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#721: The Feelings Hangover From An Unspoken Crush

Hi Captain,

I’m a twenty something female working in a retail job where it’s NECESSARY to work as a team. In the six months I’ve been at my job, I’ve built especially great rapport with a few people. The man henceforth named Paul is one of them. Paul is a year younger than me. Most of our dynamic has been sarcastic banter, punctuated by some more serious conversations about a wide variety of topics. After about two months Paul asked some questions about my opinions on romance related topics (we were off the clock and out in a group with coworkers), and I answered in the context of the happy/trusting/loving relationship I have with my boyfriend of 4 years. Paul seemed surprised to hear about him.

I later brought up one of Paul’s questions I didn’t feel I answered well, and he got extremely flustered and changed the topic. A week later he told me that he struggled with feelings for a coworker at an old job for a year or so before he really stopped having feelings for her, and he regrets that it took him that long to deal with an unrequited crush. Since he told me about that, he hasn’t brought up anything even remotely related to romance.

I’m pretty damn sure that Paul has a crush on me. He hasn’t said or done anything inappropriate either in or outside the workplace, and since describing that old crush has not brought up romance in any context (that was nearly 3 months ago). It doesn’t get in the way of our work, most of the time we still execute the sarcastic banter/serious topics conversations without a hitch.

But I definitely feel like there’s a weird feelings stalemate. In my personal life I would have confronted him about it long ago and let him know that if he can’t handle being around me, then he shouldn’t be around me, and I’d be happy to have his friendship whenever it’s just friendship. But given that we work together that’s not an option, and I don’t know what’s appropriate. I feel bad because I get the sense that he’s doing everything he can to keep the feelings off my radar since that story. If he were creepy I’d tell a manager, and if the fact that we get along didn’t make our job way easier and more enjoyable it would be an unwelcome but simple task to freeze him out. Ultimately I just want to be able to work and occasionally hang out with this guy in group settings without the sense that he’s experiencing heartwrenching crush feels half the time I laugh at his jokes. Is there even anything to do, Captain?

-Midshipman Awkward Sauce

Dear Midshipman!

:salutes:

You’re an empathetic person, so you are putting yourself in his shoes and wanting to make things better, but you can’t fix this for him. Short answer: Say nothing, it will get better soon. “Paul” is actually handling all of this very well, in my opinion, and it would be a mistake to stage-manage his feelings or pry further into them.

He most likely did have a crush on you, he figured out that it would not be requited, and he bailed out just in time before telling you about it beyond an oblique reference to a past situation. Of course he feels awkward, he’s got all these feelings and he can see how very close he came to 1) asking out a coworker and 2) macking on someone who he knows is happily coupled up. I think it speaks to him being a good person that he pulled back when he did. You can help everything get less awkward by being your same basic amount of work-friendly to him and letting him save face. In my opinion, he won’t thank you for addressing it directly: Imagine someone else peeling off a scab that’s on your body, and that’s pretty much what it will feel like for him if you bring it up before he does.

For now, return the text of your interactions to normal relations, ignore all subtext unless it does get angry or creepy or unless he sheepishly confesses, “I was developing a crush on you and that’s why I’ve been acting kinda weird lately” at which point you say “Aw,  knew *something* was up, but I didn’t want to make you more uncomfortable. So you know, I really like working with you and I’d like us to be friends, and I’ll follow your lead on that.” 

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60 comments
  1. randomcheeses said:

    Totally agree with the Captain here. LW, the best you can do for this guy is to act as if you have no idea he ever had a crush on you. He will thank you for it. For him it’s probably filed under ’embarrassing mis-steps I made that hopefully no one else will ever mention ever’.

    • lightinchains said:

      It’s nice to see a CA post where everybody is behaving like grownups.

  2. MsM said:

    There’s also the possibility that just confessing by way of the story was helpful for him in at least starting to get over it, and he’s not in as much pain as you think. I’d take the fact he’s still comfortable joking with you without it coming up as a sign that he’s going to be all right and do your best not to worry about it.

    • Yeah, I would’t worry about it. He will move on.

      I am still friends with a guy I worked with over ten years ago who invited me to lunch and asked if we could date. I was super impressed:

      1. It is very gutsy to ask someone that directly
      2. He was (is) 13 years younger than I am

      I was so flattered. I did not have an option not to work with him – he was an essential part of the team I was leading on a project – but he was really gracious and did nothing afterwards to make it awkward. I am positive he has moved on since and has not spent the past 10 years in a funk. Just be professional.

    • rydra_wong said:

      And as stories go, if that was intended to refer indirectly to things with the LW, what it says is “I once got stuck in my feelings for a co-worker, and that was a bad thing (and, implicitly, not something I want to repeat)”.

      If I was going to read subtext into it, it’d probably be along the lines of “I will be trying to move on from any crushing here as soon as humanly possible, we shall never speak of this again, no more talks about romance now.”

