Is my boyfriend a bit...creepy with his coworker?
February 2, 2020 1:46 PM   Subscribe

Help me parse what's normal and what's maybe a little strange and intense about my boyfriend's relationship with his coworker, and tell me, would this bother you too? Very strange goings on inside

Just to put this upfront: I am a (very?) anxious person by nature, and have had enough Bad Relationship Situations and General Losses that this may be playing into my worries about this situation.

I've been dating a guy for about 3.5 months, and really like him. He's gentle, kind, funny, super articulate, intelligent, and in general very emotionally generous. Also very switched on re emotions - he's actually taught me a lot about responding kindly to others' distress, and talking about things in a grown up way etc.There's just this one thing, though, and it's been making me feel uneasy and insecure. Would it make you feel weird?

He has (had) a very close relationship with a female colleague. I cant mention the profession as it's in the public eye, but essentially they've build a joint 'brand' and have done very well out of it. He gave her her first job as her boss, and then took her to this new workplace as his equal, so she has made extremely fast progress and managed to essentially leapfrog around 15 years of experience through his advocating for her on everything from position to salary. He also seems to have been doing a lot of her work for her, which she has gotten credit for (in an industry where credit is really everything).

She moved to London two years ago from the US, and he says that the reason he moved a month after this, also, was because he wanted to try living in a new city, he was very unhappy where he was and he loved London.

This job has taken them all around the world, dealing with scary and very bonding situations. He would have described her as his closest friend. When she had post natal depression last year, he said he took up to three days off work every week to sit with her and listen to her talking about her issues with her father, then he caught up on work in the evenings.

He would spend most Fridays with her and her husband and two children. He grew attached to their children.

This all just sounds like a nice, close friendship writing it down like this. But she ended up acting a distant with him -- I'm not sure exactly when. He said 'since the summer' (when he was depressed and felt he needed her support - bear in mind she has two young children, so I feel like maybe this was a bit much to ask?), then he said 'since last year' (when he was very depressed and she was in hospital with terrible pregnancy related sickness), then he said 'since October' (they'd had a minor intellectual squabble, which apparently she takes very badly).

He said that at times, she has been very helpful when he's been down and shown him care, but he also describes her as 'cold', 'lacking compassion' and not able to show feelings. I think he would say similar things about his mother, who had a drinking problem and abandoned the family when he was 16. She is so anxious she apparently can't be in the same room alone with him or his sister, as it brings up too much anxiety,

He would say that this colleague cannot take the slightest disagreement without going over and over again about how it makes her feel and reminds her of her abusive father; he feels that he has given way too much emotional space to her over and over again about this, having discussed it over and over and apologised, tried to find new ways of dealing with inevitable disagreements etc. He felt that this might be a reason as to why she was putting distance between them, along with a number of unplanned trips overseas for the both of them which meant they were too busy to see eachother for a couple of months.

Either way, he has tried to confront her about this growing distance, saying it's hurt his feelings and wanting to know what's going on (whenever he talks about this bit, though, it feels like I have to draw it out of him that he was asking her / wanting attention, and like he doesn't want to be totally honest about what he was asking / needing?). She has refused to talk about it or admit anything is wrong, it would seem, although he's always a little cagey in terms of how she is responding.

In November she insisted that they went to 'work therapy' before they embarked on a huge joint work project which would have meant close working for a year (even more close working than they do already, which is a fair amount). He wanted to use these sessions to talk about how hurt he was at the increasingly distant friendship; she wanted to talk about how to handle this project. She also said she felt they had 'never been friends' and it was just a professional relationship. By all accounts this seems untrue. Even the therapist said that this doesn't seem to be the case, and that there were some mixed signals going on.

In the second session, she said she didn't want to work together anymore, without any warning, and that she was pulling out of this project - which is not an easy thing to pull out of and risks reputational damage. Again, she gave no clear explanation, although in a subsequent coffee (he seems to continue to make overtures to be her friend), she admitted that she let her anxiety about them working together - and these occasional squabbles - get the best of her and it just kind of 'blew up', according to her (via him). The therapist, for what it's worth, felt that this woman was giving him 'mixed signals' and no emotional space in the conversation.

The consequences of this are that he will need to produce this project himself, which is almost impossible to deadline without being hugely disruptive, and also that he will need to move back to his home country as he had used his close working relationship with her, in his current country, to justify living here. So our entire relationship is being jeopardised (these countries are 12 hours away) and his working and professional life has been completely uprooted, because of the anxiety of this lady. She didn't seem to really care about this.

I do believe that he has never made an advance on her, and that this isn't like text book creepy stuff. She still is happy to work with him, in a very arms length way, although she got him removed to a different office as they shared one - which seemed extreme.

