navigating a work crush
September 23, 2018 2:07 AM   Subscribe

Yes it's that old chestnut again. I have a crush on a co-worker. How do I navigate this within a professional environment?

(NB. I really hate the word 'crush', it's so high-school, but for want of anything else, will go with that.)

I (F) work in a very sociable, porous organisation where co-workers date, socialise outside work, are roommates, etc. I have a crush on a guy in a different team, whom I don't work with, at the same level of seniority as me. We work in the same space but do not work together. I'm 35, he may be a few years younger. Also relevant: I frikkin' LOVE my job.

I'm very concerned about endangering my reputation at work (I don't want to be "that woman who flirts with male co-workers"), or making the guy I have a crush on uncomfortable in any way (sexual harassment is a big thing in our industry, although more usually male to female). It's hard to gauge his interest as he's always pleased to see me and we have the odd long-ish conversation by the water-cooler but he's also uniformly pleasant to people so it's hard to know how much of him being nice to me is just him being nice to me. I maybe initiate conversations more frequently. He has dropped into conversation casually that he is single, so there is that. He has also mentioned going on dates with women so I know he does date women. We have not connected outside work. If I wasn't concerned about violating professional boundaries I would be friendlier, ask if he wanted to hang out after work etc - but it's really hard to know how much is ok when I'm not sure of his interest and when, as I say, we work in the same organisation. The last thing I want to do is make him uncomfortable if the interest is not reciprocated. I haven't said anything about being interested in him to any of my work-friends; hopefully no one knows the extent of it although they can probably tell that we get along ok.

So I'm keeping things safe from a professional standpoint but that also stops me making any headway with this guy. That makes the crush worse, the lack of knowing one way or the other. It doesn't interfere with my work or life too much but it's still somewhat distracting and frustrating - while at the same time of course being a lovely little spark in my day. I have other doubts (e.g. feeling like I'm not in the same league as him etc - but that's a totally separate issue). So I'd love to have some advice from Mefites who have navigated similar situations. Anything I'm not doing? Anything I should be?

(The irony is I make work-friends very easy as long as there is no romantic interest. No problems or overthinking then!)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well, you're at a sociable, porous organisation where co-workers date, so I would say cut to the chase and just ask him for coffee if you don't want to be seen flirting. It's not violating professional boundaries if you do it politely and discreetly, and make it possible for him to give either answer without the rest of the office hearing it; professional boundaries are partly defined by the culture of the office they are in, and this one sounds fairly relaxed on that score. Sometimes you don't have the luxury of testing the waters and you gotta just jump and deal with it if it turns out to be cold.
posted by fearnothing at 2:57 AM on September 23, 2018 [9 favorites]


You don't seem very clear about what you want. If you want to date a co-worker which is rarely a good idea (even if you do work at a sociable place where some people are roommates--which you know is not the same thing as dating), then you ask him out.

If you don't want to make him uncomfortable because he's not interested, then don't ask him out and stop thinking about what league anyone is in and putting so much meaning into every single exchange you have. It's entirely possible he's just friendly and you're wasting a huge amount of mental energy trying to guess the subtext of everything he says. He's a person you work with, he's not sending you signals, you shouldn't share your crush feelings with your coworkers, and you should just get on with the job. Because it's a job.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 3:13 AM on September 23, 2018 [9 favorites]


"Hey, colleague, I'm interested in getting to know you better, possibly in a romantic way. Would you like to get together for coffee sometime? If not, no worries, I won't bring it up again. Hope you're having a great summer!"
posted by spindrifter at 3:42 AM on September 23, 2018


I agree that it isn't clear what you want.

If you want to try dating him (which seems like it'd be fine given your work environment and given that you don't work closely together etc), just ask if he wants to grab a drink after work sometime, and if he says yes, see how it goes and take it from there.

If you want to get over your crush, your best bet might be trying to chat with him less at work and put more effort into dating apps or whatever outside of work.
posted by sunflower16 at 4:04 AM on September 23, 2018


I’m going to go against the grain here. If you love your job so much why endanger it by getting tangled up with this guy? I think office romances are a terrible idea, especially for women, as it allows a whole other level of potential risk to affect your future prospects. What if it doesn’t work out? What if he or you gets promoted to a higher level that affects the other? What if he is able to influence anyone higher than you? Ultimately, it’s your financial future however why wouldn’t you want to eliminate any potential downfall because you couldn’t keep it in your pants? There are so many people in this world, I’m sure you can find someone outside of the company that pays you a salary that allows you to feed, clothe, and shelter yourself.
posted by KathyK at 4:29 AM on September 23, 2018 [19 favorites]