  3. Sounds like Paul is handling his (hypothetical) work crush with tact, and LW’s job is just to let him handle it. He hasn’t said or done anything inappropriate, either in or out of work – someone else who has a crush on you doesn’t need “confronting” when they are keeping it to themselves. Acting in no way whatsoever like someone who has a crush, beyond one skipped beat in conversation when they found out you weren’t single, is not something that needs straightening out. Bringing the crush up to the guy would be cruel, if he’s really hurting, and SUPER awkward and not in a good way if he’s ok about it. He let it go, and now LW has to let it go.

    • LW said:

      In the interest of sticking to CA’s limit of 450 words, I didn’t talk much about the feelings stalemate I mentioned in post. The thing that bothers me about this whole situation is that three months after the fact I’m still picking up a lot of the same vibes that I was getting before the conversation where I pointedly brought up my boyfriend (it was pointed, I’d been waiting for an appropriate opportunity to emphasize the longevity and health of my relationship for a few weeks at that point). He still blushes and fumbles and gets awkward a good percentage of the time if I genuinely laugh or smile at something he says or does. He has done a really admirable job backing off anything that could be inappropriate verbally or physically, but there’s plenty of expression that still lingers in conversation, and it’s that continued presence that leaves me feeling off kilter. I in no way want to encourage the crush, so when that happens I find myself in an uncomfortable thought process of how to best avoid either making his feelings harder to let go, or accidentally encouraging them which can be pretty exhausting. I usually get that feeling once or twice each shift we share. There have been very few I haven’t, with no noticeable decline in the past three months. Basically, he has acted like someone who has a crush, who is trying hard not to have a crush but isn’t succeeding, and it’s been long enough that I’m left wondering if there’s anything that’s even remotely reasonable to do about it. Thus writing in to the Captain.

  4. In my personal life I would have confronted him about it long ago and let him know that if he can’t handle being around me, then he shouldn’t be around me, and I’d be happy to have his friendship whenever it’s just friendship.

    LW, what about his behavior makes you think that this would be the best response?

    It seems like this guy may have had a crush on you, and now that he realizes you have a boyfriend, he’s doing the mature/appropriate thing of backing off on personal discussions and reverting to previous, lower levels of conversational intimacy. Nothing about that conveys to me that he “can’t handle being around you”, and you say elsewhere in your post that he’s not being creepy.

    He’s doing exactly what we here at Awkward Enterprises advise folks to do when they realize that their crush doesn’t return their feelings. I’m not sure why you would think that his actions would require you to “confront” him about his “inability to handle being around you”. It looks like he’s handling it just fine.

    • vwolfe said:

      So agree if things aren’t that changed only slightly more awkward for the LW because of suspicions I do not see why confrontation would be necessary. Even if it were in personal life really. Confronting someone on an assumption about how you think they feel about you is not recommended unless there is some negative change in the way they treat you.
      To me it comes across as the LW just wanting confirmation they were right abut the crush.

      • Saira Ali said:

        Even if it’s not an assumption and you have rock-solid proof that so-and-so has some Feels, a confrontation isn’t necessary, and I’d argue is in fact pretty cruel. People have a right to have feelings inside their head, and they also have a right to privacy about what’s going on inside their head. The guy isn’t being inappropriate. Leave him alone.

      • andemilybites said:

        I don’t want to pile on the LW, but that’s the way this came across to me as well – as though LW wants confirmation that he did/does have a crush, more for her own satisfaction or to make this guy have the feelingsconvo with her, rather than because it would make the situation better. I can understand wanting to know, but I don’t think it would!

    • This was my exact sense as well. What more was he supposed to do here? The full extent of the change is that he’s steered completely away from relationship subjects, which is a perfectly fair action for anyone to take in any circumstance for any reason! Maybe it’s a crush, maybe there’s no crush and he feels awkward about what he senses is your belief that he’d be interested, maybe he just decided that talking about romance in the workplace is a bad idea for him. Who knows? So long as he’s a polite and pleasant coworker it doesn’t seem like anything is required or even appropriate here.

    • It sounds like this might be affected by a previous experience of the LW’s, maybe? Either way, your advice stands.

      • Anonymous said:

        I was thinking the same – more specifically, that LW might be used to guys who think that having a crush on a woman makes them entitled to some sort of action or attention on her part.

        • LW said:

          I mean, yes. Part of why I’m skittish about this whole thing is that a few years ago someone in my+my bf’s social circle ended up doing that awful thing where he made his feelings for me very clear through less explicit behavior than saying or doing anything overtly inappropriate, and it turned into a pretty uncomfortable social situation until I told him he needed to let go of things before we spent time with him again. A mutual friend later told me that my studied attempts to ignore the whole thing had ended up encouraging this guy to keep thinking there might be a chance (apparently since he was being so obvious and I didn’t give an emphatic rejection, that meant maybe yes, idk, truly baffling), and I really REALLY don’t want a repeat of that, especially at work. Given that it’s three months after I made the very pointed references to my boyfriend, it worries me that I’m still noticing the crush things on a regular basis. Maybe three months doesn’t seem like a long time, but it certainly feels that way when I get that uncomfortable sense of his interest most shifts we work together.

