Co-Worker-With-Benefits Gone Awry
August 2, 2012 2:06 PM   Subscribe

How do I put the pieces of my self-esteem back together after I got involved with a co-worker/good friend (with a girlfriend) and I am constantly reminded that it backfired?


I am an absolute mess after I got into a friends-with-benefits relationship with a co-worker.

I am a 23 year-old girl in my second year as an accountant at a firm of about 80 people. A guy started in my group last November, and part of my job was to help him get situated. I ended up realizing I was attracted to him, but I knew nothing could happen because he was in a long distance relationship with his girlfriend of 5 years. We grew close because we confided in each other about work-related things, and we have the same sense of humor. One night when he was drunk, I received some overly-friendly texts from him about how I’m the one at the office with the best cleavage (even though I have no idea how he knows that because I dress modestly), so on and so forth. I was flattered and also kind of excited that he felt somewhat attracted to me (completely forgetting the girlfriend part of this equation). In any case, our attraction led to flirtatious messages, and non-stop communication.

Before I get into what happened next, I want to explain what other factors have hindered my self-esteem, and what probably lead me to agree to this ridiculous set-up in the first place. I’m a hopeless romantic, but I’ve only had one boyfriend of 4 months (who chose drugs over me). In college I was sexually assaulted at a party. Thankfully it was not rape, but I was certain it was going to escalate to that. I haven’t had a lot of luck in the romantic department, and I am prone to settling for the next best thing because of that.

This guy realized his flirtatious texts (“You’re so sexy” “I’m going to be so jealous of your next boyfriend” “I wanted to kiss you so badly”) were inappropriate and apologized, saying it was unfair to me and unfair to his girlfriend. We stopped acting like this for some time, and then they split for two months. In those two months he said he was not ready for another full-blown relationship, but he would happily be FWB with me (minus the sex- because I was successfully able to stand by one boundary). While I KNEW this was a bad idea, I agreed to it because I loved the feeling of being with him. We connect so well that it feels like we should be together.
Out of the blue he told me that he couldn’t be FWB with me anymore because he respected me too much as a friend. I learned that days later he got back together with his girlfriend. I felt so upset and angry because I felt like he used me, but I was more upset with myself because I knew I had no right to be upset or angry if I was the one that agreed to that situation.

Anyhow, it’s been tumultuous between this guy and his girlfriend. She dislikes that I am close friends with him, and I definitely do not blame her. She has no idea what has gone on, and although I am not the one who initiated the inappropriate behavior, but I certainly permitted it. A month ago, after around 4-5 months of calling off the FWB arrangement, some co-workers (including him) and I were out and he got drunk again. He offered to walk me home, and I accepted. He held my hand the entire way home, which felt simultaneously amazing and awful (knowing that the next day it would go back to pretending like it never happened). As he dropped me off at my door, he said “just a kiss”. I pulled away, and said no. Then I gave in, because I couldn’t deny that I really wanted to. Then he went home, and started sending the typical texts (“I’m completely naked if you’d like to come over”, or “you’re so sexy”). And I woke up the next morning to get the typical I’m sorry texts (“I’m so sorry, what I did to you was unfair and I never should have done that.” “I don’t blame you if you hate me…”blah blah)

Now I’m here, a month later… and hurt because I’m going to have to start seeing him again every day (he has been at a client for the last 3 months). He g-chats me every day to talk about everyday friend things, which probably isn’t helping me get over this faster. We were good friends, and it’s hard to just drop communication completely. It is time to move on emotionally, and stop holding on to any hope that he will come to his senses (and realize he wants to be with me), but I am having trouble figuring out how to pick myself up. I know that I wouldn’t really want to be with someone who wasn’t emotionally or physically faithful to someone they were with, but my heart still can’t wrap itself around that idea. My stomach still churns when he breaks out his phone non-stop to answer her texts.

