling feelings of guilt over how we came together.
posted by gwenlister at 11:07 AM on May 8, 2012


It adds a deeper layer of nuance and meaning to your relationship, as gwenlister's story demonstrates... bet there is a warm feeling of happy that this person you have chosen has demonstrated such thoughtfulness in their actions and judgements. It bodes well for the future.
posted by infini at 11:14 AM on May 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Actually, infini is dead on. I feel a great deal of comfort and reassurance because even when his relationship was rocky and he suspected greener pastures, he never strayed and was honourable and respectful. If he treated the woman he no longer wanted to be married to with such respect, well... I just never question his loyalty or fidelity. And I know he feels the same about me.

Just as cheating on your partner speaks volumes about someone's character, so does NOT cheating.
posted by gwenlister at 11:21 AM on May 8, 2012 [8 favorites]


If he treated the woman he no longer wanted to be married to with such respect, well... I just never question his loyalty or fidelity. And I know he feels the same about me.

This is really it.

Its why the lack of information forthcoming about his girlfriend (or any others) is such a red flag to me about the man's character. Some men I've worked with have made me think "If that is how he treats his wife and the mother of his son, what kind of person is he?" and such characteristics don't magically dissapear in the professional life.
posted by infini at 11:30 AM on May 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


You're only attracted to him because his testosterone levels are lowered due to his relationship status and because he's emotionally available. You should work to address whatever it is that makes you feel less worthy of an actual relationship where the guy is actively courting you--maybe take up a sport and fall in love with yourself--and avoid him and the temptation as much as possible. Out of sight is out of mind and I can guarantee the feeling will pass eventually.
posted by lotusmish at 12:28 PM on May 8, 2012


Its why the lack of information forthcoming about his girlfriend (or any others) is such a red flag to me about the man's character/.

I think it's ill-advised to believe that not talking about partners = being a jerk or not caring or being willing to hop into bed. Some people (including myself) don't talk about our partners because it's just not something we want to share with other people, especially people in positions of authority over us. I'm not saying that's what is going on here, but the idea that if you don't talk about something then you don't care about it is frankly bewildering to me, though it seems to be an assumption that gets made a lot.

what gf?" just go ahead and suction onto his face like a sink-plunger. I know you work together, but people have to meet each other somehow, and vivons que diable. Just rig it so that he reports to someone else and you should be fine.

Well, it might be better to wait after he's said he is also interested, surely. Sometimes friendly people just want to be friends, no matter what vibe people are getting. :)
posted by lesbiassparrow at 12:31 PM on May 8, 2012


GAHHHH I meant to say emotionally *unavailable
posted by lotusmish at 12:34 PM on May 8, 2012


I got in a situation similar to yours and gwenlister's. You're in the giddy stage right now, juggling maybes and what-ifs and oooh-I-really-like-hims. But that pesky girlfriend.

I got myself over that giddy-crushy stage and settled into a platonic friendship with my attached fellow largely by reading a whole bunch of stuff on unrequited love (there are some good metafilter questions). It helped me realize that this was really common to the point of being cliche and helped me tone down the heightened drama of it all.

I really wished him the best as a friend and wanted him to do the right thing for himself, including being happy with his SO. You have to trust that he knows what he's doing with his choice of girlfriend. If you can't trust that, then you are thinking of him as a child or someone with poor judgement. You don't want to date that. Once you get to the place of being happy for his happiness, it doesn't matter that much if you end up with him romantically or not.

It will be hard to work with this guy if you really like him and know he's off limits. You gotta cultivate the friendship/work relationship instead of the crush. Respect his relationship and give yourself a mental smack if you start snipping at the SO in any way ("she's nice but bland"). If you start thinking of someone as competition, it means you have accepted that you have competition, and that's a recipe for anxiety and low self esteem for you.

How he handles this will tell you a lot about his character. You want the guy who is aboveboard. I wouldn't approach him first and make it easy for him to give himself permission to flirty-flirt with you under the table and get himself all entranced with drama. And if there is a strong, true connection between you, no power in the 'verse will keep that quiet forever. Just figure out the terms under which you want a relationship with him and act accordingly.
posted by griselda at 12:39 PM on May 8, 2012


she's nice but bland

She's actually nice enough to have done volunteer work in the past. You get paid for your time; she doesn't. To put it in context, do you do any volunteer work outside of your job?

As for bland, that could also be a synonym for "low drama." In other words, it's a GOOD thing. For example, I would say getting workplace crushes is definitely not bland, but it's not exactly something you want in a significant other.

I'm not saying this to be mean to you, just to put this into context. I think your attraction to this guy is making you see his girlfriend in a way which is unfair to her.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 1:18 PM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I like him, I am pretty sure he likes me, yay! Complications: we essentially work together, and he theoretically has a girlfriend.

First complication: you don't know that he likes you, you're just pretty sure.

Second complication: you don't know that he has a girlfriend, you're just pretty sure.

You don't actually work together, you just volunteer together. So let's get real complication #2 out of the way; when you're chatting as you do, ask "so, tell me about your girlfriend" and if he has one, he'll tell you about her. If he doesn't (or doesn't want you to think he does) he'll say that he doesn't have one. Then you can specifically say "oh, wasn't that one girl your girlfriend?" and see what he says.

If he has a girlfriend, by the way, you're done for now. If he doesn't, then you only have one complication, whether or not he likes you, and since you've found out he doesn't have a girlfriend, you can now volunteer that you don't have a boyfriend right now. Then he's all set to ask you out if he's interested, and then you'll know whether or not he likes you.
posted by davejay at 2:32 PM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


This question might be super good for you to read.
posted by griselda at 3:03 PM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


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