      • LW said:

        Oop, this comment may be duplicate, but it isn’t showing up so far, so we’ll see. Basically I have dealt with a situation where the lack of explicit rejection (implicity always ALWAYS proferred) on my part led to dudes nurturing their feelings for me WAY past when they should. With one former friend I did have to sit down and tell him that I’d noticed, that it made me very uncomfortable that he persisted despite my relationship and my total lack of reciprocation, and that I didn’t want to spend time with him until he was able to let his feelings go. I was later told by a mutual friend that the obviousness of his feelings and my policy of ignoring them and proceeding as usual led to him thinking there was a chance. I don’t know how that works, but it makes me very wary of letting this sort of thing sit and stew. In the present day, I really don’t want Paul thinking that I enjoy, encourage, or am comfortable with what’s happening because of inaction on my part. Obviously, I’m not.

        But yeah, I don’t want an ugly or hurtful confrontation, but I can’t for the life of me think of a middle ground. It seems the consensus is to ignore it all, which I’ll continue to do, but three months in I don’t think it’s unreasonable to feel off center about all of it.

    • juliusapweiler said:

      Dunno – if I was on Paul’s end of this, I think I’d actually appreciate being confronted about this. Like, I wouldn’t want to initiate the “I have a crush on you but you have a boyfriend” conversation because that would obviously be creepy and serve no purpose. But I tend to feel better if things like that are out in the open, so it would probably help me to be asked “you have a crush on me, don’t you?” and be able to reply “yeah, but I know nothing will come of it, so *shrugs* I guess it’s up to me to deal with it and move on”.

      Of course, yeah, that could still go wrong or escalate feelings one way or the other, so especially in a work setting it’s probably better not to have that conversation at all and just pretend you have no idea…

    • The thing that gets me is, why a “confrontation”? It’s so accusatory. I know it’s the common term, and I lay the blame for that at the feet of Jerry Springer and his ilk, but honestly what ever happened to talking to people, asking them questions, having conversations, and all the gentler terms out there?

      I think that the Awkward Army is reacting to that word, too. If the LW had asked “Should I maybe ask him out for a beer after work and bring this up in conversation?” our advice would have been similar but perhaps less urgent and less “what are you even thinking?!!”

      Let’s all stop confronting people and starting asking them questions, instead. Have conversations instead of leveling accusations, you know?

  5. Dizzy said:

    I’ve found that work is really not a good place to do confrontations about weird feelings. The best thing to do is just allow things to be awkward for a little while. Paul is handling things pretty well. Unrequited crushes suck, you know? And it sounds like he’s kinda sad but he also wants to keep the team dynamic the way it was. I wouldn’t worry about his possible heartwrenching sadness–either he has it or he doesn’t, and either way there’s nothing you can do about it.

    Pretend everything is normal. Pretty soon it will be.

  6. Dear LW
    I am with the Captain. Leave it alone.

    You’re probably right, he probably did have a crush, and he’s handling it pretty well.

    Eventually things will smooth over – or if they don’t it’ll be because you realize you don’t like each other.

    Meanwhile continue your awesome awkward self.

    Work is a place where leaving things unspoken can be the best choice

  7. I have nothing especially useful to add, but it’s so nice to hear a story where someone is handling their crush-feelings the right way as opposed to being a creeper or a jerk! 4 for Paul.

    • boutet said:

      I felt the same about reading it 🙂

  8. Jill said:

    This is a work situation. So the two overriding questions are:
    a) Does the situation rise to the level of being something illegal, unethical, or against company policy where it should be reported to management and
    b) Is the situation preventing LW from performing well and being successful in her role as an employee where some kind of action is needed to better enable LW to be a great employee.

    Sounds like the answer to both is “no”. So leave it be, carry on as if you know/suspect nothing and it’ll probably work out on its own.

  9. AthenaC said:

    Agree with Captain and the previous posters – this is the situation for something I have perfected which I call the Oblivious Act.(*) This is where, regardless of what someone says / doesn’t say / does / doesn’t do, you act as if everything was 100% completely professional at all times. The Oblivious Act is useful when someone says something really out of line (and kinda disorients them when you don’t give them the pleasure of a response), but it’s also useful when someone puts out subtle feelers like Paul did. Since you didn’t pick up on him putting out feelers (at least, not that you’ve told him), there’s been no direct rejection and it gives him the dignity to work this out privately and on his own.

    (*) The reality is since I’m naturally oblivious but have trained myself to be more observant, I simply continue to act as oblivious as I used to actually be and simply keep my observations to myself.

  10. What everyone else said. Cheerful, friendly, completely impenetrable oblivion is pretty much the only decent option for dealing with Feels, comma, Unrequited, comma, Unspoken, comma, Un-Objectionable. Doubly so with coworkers, fellow-students, and other people who can’t easily avoid one another.

