How to make sense of this body language?
September 7, 2014 8:26 AM   Subscribe

I'm in a situation at work where I am picking up signals from a colleague that he is interested in me. I have come to return his interest. But I am single and as far as I can tell, he is not. So I wonder how to interpret his behavior: is he doing it unwittingly? Unintentionally? If intentionally, why?

This behavior consists of very subtle (but to me, unmistakable) gestures, coincidences, and contacts. Things like the way I notice him near me in group situations, the way we seem to orchestrate our movements in order to be close to each other, the way we seem very energetic about trying to ignore each other sometimes. Also, of course, our stunning intellectual and physical compatibility and the delight we take in engaging each other in the exchange of ideas.

I don't understand why he would act this way in the context of a committed relationship. If I were his partner, I would feel threatened by his behavior, even though it consists of the most negligible of outward signs. I'm thinking about telling him I am interested in him and seeking clarity about our relationship. On the other hand, I'm also considering continuing to try to ignore it, engaging in it as a fun past-time at work but the thing is I don't really work that way and I am single and I end up thinking about it beyond what happens at work. I realize the best thing is to acknowledge it to myself, choose not to participate in it, and keep my mind and heart open for healthy and reciprocal relationships.

My question to the hive mind is: is this sort of flirtation something that is fun for you when in a committed relationship? A hobby of sorts? Or is it an indication that you are willing to end your current relationship and move into another one?
posted by macinchik to Human Relations (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
It's a lot more likely to be flirting or even a tentative exploration of whether the flirt-ee is interested in fooling around, than it is to be a statement of the flirter's wanting to leave his partner.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:32 AM on September 7, 2014 [4 favorites]


This behavior consists of very subtle (but to me, unmistakable) gestures, coincidences, and contacts.

"Subtle but unmistakable" could easily be "wishful thinking on the part of the besotted." If he hasn't said anything outright, just cool down your own flirting and leave it be.
posted by xingcat at 8:33 AM on September 7, 2014 [31 favorites]


My question to the hive mind is: is this sort of flirtation something that is fun for you when in a committed relationship? A hobby of sorts

For a lot of people, yes. He may see you as his "work spouse". If you want to continue to have a friendly relationship with him, I would not broach the subject of a romantic relationship.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:35 AM on September 7, 2014 [11 favorites]


I missed my editing window. I wanted to add -- good for you for recognizing a fundamental asymmetry here. I think the whole work spouse thing can work great and be energizing and fun to both parties as long as they're equal -- two partnered people or two single people in similar headspaces.

It sounds to me like your flirtation is headed to a not-fun place because you have a crush on this guy, and he's not available, and so him flirting with you leads you to wonder what his home life is like and to think about his partner and if he wants to leave them, which isn't fun at all.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:42 AM on September 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


My question to the hive mind is: is this sort of flirtation something that is fun for you when in a committed relationship? A hobby of sorts

I don't know about calling it a hobby, but I'm in a relationship and I flirt sometimes. Hell, I'm straight and I'll flirt with dudes, too -- it's low key and pleasant and makes the day nicer.

But of course no one here can actually tell you what is going on, since we aren't there. If it isn't being low key and pleasant for you, you need to get clarity or change the interaction, or both.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:44 AM on September 7, 2014 [5 favorites]


Sometimes people enjoy flirting, and do it without thinking about it. Or he might want to fool around with you. Far less likely, however, is that he will leave his partner for you. I'm sure he has no intention of doing so.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:07 AM on September 7, 2014


A less savory option: some people just like to sleep around on their spouses.
posted by mollymayhem at 9:10 AM on September 7, 2014 [8 favorites]


I don't think asking "why" he is doing this if he is in a committed relationship is really helpful to you, because most likely most of the things he is doing are not conscious,voluntary actions. He may be attracted to you, sure, but that in no way means he is interested in leaving his partner to date you.

Having been in your shoes, been lonely, and had a flirtation/interaction with a coworker who was in a relationship but seemed to return my interest, I urge you to focus your attention elsewhere. I built a whole fantasy world around the other person in my case, and it was a huge letdown a couple years later when he broke up with his girlfriend and was not interested in dating me. Even if he had been interested, it still would have been a waste to focus so much time and imagination to him during those two years when he was not available.
posted by bearette at 9:21 AM on September 7, 2014 [7 favorites]


I'm thinking about telling him I am interested in him and seeking clarity about our relationship.

You don't have a "relationship" with him. You are colleagues. You are choosing to romanticize the situation:

Also, of course, our stunning intellectual and physical compatibility and the delight we take in engaging each other in the exchange of ideas.

Which leads us to:

Or is it an indication that you are willing to end your current relationship and move into another one?

