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#931: “I have said too much. How do you bounce back from social shame?”

Hi,

First I just want to say, I think Ive acted like an asshole. well, I know I have.

I recently had a job, and one of my coworkers was this amazing girl, we hung out a bit and I can honestly say that I had so much fun, she’s smart, she’s funny, I loved our conversations.

Then I asked her out and she said no. Now, I have never, and will never, resent her for saying no, but I did become quite sad and working in the same office was HARD. I don’t have a lot of friends and so I really wanted to get over my feelings and keep up our friendship. She was happy to keep talking to me, but in hindsight I should have stopped, although it’s not like I could’ve avoided her anyway.

Then, when I found out I wouldn’t get my job back the next year (1 year contract) I just spiralled. I stopped sleeping, I became convinced, that it would be the end of our friendship, and I was so desperate to hold onto it that I started feeling really ashamed of having feelings for her, and sort of tried to repress them. Cue neurotic obsession and feelings of guilt.

Next thing I know It’s 3am and I’ve just sent a message saying how I’m ashamed of my sexuality, how maybe I only said I loved her because I wanted to sleep with her.

This isn’t true at all and looking back I can see that I had become so so manic, and while I did feel an attraction to her, it was never something that I cared that much about. Mostly I just enjoyed her company.

I’ve apologized and am planning to wait 2-3 months and then try to contact her, but I’m not sure if I should. Should I just wait and see if she gets in touch with me? Is there any way back to being friends? I really miss her.

P.S. Actually, as a follow up question, I feel like real bastard, but I can’t tell if I did act like one, or if it was just an embarrassing and unwelcome overshare? I’m not actually ashamed of my sexuality, but I am ashamed of the way I acted, as a general question, how should you deal with feeling of shame in social situations?

Pronouns: He, him

Hello Dear Heart,

True Story: Once when I was 23, I had a huge crush on a close friend who was also a coworker. Did I tell him how I felt? Ask him on a date? Better! I wrote him a giant letter spelling out all my feelings. Then I went to his house when he wasn’t there and had his roommate let me in so I could leave it (all my feelings) on his pillow. Then I sat at work all the next day waiting to see him to know if he’d read it and what he thought. I heard nothing, so finally I called his extension around 4:55 pm and we had a conversation so awkward and terse that my memory has blocked out that 10 minutes forever.

Around that same time in the late 1990s, Awkward Spouse had a crush on a coworker. Did he ask her out? Did he say hey, I like you? Oh no, that much was too simple! Instead he bought two packages of little kid valentines on clearance, numbered them, and wrote all his feelings out serially. His crush’s response was along the lines of “Um, well, I definitely had no idea you felt that way. Thanks?

So when I say other people have known something pretty close to this exact shame you’re feeling right now, I mean it.

And when I say we survived the shame, I mean that, too.

I don’t think you are a terrible person or that having crushes or expressing attraction to someone makes you bad. I do think you got a little bit fixated on this nice woman at work and over time you made her the vessel for your daydreams and that rolled down a slippery slope into weird texting. It’s important not to make that same mistake again. Remember, you are having all these feelings, she is just trying to get through her day at work. I say that not to make you feel worse than you already do, just, figuring this all out is not a priority to her the way it is to you and further action on your part is just gonna make it weirder and unbalanced. To that end, I think that “planning to contact her in 2-3 months” demonstrates that you’re still slightly too invested in her, and a smarter (for you) and kinder (to her and to yourself) choice would be to “kiss this one up to Jesus” as my best friend would say. Leave her be. Stop running scenarios. For now, stop screenwriting the scene where you run into her again and fix everything.

It completely sucks to feel like you’ve screwed something up with someone and that you have no control over what happens next. You’ve apologized, which was the right thing to do. The part that a lot of people forget about apologies is that it’s also a promise not to do the behavior anymore. For you, that means letting her be the one to contact you. If down the road she does reach out you, you’ll know that she really wants to be your friend. She seemed to handle the initial crush confession pretty well, so, it’s not impossible. If she doesn’t get in touch, that will sting, but with time the sting will fade.

More true stories: I have run into *multiple* people with whom I have exchanged Intens-o Feelings Communiqués, later, in different circumstances. As long as there was no renewal of said intensity, everyone was 99.9% super cool about it and let everyone else save face. The only times that have not been cool have been when the person tried to jump right back into that intensity – dropping old jokes, flirtations and long-discarded screennames into conversation in an attempt to recreate an intimacy that no longer exists or ambushing me in public with more feelings (including elaborate apologies).