I'm not here to judge whether or not dating this guy is a good idea, and I think it's pretty clear that you would like to date him. Decide for yourself whether you should follow your desire or suppress it, but if you feel like dating this guy is a thing you want to do, you're gonna have to bite the bullet and just ask him. Do as fearnothing says and find a moment where the two of you are reasonably alone, so that he can answer you without the whole office hearing, and make it something casual and low-risk like a coffee date. (Alternatively, if you know of a shared interest then you could propose something in line with that.) Don't spend too much effort trying to eliminate potential awkwardness though—some degree of temporary awkwardness is unavoidable. If you wanna get there, you're gonna have to just power through that.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:10 AM on September 23, 2018


I think you need a few more "soft signs" before you can do the direct message of asking your co worker out for coffee. It would make me a bit uncomfortable in a work environment to be directly asked out by someone I had no interest in.

I think it's actually pretty easy in your case to get a few more "soft signs" -- you already hang out with your co workers after work, so just invite him along to a group gathering a few times.
posted by moiraine at 5:45 AM on September 23, 2018 [3 favorites]


It sounds like there's no reason not to ask him out! That's really the quickest path to clarity here. Ask him out clearly enough so that it's obvious what you're asking; be a little dorky about it, even. For instance: "Would you like to go out on a coffee date this Saturday afternoon at Central Perk?" Ask him in a private and low-pressure way -- sometimes email or social media can be easier for both parties, since it makes asking easier and it also makes saying no easier.

If he says anything other than an enthusiastic yes, then your answer is no. If he gives you a polite brush-off ("Can't do this Saturday, maybe some time," with no other time suggested) then understand that as a no, and leave it to him to follow up if he ever changes his mind (don't obsess about this possibility). At this point, you are done. Treat him 100% professionally and nurse your hurt feelings in private or with outside-of-work friends. The good news about this scenario is that you'll be free of your obsession/crush, because you won't be wondering what the answer is -- you'll know for sure.

If he gives you an enthusiastic yes, then awesome! Go on the date, see how it goes! Continue to behave 100% professionally at work no matter how it goes, and make sure that, if you need to discuss the situation, you do so with outside-of-work friends.

Here are some advantages of this approach:
- There's no "flirts at work" reputational issue. You won't be hanging around him creepily, engineering ways to run into each other, trying to flirt enough that he gets the message (this situation sets you up for drawn-out, inadvertent harassment). Instead, you'll be communicating clearly and letting it go immediately if your interest is not reciprocated.
- It's over fast. By asking clearly and straightforwardly, you'll find out as quickly as possible whether this crush has any potential outside of your own head. That will help you either (1) get to the real-life dating as soon as possible, or (2) cut your losses and move on as soon as possible. Either way, win for you.
- It takes some courage for you to do, which is a good thing! Practicing this kind of clear communication will help you with your next crush, and also with any relationships you have in future.
posted by ourobouros at 5:55 AM on September 23, 2018 [5 favorites]


Why would you put the job you love in jeopardy for a stranger? Most romantic relationships do not work out. And in office romances, the woman always gets the short end of the stick. If it goes poorly, which is likely just given statistics, you will suffer more consequences than he does at work. It's not worth it.

I might spend some time trying to figure out why I am willing to risk a job I love for a dude I don't know. Because it is a risk to date a coworker. There are billions of men in the world, and it might be a good idea to try to date one of them instead.
posted by sockermom at 6:11 AM on September 23, 2018 [5 favorites]


Ugh, I would totally cringe if a random colleague asked me out at work. Sorry to sound so negative about it but I think there are a lot of people who don't date in the workplace and would be uncomfortable being asked out in their professional environment.
posted by emd3737 at 6:16 AM on September 23, 2018 [10 favorites]


If I wasn't concerned about violating professional boundaries I would be friendlier, ask if he wanted to hang out after work etc

Being friends and hanging out after hours is the culture at your workplace, so this would not be a violation of professional boundaries there. But it would also not be an honest expression of your intentions. If you want to date him, start by considering whether asking him on a date would violate professional boundaries at your workplace. And consider whether you want to risk not just a job but your place in a collegial workplace that is integrated with your social life.

