It’s all a bit embarrassing but I’ve got a huge crush on a co-worker and it’s making my job quite difficult. I’ve worked where I do for a few years now, but recently this new member of the team joined and since then it’s all gone wrong. The work is fine and there aren’t any problems in that respect; the thing is, I think he’s brilliant – so much so that I can’t seem to think about anything else. Luckily, we hardly ever meet because we’re both working from home, but I could use some help with managing these overwhelming feelings before I make an idiot of myself – either online or in person. I think I’ve probably been pretty obvious already, though I try really hard not to let it show. It doesn’t seem fair for him to have to put up with me sighing over him, and I really don’t want to make him feel uncomfortable. I just don’t know how to make it go away.
The heart wants what it wants, even if, sometimes, what it wants is impractical or too close for comfort. The most important thing is to be kind to yourself, here, because I don’t really hear you doing much of that. Instead, you call it ‘embarrassing’ and worry you’re going to make an ‘idiot’ of yourself – for what? For having feelings?
Forget it: you are brave and fierce and passionate. Whoever is the recipient of such emotion should count themselves lucky that someone feels this way about them – I think we’d all be pretty made up to know that we’d stoked this level of desire in somebody else, especially in the tedium of an office environment. Most of us would be flattered if we found out someone wanted us this badly, this viscerally – even if we didn’t want them back in quite the same way. Far worse, in my opinion, for someone to feel nothing but ‘take it or leave it’ tepid about us – give me fire and furious wanting, any day.
But, much as I applaud your honesty and strength of feeling (and please remind yourself that this capacity for desire and admiration is both beautiful and entirely human); there is an important point to make here about respect for the other person. It’s never okay to cross someone’s boundaries – emotional or physical – without conversation or consent. It’s also not okay to wilfully look the other way if someone is telling you (even without verbalising it directly) that they’re not interested. Your situation doesn’t sound quite as clear-cut as that, though, which is where things get a little complicated.
What I suspect is most likely here is that the person you’re love or lust-struck by has no idea you feel the way you do about him, no matter how ‘obvious’ you think you’re being. It’s obvious to you because you’re hyper-aware of your behaviour around him; and hyper-critical of yourself.
I recognise your pain – it’s as tangible as your desire. Sometimes the ‘not knowing’ can be worse than the knowing. At least if a quest for connection ends in disappointment, we have closure; a definitive place to heal from and grieve and to try to move on. What seems to be driving you most mad is uncertainty.
I get the impression you feel the situation is already hopeless, so let’s start there. Getting over a crush is hard work – but doable. Ideally you’d cut all contact, but it’s not going to be easy, given you work together. So, start by keeping contact to an absolute minimum: only message him about a pressing work issue, and ask yourself honestly if there’s someone else you can talk to. Try not to make excuses to seek him out; remind yourself you’re doing something tough but necessary, and it will ultimately heal you. Delete his number if that makes it easier – then you can’t possibly reach out.
If you’re finding yourself mooning over him on social media, ban yourself from using it for a few weeks – commit to either not going online at all, or not browsing your crush’s profile for 30 days (putting ‘time limits’ on the apps you use on your phone can help: find these in ‘settings’ if you have an iPhone), then keep going. It will get easier the more you distance yourself.
But crucially, don’t beat yourself up if you fall back down the rabbit hole of ‘sighing over him’, as you put it in your letter. You’re only human. Read back the first paragraph of this column, and stop berating yourself for having feelings. Then try again. For another 30 days, then another. Fill the time you’d usually spend swooning over him with self-care: throw yourself into a new hobby, go for walks or do some exercise, spend time with friends, try keeping a journal. Keep your life rich and full of self-love and you won’t have as much time to focus on thinking about him.
There is one final option to consider: and that’s not counting yourself completely out of the running, just yet. Plenty of people meet their partner at work – you likely have similar interests (and ideals) if you’ve chosen the same vocation, which is part of the initial sifting process sorted. So, before you give up all hope and embark on ‘getting over it’, it might be worth trying to establish whether he might be open to romance (and also ask yourself some hard questions about what you really want, and whether you actually prefer the fantasy).
Is he single – and if he is, do you know if he is actively looking for a partner? Has he given you any indication he is interested in you romantically – does he flirt? Seek you out to talk to you or chat? Does he share personal details with you, and do the two of you appear to have a connection that isn’t purely work-related? Importantly: does your workplace have any rules banning inter-office romance – and could you cope with any awkwardness if it went awry?
When we are attracted to someone, we may do some of the following things: look at them more often, tilt our bodies towards them when we’re talking, smile a lot or mirror the way they are standing or holding themselves. Some body language experts believe that while we may consciously move our upper body to disguise the way we feel about someone; we forget about our feet. So, note where someone’s feet are pointing when you’re in a group situation – if they’re trained in your direction, even if they’re not talking to you, it could mean that’s where they’d like to be.
Sometimes we ‘peacock’ in front of those we fancy: show off a little bit, or try to make them jealous. We might tease or take the p**s out of them, a little like the equivalent of pulling someone’s ponytail in the playground. Someone who likes us is likely to remember more about what we’ve told them about ourselves.
You could look out for some of these subtle signs of interest (or, if you’re feeling brave, ask outright if he’s interested in you romantically) but perhaps the simplest one would be to suggest spending some low-key time together.
You could keep it to a casual coffee during the day to catch up, lunch in the canteen the next time you’re both in the office, or a quick drink after work. If he’s keen, he’ll take the opportunity to spend time with you – he’d be a fool not to. If he turns you down without suggesting an alternative, he’s (probably) just not that into you. It might be hard, but it’s okay. You can now put into practice the tools above: beginning with reducing contact. And remember: this too shall pass.
Victoria Richards is The Independent’s advice columnist. Having problems with work, love, family or friends? Contact email@example.com