A year from now, let’s say you run into her somewhere. We can screenwrite this part together: You’ll smile and say a quick “Hi, good to see you!” She’ll say something back. Maybe there will be an awkward pause, after which, you can go about your business of why you are there in the first place – running errands, out with friends, maybe on a date with another person  – and so will she. Maybe you’ll have a great conversation with her and feel a little wistful, maybe you won’t. Whatever happens, don’t do or say anything dramatic. Running into her isn’t a sign(!) or a chance to make everything right(!) and also I don’t think you are actually in a musical about a dude who felt a little lonely at work and then died of shame one day. Seeing her again will just be a weird little moment in a lifetime of weird little moments, and you’ll both survive it and be okay.

 

 

 

 

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88 comments
  1. I had that problem today 😢😢😢

  2. lizinthelibrary said:

    Also you mentioned that you don’t have a lot of friends. If this is a thing that matters to you, if you think it might help expand your circle, then that can be a goal for the new year! Go with the standard advice (oft repeated here and other blogs) meet up groups for things you like, volunteering at organizations that are important to you, take a class in something you’ve been interested in, and so forth. Also meeting new people and doing new things will help you forget and move on from this shame.

    Also seriously, I’ve been there and done that. I still want to die when I think about it. But I don’t, It’s been a decade, and it really gets better. I’ve moved onto other people, other groups, and I assume they have too. One or two people I have even managed to have a cordial, internet mostly friendship with.

    • winter said:

      +1 Your behavior seems to have been supported by the fact that you maybe feel a little lonely or isolated? This is totally a thing that you can do something about.

      Bonus: If you look into hobby groups, church meetups, whatever, you are not depending on your jobs to give you steady social interaction.

  3. I feel something that got extremely overlooked is how the LW let their feelings and anxiety snowball completely out of control that lw got to the point of texting his coworkers about being ashamed of his sexuality in the middle of the night. Therapy might be a great place to explore options on how to deal with anxiety in the future and how not to let it snowball out of control

    • Jake said:

      It seems like the LW is aware that their behaviour was not okay and that they are maybe not entirely okay. I feel like the captain’s advice went in the right direction.

      • Turtle Candle said:

        That’s fair, but in truth if I got a “I’m ashamed of my sexuality” message, as a woman, from a man, it would feel very very very freighted with ‘so now make me feel better about it, comfort me about my role as a dude’ implications. Just because culture is what it is. I think that’s also fair to mention, as it may have put an unintended burden of reassurance on the woman, even if he is most likely a stand-up guy.

        • Jake said:

          That’s all good and right and true, but it’s not what I read Ruler of Cats’s post as being about.

          In any case, I’m hoping LW’s apology to his coworker helped her feel less freighted (good word, btw! I am absolutely stealing that!), but I also think that even if it didn’t, his best option _now_ is still to leave her be.

          • Turtle Candle said:

            Oh yes, “leave her be” is still very much the optimal solution. I was just seconding their feeling that dropping your feelings about your sexuality on someone can come with a great weight of expectations that can make recipients feel inappropriately pressured.

    • Elenna said:

      Psst – the LW didn’t actually say what pronouns they use, unless I missed something.

      • JenniferP said:

        The LW is a man. Confirmed via email, sorry for leaving it out of the post.

    • B. said:

      I want to second the maybe-look-into-therapy suggestion, but because I’m worried about the LW not sleeping. Was it for more than one night, LW, or just a bout of random insomnia? I know the kind of feelings that lead me to stay awake for more than 36 hours, and I wouldn’t wish them on anyone. Please take care of yourself ♡

      • Big Pink Box said:

        Seconded.

      • Yes, that stood out to me too. Blurting something inapprpriate during waking hours is one thing, but if you’re up all night building up a massive head of emotional steam that finally erupts into something Daytime You knows is a big mistake … then honey, I don’t think it’s really about the woman.

        Here’s something that occurred to me:

        When my life is going well – I’m active in the things that matter most to me, I’m seeing friends, my earnings are ok, I’m well – I can really like something without it becoming a big deal. When I’m not getting to live as my best self, my brain sometimes goes, ‘Hey, you know all those things you like? Well, I’m going to take one of them and load it with obsessive anxiety and use it to MAKE YOU SUFFER!’ A thing that used to just be a thing I liked suddenly gets hyper-loaded with stress.

        With me, it usually happens when for some reason I haven’t been making enough art lately, and it usually happens about an artist I admire. When I get back into my artistic groove, it settles down, because all that bottled-up emotional energy isn’t bottled-up any more, it’s flowing down its natural and healthy path. But there are other ways it can happen.

        So I’m wondering: what do you need to be doing that you aren’t doing? I think this lady – who sounds nice, but still just another person and not the scale in which the whole of your sexuality and worth as a person are to be weighed – has, in your head, started standing in for something. What do you want for yourself? What do you want to be busy at?