    What we have here is that rare situation where, ideally, nobody should use their words, at all.

    You have not noticed. You will not notice. There is nothing to notice. If, heaven forbid, someone else at work notices and bring it up to you, you have no idea what they are talking about, they must be mistaken.

    I get that Paul’s not the only one with some feelings to handle. Despite the fact that you haven’t done anything to make Paul crush on you, and can’t even be 100% sure he does, it feels really really awkward and kind of painful.

    Here is a thing I have noticed: the horrible sexist rom-com crap about how if a guy has pantsfeels or heartfeels or both for a woman they’re entitled to reciprocation is so pervasive that even when the guy in question behaves absolutely impeccably and totally refrains from trying to make her responsible for his feels — the woman is likely to feel a certain amount of free-floating awkwardness or anxiety because she’s absorbed those expectations over the years.

    Is it possible that that’s some of what you’re feeling?

    • Oh that’s brilliant!

    • Courtney said:

      “the woman is likely to feel a certain amount of free-floating awkwardness or anxiety because she’s absorbed those expectations over the years.”

      Yeah, I was wondering if the LW is either feeling this or if she is at some level bracing for the other shoe to drop (i.e. waiting for Paul to stop behaving so well with regard to his unrequited feelings.)

      • If I were to extrapolate based on my own experience and observations, little Column A, little column B.

        These are all true but sometimes uncomfortable things that can take some getting used to:

        Somebody having feels about you doesn’t obligate you in any way, ever.
        I mean, except not to willfully exploit said feels, but that’s not at issue here.
        People are required to handle their own feels and control their own behaviour but they’re not required to make their feels invisible or stop having them on demand.
        Men are capable of and often willing to handle their own feels.
        Women are not obligated to do emotional labour for the men around them whether said men are capable of doing it themselves or not.

        None of which makes it any less sticky, and the waiting for the other shoe to drop thing is a thing I absolutely get — but just as Paul has to handle his crush, LW is responsible for remembering that no footwear has actually descended at this time, and acting accordingly.

    • LW said:

      Mmm, I don’t feel weird about not reciprocating (I would feel much more awful about this whole thing if I did), but I do worry about the possible consequences for my work if he isn’t able to resolve them eventually. And as such, I do worry about making sure he CAN resolve them… So I guess I’m more concerned about pretending not to notice well enough/in a way that is clearly understood as total disinterest in romance. And I also worry about what might happen if that isn’t clearly understood. Another commenter just below this mentioned waiting for the other shoe to drop, and I just wish I could know or trust that it won’t. But that’s hard to do in a situation where there’s no appropriate/kind way to talk about it.

  11. TO_Ont said:

    Oh, please please don’t say anything. In fact, try your hardest to stop thinking about it and to forget anything you ever suspected. The idea of someone you have an unrequited crush on (assuming you’re right) that you’re trying to pretend never happened confronting you about it is mortifying to even imagine. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if his awkwardness comes as much from embarrassment at the possibility that you may have guessed as from the actual initial feelings. There are times when confrontations where you expose someone’s private feelings that they are clearly trying to keep private are justified or necessary, but that’s things like someone acting really badly or you feeling unsafe, not a situation like this where the person has done nothing wrong and everything’s going as well as it possibly can.

    • monologue said:

      Yep. I’ve been in Paul’s position many times and if someone confronted me about it my response would basically be “are you trying to make me feel bad and embarrassed rn?” I think unless Paul’s behaviour changes and becomes a problem for the LW, leaving it alone and giving it time will probably be less damaging to the workplace relationship than if the LW brings it up.

  12. Going with all the above here: confrontation is not the best way to go in this situation. In fact, I’m going to go a little further and say that even in your personal life, confrontation is *not the way to go* in a situation where you suspect someone else has feels but they have not mentioned it and are not being creepy. If everything is humming along, just let it do its thing.

    This is going to sound super harsh, but honestly, other people’s pantsfeelings are their responsibility. If you share them, that’s one thing, if they’re being creepy about them, that’s another, but if they’re just over there having them? They are very much Not Your Problem To Deal With.

  13. Anna Sthetic said:

    ‘it would be a mistake to stage-manage his feelings’

    Oh Captain, my Captain, this is why you are my favorite human on the whole of the internet. I would like to carve this into a clue by four and whack my younger self with it.

    Warning: mixed metaphors ahead.

    LW, this is not a play, where there has to be a big dramatic climax for the sake of coherent narrative structure. This is life, where stuff just sort of…peters out. Let it peter. You need neither to fan any flames nor to stamp on any embers.

    The way everyone escapes this situation with minimum damage is that the both of you play at being all three monkeys at once. Don’t see nothing, don’t hear nothing, don’t say nothing, won’t be nothing.

    • attica said:

      That’s right! Let Paul peter!

      Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

      • Anna Sthetic said:

        Ha! Amaze.

      • Sly said:

        Mary, Mother of God that’s an awful pun.