I'm worried though, that I'm being an idiot here. Has he just been a creep? I did see an email she wrote to him confirming that he saw her as a 'friend' and she saw him a 'colleague' (he showed me this), although she admitted that a friendship had built up through working together, so it all just seems like semantics.

He mentioned today that he'd joined her whilst she was talking to a mutual friend/colleaguein the office (just before they needed to both go on stage to present together) and that she's looked super uncomfy and disappeared. She had clearly stated she wanted to keep things professional in their relationship and I do feel that he was overstepping a boundary by trying to get involved in this conversation.

I also find it a bit strange that he felt 'let down' by her emotionally last year when he was depressed and she was literally in hospital with a serious pregnancy related condition (especially as he mentions she actually got him a therapist at the time, which seems like a nice gesture).

He has mentioned that he has a cold mother who left when he was 16, and was also a pretty bad alcoholic. He said it didn't damage him, but has mentioned her not being well enough to take him to school sometimes etc. He also mentioned that he sometimes feels 'worthless', and that in exploring these feelings with his therapist he had admitted that in his head they were 'coming from his work colleague'. That was like a year ago, when apparently they were close and things were fine, and it feels like a very extreme thing to say about someone you don't have an overly intense relationship with.

I've seen him cry twice now over the work colleague thing, one time when he drank a whole bottle of wine and was saying he felt worthless and that he hates rejection. He said that his only serious ex girlfriend had rejected him over and over at the beginning, and that he 'runs headlong into rejection' and had felt very in love initially because of this. He said he wasn't going to pursue this work colleague even as a distant friend because he doesn't want to get caught in this dynamic.

He has reassured me that their relationship was only professional, and that he never felt romantic feelings. I did say it sounded like this woman seems to have been a surrogate girlfriend in terms of closeness, and he said he had wondered that and bought it up with a previous therapist who didn't have much useful stuff to say.

He doesn't feel in love with me yet, although he seems to be reasonably self aware about how unhealthy his romantic pattern was and has expressed that the top quality he is looking for in a partner is kindness, which I have in spades. I just worry that he'll never be in love with me, if actually he has this pattern of fixating on unavailable women? He says his feelings are growing, and he feels we have something healthy and solid. I'm glad he can be vulnerable with me, and I don't want to blame him for what are essentially quite easy to understand feelings around rejection etc. - especially because it's easy for society to assume that men don't get upset about this stuff when they clearly do.

When I'm with him, I do feel good and quite cherished. But sometimes he just seems so distracted, and I feel like this is taking up a lot of space in his head. Like, 75%. He doesn't want to burden me with talking about this all the time, but when we do it can turn into hours of it, and one time he got really drunk and cried and said it made him feel worthless (something he has mentioned he's felt when he is feeling depressed). One part of me feels that that is normal, and that if my best friend were distant with me like this and then dropped me - and it meant I had to move countries - I would be pretty devastated. I also know i can look for the worst case scenario in any situation, but sometimes I just feel....odd about this.

What would your thoughts be?
posted by starstarstar to Human Relations (37 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
This does not sound like someone with good boundaries, and I think you are correct to be extremely, extremely wary of him. It doesn't matter if the relationship you are describing is sexual or not - it sounds exceedingly unhealthy and frankly like your boyfriend is not respecting her wishes for more space, and that is a terrible, unsafe pattern for him to have and for you to be around.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:01 PM on February 2, 2020 [47 favorites]


I would not be fine with having a partner who could only give me 25% of his relational headspace. I’d argue most people wouldn’t be fine with this.

There are a lot of details here. Whether or not this is normal or healthy, he can’t give you what you need now, nor for the near future. I’d recommend you not be fine with that.
posted by Monday at 2:03 PM on February 2, 2020 [6 favorites]


He doesn't feel in love with me yet, although he seems to be reasonably self aware about how unhealthy his romantic pattern was and has expressed that the top quality he is looking for in a partner is kindness, which I have in spades. I just worry that he'll never be in love with me, if actually he has this pattern of fixating on unavailable women?

I mean, in all this emotional drama in his life I was looking for the part that says where he sees you in his life. Where do you fit in?

And it looks like your part is "supporting actress". You're the aspirational relationship he feels he should be having. You're the healthy relationship, the apple a day that he has heard he should be eating.

You're not where his heart is.