        There’s this idea that to fix bad experiences with people, we need to get some kind of resolution – forgiveness, revenge, closure, whatever. Usually, though, the best solution is to move forward and fill your life with so much of something else that the bad experience just starts getting crowded out of our minds, or at least reduced, because something else is more important.

        Do you know what that is for you? (And if you don’t could it be that that’s part of the issue: feeling in a rut but not sure what would be better? Maybe this is your brain telling you it’s time to try some new things because it’s got unused passion and energy looking for an outlet?)

        I’d let your apology lie, give the lady your private mental blessing, and go do something really cool. Maybe several things. Go you!

        • winter said:

          There’s this idea that to fix bad experiences with people, we need to get some kind of resolution – forgiveness, revenge, closure, whatever. Usually, though, the best solution is to move forward and fill your life with so much of something else that the bad experience just starts getting crowded out of our minds, or at least reduced, because something else is more important.

          Truth. Apologies and not doing it again is the only thing that needs to be done about the mistake. Going forward, resolution lies with different activities.

        • Actually lw said:

          Yeah this resonates with me. I guess I felt she was so happy and smart, and so many people really love and value her, and she just genuinely fills her everyday with joy. She’s a really positive, stong person.

          Exactly how I would like to be, but have been stuck in some negative thought patterns, and sometimes I just feel a bit flat, then feel bad because of that. Everyday is one closer to the end, no time to waste in being as joyful as you can etc etc. Ram Dass says, cheerfulness is a divine art. I actually read a book, a Jungian analysis of romantic love that pretty much nailed it, anima projection and all.
          This article makes the point, http://www.bodymindspiritonline.com/bodymindspirit/edition9/11_article_mosely.htm

          Though I’d add I didn’t want to possess her in such a crude sense, just got super sad about not getting as much attention
          As I’d have liked.

          But I think you’re right, somehow I need to find a way to find that joy and cheerfulness and love of people in myself again.

          • Nanani said:

            This sounds like you may have had, at least in part, an aspirational crush that got tangled up under the weight of society’s sexual obsessions.
            Maybe it could be valuable to try and emulate her in the ways you admire so much?
            Try thinking about what you would like about her if she weren’t an attractive woman. Personality traits, behaviours, attitudes, skills, and so on.
            Let the energy of your crush improve your life!

            (and don’t don’t DON’T put any of that back on her. Do it for you. Leave her out of it.)

          • Hi LW!

            Aha. Well, you can, for a start, stop feeling ashamed of your sexuality, because while I’m sure she’s attractive, you didn’t do it because you just wanted to nail her. You want to *be* her, or at least to have the good qualities you see in her.

            (Which does sound similar to how I get when I’m stressed. It’s about artists for me because I start feeling I have to … have to what? Own everything they’ve ever made? Learn how to do exactly what they do? Be them? And there’s the answer: I’m seeing a productive artist making their own stuff, which is indeed what I want to be, so it’s a sign I need to change tactics/break through the block/finish the freelance job and get more time/whatever actually does make me ‘be’ what I see in them. Which in my case is productive and imaginative.)

            So I’ll say to you what I say to myself: the fact that you know how to see and value these qualities in her? That means something in you is responding to those qualities – which means you’re capable of them too. You know how the Dunning-Kruger effect finds that people with zero ability don’t know they have zero ability, because they don’t even have the ability to recognise the difference between good and bad? That’s not you. You see positivity, smarts, strength, joy and energy, and the positive, smart, strong, joyful, energetic part of you gives a cry of recognition.

            And it’s also partly a cry of pain, because feeling the value of those qualities, but only being able to identify them in someone who’s not you? That’s gotta hurt. But it’s hurting because it’s not true – because your anxiety is splitting your self into disparate bits, when actually you’re much more than any of them. It hurts to have virtues you’re not feeling confident enough to use. But that’s because they’re there, and they want out.

            So yeah, you got this. For starters, you had the guts to ask her out at all, so that’s some energy right there – the fact that she said no thank you doesn’t mean you didn’t have guts to ask. For another thing, you’ve got the insight to realise you did a silly thing and want to make amends. You say she’s a strong person – well, you’ve been showing strength here too. Judgement, not so much, at least not at 3 in the morning, but hey, we all make mistakes. I think your problem right now is that your strength is waging war on you rather than being turned outwards.

            Do you feel like you’d like to be more outgoing and positive? Because those are definitely learnable skills. Being outgoing just takes practice; it’s awkward at first and not completely comfortable, but it gets easier. When I was in my teens I was extremely shy; by my thirties, I’d become the person who walks into a room full of strangers, and just looks around, walks up to someone and says, ‘Hi! I don’t know anyone here, so I’m just gonna introduce myself…’ It took gutting out a practice period, that was all.

            With positivity, again, it’s practice. Notice nice things around you – the bus that came just when you wanted, the beautiful sky, the cool poster design pasted to the wall. Talk about those things. Find ways to say positive things about other people, and say them.

