Struggling with attraction to co-worker
June 18, 2019 6:14 PM   Subscribe

There is a guy at work that I am attracted to and whose body language says he is interested in me too. Awkwardly, I am in the process of getting divorced. I'd like to respond to his signs of interest but am highly unsure how to do so (among other things).

I am female, early 30s. My husband and I are separating after 2+ years of marriage (no kids) because we have come to the realisation that we got married before really understanding ourselves and each other; ultimately, we want very different things in life. The process of coming to that realisation was sudden and hard, but now I have pretty much accepted that this is for the best.

On my co-worker, M: I have known him for just under 8 months. We worked quite closely together in the first few months, from which I formed a pretty good opinion of him - smart guy, funny - and we got along well as colleagues and semi-friends. By which I mean that we knew some not-so-superficial stuff about each other: our prior professional experiences, what was going on in our personal lives - he was recently single; I was happily (or so I thought) married) - but nothing really deep.

That all changed after one conversation we had over dinner one day. It was just the two of us, on a business trip, and I had thought it would be like all other work dinners with colleagues: you have some chitchat, talk about work stuff maybe, and get to know each other a little better. However, the conversation really flowed and just kept going deeper and deeper (he talked about his childhood and his family, I talked about my growing up, we found out we were both about the same age and we both loved animals, he mentioned how he very much wanted to be married with kids and a dog but had no idea why he wasn't, we talked about places we'd traveled to and our experiences of those ...); it was so effortless. By the end of the dinner it felt like there was now this strong emotional connection between us that hadn't been there before. I remember thinking, "What the **** just happened here?" After dinner, we went back to our individual hotel rooms; nothing else happened that night.

Since then, I have noticed that his body language to me is different. His face lights up when he sees me (not always, but often enough), he smiles a lot (with his eyes) when we talk, and I've seen many of the other signs that body language experts say indicate that a guy is attracted to you. I am not the greatest at romantic relationships (have pretty much nil dating/relationship experience aside from my marriage that is now ending) but I guess some things you just can't fail to pick up on, whether it's gut feel or instinct or whatchamaycallit. M has also shared what I'd consider further personal information with me (that I consider he needn't have), whether it be about what his mom & sister think about this job (that it's too stressful and he should quit, look for another role) or his holiday plans (travelling alone to see friends).

Shortly after The Conversation, unbeknownst to M (or anyone else at work), my marriage is breaking down. My marriage was already not in a good place before The Conversation, but for it to be deteriorating so rapidly is very traumatic - I am crying a lot everyday and have even started therapy. During this time, because of what I am going through, I largely put a lid on myself and my emotions when interacting with M, especially as I feel very unsure about how I should be interacting with him so I default to "professional and friendly" mode as I had been before The Conversation. I also consciously close myself off from responding to his more "personal" sharing (eg: to mom & sister's opinion that he should look for a less stressful role - I'd say a light, "Oh no! That bad??"; to holiday plans - I'd say, "That sounds nice!").

1.5 months after The Conversation, my marriage is over. Suddenly I find myself single again (still married only in the eyes of the law - until the divorce process is finalised), and that I am now free to respond to M if I so wish to. M now knows I am going through a divorce (when I told him 2 weeks ago, he said he was very sorry to hear that). Since then, his body language signals are still present, though he has been very occupied with several projects that I am not involved on, so we have not had much F2F contact.

Much as I would like to explore what I think is a really promising connection with M, I am:
a) Confused about what happened during the Conversation/M's behaviour after. M generally comes across as a pretty private person (no active social media presence), an introvert (but pretty well-adjusted one), though not shy, so it feels like someone like this would be quite selective about whom they chose to share information about themselves with. Why did he share all those pretty personal stuff with me (which I reciprocated)? Or am I over-reacting in considering those things pretty personal because to the average person, they really aren't? The body language signals - are those subconscious or conscious? Should I be concerned at all about M's behaviour because by all accounts, I was married when this whole spark began?

b) Highly unsure about what is the right way to indicate my interest. Do I start flirting with him? If you were M, how would you feel if your female colleague, whom you're attracted to but has been acting somewhat distant towards you, suddenly starts "coming on" to you (especially now that you know she's fresh from a marriage that has ended)?
posted by ShyGirl99 to Human Relations (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I would wait to change the way you communicate to M until after you are formally divorced, and ask him out directly instead of trying to be more flirtatious at work. If you were able to have such an open and honest dinner with M, you should be able to say “Hey M, I had such a great time when we had dinner before. Would you be interested in doing that again?” I would not mention your divorce (as in “hey I’m divorced now so I’m asking you out”) because I think that could put serious pressure on the possibility of anything between you and M.