  14. Drew said:

    Speaking as a dude who has been on the Paul side of things (as well as the LW side of things, and unfortunately I didn’t handle it as well as I should have), I offer the following advice: THERE IS NO CRUSH. If you thought you saw a crush, it was the Matrix screwing with your head. Do your best to forget what you think you know and just keep treating Paul like you always have been, and the awkwardness will fade.

    • Haha, yes. 😀 I’ve also been on the Paul side and it went totally wrong because I handled it horribly. Paul is doing way better than I did!

    • AthenaC said:

      This is not the crush you are looking for.

  15. lizinthelibrary said:

    It is so nice to hear that someone has a crush on you, or be hit on, especially years into a relationship. It’s nice to see the potential sparks of a crush and really nice to get confirmation. There’s a lot of fun in the beginning, flattering, falling in love parts of a relationship. That’s why there’s eleventy billion stories about that and not too many stories about “happy/trusting/loving relationship(s)” of 4 years.

    My sense is that Paul is handling this exceptionally well and exactly right. Stop and think LW about what you might gain out of a confrontation with him. How would you want his behavior to change toward you? To me what you have is what I would want from an unrequited crush. He’s most of the time doing your sarcastic banter thing and he’s working just fine, you just don’t have deep romance talks anymore. So mostly what would come out of this talk would be more awkwardness, it doesn’t seem like you could much improve the situation by even the most ideal world conversation.

    So let it be.

  16. I think there’s also the possibility, based on the conversation as it is here, that he wasn’t actually talking about you, and was embarrassed for having expressed something personal (since it seems like feelings chats weren’t the norm for you two).

  17. Sometimes the nicest and kindest thing you can do for other people is pretend you don’t notice their awkward behaviour. This is particularly the case where you suspect the other person might have (or might have had) an unrequited crush on you. Yes, being crushed on is very flattering, and highly beneficial to the ego, and I can see why you’d love to have it confirmed one way or t’other. But let’s be honest: that’s the main reason you’re interested, right? You want to know whether you were right about your suspicions.

    So what happens if it turns out the main reason Paul was so awkward back then, and is still a bit awkward now, is because he’s found out his previous crush was getting married, or had her first kid or whatever; or maybe a sibling or close friend has announced a pregnancy, or a career change, or come out in some way or other – something which was nothing whatsoever to do with you at all?

    The best thing all round is to leave this one be. Don’t confront him. Don’t try to force the feelings talk. Keep your suspicion he might have had a crush as a highly flattering private boost for your ego. Let Paul get over whatever’s causing his problems in his own time. If he wants to share it with you, and you’re friends outside work, he will, but until then, keep it professional at work.

    The situation ain’t broke. Don’t try to fix it.

  18. kimmyontheinternet said:

    “But I definitely feel like there’s a weird feelings stalemate. In my personal life I would have confronted him about it long ago and let him know that if he can’t handle being around me, then he shouldn’t be around me, and I’d be happy to have his friendship whenever it’s just friendship.”

    LW, it sounds like from your letter, he can (and has been!) handling being around you! So I don’t think there’s anything to do here, as the good Cap’n said.

    “I feel bad because I get the sense that he’s doing everything he can to keep the feelings off my radar since that story.”

    Maybe it’s just that there aren’t enough details in this letter to really tell, and you are the expert of your own experiences, LW, but I wanted to posit here for a second, from my own experiences: is there a possibility that the Chance of a Crush has started to color your perception of interactions with Paul? Sometimes if I think that something is afoot with someone, I start reading into their behaviors *far too much*, only to find out that it was exactly that – reading into something that wasn’t there, or maybe there was a smidge of something at some point, but it’s long since passed and now I’m ruminating and obsessing about something that’s no longer a Thing.

    Maybe there was a crush, maybe there wasn’t – again, you are the expert of your experiences, and there may be additional details we didn’t get to hear about here – but I wonder if maybe your brain is now doing a bit of the Search for All Evidence of Crush! dance. As in, your own radar is hyper-attuned to Any. Sign. Whatsoever. that he might still be interested in you, and is playing out the scenario where he’s either pining for you or crushed by your unavailability… when he might not actually be (or if he was, might not be anymore… or if he is, is hiding it very well in a way that means that it isn’t really a topic that should be broached).

    “Ultimately I just want to be able to work and occasionally hang out with this guy in group settings without the sense that he’s experiencing heartwrenching crush feels half the time I laugh at his jokes.”

    Again, it’s hard to tell from your letter, LW — is there any evidence that he’s experiencing heartwrenching feels? Or is this sort of you empathetically projecting feelings onto him? Like, let’s say there was a crush: it’s entirely possible that now, 3 months later, he’s totally over it! It sounds like interactions have returned to normal after a very brief blip. So, perhaps in your mind you’re envisioning that he’s torn apart and pining for you, but in his reality he’s either moved on or it’s not actually that big of a deal to him anymore?