            There’s a saying in neurology: the synapses that fire together wire together. Your brain actually changes in order to get better at the moods you regularly cultivate – particularly the ones you talk about. Talk positive, think positive, do positive. Build up your positivity like a muscle. It’s more doable than it sounds.

            The beginning of talent is love. Musicians love music enough to spend time listening to and making music. If you love positivity, strength and joy – good taste, by the way – then you’ve got it in you to build up a talent for them. It may involve a bumpy beginning, but hey, you’ve survived this embarrassment, so you can definitely survive that!

          • LW, I don’t really have any helpful additions, but I wanted to quietly say that I have been there, and I am sorry you have been through this.
            What Ice and Indigo said really resonated with me – that when they are overall well, the intensity and stress spiral doesn’t happen.

            The reaction they described about artists is, for me, limerance – and typically during the period I am stressed and unwell and ashamed, but as soon as I am well it is like a magic switch flicks, and I can plainly see that, usually, the focus of my limerance is someone who has qualities I want to have myself, and is generally a bright spark of joy and hope when I am overall feeling bleak and hopeless.

            Realising that this is a pattern I can fall into – and that my feelings aren’t necessarily because I am a giant unworthy shameful mess and more because I am currently unwell – helps a lot with the feelings of shame, during and afterwards.

        • Viva said:

          “When my life is going well – I’m active in the things that matter most to me, I’m seeing friends, my earnings are ok, I’m well – I can really like something without it becoming a big deal. When I’m not getting to live as my best self, my brain sometimes goes, ‘Hey, you know all those things you like? Well, I’m going to take one of them and load it with obsessive anxiety and use it to MAKE YOU SUFFER!’ A thing that used to just be a thing I liked suddenly gets hyper-loaded with stress. ”

          Oh wow you just made a light bulb go off for me. Thank you VERY much for your thoughtful posts. I’m not the original LW but you’ve helped me a lot today.

        • Pear said:

          OMG. Thank you so much for this (and especially for the comment below, which I can’t find a comment button on for some reason). As an artist who is too often putting my energy into thinking about who I’m not rather than doing what I can, and as a person for whom ‘fannish glee’ can too easily tip over into ‘awkward, unhealthy obsession’ this is exactly what I needed to hear today! Saving it to look back on next time I need it!

        • Curiousity said:

          Thank you for your posts Ice and Indigo. This makes so much sense.

    • bellaavalos said:

      I’m new on this site, but I agree with both the Captain’s fine advice, and with Ruler of Cats. If you are ashamed of your sexuality (of which you should in no way be, but I know that you can’t control that) the best thing to do is speak with a therapist. I don’t know your financial situation, but I know that some healthcare insurances do cover therapy. Also. The situation you described was awkward, but I do think that the underlying issue is the anxiety and the loneliness. Best of luck!

  4. Jake said:

    I want to second lizinthelibrary’s addition. It’s important to let things drop with this girl, but what makes that doable is having something else to do. So go do something else. Something fun and a little carefree and joyful. Maybe something physical, if that’s your bag. Something social. I recommend contra dancing, but I’m a new convert to that religion myself, so I’m a little evangelical about it. The most important aspect of impulse control is redirection. It’s not just for kids. Redirect yourself with a new fun activity.

    • dr_silverware said:

      I think that’s great advice! Dancing is probably a really good avenue. And I say that as a forever goy when it comes to dance.

    • Blue Meeple said:

      I’ve heard good things about contra dancing. My thing is board games. Board games are pretty popular right now, there are meetups all over and board game people are generally pretty open to newcomers. I found my groups through meetup.com.

      The other way I’ve met people and had things to do is taking classes, there are all kinds of classes available. I took a few pottery and dance classes, there are tons of art classes, all kinds of things out there.

  5. Mandy said:

    Hey this comes at a right time. I did something similar, kind of, maybe?? What was said was actually to a mutual friend of the person I was infatuated (it was gradually dwindling, but the embers were still there!) with, and next thing I know I’m cut off. The thing is I’m not sure if that was actually the reason. Primarily because I really can’t imagine mutual friend sharing what was said with the person. And the whole thing was kind of vague and not particularly serious anyway, so?
    Did I address it? No, I did not. I took the ‘no conflict, I see silence as it is’ type of way. So good on you, LW, for recognizing your mistake and apologizing. I agree with Cap. though. I think just letting it be is the best course of action in this scenario. It happened, IT SUCKS, but dwelling on it will do no good…
    I agree with Jake – find something that interests you or something new to try (may I suggest knitting) so your mind is not constantly stuck on this Bad Decision ™.

