It's not gonna happen, so why can't I stop thinking about it?
November 15, 2014 11:29 PM   Subscribe

I have romantic feelings for a coworker. I would prefer not to. Help! (You know there'll be snowflakes.)

Some background: I'm great at many things, but social interactions - and, in particular, romantic ones - are not among them. I suspect that I may have social phobia, or that I'm on the milder end of the autistic spectrum, or something like that. I've been in a few relationships, but they've been few and far between - and looking back on these relationships, I feel like I just stumbled haplessly into them, without any real idea how I ended up there. (And it's never been long before I've stumbled just as haplessly out of them.)

I have a long history of developing unrequited feelings for (often unavailable) women, and then pining after them, sometimes for years. (This is possible because I rarely express these feelings, because I don't really know how.) A couple of these situations have turned into relationships, but overall, it hasn't proven to be a great use of my time or emotional energy. I finally got myself to stop doing this a few years ago. (Mostly.)

I'm currently looking into therapy and other options for my (probable) social anxiety issues.

So! That brings us to the present situation. I work in an office with about two dozen people. Two or three years ago, we hired a new employee. She pushed my buttons right away. She's smart; she's fun; she's kind; she laughs at my jokes. Physically, she's exactly my "type". Everyone at the office loves her.

For a while, these feelings were manageable. I wasn't pining after her, at least - I acknowledged her as an attractive woman that I would be inclined to pursue (if the situation were different, and if I had any idea how to pursue someone romantically) - but I was able to talk sense into myself when I needed to.

Over the last few months, though, we've been working together more. As a result of that, we've "clicked" a bit more on a personal level, and (I think) have been enjoying each other's company.

And...those formerly manageable feelings have gotten a little out of control. I've found myself thinking about her more often than I'm comfortable with. Sometimes I catch myself reverting to my old pining habits: spinning stupid little stories to myself about "what if she were here right now and we were a couple", or "maybe the company Christmas party will be a chance for us to get closer", or whatever. I'm sometimes afraid that my feelings are evident to other coworkers, which makes me feel awkward and unprofessional.

This is unhelpful, for a number of reasons. One: we work together. I don't know if there's any official company prohibition on fraternizing - but even if there isn't, it's a small company, and it just doesn't seem like a good idea. Two: she is ten years my junior, and probably out of my league besides. (I realize that grown adults get to decide for themselves whether a potential partner is in their "league" and/or of an appropriate age, but it's not an encouraging sign.) Three: in the past, I've made (what I think were) recognizable (but not inappropriate) overtures, and she has not reciprocated. Four: although we get along well, I couldn't tell you one thing that we have in common, even after working with her for two or three years. Five: outside of work, I'm pretty much a hermit/loner (see above re: social anxiety), and I'm sure that much of the reason I've developed feelings for her is because she's one of the only women I interact with.

Basically, there's just no reason to believe that a relationship could or should happen between us.

That being the case: how can I discourage these feelings? I'm really sick of being Unrequited Pining Guy. If I'm going to be spending mental and emotional energy on romantic feelings, then they need to be healthier and more productive feelings than these.

I have to work with her, so avoiding her entirely isn't an option. Obviously, dealing with my hermitdom and social anxiety (or whatever else is at the root of these unproductive habits) can do nothing but good - but that's not gonna happen overnight. I'm looking for strategies and tactics to minimize these distractions in the meantime.

Throwaway email address is Thanks for reading!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Read up on limerence. I've found that understanding the biological mechanism involved helps in resisting acting on it.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:09 AM on November 16, 2014 [6 favorites]

Just picture her with her boyfriend, being happy.
posted by discopolo at 1:07 AM on November 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't see any mention of her having a boyfriend or girlfriend or being "unavailable" in that sense. I assumed that's where the problem was going to lie. What I got from your background details instead was some kind of sense that you're not worthy of her, plus you work with her.

Basically, there's just no reason to believe that a relationship could or should happen between us.

Maybe, but from what you've written I don't see why it couldn't, either. The age gap isn't that big relatively speaking, the whole "out of my league" thing is very high school, and you like her and apparently get on well with her and this at least is reciprocated. If it wasn't for the work thing I'd be saying "don't make vague overtures she's supposed to interpret - just ask her out on a date and see what happens". (FTR, it seems that the US has a really strong "do NOT date your co-workers" ideology, but in other places it's not a big deal as long as you keep your personal and private life strictly separate. Just saying. But if you feel it would be a bad idea that's the main thing.)

I'm wondering if you have created a narrative for yourself whereby you constantly pine for women, to the extent that even in a situation where there's no need to pine and yearn - she might actually just say yes! - you can't see it. It might be an idea in therapy to look at why this is: it's much safer to long for someone than to ask them out and be rejected, but it takes up a hell of a lot more time.

