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
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.”