It's pretty clear that you are asking us if it is OK for you to pursue this person romantically. He is in a committed relationship. The answer is no (unless perhaps it is some sort of mutually-agreed-upon non-monogamy situation; but even then, the answer is no: he's a colleague. Stay away.)
posted by nacho fries at 9:39 AM on September 7, 2014 [22 favorites]


ok sorry to chime in a 3rd time but I missed this:

I'm thinking about telling him I am interested in him and seeking clarity about our relationship.

Nooooo don't do this. This way lies a lot of embarrassment and no fun for anyone. Just reframe him in your head.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:42 AM on September 7, 2014 [4 favorites]


I had a look at your posting history and saw an answer where you mentioned going to CoDA meetings.

I don't know why your coworker is flirting with you. Sometimes this can be fun if both people know that there's nothing behind it, and if both people know that the other person knows that there's nothing behind it.

But the fact that he's in a relationship and the fact that you have admitted in the past to having codependency issues makes me think what's going on is more of a power thing, and that maybe (maybe) you enjoy the thrill of having someone like you enough to dump someone else for you, or the pursuit of otherwise unavailable or off-limits people because it isn't real intimacy or a bunch of other things.

My advice would be to shut this down, because even in the "best" case you wind up with someone who was willing to leave a partner for you, and it's not going to be fun trying to convince yourself that he would never leave you like this. Plus he is a coworker.

TL;DR: Worry less about why he's doing it, and more about the fact that it looks like a bad idea.
posted by alphanerd at 9:42 AM on September 7, 2014 [14 favorites]


Totally agree with alphanerd. Your best case scenario is drama and disaster. Back off, reframe, move on.
posted by kythuen at 9:47 AM on September 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


"our stunning intellectual and physical compatibility "
And how do you know this? He may be looking for sex on the side. He may have an open relationship. He may be wildly in love with you and wants to run off into the sunset. He may not have any intentions at all.
If you want to pursue him, and pretty much mess up your work situation at this job, I doubt that any answers here will stop you. Or you can quit with the flirty moves and the fantasy life. Do not engage.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:55 AM on September 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's probably pretty likely that he's attracted to you on some level. On the other hand, that could be completely in your head. From your account it seems like you kind of have a knack for reading in extraneous information into the situation because you mention the stunning compatibility and you seem to be assuming that his internal monologue matches yours at each step along the way (intentionally ignoring each other, orchestrating movements, etc.)

But it's probable that you are sensing that he is actually attracted to you to some degree. Here is the thing though. He isn't doing anything wrong if he is, nor is he doing anything to indicate that he would like to leave his partner to be with you. It is normal for attached people to sometimes be attracted to other people. If you are in a healthy relationship you want to stay in, you sort of just feel that and it is there sometimes and you have no desire to act on it and so you don't. He's not making any actual overtures here.

Anyway, I feel your pain sort of because I've had people on Ask.Me wisely tell me NO NO GOD DON'T DO THAT on romantic matters and it's sort of humiliating. But please spare yourself future embarrassment by letting this be.
posted by mermily at 10:13 AM on September 7, 2014 [3 favorites]


If intentionally, why?

Because he has yet to learn that getting sexually involved with co-workers is a reliable recipe for high drama and life complications from which good almost never comes.
posted by flabdablet at 10:58 AM on September 7, 2014 [3 favorites]


In simple words, odds are, what you're wishing for is either unethical, unlikely or non-existent.
Seek someone available.
posted by stormyteal at 12:02 PM on September 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


Stop with this line of thinking about your stunning intellectual and physical compatibility and your energetic ignoring of each other. You're romanticizing a pretty bad scenario and missing the much bigger point.

Try not to get involved with coworkers; never get involved with coworkers who are in relationships. That way lies madness.
posted by kinetic at 12:19 PM on September 7, 2014 [9 favorites]


Higher in the post, somebody said "Your best case scenario is drama and disaster."

This isn't true. It's the likeliest scenario, for sure, but it's not the best case. My wife and I met each other when we were both seeing other people. Plenty of drama ensued, but we've been together for nearly 20 years. Likewise for some family friends--they've been together for at least 25.

Obviously, these are outlier cases, but I wanted to acknowledge that sometimes these things happen and have happy outcomes.
posted by dbarefoot at 12:19 PM on September 7, 2014


One explanation that lies in between "he has no idea that there could be a romantic undertone to your interactions" and "he's a cheating cheater who wants nothing more than to sucker you into an affair" is "he has a crush on you but no intention or desire to do anything about it".

Seriously, AskMe is full of questions by people who have a crush on someone and have no desire to cheat on their partners or split up. Some of these people enjoy it as a harmless diversion, some are miserable, but it doesn't make them bad people or blameworthy.