Find the person who desires you.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:06 PM on February 2, 2020 [57 favorites]


My thoughts would be, "It's been three and a half months and already I know a lifetime's worth of information about this guy's deeply unhealthy relationship with his workplace stalkee. Wild! Sure am glad he's leaving the country. What's in the 'fridge?"
posted by Don Pepino at 2:06 PM on February 2, 2020 [103 favorites]


None of this necessarily means he's a bad person, but it does seem like he has some incredibly bad boundaries (which can be due to legitimate trauma and also not healthy for you to be involved with at the same time). It is absolutely okay for you to feel uncomfortable with the situation, and absolutely okay for you to break up. It doesn't sound like a relationship that will be able to meet your needs and be healthy for you.
posted by augustimagination at 2:10 PM on February 2, 2020 [7 favorites]


He seems like he has a bit of a quid pro quo attitude towards intimacy and emotional work. He took days off to support his friend when she was struggling emotionally, and then he expects that as a result she would do the same for him. He thinks of her as a friend, so she should think of him as a friend too. He casts himself in a very powerful role in terms of defining what the situation is and what it "should" be.

It's weird that he feels let down by her when she was in hospital. This seems like an example of unrealistic expectations of what others owe him.

When she needs space, he doesn't respect it because it's not meeting his needs. He describes her as cold and lacking compassion when she doesn't meet his needs, even though he knows there have been some situations where she was helpful and warm.

I wouldn't worry so much about whether he's in love with you or not (although I know it's hard not to think about these things). Overall there is a pattern of making his needs central and the needs of others marginal, which I don't think foreshadows anything good. I'd also be worried about him idealizing this woman and then deciding that she has many terrible qualities (compassionless and cold) - this is called 'splitting' and is a sign of missing relationship/emotional regulation skills on his part.
posted by unstrungharp at 2:13 PM on February 2, 2020 [15 favorites]


Ditto on what Don Pepino said. You are less than 4 months into this relationship and already completely wrapped up in what sounds like years if someone else's anxieties and hangups and boundary issues.

I understand that it's an emotionally intense situation, and perhaps there's a feeling of "If I could just understand this complicated situation it'd feel less intense" but....trust me, in a year you'll be so much better off if you left the whole thing on the table than if you stuck around and tried to understand it all.
posted by theweasel at 2:15 PM on February 2, 2020 [14 favorites]


This feels like Lolita. We’re getting the side of the dude with all the power but I find myself most curious about her feelings. I’m guessing “how TF do I navigate this interpersonally creepy situation with my career minimally damaged” is top of the pile. I wouldn’t want to date this man.
posted by eirias at 2:18 PM on February 2, 2020 [20 favorites]


I have a slightly different take here, I'm guessing the husband has put his foot down about their close friendship and made her choose and she's chosen her family and rejected him out of hand. This happens ALL THE TIME when one person in a perfectly platonic friendship gets into a serious committed romantic relationship. I'm female and almost every male friend I have had in my life has done this to me at least once because their SO demanded it. And yes, it hurts when someone you consider a close friend cuts you off and tries to retroactively reframe your relationship.

They had a close creative partnership, which is really hard to find and inevitably leads to emotional closeness, and he's spent enough time with her and her husband that they were clearly friends so I think a lot of the replies above that he's a stalker with boundary issues and she's a victim are missing the mark. Assuming he's not just making it all up, of course, which I am. She was happy to have him as a friend and maybe as a back up emotional partner and now she's in a marriage and he's causing problems she's done with him. Simple as that.

You don't mention much about the husband but it's possible he's isolating her or maximizing her anxiety or is abusive or who knows and there are problem there too.
posted by fshgrl at 2:20 PM on February 2, 2020 [44 favorites]


^^ This. The very first thing I thought of is that the husband has had enough and wants boundaries and it sounds like she agrees. If my partner was hospitalised and pregnant with our child and her work colleague came into hospital and picked a fight with her, you can be damn sure I’d be advocating for space from that person. You should be taking notes. Regardless of what is actually behind it, whole thing is a mess. Not only is there no space for you in it, why would you ever sign up for all that drama? Run, run like the wind.
posted by Jubey at 2:30 PM on February 2, 2020 [35 favorites]


Please keep in mind when trying to interpret the colleague’s behavior that their relationship began as her being junior to him and he helped mentor her through her early work. It reads to me like she has been trying very hard their entire work relationship to keep things professional—friendly, sure, but in a professional way. In contrast, this guy has repeatedly overstepped that boundary and pushed her for more. In response, she very carefully tries to make clear they are colleagues without upsetting the guy. He is using her and leaning on her for all these emotional things while she’s sending a bright “please stop treating me unprofessionally” sign. He is burying his head in the sand and refusing to see that very obvious signal, so she keeps being more and more emphatic: moving, not visiting him, telling him to be professional, and now cutting off the project. You write: So our entire relationship is being jeopardised (these countries are 12 hours away) and his working and professional life has been completely uprooted, because of the anxiety of this lady. This is absolutely untrue. If your boyfriend had been paying attention and respecting her boundaries, he would not have found himself in this situation.