So with that said, it might help in managing your feelings to think: "You know, it it entirely possible that I could ask her out and she would say yes. But I am CHOOSING not to do this because we work together. My feelings for her are not "unrequited", I am making the decision MYSELF not to follow up on them." Maybe reframing it as you taking the control back over the situation might help you realise that it's not all about whether she would it wouldn't want a relationship with you; you also have agency in this situation.
posted by billiebee at 3:06 AM on November 16, 2014 [14 favorites]

My pre-teen daughter has started developing crushes and then assuring herself that the crush could never like her. I will tell you what I tell her- It has been my experience that I have never had a crush on someone who didn't have feelings for me back. We are not generally attracted to people who could never love us. Chances are, the crush likes you back.

Now, for the grown up addition- Just because a crush likes you back, doesn't mean that he or she will act on it. They may have their own issues and insecurities. It may be the wrong time in their lives for a relationship. This is not rejection, this is just life.

These words of wisdom are perfect for your situation up until I read that she is the only woman that you interact with. Maybe she is the only woman for you, maybe you are just really lonely and need to date more. I don't know but, I bet she does. Ask her if she will meet you for lunch, in a public place (you pay) because you need her help with something. And then tell her what you told us. Tell her that you have developed feelings for her and you don't know if it is because she is the only woman that you interact with or if it is because she is the only woman you ever want to interact with. Ask her if she has feelings as well. If she doesn't, she may become your friend and help you to find a way to interact with more women. If she does then, you know, and she knows, and you can tell her right away that you have a habit of blowing these things and you would really love it if she could tell you if you start to do it with her because, you don't want to blow it with her.

And don't let the socially awkward, hermit thing keep you from pursuing happiness. There are plenty of women out there that prefer a quiet man who will love them completely over a socially smooth man who will love them and all their girlfriends. It is very difficult for quiet people to find other quiet people but, it is possible.
posted by myselfasme at 5:33 AM on November 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

You know, I used to do this all the time, and I have to laugh at myself because I'd pine away after my gay friends. Pretty much for the reasons you've outlined.

One thing that I found to be really helpful was to out myself to them. "You know, I have such a crush on you. You are such a delightful person, and you're sweet and kind and I rather suspect that bluebirds and squirrels help you dress in the morning." You have to do this in a very light-hearted way so it doesn't get weird or creepy.

I promise, once you disclose it, it becomes a lot less powerful. Also it gives this young lady a chance to either encourage you or discourage you. She may say, "You're sweet! I'll have to tell that to my boyfriend because he thinks that I'm a Yeti in the morning!" Or she may say, "Aw, I like you too...."

Now I'm no fan of workplace romance, but sometimes it can happen.

I would suggest that if you're skittish about this (and it is risky,) that you start finding people to date. Try OK Cupid, Tinder, Match, etc. These are low risk ways to meet folks, and you can describe exactly what you're looking for in a relationship. As we say in Spanish, una clavo saca otro clavo. One nail drives out the other.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:12 AM on November 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

//I feel like I just stumbled haplessly into them, without any real idea how I ended up there.//

FWIW, I think that's how the majority of relationships start. It's certainly a fair explanation of how I met my wife 27 years ago.
posted by COD at 6:13 AM on November 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

Start dating. Get on okcupid or whatever the kids are using these days. I really think that's the best way to deal with getting past your crush at work. It doesn't even matter if you meet someone who becomes your girlfriend right away; just exchanging emails and going on some first dates where you chat and have fun might help you realize what's out there and give you a little more social connection.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:32 AM on November 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

Jeez, like 99% of the time questions like this hinge upon the fact that the Other Person is married or has a boyfriend, etc.

But if she's single? Ask her out!

(Try to avoid pining for her - try to be fun)
posted by doctor tough love at 8:20 AM on November 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

My pre-teen daughter has started developing crushes and then assuring herself that the crush could never like her. I will tell you what I tell her- It has been my experience that I have never had a crush on someone who didn't have feelings for me back. We are not generally attracted to people who could never love us. Chances are, the crush likes you back.

I have to disagree strongly with that. Sorry. Some of us aren't attracted to people that WOULD want to love us, and god knows almost everyone who ever had a crush on me wasn't someone I liked back whatsoever. OP reminds me of me in the "always pining for someone else who was patently uninterested" way. That way you get to have feelings but not actually have to deal with the complications or rejection. I eventually got over doing that shit (basically burned out on it), but it took a long time to get there.

Unfortunately, the only thing that's ever worked on this sort of thing was to utterly avoid the girl, and you can't do that here. (I am having this exact same conversation with a friend of mine who does this same thing too.) I'd suggest keeping any interactions you have with her to a bare minimum, but beyond that... it's a stumper. Get another job? Assume she has a boyfriend? Fake having a crush on someone else? Hell, I don't know beyond those.

I'm sorry you're feeling this way.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:27 AM on November 16, 2014 [15 favorites]

I don't quite get the "Ask her out!" vibe in this thread. MeFi advice is usually strongly against workplace relationships, and with good reason. If the question suggested that there were already a strong quasi-romantic bond between them, then maybe that would override it, but "I've made (what I think were) recognizable (but not inappropriate) overtures, and she has not reciprocated" is not promising. I think the poster is right not to pursue it, and I think the advice to "Get on okcupid or whatever the kids are using these days" is the best in the thread. Good luck getting over the social phobia (or whatever), and may you wind up in a happy and fulfilling relationship! I just don't think it's going to be with this woman.
posted by languagehat at 8:55 AM on November 16, 2014 [13 favorites]

Your short term fix is the beginning of your long term fix. Get online and start dating some other women. Don't be picky, you're not trying to decide on a future spouse through a computer screen, you are practicing interacting with the opposite sex and you're getting out of the house a little.