Crushes happen. They happen when you are single and they happen when you are partnered. You have a lifetime of meaningful eye contact and pregnant pauses and intrusive thoughts and occasional limerence ahead of you. This workplace crush is a good opportunity to practice responding to your crushes (immediate gratification) in a way that doesn't interfere with your long-term goals.
posted by headnsouth at 6:53 AM on September 23, 2018 [4 favorites]


I would vote with the "plenty of fish in the sea who aren’t coworkers" camp, but if you are determined I would give the guy some credit for professionalism. Asking if he would like to get coffee some time gives him a clear chance to say no, after which he can assume you’ve moved on and you *can* move on. If you don’t respect his maturity that much you probably shouldn’t date him anyway.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:13 AM on September 23, 2018 [2 favorites]


On second thought, I agree with moiraine about the soft signs. It'd be better to invite him out in a group setting first and see what sort of vibe you get - is he flirty?
posted by sunflower16 at 7:30 AM on September 23, 2018


posted by fearnothing at 2:57 AM on September 23
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 3:13 AM
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:10 AM
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:13 AM


The advice I came to offer is already in play, but my goodness are there some notably-on-point usernames in here. It's a rare thing to see the eponysteria ladled on so thick.
posted by mhoye at 8:59 AM on September 23, 2018 [3 favorites]


I suspect the OP would be asking him out no question except for the work issue and knowing they "shouldn't," and they are conflicted about that.

How many other people there are dating coworkers? How has that gone for them? Have there been any dramatic blowouts at work when someone breaks up?

You don't work together, you're not on the same team, but you work in the same space. Think of what could happen at the worst if you dated and then had a horrible breakup. Because "you don't work together" sounds like it'd be (relatively?) fine to date someone at the same org if you didn't have to see him every day and you weren't coming together for work purposes. But if you see him every single day because you're in the same room all the time, that unfortunately is still running risk if he went batshit on you, and it would screw you worse than him.

I wish I could say go for it (ouroboros's suggestion is pretty good if you really want to try), but even at this place it will be risky. It may very well be "job or dude" for you.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:03 AM on September 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


If you ”frikkin’ LOVE” your job, do not date someone there. There are way too many ways you could jeapordize your great job for someone you barely know.
posted by greermahoney at 10:08 AM on September 23, 2018 [2 favorites]


I dated someone from work when I was in my mid 20s and it imploded, very very badly. By the end we weren't on speaking terms. I left the organisation 6 months later (to go back to uni, it was a planned move) and he left soon after that - I think the whole thing may have had something to do with his move. It was hard on us and it ended up being hard on our colleagues, too. The 33 year old me would never, ever go there again.
posted by thereader at 12:21 PM on September 23, 2018 [2 favorites]


I met my husband at work. It's really only a good idea to ask out a coworker if the flirting is at such thermonuclear levels that you're pretty positive they will say yes.
posted by cakelite at 1:06 PM on September 23, 2018 [4 favorites]


I also work in a very, very sociable smallish (<30 ppl) office, where we hang out after work and on weekends and consider each other friends. If you really want to date this person, you have to be willing to give up your job over this before you move any further with the crush. Is he worth it? If it doesn’t work out, are you able to find another job relatively quickly and are established enough that you wouldn’t need these references? Because work relationships in small teams can go south. Very very quickly. Think this over very very carefully. I would also suggest dating other people while you think this over, to distract you and also to open up the possibility for another, non-work-related relationship.

IF you decide he’s worth it, then my advice differs a bit from “just ask him out” - I’ve been asked out by colleagues in small organizations, and the direct approach always created more conflict. I’ll write up the approach that has worked better for everyone (even if it doesn’t work out) in case it helps. You have to move slowly. Ask him to make sure he’s going to happy hours or dinners or parties. Once there, talk to him one on one at least once every group get together, but don’t monopolize his time. See if he will come to you. Flirt. See if he flirts back and will initialize it. After a while of this (weeks/months, potentially), see if he sticks around and doesn’t leave until you do. If so, when people start to leave at the end of events, ask him if he wants to stay and get one more drink or one more coffee or whatnot with you. After a few times of this, check in about a girlfriend. And see how he responds to you. This can be maddeningly slow. But, at all times, this gives both of you an opportunity to save face and go back to normal.
posted by umwhat at 4:29 PM on September 23, 2018 [6 favorites]


Crushes can be delicious and the fantasy of it all is fun. Because you love your job and unsure of reciprocation, I would try to tamp it down. Or keep the fantasy in your head and don't act. Unless, you see him taking actively taking an interest. I don't know if he's interested but you generally know when someone is interested. They are going to seek you out and start conversations.
posted by loveandhappiness at 5:23 PM on September 23, 2018


What's worst thing that can realistically happen? Never got behind the "don't date from work" philosophy, I can't think of any relationships I've ever had that was with someone I never worked with. I don't believe even a bad relationship ending necessarily need impact work, outside of the impact of being upset at a breakup which will be the case regardless of if they work with you or not. You know your workplace and culture better than I though.

Some folks are weird about dating at work however, might be wroth slyly sorting that out first. I think asking out to coffee is a safe first step since that is an activity you can do with people non-romantically anyway. I'd use that interaction to decide what direction to step next.
posted by GoblinHoney at 3:26 PM on September 24, 2018


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