I think whether he has romantic feelings for her is immaterial, in that his behavior is a red flag either way. Think of Don and Peggy on Mad Men—they were never a romantic possibility, but their work relationship was still deeply messed up and boundary-crossing.
posted by sallybrown at 2:35 PM on February 2, 2020 [36 favorites]


I agree with where fshgrl and jubey are going.

Along with sallybrown, my own thought is that the relationship between these two started out with him mentoring her, they grew close over time, but eventually she has outgrown him.

Regardless of the cause, he was the senior partner of the relationship, it was up to him to keep some kind of professional objectivity, not hers.
posted by Fukiyama at 2:38 PM on February 2, 2020 [6 favorites]


People with overwrought, poorly resolved and very dramatic feelings about past relationships/friendships are people that I wish I'd kept the hell away from.

He might be a charming guy in a lot of respects but this doesn't sound like a good avenue to walk down.
posted by bonobothegreat at 2:44 PM on February 2, 2020 [16 favorites]


Your boyfriend sounds deeply obsessed with his co-worker. No wonder she's trying to get rid of him. He seems to have no concept of how hard he's pushing across every appropriate emotional boundary. You seem to have some concept, but not nearly enough.

I mean, just to use your own words: He wanted to use these sessions to talk about how hurt he was at the increasingly distant friendship; she wanted to talk about how to handle this project. Uh, yeah, because that is the point of their relationship? It's a WORK relationship. The fact that he offered her emotional support when she was in deep pain and she took it, does not change that. She has the right to dial it back. He's behaving bizarrely and extremely inappropriately.

I get that this is all rather interesting, but you need to dump him. Guy does not see clearly and does not behave normally.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:46 PM on February 2, 2020 [10 favorites]


I don't think we absolutely need to resolve the rights and wrongs of the work relationship--it's clear that your boyfriend is handling all this very badly now. Why do you even know all this at 3.5 months in? He's not emotionally available to you (even though he's spilling this stuff all over you), so, whether a creep or not, he's not a good choice for boyfriend. This doesn't sound like anything that's going to be resolving in the near future, either.
posted by praemunire at 2:51 PM on February 2, 2020 [20 favorites]


I don't know who is right or who is wrong between these people. I will say that when you start getting into the pattern of blaming other people---particularly other women---for the conduct of a male partner, you should always take a big step back and consider whether the real problem is your partner. You seem to be doing this, which is good, but I'd suggest taking it a step farther than you have. The problem here is not this woman OR his relationship with this woman. It's that he's busy, distracted, and might have to move.

These kinds of business/personal relationships are really complicated. Regardless, it sounds like he might have to move soon, he is processing a serious interpersonal conflict, and maybe you two could try again when he's not in the middle of a career- and personal-life meltdown.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 3:01 PM on February 2, 2020 [11 favorites]


Also like look...I never trust guys who talk shit about their female friends/partners. I just don't! Even if it's true! Even if she is literally the devil!

Him calling her "cold" or whatever is more than just typical "oh my friend is annoying me" talk. It's a serious negative assessment of her personality. And him saying that kind of thing about someone he's literally invested years of his life with, and thinks of as a friend, when talking to someone he's known for a minute...yikes. I don't trust it, and I don't trust him. YMMV
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 3:04 PM on February 2, 2020 [15 favorites]


Also sorry to triple post but...he's also implying that she's professionally incompetent and that he's been doing her work for her. Again, maybe true! But that's the kind of shit-talking that makes me, personally, make a permanent note that says NOT TRUSTWORTHY on my mental file.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 3:06 PM on February 2, 2020 [35 favorites]


It doesn't need to be outright creepiness. On the innocent end of the scale it can be overwhelming neediness or clinginess, which can be exhausting. On the less innocent end there's the Nice Guy phenomenon, where sometimes there'll be someone you think of as a friend, and are grateful for their company and kindness, and then they'll start going too far and it'll start too feel too much, you'll start to feel claustrophobic, you'll try to get the friend to back off, first gently and then explicitly, and they won't, and will instead take that as a sign that something's wrong with you rather than with them or with the relationship, because how could you not appreciate what they do for you.

Anyway, this

She has refused to talk about it or admit anything is wrong

is seriously contradicted by this

In November she insisted that they went to 'work therapy' before they embarked on a huge joint work project which would have meant close working for a year (even more close working than they do already, which is a fair amount). He wanted to use these sessions to talk about how hurt he was at the increasingly distant friendship; she wanted to talk about how to handle this project. She also said she felt they had 'never been friends' and it was just a professional relationship. By all accounts this seems untrue. Even the therapist said that this doesn't seem to be the case, and that there were some mixed signals going on.