How do I feel good about myself, and cope with having to see and talk to him (as he is a co-worker and friend). Right now I’m losing my faith in myself and really need to pull it together and stop wasting my time wallowing. I am so completely lost (as is evidenced by my question) and don’t know what the first step to take is. I just feel a dull continuous pain because of what I put myself through. Any ideas?
posted by cupkate to Human Relations (28 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
For starters, FWB mostly means sex with no strings attached. FWB minus sex is not much to go on with.
posted by zadcat at 2:14 PM on August 2, 2012 [6 favorites]

as he is a co-worker and friend

He's one of these things, and if you want a hint, he's the one of those things that involves equity reports.

Friends don't treat one another like this. Horny dudes in shitty LDRs, on the other hand, do exactly what you've been going through. I understand he must seem awesome and fun and whatever, but he's regularly making you feel shitty, he knows he's regularly making you feel shitty, and he continues to regularly make you feel shitty. This is not how a friend behaves.
posted by griphus at 2:20 PM on August 2, 2012 [48 favorites]

First of all, this guy is a user and he's inappropriate at the workplace.

Inform him that you are not friends (WB or otherwise) and that you want to maintain a professional relationship in the office. Don't g-chat with him, don't text, no facebook, no drinks after work, no dinner, no nuthin'. You know the drill (or you should).

Why do you even want this douchebag? He's an opportunist. He saw you for what you are, wounded and needy. He's not a romantic, he's a cheater. If he did it with you, he'll do it to you. Not only that, you've let him know that you will take whatever he offers, so he doesn't have to work for your love and favors. Any crumb will satisfy you. You're handing all of it away for free.

The guy in your head is NOT the guy who stands in front of you. The guy who stands before you is a skeevy, sketchy dude who thinks it's okay to comment on the body parts of the women he works with. It's gross. WHY were you attracted to that? Please get therapy to explore why this disgusting kind of guy turns you on. All men like your body, it's not flattering.

Here are some rules, hard and fast, that you need to cling to like they are your hope of salvation (because they are).

1. Don't flirt with or go out with or drink with guys who have girlfriends, wives, or fiances. Just don't.

2. Don't get drunk with people from work. Ever. Under any circumstance.

3. Don't shit where you eat. The world is large, dating people that you work with is always a disaster. If you think your love is meant to be, one of you needs to quit. THEN you can date.

If you can, see if you can transfer to another office. Or find another job with another firm. Or go to another department. You can't get far enough away from this skeezoid.

Until you prize yourself above the random attention of horny guys, you can't get any self-esteem.

I am serious as death eating crackers, PLEASE get some counseling. You seem like too nice a young lady and you have too much on the ball otherwise, to be dealing with guys like this.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:22 PM on August 2, 2012 [21 favorites]

As far as "ideas" are concerned, tell him that there will be no more of this quasi-FWB stuff, stop getting drunk around him (and leave if he shows up if you're already drunk) and try to be as professional as possible at work. You need to cauterize this before it gets worse; god knows you're already tangled in his relationship drama because his girlfriend is aware of you for some reason.
posted by griphus at 2:22 PM on August 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh, sister,

We were good friends

You were not actually good friends. He's been after you sexually, if not romantically, from day 1. That doesn't mean you didn't, or couldn't, have a good time together, but there's zero evidence in any of this story that his motives have changed at all.

What this means is that if you don't want to play this game, you need to change the terms of your relationship until and unless he decides he can just be friends with you. (He may not want to, or be able to, and that would be sad, but not your fault.) So you will have to step back the friendly chats for a while, and probably tell him something like "We are going to have to work together in the office, and I need to keep it professional." If he's really your friend, he'll respect your boundaries, back off, and you will have time to sort out the inside of your own head.

But he won't. It's not his MO - he is bad at respecting boundaries. So you're going to have to cut him off entirely the first time he drunk-texts you after you tell him to back off, and make it stick. Because he may not be a bad person, but he's not a safe or a mature person, and especially with your history you need to stay away from this type.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:24 PM on August 2, 2012 [9 favorites]

He's not your friend. Stop pretending to be friends with him. You might have to even skip work happy hours and after-work socializing for awhile to distance yourself.