    Basically, in the absence of any evidence of feelings, I totally agree with the Captain and will also add that it sounds like it might be good to see if you can find some ways to preoccupy your brain with other matters as well when it comes to Paul — namely, if possible, trying to stop ruminating on whether there are Feels, searching for Feels, thinking about confronting him about said Feels, pondering his torn-up-ness about Feels… and just let it be. I tend to obsess about these sorts of things so it’s definitely easier said that done, but it might be good to even take a break from spending some time around Paul (if you can!) just to give it some space and to get your brain thinking about some other matters.

  19. I get the sense that LW is getting too into this dude’s business and trying to gin up some drama where none need exist. My proposal is that LW should ask herself what she gets out of fantasizing this dude’s supposed feelings for her with essentially zero evidence, and work on that.

    • meek-bookworm said:

      I don’t disagree with the general advice (whatever the actuality is, the truth handed down for posterity is there never was a crush), but there’s a lot of room for awkward and uncomfortable without anyone’s behavior being creepy and I doubt the LW is going around trying to pull a juniper berry out of this guy’s ear.

      My guess is her evidence includes feelings that Paul has been acting strange lately around her, or discomfort with her workplace group, or just a sense that something’s off–nebulous things, but if you want to call them ‘thin slicing’ or ‘women’s intuition’ or whatever, I don’t think LW needs to compile a body of evidence to ask an advice columnist about something she’s unsure/unhappy/uncomfortable about. Especially since Captain Awkward’s motto is ‘use your words’ and this situation isn’t one where ‘use your words’ is the best course of action.

      I think Marna Nightingale said it well above, but in my words: she probably has feelings about this situation, and she’s allowed to have feelings, just as he’s allowed to have feelings, but this isn’t a situation where either should act on them (except maybe take a breather if the can/need to) and you don’t need to manage this guy’s feelings. I’ve been in situations where a third party will delicately drop anvils that friend-dude likes me. If I don’t want to date friend-dude it’s a painful situation because you start analyzing behavior and trying not to give any encouragement, but you’re friends so you want to be friendly, and third party is likely mistaken anyway… Or are they? But whatever happens you can’t talk to the actual friend-dude. This isn’t fun fantasizing, but it does often feel like if someone likes you, you have a responsibility to them in return (however nonsensical that may sound) and that’s not a responsibility I signed on for (especially if I see friend dude everyday in non-optional contexts).

      • Og said:

        I’m with you on this. I agree that the best course of action is not to confront Paul, but to act normal and turn on Oblivious Mode, but I also know the feeling of being in a room/professional setting with a guy who is clearly attracted to you but (probably) isn’t going to say anything about it. It can be very uncomfortable being on the receiving end of intense vibes/lingering eye contact/pining/whatever, even if those behaviours never escalate into anything you could put into words or label as “creepy.”

        It’s kind of like when you’re working customer service and some dude is just OVERWHELMINGLY PLEASED that you’re helping him. He may not step out of line in any technical way, but it’s still easy to tell during the interaction that his investment in the interaction is not aligning with yours.

        I don’t think Paul’s doing anything wrong, but I don’t think LW is incorrect in feeling the odd pining-vibes, either.

        • LW said:

          “It’s kind of like when you’re working customer service and some dude is just OVERWHELMINGLY PLEASED that you’re helping him. He may not step out of line in any technical way, but it’s still easy to tell during the interaction that his investment in the interaction is not aligning with yours.”

          Yes, the investment in the interaction!! This is exactly it! What’s bothering me so much is that the most benign thing can suddenly become way more important emotionally than it should be. And I get dragged into it- no matter how well I can pretend to ignore it, I still sense/see it, and it DOES have an effect on me. The totally outsize reaction/emotions in a situation are real and do have consequences for me as well. Should I not have laughed at that joke? Should I not say thanks when he does something that makes shared tasks easier? Should I stop having a sense of humor at work? If I stop joking with him, but keep up the banter with my other friends will people notice and think I’m being rude or hurting the team dynamic? Do I have to worry about the feelings growing if I keep being myself? If the feelings grow will more concrete boundaries be crossed? Etc. etc. etc.

          • Sh said:

            Would suggest reading about shielding your emotions. At the. end of the day, he’s not answerable to you about his emotions. Only his actions.

            If you find yourself very sensitive to other people’s emotions, you might benefit from learning to separate yourself from them. I’m speaking as somebody who is very good at picking up on other people’s emotions and used to have a really hard time respecting the boundary that other people’s feelings are none of my business.

    • Reading through this again, I conclude that I have probably been too dismissive of the LW’s intuitions. So I would like to retract the “with essentially zero evidence” assertion.

  20. WhenInDoubtGoMeta said:

    LW, I agree with everyone’s feedback to leave it be and let him manage his own feelings, given that he’s not managing them in a way that harms you right now. (Of course, the advice changes if his behavior changes!)

    But I also want to acknowledge that this is a stressful situation for YOU, and you’re clearly uncomfortable that someone has feelings for you that aren’t returned by you. He will be fine, and so will you. Just like he is managing his feelings without involving you (with the help of whatever coping mechanisms work best for him), give yourself permission to explore and manage your own feelings – without involving him. Process *why* it bothers you however works best for you (talking/reading/writing/exercising/etc), and work with your support system to address the underlying causes.