  6. Loey the Dingbat said:

    Hey, LW, I did this! I asked someone at work out and wrote inappropriate and embarrassing emails when they turned me down… We met socially for a long time after that, so I could really have done without the constant reminder of my stupidity, and it would send me into shame spirals for quite some time.

    Its scary and embarrassing and you might feel awfully embarrassed and ashamed for a while. Buuuut, even though its hard, don’t forget that pretty much every adult I know has gone through something similar. The Captain is right on with this – the way you tell your crush that you truly apologise is to leave her be.

    Look after yourself. Do a class, talk to people. The more awesome people you meet the less clingy you’ll feel and act when you find a good one that you want to keep around for a while. Be gentle with yourself. Everyone screws up from time to time, its what you do afterwards that counts.

  7. Ramona French said:

    As an older woman who has screwed up in various ways in my life, I can assure you that people don’t die of shame. It’s human. At least as we go along in life we learn from mistakes and can get to a point in life where we don’t do that sort of thing as often.

    • Viva said:

      Yes. So much yes.

  8. L'all That Jazz said:

    LW, you did a crash landing after you’d found out your contract wasn’t being renewed. Is is possible that the shock of that sudden stressor added to your upset over not getting the relationship you wanted with the woman at your work? I can tell you, I wouldn’t of done well with all that. When I’m trying to belong, and find that I’m failing at it-? This is a big deal that hurts.

    Something I’ve decided to learn is to create a Work Face. It’s attached to my new persona that doesn’t wear my heart on its sleeve. Do I secretly think Life would be better if we were all more honest? Yes. But do I deserve to protect myself, and make intimacy with me something not available to everyone I meet? Yes to this, too.

    For myself, I’ve set personal goals that I don’t want to cry at work or droop around with a sad face that I brought in that day. I’ve learned a lot of people have always had a separate persona. I may be a late bloomer developmentally, but this has been a revelation to me.

    • lisakoby said:

      This is a good one. When I was younger it was really hard for me to understand that Work Face (or Calm Social Face or whatever) isn’t a form of deceit (hang up of mine) and that it is totally ok for me and everyone else if not every thought and feeling is expressed every single time in the moment. My friends, bless them, coined the phrase a ‘lisaism’ to describe a horrendously truthful yet completely inappropriate statement based on the amount of times I jammed my feet in my mouth.

      If social shame killed, I’d be dead. I’ve learned and moved on with the understanding that some self-care to support some basic self-control is something that is worth it for me and the people I care about.

    • Viva said:

      “When I’m trying to belong, and find that I’m failing at it-? This is a big deal that hurts.”

      and

      “Something I’ve decided to learn is to create a Work Face.”

      OMG thank you a million times for this. Yes. Truth and great advice. The ‘work face’ thing is something I have not totally successfully cultivated yet, but with age comes experience and it does get easier.

  9. atma said:

    Hello LW,
    I take it, from reading your text, that you are young-ish? If so the good thing about this is you’ve made this mistake once. AND you never have to make it again! You’ve learnt about borders, and how it’s important to respect them. Good for you, going forward!

    • atma said:

      And with borders I mean boundaries..

  10. Anon for this said:

    No advice here, but um, does anyone have any hot tips about how to move past an obsessive crush on a coworker *before* it gets out of hand?

    The friend I am asking for (cough cough) wants to mention she works with this person on a daily basis and they are 100% not available, and she’s been thinking about quitting an otherwise fantastic job to get away from the painful feelings.

    • Jake said:

      The do-something-else advice applies here too. Be coworker-friendly to this person at work, but don’t hang out and be friends with them. While you’re at work, find other people to chat/spend time with. While you’re _not_ at work: Go dancing! Take an art class! Join a choir! Or a running group! Do something you find joyful, something physical if that works for you, definitely something social. Find a new place to direct that energy. Decide once and for all that you are not going to do anything about the crush, and it’s okay to feel it, but don’t go out of your way to spend time with that person, and don’t fantasize about them when they aren’t around. Find joy elsewhere.

      • Anon for this said:

        Thanks, Jake, I think this is great advice. I really love your suggestion of me deciding mentally that I won’t ever take action in relation to the crush, I think that will help me feel like I’m in control of the crush (which feels like it’s controlling me). I’m going to work out a way to really internalise that decision and stop playing out dumb fantasy scenarios in my head where magically we get to be together. I’ve been trying to focus on other workplace friendships and one of my goals for the new year is build my life outside of work through socialising and hobbies.

        It’s really hard to maintain distance with this person, because they are a member of my immediate team and we have a very chatty, social vibe… so I can’t withdraw too much without it standing out. I am trying, but it’s so hard to get the space I need to move on 😦

        • Palliser said:

          This is a bit of an off the wall suggestion, but if you’re single, how about diving into the drama of on-line dating? Go on some awkward coffee dates, make out with some good looking strangers! Sometimes distracting the nether-regions can be a good way of uncrushing. Doing this at the same time as going to classes, and all the other great suggestions you received seems to me a pretty good strategy. Good luck!

