Letting go of a failed relationship...while we work together?
November 15, 2016 11:56 AM   Subscribe

Gay filter: I am a 23 year old gay male. I started a relationship with a man of the same age that I work with. The relationship started fast and ended even faster. I went back to him after he hurt me, but soon decided enough is enough. Now I can't stand the pain when I see him in work, and I am still lingering over feelings of attachment to him...even though he hurt me! What should I do?

I am 6 months into a new job. 2 months ago, I began dating a colleague who had more or less pursued me from when I started. Naturally, I was hesitant about getting involved with someone from work in case things turned nasty, but at the same time I was very interested in him so thought it was worth the risk.

6 weeks into dating and things were going perfectly. We had already built a friendship as a foundation - we spoke every day at work about things that friends would speak about, so I felt like I had gotten to know him pretty well. It was at this point he asked me if I wanted to make things official. Happily, I said yes. Only a day later he had become distant. As it was early into the relationship, I asked him if it was really what he wanted and if he was having second thoughts - that's okay! He assured me a relationship with me was absolutely what he wanted and I had nothing to worry about. The next day, he was ignoring me completely. He ignored my call and replied to me by text, giving me some "it's not me, it's you" spiel and said he wasn't ready for a relationship. I was heartbroken... I know it was so early on in a relationship, and it's better to know now than later, but that didn't make it hurt any less.

I tried to be strong in work and ignore the situation, but it was very difficult as we do work together. Not only that, people were involving themselves and wanting to know what happened, so the rumor mill spun and spun. Eventually, I cracked and spoke to him about how I was feeling. I told him I didn't understand what had happened, how he could go from intensely liking me to not even wanting to talk to me. He told me he just panics in relationships and he had regretted ending things, so like a fool I took him back. Not even a week later he was back to doing the same things, barely talking to me and not putting in any kind of effort to assure me that he had changed his mind. I decided that the relationship was not worth this kind of misery, so I told him how I felt and he took full responsibility. He said he hadn't treated me well, and that I should be angry at him. I'm not the type to hold grudges, most of you reading this can probably tell I'm far too sensitive for that! But it hurts. I hate having to see him in work, I hate that I actually feel anything in the first place. Any normal person would not accept less than what they deserve, and I feel like I am lowering my standards to achieve happiness in a relationship.

What I'm looking for is answers... Why do I feel this way? Is it unusual for me to still have feelings for him even though he hurt me so? And how do I go about the awkwardness in work. My heart drops when I see him, but I know it is time to let go. I have a history of anxiety and depression that seem to only stem from relationships. I have never been happier in the past 4 months when I started my new job as I finally found an employment that made me happy. Now I feel like I have tainted it by getting involved with someone at work. It is crazy to think how just one failed relationship has triggered these awful feelings of darkness that I thought were behind me for good.
posted by Lewnatic to Human Relations (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't know many people who would characterize a week of dating as a relationship. I think you need to reframe this in your mind. You had a crush on a friend, you went on a date with the friend, the friend decided he couldn't handle dating you.

I feel like I am lowering my standards to achieve happiness in a relationship.

Yep, I'd say so.

I remember your last question. I know you said you've already given anxiety meds and therapy a shot, but I strongly encourage you to try again. You're not 'abnormal,' but your level of anxiety around dating is way higher than average, and you need to take some steps to deal with it, or this sort of painful situation is going to keep happening to you (whether or not you work with the person).
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:10 PM on November 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Any normal person would not accept less than what they deserve, and I feel like I am lowering my standards to achieve happiness in a relationship.

Need to think more to provide you a fuller answer, but going to point his out first:

It may seem to you, if you read a lot of answers in AskMe or listen to Internet advice columnists and those who comment in threads or even the top rated answers in r/Relationships, that "any normal people" don't do that. But it's easy to talk the talk (or type the words) when it comes to advice.

But lots of people -- good people, smart people, worthy people, even happy people -- accept less than what they deserve in relationships every single day. Quit beating yourself up about feeling things that your head tells you you shouldn't. This something that, quite frankly, everybody has done at least once and some people do for their whole lives (and not just in their romantic relationships)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:12 PM on November 15, 2016 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: @showbiz_liz - I typed it wrong. We had been dating for 6 weeks, he asked me to be in an exclusive relationship. "Would you like to stop the dating and be my boyfriend?"
posted by Lewnatic at 12:17 PM on November 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Gotcha. The second part of my comment still stands though! The only way to help yourself move forward is to deal with the underlying issues. You know it isn't really about this specific guy - but it seems like you think there's nothing you can do about it except try to will yourself out of it.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:25 PM on November 15, 2016

Any breakup that takes place over things like this - "externality" stuff - is always incredibly, incredibly hard. You haven't had the fights that have gotten you to a place of "fuck this guy", you haven't been getting slowly annoyed with him for ages, you went from "this is great" to "this is terrible", and you don't even have an answer from him on "why" except "I am bad at relationships."

It is totally normal to be upset! Totally 100% normal to still be fixated! You just have to continue to stand firm and treat him professionally and eventually it will get better. And just avoid him unless you need to see him for work. Make as clean a break as you can.
posted by corb at 1:08 PM on November 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

There is value in learning to coexist with pain in life. You're treating this pain as a thing that must be abnormal and must be avoided at all costs (all of us who suffer with anxiety are really good at that one) and must be resolved instantly or- or- or it's just a terrible thing.