I don't know how much more clearly she could spell out that she's not interested in a friendship with him and only wants a professional relationship. Also, that therapist doesn't seem very good. This coworker has almost definitely been socialized all her life to be nice, she probably appreciates various things he's done for her and feels bad about his depression and so forth and doesn't want to tell him outright that she's sick of him--but she sure seems to be sick of him. To call that "mixed signals" is to lack the personal experience or professional insight to recognize that situation, and it's not exactly an uncommon one.
posted by trig at 3:23 PM on February 2, 2020 [7 favorites]


Creepy or not creepy, this guy is basically in the process of a very messy divorce. He isn't emotionally available to you as a partner right now. I think fshgrl and jubey are right-- it sounds like they had a very close, intense friendship and creative partnership that was, at least for the guy you're dating, his most important personal relationship. This woman was his primary life partner. Now she's pulling away and he's grieving the loss of the relationship. Some of that may be because her husband is insisting on it, some of it may be because becoming a parent drastically shifted her emotional priorities-- it's not as easy to juggle an actual partner and a work pseudo-partner when you're parenting two small children. She's prioritizing her actual family. This guy showing up in the hospital when she was pregnant demanding that she take care of him might also have been a major reason she pulled back, and it should be a red flag for you too.

The real question is, why do you think this is OK for someone you've been dating for three months? It sounds like this guy is incredibly emotionally demanding-- being asked to emotionally manage and caretake someone who is going through this kind of serious breakup with a life partner is a big deal, it feels like the showing up in the hospital while she was pregnant stunt, it's not normal at 3 months of dating. The drama about his and her respective abusive parents, the drama about the kids he no longer has access to, the hospital stuff, the joint therapy-- why is this your problem to solve? Why is he bringing the incredibly manipulative high drama of "I don't love you yet but might in the future" into the early stages of a relationship? Would this be OK with you if it was his actual wife who had left him, and not his work spouse, and he was downing whole bottles of wine and telling you that his wife left him and he doesn't love you but you might be loveable some day in the future?

Let this huge, messy situation go. It isn't your problem, and this guy is not ready to be dating anyone right now. Please don't let him ask you to marry him for citizenship, by the way, or file any paperwork with you that will allow him to stay in the country instead of relocating. This guy cannot be a good or even acceptable partner to you right now, and all of the stuff you're talking about isn't your responsibility to fix.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 3:31 PM on February 2, 2020 [37 favorites]


He has mentioned that he has a cold mother who left when he was 16, and was also a pretty bad alcoholic. He said it didn't damage him, but has mentioned her not being well enough to take him to school sometimes etc. He also mentioned that he sometimes feels 'worthless', and that in exploring these feelings with his therapist he had admitted that in his head they were 'coming from his work colleague'. That was like a year ago, when apparently they were close and things were fine, and it feels like a very extreme thing to say about someone you don't have an overly intense relationship with.

I would say his relationship with his mother is what he is trying to work out — at this point more 'replicate' or 'redeem' — through his relationship with his colleague; I feel like I can practically guarantee that as a child, your boyfriend did absolutely everything he could to cover for his mother's alcoholism, and that meant taking care of himself much more than other kids his age would have needed to do, but at the same time giving her credit for everything he did, both to other people and himself. I also think he tried with all his might to please her and above all hold on to her, but somehow it all fell apart when he was 16 and she left.

His colleague's coldness and her failure to reach out to him when he was most in need (regardless of how justified it was) must be very like what he went through with his mother. And the colleague is a mother; your bf didn't try to displace the husband any more than he was trying to displace his own father. He attached himself to the whole family. It is striking that his mother left when he was 16, because that's an age when many boys really actively get interested in girls, and I wouldn't be surprised if no longer having him all to herself was a precipitating event in the complex of reasons that she left.

Which brings this around to you. I can't tell for sure, but the timing sounds like things really started going bad about the same time he got involved with you. He may well have become less attentive to her, and she sounds easily narcissistic enough to reject him at the first sign he was establishing a little more distance and another woman was in the picture.

Not that there wasn't an essential element of seductiveness in their relationship. I think there was, just as there was in his relationship with his mother, but I believe it was deeply buried, and not likely to manifest in any overt act. At the same time, I wouldn't be surprised if his colleague now sees that seductiveness more clearly and is now very uncomfortable about it.
posted by jamjam at 3:35 PM on February 2, 2020 [6 favorites]


It isn’t creepy but he’s dumped way too much information on you, someone he’s dated for three months, about a primary relationship in his life. Even if they are totally platonic, he is deeply emotionally invested in this and anyone he dates is going to be a third. He’s enmeshing you in this without your consent, at a time in early dating when you should just be having lighthearted fun activities to get to know each other. I think you would be safer divesting from this situation and finding someone who isn’t going to put you in a swirl of drama. If you have anxiety, this is not healthy, and distracts you from taking care of your own “oxygen mask”.
posted by matildaben at 3:40 PM on February 2, 2020 [6 favorites]


I wouldn’t want this in my life. I actually think he has been objectively creepy, but what matters is if this is what you want for your relationship. I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t want to hear this much drama about his one-sided work wife, a male colleague, his sibling, the mailman.
posted by kapers at 3:58 PM on February 2, 2020 [5 favorites]


This man has a problem with codependency.