        • I don’t know if you’re able to, but would a short break away from work help? If you have leave and no other plans for it, and are all-around able to take it, it might be a way to get a little space.
          Others have suggested jumping into dating, and if that suits you then go for it! I’ve found that the general idea behind that – replacing a crush – can work outside of dating, too. I have had luck with moving my crush-energies towards harmless celebrity crushes, or, if you are of a mind, games with playable romances (Dragon Age: Origins is my favourite) can also be a harmless and yet productive way to get over a crush you don’t want.

          • Anon for this said:

            I’m actually on leave at the moment, and it has been really good for getting some perspective – like, just being away from him helps me see things more clearly. I have a lot of vacation saved up, so I’m also thinking about either a few long weekends or even a Big Trip, just to give me something to focus on that inherently has nothing to do with him.

            Online dating isn’t an option for me, for various reasons, so I love your suggestion of celebrity or even fictional crushes! I’m not much of a gamer, but I have dabbled in obscure fanfiction… might be time to indulge 🙂 thanks for the idea!

          • Furbaby's Mama said:

            Ah, yes – the Dragon Age Dating Simulators (all three games) have helped me a lot in my marriage, since my husband and I speak VERY different love languages.

        • For me, things like “dumb fantasies where we magically get to be together” have mainly  been about trying to become the kind of person who can do that– where my personality is positive enough to fix every relationship mistake. Where I can avoid not only the pain of being unable to set things right, but the shame and self blame of “See? You are such a failure at this human relations thing, it’s actually important to others that you NOT try to participate in their lives. That’s why they put up boundaries: as a fence to keep YOU out.”

          I was highly insecure about my social abilities when I was younger. I became convinced I could not afford to lose a single social interaction, that I had to make every one successful. “Failing”, or getting a no, was an indictment: I wasn’t charming or attractive enough to merit a yes.
          And boundaries were a punishment, a statement that not only do I not matter to the other person, I am not allowed to matter to them. “Move on” means you’ve lost the relationship forever.

          I no longer feel that intense about it, but I still feel like when someone sets a boundary with me, they’re gaining happiness and self-care at my expense; and that I’m doing the same when I set boundaries with others. I still feel a kind of mild mourning whenever I have to move on– all the experiences with X person I won’t get to have. But at least the ugliest shame is gone.

    • MrsLokiofAsgard said:

      I quit a job once because I had a crush on a co-worker. I wish I hadn’t done it. I saw him a year or two later and realized he wasn’t worth giving up the job where I’d put in the time and work to get ahead to start all over at another place.

      • Anon for this said:

        Thanks for sharing your experience, MrsLoki. It really is a tough one, isn’t it? It’s hard to know what the right decision is when you’re in the thick of a serious crush.

        My job is otherwise great – best one I’ve ever had, and I wouldn’t otherwise be looking to move – but this crush is absolute torment. Ughhhh.

        • Anon for this reply said:

          You can even survive a sort-of breakup (because it was a sort-of relationship) with a coworker who several years later becomes your manager. And we had and still have adjacent offices. Not going to say it was easy (NOPE! Did I mention the adjacent offices?) but we love our jobs and our company and he’s still one of my best friends (I know friend as manager is tricky but it works for us). So focus on the good parts of work, find new social outlets, and still be friendly (as much as is healthy for you) with the crush to keep a good working relationship. A good job is definitely worth the emotional effort IMO.

          To add to what people below have said, one of the things that helped that I realized in the getting over it process, is that he and I are way too much alike in some ways. It wouldn’t have been a good romantic match. He’s still a super awesome dude (now married with two kids) but our neuroses overlap too much. Working together and hanging out? Yup. Living in the same house? Probably would not have worked out. So same idea as some of the other suggestions, thinking about the long term nopes can be really helpful.

    • hbc said:

      Some of these possibilities are mutually exclusive, but I’ve had luck with:

      1) Focus on some annoying thing they do, or even assign annoying things they might do in a relationship. They leave the bathroom a shambles, they always take an hour to get out of the house (to look as awesomely put-together as they do), they snore like a chainsaw while they steal blankets, they always open the microwave before it’s done and don’t clear the 2 seconds off the timer.

      2) Is the unavailability due to an SO, and do you know anything about that SO? If so, is there something about that SO that points to Coworker having incompatible (or, if you’re being quietly judgmental, bad) taste in SOs? My obsession with Antonio Banderas died a bit when he hooked up with Melanie Griffith, who is about as far away from me in body type and personality as you can get while still being the same species.