    There is nothing wrong with finding this stressful yourself, as long as you are, like him, managing your own feelings – which it sounds like you are thus far, and can continue to do by letting the subject go.

  21. Anisoptera said:

    Midshipman Awkward Sauce I know that the tag line of this website is use your words and that generally that’s a good idea, but I think also in this society we tend to focus too much sometimes on talking out every little thing and”resolving” it. The Captain and everyone else has already said the thing about leaving this alone, so I won’t bang that drum any further. I just want to suggest that in general big dramatic feelings-talks are only necessary some of the time. I find it important to ask myself what I hope to achieve from such a confrontation, what my ideal outcome is. In the case of working with a guy who’s already playing it casual and maintaining a nice normal work relationship, surely the goal is to keep it like that? That’s the best case scenario here – talking it out won’t make the crush unhappen, it will only make it worse and more awkward. You only need to have that talk if someone is causing problems, or if you’re the one with the feelings and you want to find out if the other person feels similarly, or you want someone to stop doing something – basically achieve some kind of improvement in the situation.

    Big feelingstalks are uncomfortable for everyone and often hurtful. They’re an oportunity for everyone to say stuff they’ll regret, for people to feel attacked and get defensive, for everyone to lose face and be excruciatingly embarrassed. They don’t always make things better. They are definitely sometimes necessary, but perhaps should be used judiciously.

    Also…why would you freeze this guy out? I mean, you get to talk to whoever you like and don’t have to hang out with people you don’t like, but there are ways of discretely indicating a lack of romantic interest without shunning someone entirely – you know, don’t accept social invitations to go out alone with them, avoid too much intimacy and keep it casual etc. If they seem to get it there’s probably no reason to escalate, assuming you like them fine as a friend and want to keep up a casual acquaintanceship. Crushes fade, and if you don’t blow everything up sometimes things actually do just go back to normal, and one day when they’re dating someone else and it’s all years in the past it’s like it never happened, and crucially they are still your friend.

    • Og said:

      I dunno. Whether or not Paul (or whoever else) is doing anything wrong, the trying-hard-not-to-crush-but-possibly-still-firthing thing can be really a uncomfortable elephant in the room, and it doesn’t always go away. It can feel like they’re waiting for an opening, ignoring your wishes, or projecting a fantasy onto you. I think LW has every right to cut discomfort from their social circles even if it isn’t due to a huge event or clearly cut mistreatment.

      • Mary said:

        Yes, agreed – if you’re talking about a social situation, I’d say there’s no obligation on Paul to leave the social space just because he’s got an unrequited crush on LW, as long as he’s working hard at making it Not Zir Problem, but equally, there’s no obligation on LW to continue to be in the social space actively working at ignoring the crush.

        At work, though, I think “maintaining obliviousness of co-worker’s crush” is in the same category as “just dealing with the fact that Carol’s laugh gets on your tits”. Spending paid time with people who you wouldn’t necessarily choose to spend unpaid time with is just one of the facts of working life.

        (With the obvious caveat here that LW could be *wrong* about the crush, in either situation.)

      • gmg said:

        I agree with this. A few years back I had my own Paul at work, and though I think his intentions — once I had politely disregarded his more obvious initial advances — truly were to avoid the firthing-type behavior, he didn’t always succeed. There was a lot of “friendly attempt to say hi at the water fountain” that instead came off as “dude, why are you creeping up behind me while I’m trying to get a drink of water,” and that kind of thing. Stuff that I do and did honestly believe is not INTENDED to be creepy, but can be experienced that way on the receiving end. (And I’ve BEEN the firther before, so as weirded out as I sometimes was, I had to empathize as well.) So I said nothing to him, but honestly felt quite uncomfortable at work for awhile, and my non-work friends would occasionally get an earful about it. Eventually, I spoke confidentially with my boss, basically explaining what I’ve just done here, and asked her NOT to say anything unless I came back to her a second time but just to be aware of the situation. She was great and it felt better just to have put it out there, but happily time then took care of it … I no longer work there anyway, and last I heard he was happily dating someone.

      • Anisoptera said:

        Yes right – if the person is doing stuff that is making you uncomfrortable it’s worth addressing. But unless we’re missing some pertinent details from the LW this guy isn’t doing anything at all to make them uncomfortable and is acting perfectly normally aside from one slight weirdness in one conversation once. I’m not sure what’s to be gained from confronting someone about that even outside of the work environment. You might avoid that person a bit socially for a while because you feel awkward about it but freezing out sounds pretty extreme to me as a reaction to someone who *might* have a crush on you but has never mentioned it, isn’t sleazing or firthing or otherwise weirding you out and just kind of indirectly implied there was a crush and then immediately dropped it when they realised it was hopeless.

  22. Got Gingham said:

    Cap’n is right again.