Second, check out this site: Baggage Reclaim and read everything about boundaries and settling.

This isn't coming from some lofty place. I've done the settling for being FWB with someone I wanted a relationship with (and not in my misled youth; months, not years ago this happened), getting involved with guys who were using me as a backup girl when stuff with their girlfriends got rough. I've been through really bad relationships with abusive guys and was totally settling for crumbs of relationships. I think the site I linked to above is so excellent, even if it's a little mean-spirited.

Deal with your baggage, stop contacting this guy outside of work, immediately. And good luck, hon. It's better to learn this now at 23 instead of 33 or even 43.
posted by peacrow at 2:28 PM on August 2, 2012 [12 favorites]

Shut it down. Be strong. Be respectful of his relationship commitments even though he isn't. Don't let yourself be used for someone else's ego gratification. Those are all things you can be proud of.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:33 PM on August 2, 2012 [6 favorites]

He is a coworker. He is not your friend. He wasn't even your friend with benefits. It sounds like you were his emotional tampon and makeout buddy, to be blunt.

You need to set appropriate boundaries and gain some distance, which will do wonders for helping you maintain perspective and work through your tendency to settle. I think that you really do have to cut off contact, for both your heart and your career, as much as possible. If tranferring away is not an option, you need to start with professionalism in the work place, and maybe avoiding the social events. YOU have to do these things for yourself and it will not be easy and it may feel like a punishment at first... but it's not. It's a learning experience. Just because it feels like it's meant to be, doesn't mean it is. Wrap your heart around the fact that he is not choosing you, or even her -- he's choosing himself.

You didn't make this mess by yourself, but you can fix yourself.
posted by sm1tten at 2:39 PM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

yeah hate to be black-and-white about it, but your self-esteem will essentially be stuck for as long as you're dealing with this guy. it's not the kind of thing you can manage - you have to make a choice - you, or him. sometimes it's like that.
posted by facetious at 2:44 PM on August 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

Good friends don't treat each other like that, which includes him preying on your insecurity and you being pretty awful to his girlfriend.

You keep saying you decided you weren't going to do this and then, well gosh, you just wanted to anyway! That's why you have to cut it off; if you're not offended enough by his behavior to let that do the willpower work for you, you have to reduce your opportunities to make bad decisions.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:55 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Honey. I'm sorry, but you have to cut him off. You won't be able to let go of your memories otherwise. Block his number and tell him that he should only contact you with work related topics on gchat. Ignore anything he says that isn't work related. Threaten to tell HR the next time he sends you fishing-for-hookup texts.

Also, make yourself genuinely busy. Find things to do with your evenings--explore your city, hang out with your friends, take classes, and work on your hobbies. This will help you keep your mind off of him and help you move on. It will also keep you from giving him attention the next time he drunk-dials.
posted by rhythm and booze at 2:55 PM on August 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

Cut him off like a hangnail. He is NOT friend material (let alone boyfriend material). Decent people do not treat their "friends" like shit. So far he's treated at least two women in his life (you and his GF) like dirt. Who knows how many other women he's done this to - chances are you are not the first and will not be the last.

Set your boundaries in concrete and treat him with cool respect - like a coworker you don't want to be friends with outside the office.

I second the Baggage Reclaim website, and also wonder - do you have a good support system of friends and family in your life? Because so often what drives people to want to keep crappy "friends" in their lives is loneliness. Don't be an "any port in a storm" person. If you don't have a good strong support system, do your best to make one - you will be able to be more picky about the men in your life if you have your emotional and social needs already met.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 3:06 PM on August 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

Pick whether you tell this idiot you are doing this or not, but then do this:

1. Hide/unsubscribe from him on every single social networking thing that you use (don't block, just hide).
2. Give him a separate ring/text tone on your phone if you can.
2. Stop responding to his chats/texts/overtures/lameness.
3. Keep yourself overwhelmingly busy with anything other than him. Read, make plans with other friends, sleep, flash games if you have to. Keep your mind distracted.