      3) Fantasize, but realistically. Imagine making out with them, but how? Are you sneaking off to the supply closet? Sending coded texts about work in case SO happens to see? Even if they fixed the availability problem, are some coworkers going to unfairly judge you or them for timing, making your work life even more painful?

      Sometimes the only fix is distance, but often you realize that you don’t really want the thing you’ve been obsessing over–at least not the total package.

      • Anon for this said:

        Thanks, I can give some of these a go! Hopefully this comes across the right way, but 1) and 3) in particular make me laugh, which I kind of love. It’s like, it’s hard to believe I’m going to die of a broken heart when I’m giggling about making out in the supply closet, you know? I’m cringing, too, because no way do I want to be caught at work making out amongst a bunch of post-it notes. With 1), there are some things they do at work that would drive me nuts at home, so I’ll think about that. I think doing those things will be of great assistance, thanks for your advice 🙂

        With 2) Yes, the unavailability is due to a SO, but I think I’d best not think of her too much… she sounds like an awesome feminist smartypants, so it actually makes me like coworker more, for choosing someone like that. Making things worse is that I get the impression from coworker the relationship is going through a difficult patch, so if I think about the SO I start thinking unrealistically about what would happen if they break up.

        I don’t think I want this person in real life… I think what I want is not to feel crap because someone I’m attracted to doesn’t want me, and that’s enough for my weird brain to torture me for six months. Dammit, brain!

        • JenniferP said:

          Carolyn Hax always says imagine them doing something mundane and not attractive, like, pooping. Do you want to see your crush’s grunty bathroom face? No, you do not. ❤

          • Turtle Candle said:

            I was just going to mention that Carolyn Hax suggestion! Thinking about people doing something mundane and unattractive (and the “mundane” is just as important as the “unattractive,” since blunt reality can take some of the magical feeling out of a crush) has worked beautifully for me in the past. Not instantly, but surprisingly fast.

      • Majikkani_Hand said:

        YES on number two. I had a deep, deep, overpowering crush on Alyson Hannigan growing up (Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and it slammed into a mental wall and died a horrible, nigh-instantaneous death when I looked her up on Wikipedia and found out she was married to an older, kind of unpleasant-looking dude from the same series and was having his children uuuuuugh.
        (Relevant here that I’m female, and also much younger than her.)

    • 1. Use what attachment theory psychologists call ‘deactivation’ strategies – that is, anything that lessens your feelings towards them. Dwell on their bad points – not to the point of actually being unpleasant to them, of course, but observe anything that’s a turn-off. Did they crack a bad joke? Come in with dirty hair? Express a political view you don’t quite share? Notice the heck out of those things.

      2. Don’t fantasise. If wistful little dreams bubble up, switch mental tracks right away. Sing your favourite song. Read a very exciting book and get busy wondering who really shot Lord Library with the Gun in the Fortington-Smythes. Embark on a complicated project and think about how you’re going to manage the intertarsia/mix the perfect shade of blue/make the inlay totally flat. Catch yourself fantasising and stop.

      3. Be around people who give you love. Not necessarily romantic love, but people who provide you with comfort, support, affirmation and fun. Your brain is wanting that from your crush; get it from other source and stuff yourself with it. It’s not the same, of course, but it helps.

      4. Don’t blame yourself for having an unrequited crush. It happens; just makes you a sexy person with feelings. If you feel embarrassed for having it, it might actually be harder to shed, because your brain may end up wanting some kind of validation from your crush in the confused belief that this will free you from the embarrassment by making your feelings more legitimate. Don’t be ashamed; inconvenient feelings happen to us all.

      5. Take pride in how you handle yourself. You had a whole meeting with Crush and didn’t blurt out a declaration? Good for you, Captain Dignity! You were alone in the coffee room and you had the opportunity to flirt, but you restrained yourself because you knew it would be wrong? Ten points to House Ethical. You really are doing the right thing here; direct some of that warmth your crush has been unknowingly getting towards yourself. Make this a positive rather than a negative by remembering how good about yourself you’ll feel if you carry on the way you’ve been going.

      • So Anonymous, Lol said:

        This. I had it bad for an old teen-age love I’d re-encountered online. It didn’t take me long to build a whole castle in the sky, and because like 70% was pure fantasy, it was super-hard to come down. I tried a lot of strategies. I would write down -pen to paper, all the concrete, negative things I learned about them. There was a sizable amount. Lots of states have arrest records online… I emailed a local sheriff with questions about an outstanding warrant. (An outstanding warrant.) Before I quit social media, I’d followed chains to see how the person talked to their kids and it wasn’t good. I let myself feel sad, but be repulsed.

