Getting over a coworker
December 4, 2007 6:51 PM   Subscribe

How do you get over someone you work with?

About three months ago, I dated a coworker for a couple of weeks. At the time, I was emotionally vulnerable - the dual heartbreak of the recent dissolution of my first serious relationship and being dumped by my best friend of five years, plus living in a new city and lacking reliable friendships. The thing with the coworker was brief but intense, and though I warned him of the state I was in, he assured me that was fine, that he was crazy about me and wanted to see this through, and so forth - and I fell pretty hard. Then his ex-girlfriend of five years returned from the Peace Corps to visit him, and suddenly he was all confused. After two months of indecisiveness, he resolved that he doesn't want a girlfriend right now, and wants to focus on his own self.

He of course has the right to do whatever's in his own best interest, and we dated so briefly that rationally, resentment on my part would be ridiculous. But given the circumstances, it's been really difficult for me to move on when I have to see and interact with him every day, especially given how much easier all this seems for him. He's a much more rational, happy person anyway, with varied friends and varied interests. He has worked at our (very small) office much longer than I have, and everyone loves him; I have trouble making friends and felt lonely and left out of the social circle at work to begin with, and now even more so (none of our coworkers know what happened.).

I am fairly certain at this point that even had there been no ex-girlfriend, we would have been incompatible, given how much more I had at stake and our relative importance in each other's lives. But all of this is bringing out aspects of myself that I hate - insecurity, resentment over someone else's happiness, obsessiveness, clinginess, repeated requests for "talks." (I am so ashamed.) He's a nice guy and wants to be friends, and I would like to be friends, too, but I feel completely unable to gain the necessary perspective when I'm reminded of this very painful time in my life every single day.

So, how do I get past this? Quitting my job is unfortunately not an option - it's my dream job, in my dream location, and similar positions in this field are very hard to come by. I'm in the bay area, female, and probably too old for this (mid-20's).
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Shit happens. You can be angry/upset/whatever but move on from it. Not to be all "whatever" or whatever, but sometimes you just have to chalk shit up to a loss and quit thinking about it. Otherwise we'd all still be pissed off at everyone we went to school with for making us feel like a massive dork and only recently getting comfortable in our own skin without feeling like a reject.

..... or something.
posted by damnjezebel at 7:13 PM on December 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Wow, I went through almost exactly the same thing, at the same age, even in the same place (SF). Unfortunately, it's too late to tell you not to date someone you work with.

The best thing you can do is get out and meet someone else. Until then, focus on the things about him that are not compatible with you (except things like your relative importance to each other, which just makes you feel worse). Try to diminish him in your eyes. Not to be mean, but to gain perspective. He's only that important to you because you've made him that important, because he was there at the right time when you needed someone. You may think you'll never find anyone as good as him again, but you're wrong. Someone else will come along eventually. You're still young.

Try to keep your interactions as professional as possible. Don't be unfriendly, but don't put yourself in a position where you'll want to jump each others' bones. Don't interact with him at all outside the office, if possible. Don't be ashamed to have one more talk with him, to let him know how difficult this is for you, and so he can do the right thing and give you some space. If he doesn't want to talk or makes you feel silly about it, well, there's another reason why he's no good for you.

And as another coworker kept telling me when I was going through this, "time heals all wounds". Yeah, I thought it was an annoying thing to say, too. But it is true.
posted by Koko at 7:18 PM on December 4, 2007

Pretend. Fake it. Write a script about what you'd be like if you hadn't fallen for him, and live it. After a bit of time (hopefully shorter rather than longer), it'll be real and not an act.
posted by b33j at 7:18 PM on December 4, 2007

This is probably hitting you like this more because of the other crap in your life rather than HIM being all that wonderful. I'd try to find some focus outside work, and then let time do its thing.
posted by konolia at 7:34 PM on December 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Think of this as an opportunity to learn how to not be insecure, clingy, or obsessive. Try out different ways of thinking and/or coping mechanisms. You could try to get over him or you could try to get over these problems which will still be there the next time you get hung up on someone that you have to see on a regular basis - which is more than likely to happen again. (how often do you fall for someone who's not a regular in your life, anyhow?)

But you've got the solution to your problem right there: he's got varied friends and varied interests, so go make some friends and find some interests. Try joining a darts league or take a cooking class - something that's fun, social, and will keep you sufficiently distracted from repetitive thoughts.

And who knows if you'll meet someone else interesting while you're out being social? I mean, nothin' cures the last one like the next one.
posted by reebear at 7:39 PM on December 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

There's nothing wrong with being sad it ended, so be gentle with yourself and give yourself time to move on instead of just scolding yourself for how you feel.

But to get through seeing him at work, totally fake it 'til you make it.
posted by loiseau at 7:50 PM on December 4, 2007

This happened to me. I dated a coworker for three months until he broke it off, and then we had to work together in the same cubicle area, where I could hear his voice and laughter all day over the fake walls.

Here's what I did:

1) Every weekday morning I would walk to my desk, sit down, and put my headphones on. They stayed on unless I needed to go do something away from my desk or someone came to my desk to talk to me. With the music on I couldn't hear him at all.

2) I cultivated office friendships outside his circle. This can only work if your company is a larger one, but it worked for me. When I went out to lunch I made sure it was with a different crowd.

3) If I had to interact with him at work, in a meeting or in the hallways, I focused all my leftover energy on pretending that we'd never, ever dated. I was as friendly and polite to him as I was to everyone else, and nothing more. This was emotionally draining, but necessary.

4) I worked on my life outside of the office. It takes time and effort to make new friends, but it's definitely worth it, and it will take your mind off your ex. Join some clubs or organizations that interest you, and try exploring some hobbies as well, be they new ones or old ones. If you like to read or write and you find yourself without plans on a weekend night, take your laptop or book to a coffeehouse. Leave your cell phone at home.