I think you’re right to connect his fixation on his work colleague to his relationship with his mother; it’s pretty normal for the child of an alcoholic to have issues with codependency.

To me, those issues and his relationship with alcohol (drinking to the point that he’s crying and saying he’s worthless) would be too much. I wouldn’t be able to trust him or feel safe around him. But only you know how you feel.

I don’t think that he’s necessarily a creep, but I do think he’s pretty screwed up. You’ve only known him a few months; this is probably just the tip of the iceberg.
posted by rue72 at 4:03 PM on February 2, 2020 [14 favorites]


I've been dating a guy for about 3.5 months, and really like him. He's gentle, kind, funny, super articulate, intelligent, and in general very emotionally generous. Also very switched on re emotions - he's actually taught me a lot about responding kindly to others' distress, and talking about things in a grown up way etc.There's just this one thing, though, and it's been making me feel uneasy and insecure. Would it make you feel weird?

Yes, it would make me feel weird that this guy is obsessed with his colleague, so obsessed that he moved to her new city after she did. It would make me feel weird to date a man who was clearly damaged as the child of an alcoholic, although he does not himself acknowledge that. It would make me feel weird to date a guy who is so bad at boundaries and so unwilling to acknowledge playing any part in the clusterfuck of a work relationship and work situation he is in. It would make me feel weird to date a guy who talks about things in a grown up way but does not seem to behave in a grown up way.

OP, are you attracted to drama? Because you spend a tiny portion of this Ask about you and 99% of it about this dude, this dude's problems (which are not your problems unless you volunteer to make them your problems), and also blame the colleague for the fact that you boyfriend of 3.5 months might need to move back to his home country. Why would you blame "that lady" when you have only heard one side of the story, and when the bf's story does not actually paint him in a flattering light?

This guy appears to be a walking drama and a black hole of neediness. As a rule of thumb, I refuse to date anyone more fucked up than I am. I have worked hard to become healthier emotionally via therapy, Al-Anon meetings, etc. I have baggage, and I own it. As a codependent in recovery, it serves me well to date people who are healthy or healthier than I am. It vastly increases the odds that we will develop a healthy relationship.

Is a healthy, long-term mongamous relationship your goal? If so, consider dating other folks. At this particular time, this guy does not appear to be available for or capable of a healthy, long-term relationship. He's still in the relationship with his colleague, one-sided or not.
posted by Bella Donna at 4:55 PM on February 2, 2020 [18 favorites]


I wasn't going to post this answer at first, because it seemed like a dumb hot take. But others have already written some very clear and sensible replies that cover all the serious points I'd otherwise have made, and I thought that perhaps this other sort of insight might be helpful in addition.

The thing is this: while I was reading your post I kept hearing music in my head. I couldn't quite place it at first.

Then I got to this paragraph:

He gave her her first job as her boss, and then took her to this new workplace as his equal, so she has made extremely fast progress and managed to essentially leapfrog around 15 years of experience through his advocating for her on everything from position to salary.

And I started being able to hear the lyrics:

You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar, when I met you
I picked you out, I shook you up and turned you around
Turned you into someone new
Now five years later on you've got the world at your feet
Success has been so easy for you
But don't forget it's me who put you where you are now
And I can put you back down too.


And then we got to the chorus:

Either way, he has tried to confront her about this growing distance, saying it's hurt his feelings and wanting to know what's going on

DON'T YOU WANT ME BABY

DON'T YOU WANT ME OOOOOH


So yeah. The Human League had this dude's shit all figured out in 1981.
posted by automatronic at 5:17 PM on February 2, 2020 [51 favorites]


I tried to sort this out from the perspective of how HR might look at it in the context of a workplace harassment complaint:
- They work in a high-profile profession, and he initially was her boss, but then she was promoted to an equal status. He claims to have been responsible for her rapid success through his advocacy, as well as completing a lot of her work and allowing her to get the credit.

- After she moved to London, he also moved to London a month afterwards. During the course of their work relationship, they engaged in a lot of traveling, that he claims included scary situations that bonded him to her as his closest friend.