When I do this it allows me to stop fixating. It would be ideal if you could stop working with him, but if you have to keep it up then be absolutely the most helpful coworker that you can but do not indulge in any communication that is not necessary to do your job.

It sounds like you did the best you could with the stack of cards you were dealt. Dealing with that kind of attention is extremely difficult, and you should forgive yourself for making the small mistakes that you did.
posted by skrozidile at 3:08 PM on August 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

stop holding on to any hope that he will come to his senses (and realize he wants to be with me)

I don't understand -- why are you even hoping this!?? He obviously sucks at being with someone, as evidenced by (1) how shitty he's treating his LD girlfriend and (2) how shitty he's treating YOU.

The first step to feeling better about yourself is to STOP thinking that him "coming to his senses" in this way would be a GOOD thing.

Focus first and foremost on what a shitty boyfriend, and friend, this man is. You don't want him as your boyfriend OR friend. Stop all non-work communication. You'll feel better.
posted by rio at 3:39 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

This man is not your friend. He is a twat. His girlfriend is extremely unlucky not to know this, and you are exceptionally lucky to find this out early on.
posted by mippy at 4:10 PM on August 2, 2012 [6 favorites]

Here's what you might want to consider doing:
1. Get angry at him. "you're right. That was totally inappropriate. Let's keep things professional from here on out." Do NOT give him further permission to do that kind of bullshit.
2. Stick to it. He won't believe you will, so he'll test you. Maintain an icily professional demeanor. (Not angry. Breezy but cool. Pretend he's a hologram of someone you once knew whom you now have to work with.) After you resist a few times, you'll begin to feel strong and proud of yourself.
3. Continue to resist! As he sees your newfound independence, he'll gain respect for you and increase his attempts to win you. This is the time to remember how he has treated you. This is the moment where you could backslide and end up back where you are now. This is the real test, so don't give in now!
4. Find other people. You'll be demonstrating to yourself that you deserve high quality companionship and that you can enforce boundaries that stop people from treating you poorly. With that self-respect, find petiole you really like.
5. If you do backslide, forgive yourself and try again. You'll get it figured out soon enough. But you sound really sick of this, so for your sake, I hope it's sooner rather than later.
posted by salvia at 4:19 PM on August 2, 2012 [9 favorites]

You're going to suddenly become very busy for a number of reasons - it will mean you just don't have the time to talk to him socially and you will go out and do different things and meet different people who will be far better than this guy.

You are also going to develop of veneer of professionalism for as long as you have to work with this guy.

But, no more socialising with him. He's not really a friend and you should spend time far better people to fulfil that role (they are out there!).
posted by heyjude at 4:29 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

What everyone else said, but also:

- don't socialise with people at work, ever, at all, in any way - you are a machine. If they come at you with tales about their romantic escapades or their cyst or their collection of belly button fluff, tell them to talk to the hand.

- At work, there are no friends, only enemies who don't have the guts to kill you. Repeat this mantra until it sinks in.

- read Why Men Love Bitches to learn to set the boundary much further out, and ignore the screams of MeFites who tell you that it's an evil book which will teach you to "manipulate" men out of their God-given right to harm, exploit, and harass you.

- self-esteem is for wimps - it's far more important to learn templates of behaving respectfully towards yourself and others, and apply them. Self-esteem is more like mood, in that it's changeable, and is a complete distraction from this far more important task.

- don't blame yourself so much, you fell for an imperfect guy. ("imperfect" is putting it kindly of course) Infatuation has led many people down not so good paths, you're hardly the first to experience this. It's hard to see with sequins in your eyes. This is why acting on principle will help you to withstand temptation.
posted by tel3path at 4:31 PM on August 2, 2012 [10 favorites]

- don't blame yourself so much, you fell for an imperfect guy. ("imperfect" is putting it kindly of course) Infatuation has led many people down not so good paths, you're hardly the first to experience this. It's hard to see with sequins in your eyes.