The fact is, though, that unless something explicitly changes in his relationship, it doesn't really matter what his internal feelings are--he's partnered and not available to you and trying to have a conversation about it is likely to be mortifying to one or both of you--you, if it turns out all this sexual tension is all in your head; him, if he thought he was successfully hiding a crush.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 12:33 PM on September 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


Agreeing with everyone who says the flirting (assuming he means it as flirting) is no indication that he wants to leave his relationship. I like to flirt, and I've certainly flirted with coworkers in the past, in a subtle way, even though I had no intention of ever dating them or leaving my boyfriend. Likewise, others have flirted with me even while knowing that I'm not available. You say you think this would be threatening to his partner, but I disagree--I think a relationship can be strong and happy and people can still flirt, as long as they're not misleading anyone or actually taking it anywhere.

When I've been single and flirting with someone I actually wanted to date, it was obvious (I'd usually suggest doing something, having dinner, etc.). He's not doing this. This is a tough situation for you since you have to see him all the time and you're interested, but I'd suggest trying to spend less time with him at work if possible, and trying harder (online dating, whatever) to meet different people to distract yourself. Don't talk to him about it, that can only bring awkwardness.
posted by three_red_balloons at 1:28 PM on September 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


But I am single and as far as I can tell, he is not.

Before you make any decisions, you might try to suss out his relationship status -- preferably discreetly. "As far as I can tell" is pretty hand-wavy intel for a situation that could have big consequences for your personal life and/or work life. Whether he is or is not single has significant impact on what kinds of answers work here.
posted by Michele in California at 1:43 PM on September 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


"I'm in a situation at work where I am picking up signals from a colleague that he is interested in me. "

Nothing you have written suggests that you are correct. Please drop this. You apparently don't even know him well enough to understand what his availability status is.

Look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself: I am better than this.

If he comes to you and he says he has cut off all ties with whomever and it's over and he would like to get to know you outside of work, then maybe - maybe - my answer would be different.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 1:57 PM on September 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


I will add that sometimes relationship status is not as cut and dried as "is single or is not single."

My divorce was a protracted matter. There was a period of time where I was still living with my spouse but free to see other people under the law. Later, we were not living together and the divorce was still not finalized, yet I was free to see other people. I did have relationships to others during that general time frame when my situation was fairly grey-zone. I handled it very discreetly. During that time, one man I was involved with was met when he was sleeping at his office more than at home and talking about getting divorced. Another man was still living with his wife but had been legally separated for a few years. Legally, it was fine for him to date but his future ex was insanely jealous and they both had careers, so he handled his relationships as discreetly as if they were affairs.

That doesn't even begin to touch on people with open or polyamorous relationships, swingers, etc.

It is possible that he has a situation that is not black and white, not clear cut, not an on-off switch of "single/not single". But you apparently do not even know what it is. So I really don't see how anyone can give you any kind of really useful advice here. Whether he is a married man whose marriage is in its death throes but that is not yet public knowledge or a swinger or even a dirty cheating bastard or something else -- each of those situations has very different ramifications for you.

So I think your first priority is to discreetly find out what his status is, assuming that is even possible. It may not be. Just because you feel you are picking up subtle signals from him does not give you a right to know. Some people are very private about such things, often with good reason.
posted by Michele in California at 2:41 PM on September 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


Do you value your job and your reputation among your colleagues?

If "YES" - then stop this at once. People are already gossiping, based on your description.

If "NO" - then proceed.

Here's the thing, though. If you have a history of Co-Dependence, there is zero chance this guy isn't a predator of some sort. Maybe he just enjoys your attention, or maybe he's grooming you to have an affair, but there is no chance he isn't picking up what we are picking up: You don't seem to have any qualms about getting involved with someone already in a committed relationship.


This is not a good look for you. It is trouble. Trouble. Trouble. Trouble.

Put the breaks on and start to see his behavior as supremely unflattering towards you, which it most definitely is.

RUN.
posted by jbenben at 3:13 PM on September 7, 2014


Best answer: You need to think about what's best for you. He's not single. You need to keep reminding yourself that you hardly know him, and your crush on him is based on what you imagine him to be. It doesn't matter if he's doing it on purpose. What matters is what you want and need.

You can't tell him to stop getting near you, looking at you, and talking to you. But you can change how you act toward him. You know you're not behaving in a neutral, professional way toward him. For your own good, you need to be deliberately cool in his direction. Office crushes are distracting, and there's no upside to entertaining ideas about romance with him.
posted by wryly at 4:19 PM on September 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


Ask him about his wife/girlfriend. If he has one, and doesn't really answer, he's a heel. And trouble on the hoof.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:34 PM on September 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


Sorry, but I think this is all in your mind. You did not specify one single concrete thing he has done that sounds like flirting or sending you a signal. And you are assuming how he feels very much when you claim he takes "delight" in interacting with you as much as you do in interacting with him. You are seeing and believing what you want to.

He's not single, he's not sending you messages and you have a crush on him. He's also your coworker. Drop it.
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:58 PM on September 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


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