- Last year, while she had post-partum depression, he would flex work time to sit and talk with her, and he claims these conversations included her issues with her father. He would also spend most Fridays with her, her husband and two children and feels like he grew attached to their children.

- At some point, she began acting distant towards him. This may have been since the summer, when he was depressed and wanted support, possibly last year when she was hospitalized for post-partum illness and helped him get a therapist instead, and possibly since what he has described as a "minor intellectual squabble" in October that she "takes very badly."

- When he has tried to 'confront' her about the growing distance, she has not wanted to discuss it, 'or admit anything is wrong.' He describes her reaction as 'cold,' and 'lacking compassion,' and he claims that she says that their disagreements, even 'slight' ones, remind her of her abusive father. He claims to feel he has 'given way too much emotional space to her over and over again about this.' He claims to believe that his way of reminding her of her abusive father might be the reason for the distance, in addition to work trips that gave them space from each other for several months.

- At some point, she sent him an email confirming that he saw her as a 'friend' and she saw him a 'colleague.'

- In November, she insisted on 'work therapy' before a major project requiring them to work closely together for a year. He wanted to talk about his hurt feelings from her increased distance, and she wanted to talk about how to handle the project. While she tried to assert that it is just a professional relationship, he claims that the therapist supports his perception of "mixed signals."

- In the following work therapy session, she stated that she no longer wanted to work on the project with him, despite the apparent risks to her career.

- He continued to follow up with her and he says that she admitted her anxiety about them working together led her to take such an extreme position - that she is so worried about working with him, she would rather risk her career instead of work with him.

- She also took the extreme step of having him moved out of their shared office.

- He now claims he has to complete the work on his own and has to move back to his home country.

- He notes that she appears uncomfortable when he approaches her uninvited while she is engaged in conversation with someone else.
I think what seems so odd here is his apparent failure to recognize throughout his narrative that she has a right to become more distant, to not be available for his emotional needs, and to only have a professional relationship, without having to explain herself or obtain his permission.

It also appears that she may have asked the employer to help her address his ongoing unwillingness to recognize her autonomy by a) setting up 'work therapy,' b) backing out of the project, c) moving him out of their shared office, and d) possibly moving him to another country.

What may also seem 'odd' is that your boyfriend may be experiencing deeply complex feelings related to loss and trauma, and may hardly be able to express it to himself, much less to you, and it will likely take time, and more therapy for him to grieve and reflect on his role in all of this.

tl;dr His unwillingness to accept her 'no' is creepy, and appears to have caused real adverse consequences for him at their workplace.
posted by katra at 7:44 PM on February 2, 2020 [36 favorites]


It’s creepy. The things that stand out for me as creepy are:

- his insistence that he’s done a lot of her work, yet he blames his professional choices and situation on her
- the sitting with her during her post-partum depression to listen to father issues, after which her attitude changed. Post-partum depression helps usually looks different (take the baby while the mother sleeps/gets help), but also, her talking to him about father issues sort of sounds to me more like she was trying to communicate about something else, I.e. him
- the hospital incident is just gross
- “ She is so anxious she apparently can't be in the same room alone with him” red flag red flag
- then she communicates she only wants a professional relationship and then quits and he’s STILL GOING oh my god

What’s bizarre to me is you describing their relationship as “ This all just sounds like a nice, close friendship writing it down like this.” To me this sounds like a tangled mess with no professional or personal boundaries.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:02 PM on February 2, 2020 [14 favorites]


automatronic, I had the same song going through my head!

And let us not forget, OP:

I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar
That much is true
But even then I knew I'd find a much better place
Either with or without you


You (and thus we) don't know her side of this at all.

You don't really need to sort all this out, do you? There's an obvious way to make this not your problem.
posted by inexorably_forward at 9:46 PM on February 2, 2020 [7 favorites]


I will just say this guy has more drama than any typical divorcee. It if was me I'd get the hell out of there.
posted by benzenedream at 11:44 PM on February 2, 2020 [3 favorites]


Thanks all. It's really helpful to get an outsider's perspective on this. This has all come out over the last six weeks, in little dribs and drabs, and I've been trying to give him the benefit of the doubt. I do think there's some truth to fshgrl's comment that close creative partnerships are hard to find and very intense, and I do believe they had a friendship for a time.

But the general consensus that he is now overstepping her boundaries, and that she has a right to them, is right.

I do worry I am attracted to drama. I felt jamjam's analysis was spot on, and probably enjoyed reading it too much - like i'd worked a puzzle out. I do this a lot, and can be attracted by complicated people. This is clearly exhausting, and I don't know why I do it. I will talk to my therapist about it.