But anything worth doing is worth coming to terms with a little pain. If you really love doing a sport, you get used to being sore, and sometimes really screwing up and getting hurt bad. If you want to do research, you get used to the feeling of a hypothesis that was entirely wrong or a field trial that gets ruined by an unexpected variable at the 11th hour so you have to start over. If starting businesses is your thing, you quickly find out that you're considered a novice unless you've gone out of business several times already.

Having a sustained interaction with another person comes with a lot of risks. They could die (I mean, they most assuredly will, eventually), they could move to Antarctica, they could decide they don't like you anymore. It'll hurt for a while when those things happen. You learn to handle it better as life goes on and it happens more. You learn to look for the lessons available for you to carry forward in your life from it.

People walk around hurting all the time. Pain is normal. If it becomes extreme, you need to get help, but up until that point you take care of yourself until it goes away. Which it will do, eventually.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:24 PM on November 15, 2016 [8 favorites]

It struck me that you seem to be implicitly reacting to this as though it's a failure of the relationship, or that it is somehow about you. It is not. At all. This is about him. It's completely impersonal.

I think you need to consciously get yourself thinking about the situation differently -- it's not that this awesome person you like doesn't want to be with you and that is somehow bewildering and chaotic; it's that you got close to someone and discovered they have attachment issues. There is nothing to be done, by you. It's not anything you did. Other people's issues are like the weather -- they happen, and there's nothing you can do about it but accept it, and accept them for all of who they are, not just the parts that attracted you to them, and accept that who they are might mean that they are not right for you.

This person is obviously not right for you. I think you need to keep repeating this to yourself, because your question reads as though you know this, sort of, but maybe haven't internalized it.

That's not to say it shouldn't hurt. But there's a difference between grieving the loss of a possible future and intimacy, and torturing yourself with catastrophic thoughts and obsessive wondering about "why?"

It's ok to still have feelings for him-he's still all of those wonderful things that attracted you to him. He's just also this. And the sooner you accept all of him, the sooner you'll be able to move on to a different kind of attachment.

It's ok that it's hard and that it takes a while. Just remember that that this is active work you have to do--every time you catch yourself wanting him back, or mourning something that never was, you have to catch that shit and remember ALL of it. Remember the ways he freaked out; acknowledge the ways he's incapable of intimacy. Feel compassion for him and for yourself. Think of it as cognitive training.
posted by schadenfrau at 1:39 PM on November 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

Also, sometimes getting angry is helpful.
posted by schadenfrau at 1:40 PM on November 15, 2016

What I'm looking for is answers... Why do I feel this way? Is it unusual for me to still have feelings for him even though he hurt me so?

I pretty much said this in my earlier answer, but to reiterate, you feel this way because it is absolutely normal to feel this way. You put yourself out there, you took a chance on something that your head told you was a bad idea (dating in the workplace) because you felt it was a risk worth taking, and it didn't work out. That sucks. And you still have feelings because it's, if I understand the timeline, only been two weeks. Two weeks is not a long time (even though, if you're American, the last two weeks have been a rollercoaster in a lot of other ways) and it will probably take at least as long as your relationship lasted to even feel remotely normal.

Fortunately, six weeks is not a long time either (even though it probably feels like it now.)

And how do I go about the awkwardness in work. My heart drops when I see him, but I know it is time to let go.

This is where it gets tricky. Your heart will probably continue to drop for a while. And that's okay. I've never dated anybody at work as an adult, but I have still been absolutely gutted by my poor treatment at the hands of colleagues I thought were my friends or who at least professionally would have my back. And it sucked to have to see them and work with them on a daily basis. I'd have panic attacks on Sunday nights, knowing I'd have to go back to work on Monday because even those 2 days of weekend bliss were such a relief from the tension I felt Monday through Friday.

And then, eventually, I didn't. There were lots of factors but mostly it was because I was able to realize that the reason why people were professionally/personally shitty to me at work had nothing to do with me and everything to do with their insecurities professionally/personally.

And congratulations, because by all signs, you are in the exact same place with this guy. I'm not saying he's a fuckboy for jerking you around like he did, but he did jerk you around with very fuckboy behavior. But he was right when he said "it's not you, it's me" just not necessarily how you're interpreting it. He's the one who fucked up by giving you all the signs that he was ready for a relationship but then pulling out as soon as you'd let your guard down. This isn't a failure of character in you or something you did wrong. Whatever his issues are, there's probably very little you can do about it.

While realizing that sometimes people are just going to inadvertently hurt you is a lesson that might upset you "big picture", try to use it to your advantage here. You did nothing wrong. There's nothing you could have done differently except not try to let love into your heart, and that's not a mistake. Every time you get anxious about seeing him, remember "he's the fuckboy, not you."

And one final thing:

I have never been happier in the past 4 months when I started my new job as I finally found an employment that made me happy. Now I feel like I have tainted it by getting involved with someone at work.

Do not let this dude take job happiness away from you. It's so important and something that far too few people have. It may be "tainted" but that doesn't make it less of a good fit for you. A failed office romance is not the proverbial "shit in a milkshake" ; it's just like, um, a straw wrapper that you can drink around and eventually pull out once you figure out how to do so while you still enjoy your delicious, delicious milkshake.

I'm sure you'll get through this. Good luck!
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:50 PM on November 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

I know how you're feeling as I once got involved with a guy at work and it was a disaster. I won't go into details but it got so bad I had to resign. What I came away with from that terrible time and I'll pass onto you is: NEVER FUCK COWORKERS. N E V E R E V E R

Good luck buddy
posted by james33 at 6:00 AM on November 16, 2016

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