I think you should consider whether you are deflecting/displacing some of your feelings onto this situation given your divorce. It’s normal to want to be excited and hopeful about a romantic prospect in the midst of some sad times and the end of another relationship. But be careful and examine your feelings to see whether they are really about M or really more about you dealing with your divorce. Waiting a bit will help you figure that out, I think.

Why did he share all those pretty personal stuff with me (which I reciprocated)? Or am I over-reacting in considering those things pretty personal because to the average person, they really aren't?

For some people, the things he said would be very personal; for others, they’d be typical chat topics you might share with a total stranger at a bar. Until you know M better and for longer, I don’t think you can know.
posted by sallybrown at 6:27 PM on June 18, 2019 [17 favorites]

You are on the rebound and need to wait. Given everything that's been going on in your life, you shouldn't trust yourself to read signals well. While I'm not in the "never date co-workers" camp, there is more risk here than you should get into.

(What you're describing; personal conversations and eagerness to see you; is how I'd likely behave with someone I liked in a platonic way, not just a romantic way. I find small talk boring so I skip to the real stuff ASAP and I am enthusiastic about seeing my friends, sometimes especially new ones. You might be reading it right but you might not, so WAIT.)
posted by metasarah at 6:30 PM on June 18, 2019 [6 favorites]

It sounds like you are not in a good place emotionally, as you process the emotional fallout from the sudden ending of your marriage. That will affect your ability to commence a mature and stable relationship with a new person. It would be better, if you think that he is someone you might want a relationship with, to put a hold on pursuing it until you are in a better place. I presume you have considered the whole 'dating a colleague' thing, this is also a consideration here.
posted by GeeEmm at 6:35 PM on June 18, 2019 [4 favorites]

Within the space of six to eight months you’ve gone from thinking you’re happily married to filing for divorce. That’s a lot to process regardless of whether or not there’s someone new on the scene that you’re attracted to. You’re going to have to do that work before you get into a new relationship so that when you do it will survive and be a healthy one. That’s why people tell you not to rebound. Stay friends with this guy. Give it at least six months if not a year before you jump into anything else, then reassess.
posted by Jubey at 7:00 PM on June 18, 2019 [9 favorites]

You've talked a lot about the connection, but not about the Work. How is this going to affect work, and how much do you care about that? Is there anything in your positions that's going to look like conflict of interest? Will you be able to work together if things don't work out?

If things don't work out...who's career & reputation is going to suffer? Hell, if things DO work out it could still hurt you. You and he know that nothing happened, but if/when your relationship is known, it may look like an affair and a 'homewrecker' situation to outsiders.

Do you like this job & company? Will rumors follow you in your industry if they get started here?
posted by Caravantea at 7:10 PM on June 18, 2019

I should probably just sit this one out. But a few observations:

1. The first post-divorce relationship can be very tricky.

2. It sounds like you and M bonded during your Conversation.

3. I’m going to guess that he is at least as confused as you are. If he’s past simply wondering if you have feelings about him like he has feelings about you, then

4. He’s wondering (don’t laugh) if he was responsible for your divorce. And

5. I mean this in the nicest way possible: you should do some honest self-examination about whether or not your Conversation had anything to do with your divorce. I’m not shaking my finger at you - I just think you really need to know for sure, one way or the other.

6. I laughed when I read “he said he was very sorry to hear that”. No, he wasn’t. But

7. He’s probably uncertain about how to react: does he want a relationship with you? Should he have a relationship with you? If he starts a relationship with you, what kind of commitment is he making?

8. Almost as an aside, I’ll note that many people are nervous about having relationships with co-workers.

9. I’m not sure how it figures into things, but how long will it take to finalize your divorce?

Weirdly enough, the entire situation reminds me of quantum physics: myriad possibilities just waiting to collapse into certainty. But you should be aware that everything I know about quantum physics comes from reading Stephen Baxter novels.