Pining after a woman that you most likely can't have is totally normal behavior for nerdy shy guys, but it is no good for you at all. You need to change your habits. Do some casual dating that you are not piling hopes and expectations onto. Start now.
posted by mattu at 9:13 AM on November 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think it would be inappropriate to ask this lady out. People are nice to each other at work because it makes the work easier. It doesn't mean anything else. Let her do her job in peace without having to worry about whether or not that depends on letting someone in her pants. Find someone outside of work to date as stated above.
posted by bleep at 9:38 AM on November 16, 2014 [9 favorites]

If you are in any way her supervisor, or she is yours, do not ask her out. Do you want to be in a relationship? Is she a nice person? have you asked any of the leading questions to find out if she might possibly have an interest? Then think about the worst-case scenario - you ask her out, have a pleasant meal, no sparks, and there's maybe a few awkward moments at work that you get over. Or she says No, and you carry on as usual. By ask her out, I mean something like Would you like to go out for coffee some time?.

If you don't want to ask her out and you want to get her out of your head, use behavior therapy. Wear a rubber band, snap it against your wrist and make a list of thinks to distract you when you find yourself thinking unwanted thoughts.

You sound lonely and unhappy with yourself, and I think you deserve to be happier.
posted by theora55 at 10:11 AM on November 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think that, given that this is a co-worker AND that she hasn't reciprocated your overtures, that you shouldn't pursue this woman. However, I think you should stop thinking in terms of "out of your league" unless you are talking about a twentysomething supermodel. If you're talking about an attractive woman ten years younger who isn't under 25 and isn't in the glamour biz, chances are she's not as "out of your league" as you think. I don't know much about you but I'm going to assume that you suffer from low self-esteem and social anxiety rather than something that would really put women off.

I would explore two things: one, therapy, that old MeFi standby, to help you work through the issues you have of pining for women who are unavailable. Often this is a way of protecting yourself from a flesh-and-blood relationship and all that this implies. Were your parents unhappily married? Were they strict and fault-finding? Did you have bad experiences at school where you were bullied or your friends turned out to be backstabbers? There are all sorts of things that can cause fear of intimacy, and a therapist is the ideal person to help you sort it out and give you tools to have healthy relationships.

Two, internet dating. I know it's a minefield, and you've no doubt heard the horror stories - BUT there are even more happy stories of people who have found love and partnership through the internet - whether it's online dating or chatting with someone who shares a common interest with you (I know one woman who met her spouse through a cooking forum). The best thing about internet dating is that you will feel like there are plenty of possibilities out there for you. In my experience, one thing that contributes hugely - HUGELY - to these unrequited crushes is "This person is my Very! Last! Chance! at finding someone to love!" Perhaps they were, in the pre-internet era, but nowadays, most of us don't face such constrained horizons. There are more possibilities out there than there were 20 years ago.

Another suggestion is to join a church or synagogue; if you are atheist or agnostic, the Unitarian Universalists are very welcoming - many have quite a few atheists who want the fellowship of church without the religion. Congregations vary, and some are more atheist/agnostic-friendly than others. Other ways to meet people are Meetup groups, clubs, and volunteering.

tl;dr: expand your horizons so that this woman isn't your only outlet for romantic feelings.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:45 AM on November 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

MeFi advice is usually strongly against workplace relationships

Yet something like 10-20% of all married couples met at work. Here's an article I found with a few seconds of Googling. I'm sure there's other, better-researched, more believable data out there, too.
posted by doctor tough love at 11:55 AM on November 16, 2014

The thing about wanting someone who is with someone else is that you can see it as a pursuit, you know there is little chance of anything happening. It keeps you focused on imaginary situations instead of reality which is where you do NOT want to be.

So instead of finding pursuits that keep you distracted from what your real issues are, stop, look at yourself. You are a loner-maybe you want to start there. The Why, who, what ...past etc. Give yourself a break now-it is time to start looking at reality as it exists-which is your life i guess.
posted by jellyjam at 1:15 PM on November 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I trust your understanding of the situation, that is, no possible relation. In similar circumstances, I see two options - 1. Wear the fantasy the fuck out so reality clearly doesn't align (porn-style imaginings - nope, no fucking way would either of - or me (or her/him) personally get involved in x arousing practice - reality-fantasy broken.
2. Formality (via imagination, sort of. Bear with me). It's a mental framework that is all about reality & courtesy, rather than (in fact, in direct opposition to, a personal romantic fantasy).

I've employed both. But best is the imaginary rubber band. Imagining a life with this impossible person? Stop. Think about koalas. Think about x, y, z. Every single time. Distract.
posted by b33j at 3:16 AM on November 17, 2014

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