Omnomnom, you've hit the nail on the head in terms of my feelings and fears, here, and they've really been eating at me. I've felt bad for having them, though - like I maybe am just being overly possessive or threatened or something. But it's about emotional space, and presence, and he is lacking in those things right now - even though he clearly doesn't want to be, and has said that I deserve better and that he really cares about me etc.

We actually broke up yesterday. I bought up that I felt insecure about his recent stress levels leading to less sex, and I felt like him going back to America was kind of pushing a decision for us as to what happens in the future. He said that he cared a lot about me, but that he had really suffered in London for not putting roots down properly and making friends, which he feels really contributed to this situation with his colleague. He said he felt he would do the same and not be able to be present in his new city if I were here, and also that his anxiety levels would be too high and he would ruin our relationship. I said that I had found this whole colleague thing really hard, and felt like he cared more about that than leaving me, and he said that wasnt the case and he really cared about me.

I know I shouldn't use this as a rod to beat myself, as I myself know we didn't have a strong enough foundation - and I had these weird doubts - but I can't help feeling sad that his feelings weren't strong enough for me for him to say, let's try long distance for a while and see what happens.

Reading all this, though, I wonder whether I really dodged a bullet. I didn't think about him moving to London initially partially to be with his colleague, as someone suggested, but maybe this is the case. And maybe his bosses are forcing him back to the US not because they just want him close (as he says) but because of what his colleague has told them. That hadn't crossed my mind, but it makes sense.

And I was never going to win his feelings in amongst all of this drama and messiness, even if on the outside he spoke about wanting a partner to settle down with and was good at talking about feelings.

I feel like I pushed this conversation partly because of this weird spidey sense that has been growing over the past weeks, and I generally find it very difficult to listen to that sense - because I have a high level of anxiety which can send false signals. I really appreciate people taking the time to chime in and say what their take would be.

It's weird, I don't feel sad or like I miss him right now - more like, sick, and dirty, and 'how could i stay in that situation?' I think I need to take a break from dating for a while as this is the second situation in a row where I haven't felt good and have had a real time listening to it. I'm not sure that we would have broken up so quickly if he hadn't have been going to America.
posted by starstarstar at 2:53 AM on February 3, 2020 [23 favorites]


I am really proud of you. That took a lot of strength and openness and boundaries. I think you will be just fine.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:10 AM on February 3, 2020 [16 favorites]


'how could i stay in that situation?'

Well, one, you were in it three and a half months. That's not long enough to be kicking yourself.

Two, that situation was really complicated. It took him a while to tell it and then it took you a while to figure it out--and I'm right there with you and jamjam in finding that kind of thing absolutely irresistible to figure out. It does take time and experience to learn that it's better to watch it from afar. However appealing they are in the abstract, having tried out stuff with fabulous angst-ridden men, myself, I find that I may think I want the fascinating and attractive neurotics of Netflix to step out of the TV and snuggle down next to me on the couch and involve me in their sweet drama, but IRL I hell of do not. It's perfectly okay that it took you a little while to see the drawbacks.
posted by Don Pepino at 10:11 AM on February 3, 2020 [13 favorites]


3.5 months. You handled this really well and have only begun to learn what you will learn from this.

Well done.
posted by Twinge at 10:34 AM on February 3, 2020 [3 favorites]


The same qualities that led you to give this relationship your very best shot, this very kindness, trust and loyalty, will one day be treasured and amply returned by a man who truly loves you.

The things you have learned in this troubled relationship will help you choose better next time, to whom you will give your trust and loyalty.

Don't blame yourself. Be kind to yourself while you're hurting. You deserve all the kindness.
posted by Omnomnom at 10:50 AM on February 3, 2020 [3 favorites]


Have you considered writing a book?

Another way to look at your experience: you were faced with a complex situation and you teased apart the elements and wrote a long and pretty clear analysis. Our MeFite friends helped you discover the emotional motivations behind the plot.

In only 3 1/2 months you have the put together the outline of an interesting story, Make up some dialog and some plausible backstory and you have the making of a novel.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 10:54 AM on February 3, 2020 [3 favorites]


A humble nudibranch, interesting! I think I do get something out of the writing and crafting of stories (and I work in communications and editing in general), and I find it weirdly satisfying to make sense of these things this way.

I worry sometimes that I'm not processing my emotions by doing this, and instead just sort of analysing in this unhealthy and obsessive vortex (and I do think this is true to an extent), but I wonder whether this IS a kind of emotional processing, and I could also make use of this innate instinct to write fiction or something?

Someone suggested that this guy reminds them of the Netflix series character from You. Before this had all blown up, I actually did think that as I was watching it. Also, this link resonates because he kept going on about how this colleague was giving no space for his feelings, and I was kind of like, but she's got two young children and clearly no time for you?
posted by starstarstar at 12:36 PM on February 3, 2020 [4 favorites]


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