    Let this thing roll out.

    I once thought a woman A I was doing a project with had a crush on me. It wasn’t subtext–it was direct hugs, “I love yous” and even a flippant “I wanna marry you” when I told her I’d been to Paris lots but saving the Eiffel tower for my honeymoon.

    Problem was, she was inseparable from her best bff B. All the time, roommates and workmates, so these jokey hints only happened in a group. The project was important to me, and it was too soon to say something.

    But I can say, it felt nice to think A. had a crush on me, and so the next few times we were together maybe I acted differently or showed-off here and there with the odd joke, I dunno… But…

    Soon in there, her friend B. invited me out for a walk. Great! I loved the idea of a nice walk with a woman friend…
    Maybe I can pump her for info on project mate because I could use clarity.

    Few days later…We go for lovely walk, cover lots of thoughtful ground, and then friend B. starts talkin about how she wants to stay single, and romance is no way something she is into right now…and I realize. Uh-oh, she thinks I have a crush on *her* (!)

    Eek. So now I was way too embarrassed to bring up idea of friend A. having a crush on me, so I just let her say her piece. But because I didn’t have a crush on *her* there was no tension.

    Instead there was my anxiety of not feeling strong enough to confirm my hopes about my project mate friend A.

    See, by now I was kinda hoping her crush was true. I’d fallen into the trap of playing back that like about Paris. I mean, who jokes about wanting to marry you? I began to think about the implications, which got me thinking about possibilities which got etc.

    No problem. The very next time we got alone Friend A. admitted she does have a crush, but on some other dood.

    And I’m like, “Phew, I thought you had a crush on me!”

    And I was able to do a Paul, get on with the project and allow that confusing standoff to dissipate.

    So yeah, being told by somebody who thinks I had a crush on them, to stop having a crush on them, still hurt. It had me wondering about my behaviour. My “showy offyness” had been mistakenly received by the wrong party. Talk about a waste of wit.

    Luckily this was years ago… And I’ve been to both A. and B.’s weddings.

    • That was a really interesting tale.

      Personally I think it is easy to joke “I should marry you!” over something trivial or silly, when everyone present knows you have no intention of actually doing so. If I actually *did* fancy that person, it would be more awkward to say something like that, and so I wouldn’t make that kind of joke.

      The people I can say “I love you!” to are: husband, who I dearly love; close friends who I actually love as if they are family; and people I don’t love at all who I’m clearly joking with.

      I could never have said “I love you” to a crush. It runs the risk of coming out wrong. And if I *did* say it, either seriously or to test the water, it’s something I’d have thought about and analysed and played over in my head in advance.

      So I’m not surprised that A wasn’t really crushing on you. Sorry 😦

      The anecdote with B trying to steer your non-existent feelings away should be useful for the LW though.

      And, Letter Writer, if you *do* desperately feel the need to say something AND IF AND ONLY IF Paul ever ramps things up / makes a risqué remark / sails a bit close to the wind, then maybe that is the time to make a lighthearted remark to him about how he’s like a mischievous little brother, or something. I. E. You’re saying to him that he is like a family member, and therefore not like someone you’d consider for romance. But if you do try this, just do it once, and keep it lighthearted.

      But I don’t think even that is going to be necessary. Paul knows you’re taken, so whether he fancies you or not, he isn’t being inappropriate. If that ever changes, well now you’ve got a remark in your back pocket that you can gently bat him away with.

  23. AndTheRest said:

    As someone on Paul’s side of a similar situation, I would say that there are two different reasons to confront somone about a suspected crush they might have on you:
    1) they are behaving inappropriately towards you, and
    2) you have feelings for them and you’d like to see where things could go.

    I currently have a most unfortunate crush on a coworker that is going on almost 2 years now, but he’s on the other side of the world, and we work together via teleconference and email. Ironically, if he did return my feelings (I have never said anything or even hinted about it), we’d have all the problems of both dating a coworker and a long distance relationship. Ultimately, we are both very professional, and we have a good working relationship. But I guarantee that if he ever confronted me about having a crush they way the LW has considered doing – when I have been nothing but professional all this time – that good working relationship would be over immediately.

    In a situation like the LW’s, there is nothing to gain by talking about the alleged crush, and everything to lose.

  24. Loubeelou said:

    I had a crush on one of my coworkers and several months after he left my organization I asked him out. He responded, politely, that he was flattered but his current partner probably wouldn’t appreciate him going out with anyone else. So basically a no. I replied, essentially, “hey no problem…best of luck in all your future endeavors…see you around…etc”. While I do not work directly with him anymore, we still run into each other occasionally and it is a bit awkward for me. To a very limited extent I put myself out there and it didn’t pan out. That said, if HE were to circle back and bring it up to me now, like we should talk it out more, I would be utterly confused. Like why?!?! The only reason he should ever bring it up to me is because his circumstances have changed and he wants to ask me out. Otherwise, everyone involved should chalk it up to “duly noted, moving on.”

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