Yeah: do what everything else is saying, but this. This. You are 23. So many awesome, sexy, kick-ass ladies can tell you a similar story from when they were 23. So. Many. Don't get all down as think that y must be broken or pathetic to have let this happen to you; this is not entirely uncommon. You are awesome, can learn from this, and then become even more awesome. For reals.
posted by vivid postcard at 5:30 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hey. What's happening with you has happened to a lot of us sometime. Cut yoursef some slack - you're young you didn't know any better. Now you do know better. Treat this as an exercise in setting boundaries because you're going to need em again and again in the future.

Know that men - even nice men, sorry - test boundaries and usually take what they can get from women. It's up to you to say no when it's not right for you. No one else can do this for you (although your friends can help by reminding you). This is the biggest lesson for a young woman to learn.

The greatest thing is, once you feel comfortable saying what you want, you become more attractive.

Everyone has given awesome advice. Skip the therapy though, just get out there and meet more people. Have fun, enjoy your life, don't define yourself by your mistakes.
posted by inkypinky at 5:34 PM on August 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

Chiming in to add that you did not have a close friendship-friends dont treat friends this way, and i bet this guy would actively warn his actual female friends away from guys doing what he did. (At least that is what Ive found guy friends that age to have done while perpetrating the same game against other women.)

Cut yourself some slack. Many of us have been there or somewhere thereabouts. It's how we learn that not everyone who pays us attention is actually well-meaning, and as inkypinky said, lots of men, even the otherwise nice ones, will at some point try to get as much as they can from women with minimal regard for kindness or consequence. Take your lesson and move on from this jerk.
posted by OompaLoompa at 6:12 PM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

One practical point that hasn't been mentioned. Most cell phone services will let you block someone's phone number on your phone. The person won't know, their messages will be sent as normal but they won't reach you. That is a good thing to do, in addition to blocking him on gchat.
posted by kellybird at 6:41 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

On reflection that "real" friends comment sounded really harsh. "female friends he has no sexual designs on" is what I meant. Sorry.
posted by OompaLoompa at 10:14 PM on August 2, 2012

Is there any reason not to move on to a different job, or get yourself transferred to a different area so you don't work so closely with him? It seems that not seeing this guy every day would be a huge relief for you.
posted by bunderful at 4:12 AM on August 3, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers! It was definitely eye-opening, and I know what I need to do going forward.

WHY were you attracted to that? Please get therapy to explore why this disgusting kind of guy turns you on

I know it's black and white to you, but as I tried to explain (but didn't succeed in doing so), it was grey to me...and that's why I was trying to get some clarity. I understand now that we aren't friends, and I honestly do plan to be attracted to non-disgusting guys..

Is there any reason not to move on to a different job, or get yourself transferred to a different area so you don't work so closely with him? It seems that not seeing this guy every day would be a huge relief for you.

I think it's more that I'm stubborn and believe that because I got this job first, that he should be the one to leave. It WOULD be a great relief though, and I appreciate that advice. I'm just going to cut him off, but if that doesn't help I think I will start the job search.

Thank you EVERYONE. I am so glad I joined MeFi after lurking for a long while, because you all have amazing perspectives.
posted by cupkate at 6:05 AM on August 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think it's more that I'm stubborn and believe that because I got this job first, that he should be the one to leave.

Yes, he should leave. He also should not cheat on his girlfriend, or treat you like shit.

Should is a wonderful word, but if you keep holding on to this waiting for him to wise up to the right model of behavior, I fear you'll be waiting a long time.
posted by corb at 10:10 AM on August 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

Aw! Your update was super mature and smart. It took me like 53 times of having this sort of relationship before I learned I can "click" with about a million different people, but the one who treats me the best wins. I don't think you necessarily need counseling, you just need to value yourself and learn what it looks like when other people value you. While it's nice to know someone you're attracted to thinks you have nice cleavage (or whatever), he should like your cleavage enough to not be an asshole to you. Good luck in your job search!
posted by masquesoporfavor at 2:11 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Tell the girlfriend what's been going on. Solves all your problems at one stroke. No willpower needed, no worrying about counter-moves from him.
posted by scalefree at 5:47 PM on August 4, 2012

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