Good luck with this.
posted by doctor tough love at 7:19 PM on June 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

Dating someone you work with is a bad, bad, terrible, bad idea. Don’t shit where you eat.
posted by bile and syntax at 7:24 PM on June 18, 2019 [5 favorites]

Do not rebound with someone at work.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 8:00 PM on June 18, 2019 [23 favorites]

I agree with comments above regarding your divorce and dating co-workers, and would also like to add that "the conversation" and body language do not necessarily signal romantic interest to me and could just be signs of platonic friendship. I have lots of work friends of both sexes with whom I occasionally chat about my personal life, and whom I am genuinely happy to see when I run into them in the hallways and whatnot. Don't read too much into what could be a pleasant workplace friendship.
posted by emd3737 at 8:14 PM on June 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

In addition to the tidbit about how he was vacationing alone (ergo no SO), I think M may also be sending you a message by telling you his mother and sister think he should work elsewhere. By having it be the mother and sister he can back off it should he stay. By mentioning the possibility of his departure (a very weird thing to say to a work colleague), he's dangling the idea that there might be potential for a closer relationship down the road when you no longer work together.

Wait. Process your marriage/divorce on your own and through your work with your therapist. See if you keep learning new things about who you are and what you want for the future. Don't take up with someone from work during this volatile time of personal growth.
posted by carmicha at 8:39 PM on June 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

Nope nope nope.

1. It's too soon.
2. Don't shit where you eat.
3. What does your therapist say about this?
posted by Brittanie at 8:49 PM on June 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Wait wait wait. Wait to process the full implications of the decision you just made and the basis for making it -- "we want very different things in life" -- to see how it might apply to any potential partners going forward.
posted by holgate at 9:28 PM on June 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I think there are healthy ways to date during a separation, while working to the divorce, but it’s definitely not with a coworker.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:24 AM on June 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

I do not know specifically what you should do, however I'd like to push back on two very firmly given pieces of advice here.

1. The instruction to not date until after you are formally divorced. This matters to some people but I'm honestly taken aback every time I see this pushed on mefi. Getting divorced is a legal process that can be annoyingly lengthy and bureaucratic. Breaking up is an emotional and practical process that may be completed much earlier. I'm not saying you are ready for another relationship, but if you are not it is not because you are still technically married, from what I can infer of your beliefs from your question.

2. The instruction to not date co workers. I used to work in a large organisation where there were a number of romantic relationships, some of which I know are still together years later. YMMV of course but I've seen it work more than once and the people in those relationships are pretty happy about it. So it's certainly not a blanket no.
posted by deadwax at 1:35 AM on June 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

My question for you would be what do you want to get out of this? Just a rebound to have some fun with but nothing long-term? Then sure go ahead. It could have problems at work, but if you're willing to take that risk that's up to you.

If you think you'd actually like a relationship with this guy, then wait. Give yourself time to get over the divorce. If you want this to possibly turn into something serious and long-term, you want to start in the best possible place mentally and emotionally.
posted by LizBoBiz at 2:21 AM on June 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

Does your organisation have a personal relationships at work policy? Do other people at your work also date each other? I'd want to know those things before making any decisions about this guy.

It sounds like you are having a very difficult time emotionally with your divorce which may be ramping up your reactions towards your co-worker. It's happened to me too.

Even if personal relationships are allowed in your workplace, I still wouldn't consider dating a co-worker if there was any chance it could be a rebound. That could really backfire on you. If it's something you can see working out in the long-term, however, that might be a different story, but I'd want to wait it out till I was positive I wasn't on the rebound.

Good luck, whatever you decide.
posted by unicorn chaser at 3:20 AM on June 19, 2019

Another recently divorced person here saying that waiting until you’re legally divorced is overscrupulous. Waiting until you’re completely practically committed to the divorce is reasonable, but, e.g., in my case there was about nine months from the time my ex had moved out of state and in with another woman to when the divorce was final. I can’t see why I would have been obligated not to date in that period. If your marriage is definitely in the process of ending, I’d feel free to date.
posted by LizardBreath at 4:40 AM on June 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

For what it's worth, I've had that kind of Conversation and subsequent increase in emotional openness with coworkers I had no romantic interest in, and in some cases who had no romantic interest in me (I'm a gay woman, they were gay men). Sometimes it's just nice to connect with someone in the arid, connectionless wasteland that is an office job.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:31 AM on June 19, 2019 [6 favorites]

I agree that it's totally fine to date while your divorce is not final (it takes a long time)! And for some people, dating gives an opportunity to explore who you are and what you want, that you couldn't get in a relationship.

I don't think it's a good idea to immediately start a serious relationship, and dating a coworker could go very very wrong.
posted by thelastpolarbear at 5:42 AM on June 19, 2019

Several people are suggesting that they’ve had deep conversations with co-workers but it was all platonic. I believe it. But reading ShyGirl99‘s question, I gather that her Conversation with M went beyond platonic. I see no reason to second-guess her on this point.