5) I let myself be upset about it. While we were dating, this guy was my best friend, and it was devastating to lose my best friend. I cried. I called my other friends and cried on the phone with them. I wrote terrible things about him, terrible things that live only on my hard drive. This part was necessary, too.

6) I didn't try to be friends with him for MONTHS. Seven, to be exact, although I don't think this sort of thing is ever exact. When you feel like you could go have a beer with this guy without talking about your relationship, and without feeling like shit when you get home, go have a beer with him and see how it goes. It's okay if you're not ready. It's okay if you're never ready.

I'm making it sound like it was easy (except for that last part, maybe), but it really wasn't. In fact, it was one of the most difficult things I've done in the last few years.

But it can be done.

When my ex and I broke up, I told him that we weren't going to be friends until I could get over it, which would mean we wouldn't talk for awhile. If you want to do something like what I did, you can inform your ex in advance like I did, but I don't think it's necessary. He'll probably understand what's happening.

Good luck! You can do this.
posted by bluishorange at 9:24 PM on December 4, 2007 [10 favorites]

Wow, I could have written this. Luckily, I mostly work from home, but the just ended a serious relationship/falling hard/ex coming in the picture/etc. is exactly the same. On top of it, I developed a whole bunch of spite for the ex.

It just happened to me, but I am coping decently. I really miss him and I wish it could have worked out. In the first few days I have kept wanting to have "talks," wanting to figure out what went wrong.

I'm giving myself a month (thought it might take longer, but I'm young, so a month seems like a long time) to get over it. It's hard, because he is around. I'm limited contact to just whatever is necessary to work around him. No going out for drinks, no calling or e-mail except in a professional context, etc. In the meantime I'm picking up some hobbies and trying to balance my life. I informed him and I guess he is OK with it. I told him that after this month I will be better prepared to be a good friend and not a resentful ex.

I hope it works for me and I hope you can work this out too. Consider it a rebound that you learned from.
posted by idle at 9:41 PM on December 4, 2007

The key thing to do is find other friends/boyfriends/lovers outside of the office. You deserve a love life as much as anyone else, but if your office is indeed as small as you say, just get it in your mind that the office is for work, and not romance. That’s not to say you can’t have fun at the office and make friends—even with your “ex”. But realize that your social and romantic life is out of the realm of the office. Build a mental wall.

In short, find someone else. That’s flippant, I know, but…time will heal this wound, and if you find someone else, it’ll heal infinitely faster.
posted by zardoz at 9:42 PM on December 4, 2007

Remember that the only person whom you can really depend on for your happiness and well being is yourself. This guys seems like he didnt screw you over intentionally, but it still sucks, and you cannot go back in time and tell yourself its a bad idea to date a coworker.

Things well get better eventually, that is something you need to hold on to, but it is up to you to make sure it happens. Also this works for me, but I am a guy and we are wired different, but I have found the best way to get over someone is to see someone else, even if its brief, it will remind you that you are still attractive and you have options. You will look back at this later on a feel silly for your feelings if you do that.
posted by BobbyDigital at 7:43 AM on December 5, 2007

In one of my previous lives, my friends and I repeatedly lived through multiple variations of this. We were in a small community, with obvious and limited places for people with our set of talents and interests to work, so we couldn't reasonably avoid dating and breaking up with people we had to see and interact with on a regular basis, including co-workers.

First rule, and I'm sure you know this: impose no drama. Don't ever talk about this situation while you're at work. Fake indifference, even if you don't think you're fooling anyone.

If the guy is within earshot, take, bluishorange's advice about headphones. In fact, consider all of bluishorange's advice.

Specifically, you'll have to stay out of each other's hair for a while. Obviously you can't cut off all contact, but keep it minimal. Eventually, when he's shrunk down to normal size in your mind, you can decide how much of a friendship you want to resume, but don't worry about that for now.

You're lucky because you're in the Bay Area. Things are pretty lively out here, and there are plenty of interesting people you don't work with and don't already know. Put on some clothes that make you feel good and just do stuff: concerts, movies, exhibits, walking tours, volunteer activities, whatever doesn't seem downright repugnant. Don't worry so much about meeting people, if that's stressful for you; concentrate on making the most of the interesting place where you live now. Come to the meetup on the 14th.

Also, see if you can find a friend who doesn't mind taking calls from you when you're feeling vulnerable and would otherwise want to talk to the ex -- sort of like AA sponsor duty. (Feeling vulnerable and longing to talk to the ex is nothing to be ashamed about -- it's just what people's minds do after a breakup.) It can be tough to arrange if your friends aren't in your time zone, but it's still worth putting the backup in place.

It's just a matter of time. Luckily, you weren't together with this guy for very long, so you'll probably heal reasonably quickly too.
posted by tangerine at 1:10 PM on December 5, 2007

Is this about me? Change maybe two or three minor details, and it's exactly, EXACTLY how it went down this summer.

I'm the guy, though.

So. I'll give you advice from that perspective.

- As mentioned above, NO DRAMA AT WORK. This is rule number 1.

- Have some confidence in your own emotional justification. What happened was shitty and it's not your fault. Don't be ashamed to ask for his time to talk.

- Give him space. Don't cling. If you can do this properly it will easily triple your chances of something happening down the line.

(An aside. "I don't want a girlfriend right now" in guy-speak almost invariably means, "I don't feel compatible enough with you, but I like you." But from question I think that's understood.)

- Rebounding is ok. Not at work. Meeting people online works well in big cities.

Sorry this happened. It won't be the last time, this sort of thing happens often. You'll feel better soon, it'll be ancient history.

p.s. congrats on the dream job!
posted by milinar at 3:28 PM on December 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

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