Regarding the length of the divorce process: divorce law is different in every state, and my concern is primarily over any odd legal aspects that could bite her if she started to date someone before it’s all signed, sealed, and delivered. IMHO it’s worth checking on.

Re the work situation: I think ShyGirl99 should be very careful about the kind of information she shares with other co-workers. This clickbait has some interesting statistics.

Finally: Should I be concerned at all about M's behaviour because by all accounts, I was married when this whole spark began? I’d say “no”. It’s not uncommon for married people who aren’t married to each other to hit it off, and it never goes beyond a few wistful moments of daydreaming about “what if ...?” It is uncommon for one or both parties’ marital status to change during the early wistful daydreaming part of things.
posted by doctor tough love at 6:37 AM on June 19, 2019

In terms of whether this is a good idea, I think you need to think cold bloodedly about the coworker thing. Assuming that whatever happens with the two of you crashes and burns, and three months from now you hate each other, is that going to be a problem at work, or are you in a position where you can keep it compartmentalized?

If you think you could manage a bad outcome, I think you should go ahead and do what you want. Everyone who said you’re probably not ready for a healthy new relationship is right, but you could probably use some personal connection and an emotional outlet that’s not stewing over your ending marriage.

In your shoes, I’d ask him out for a drink or coffee, and spill your guts about how and why your marriage is ending. He’s brought your friendship to a level where it’s not inappropriate for you to reach out for that kind of emotional support. And then see where things go from there: might be he’s not interested in connecting, and was opening up to you mostly because he knew you were married and unavailable; might be he’s open to being a supportive friend while you’re in trouble but isn’t interested in a relationship; might be you guys end up in a short term affair that blows up and gets your feelings hurt; might be you live happily ever after. There’s no way to know how anything will work out, but this is a perfectly reasonable time to do something incautious.
posted by LizardBreath at 6:42 AM on June 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

Future You just arrived in a time machine, wild-eyed and crazed, desperately pleading with you not to get involved with this coworker. "You have no idea how much drama this kicks off," she says. "This is the key moment in time where it can all be avoided. Don't make the same mistake I made!"
posted by Ragged Richard at 8:01 AM on June 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

Agree with everything said above about too soon to rebound, especially especially with a co-worker.

Want to add that smiling while talking to your coworker doesn't mean your romantically interested in them. At all.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:43 AM on June 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Confused about what happened during the Conversation/M's behaviour after

It sounds an awful lot like you two just made a connection that surprised you both. That's something to feel good about. You can nurture a connection, handle it with care, and simply see where it goes when treated with respect and dignity. That includes a bit of peaceful caution--what's this guy like around his friends? Around your friends? In groups? One-on-one? In public? In private? There's no need to fear asking this guy to be in your life socially, and that's easy enough to do (Hey, want to grab a bite after work?). You can let him know how much you valued The Conversation without turning it into a soul-baring confession (Man, I really appreciated talking to you a couple months ago, my circumstances were not the best and talking with you took me out of that for a while, thank you). If you both feel that connection over time, it'll make itself known in your interactions.

Of course relationships with coworkers can go bad, but so can any relationship? I know coworkers who met and had wonderful relationships/marriages/etc., probably moreso than I know coworkers who came out of a relationship worse for the wear. It's up to you and how you read the situation.

I'm also going through a divorce, and I have to remind myself quite a lot that my feelings are a bit scrambled and unpredictable. And it's good to remember that wearing rose colored glasses right now, post-divorce, is an easy way to keep yourself from seeing bright red flags. So be diligent, keep talking to your friend, and try not to pressure yourself to answer all your questions about him so quickly.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:52 AM on June 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

Not sure if this applies to you, but every once in a while I get caught up in scarcity thinking in dating scenarios. I immediately launch into a panic of: Is this my last chance?! This happens to me because genuine connections are, in fact, a rare thing. Plus, those connections feel especially potent when you're coming out of a long relationship that had gone stale. I start to feel like i have to pounce on this thing, lest I never feel it ever again in my whole life.

But that "scarcity thinking" has never brought anything good my way, really. I find it gives the other person too much power. And the older I get (a little older than you, 35) the more I realize that those connections are just rare enough to be special, but not so rare that I have to treat them like the only drop of water in the desert.

My read of this situation is that he seems like a good guy, and like he does have interest in you. There is, in my view, no harm in asking him out when you feel ready (only you know when that moment has arrived). But don't forget to leave open other possibilities for connection, too.
posted by gold bridges at 11:57 AM on June 25, 2019

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