        The biggest help was removing stimulus by blocking and deleting. I felt overwhelmed by my wishful thinking, revisionist editing and dopamine hits. The spontaneous thoughts were finally killed off as, when they’d ping me, I’d immediately play mental word games, like, how many words beginning with the letter “T” could I think of in one minute? Even making mental jumbles of random words and silently saying them to myself was successful. Also good for when a vehicle like the person’s would pass me as I’d go out walking. Not sure why that was such a super hard trigger, as I’d only seen a photo.

        Regular meals, walking around my neighborhood and retraining myself to sleep. The hardest work I’ve ever done.

    • Anothermous said:

      If you have some vacation time and the funds (I know, it’s a big if) perhaps consider scheduling some time off, so you can get away from your crush. I’d recommend something that’s emphatically NOT a “rest and recharge” type of vacation, but something that will distract and occupy you, something like hiking, or skiing, or going to a festival or concert or a cheese making retreat (those exist, right???). The idea is that a nice trip with an activity would both take you away from the physical space you associate with your crush and occupy your activities and thoughts so you’re too busy and/or tired to think about them.

      • Anon for this said:

        Yes, I think this a great idea! I have so many passions and hobbies that have fallen by the wayside, and a big goal for me this year was to focus on them more. Short trips away to hike or do a yoga intensive or just whatever would hopefully give me something else to focus on, while furthering my own personal goals. Thanks so much for the idea 🙂

    • Curiousity said:

      Consider that such an intense crush is really more about you than about them. They’re just a normal person, not magical! The magic, that’s coming from you. This crush is a direct line to your subconscious! Something about this person is connecting to something you really need, or value, or a direction you want to grow. If you try to identify what it is, you’ll see that you can actually get it elsewhere too. (And they can’t give it to you anyway, other than the inspiration.)

      I once had an obsession with a grad school teacher; and I realized that he was modelling for me a way of treating children (and adults) better than I’d been treated as a child. So for a while, I installed a mini version of him inside my head which countered all my negative self-talk. It worked better than therapy; and I didn’t need the actual him anymore in the same way. I’ve had other examples too.

      Treat the crush as a learning opportunity about yourself, and it’s easier not to treat it as something to act upon with the other person.

      • BetterInGreen said:

        Wow! I love this!
        This hit home for me, thank you so much for sharing it.

      • Fiver said:

        This is a wonderful suggestion! I’ve done the exact same thing, albeit with celebrity crushes / fictional crushes. It really can do wonders.

      • SarahTheEntwife said:

        Nthing. That was totally me with my last workplace crush. Coworker is legit cute, but I realized it was really more of a hero-worship sort of crush than romantic-feelings crush and that I could do way more useful thing with those feelings.

    • Oh dear Anon, I’ve been there too.
      You’ve already gotten many wonderful responses, so I’ll leave you with just one more:
      When I was trying to get over a crush, I had a hard time keeping my mind from constantly drifting to thoughts of him and how wonderful he is. Thoughts of him were a) intrusive/involuntary, and b) bathed in this vague romantic light.
      So I just started yelling “Trogdorrr!!!” in my head every time an intrusive thought popped in. Sometimes I would improvise a metal guitar riff in my head, too.
      It got easier after that.

      • Annafel said:

        Oooooh, nice one.

        Trogdorrrrrr!!!!!

      • Anon for this said:

        This is brilliant/hilarious! I laughed out loud.

        Ugh, I have the intrusive, unwanted, romantic glowy thoughts too. Might need my own version of “trogdoorrrr!” to deal with them.

    • ALSO anon for this... said:

      I left a job in large part because of this. Aggravating factors: I’m about 90% sure the obsessive crush-ness was mutual, AND he was my boss and both of us were (still are) married.

      Then things crashed and burned at New Job and I had to return to Old Job, but a restructuring took place that meant crush was no longer my boss. And I ended up getting promoted to another division one very awkward year later, but the crush ran its course, we’re still Facebook friends and spend time together at conferences. I’m not sure how it would have gone if I hadn’t tried to leave, though.

    • Annafel said:

      Anon for this, you can totally do this. I have done it many times. Sooooo many times. I am a bisexual person who was confused about that for a long time, and I kept getting massive crushes on girls and being too terrified to ever tell them, and the thing is that I GOT BETTER AT IT. Like, apparently getting over crushes is a skill? I promise you that it is possible to reclassify people in your head from object-of-crush to a preferable category, like coworker or friend or mild acquaintance.

      I had a therapist who suggested thinking about neutral, unimportant differences between you and your crush (or ex), like, crush has brown hair and I have black hair. Crush wears glasses and I do not. Crush always wears slacks, even on Casual Friday, and I would prefer to never wear slacks again for the rest of my natural life. Whatever.

      I like the idea of noticing annoying things about a crush too – I definitely do that as well – but what I like about this approach is that it helps your brain get exactly where you want it to go: feeling neutral about the person. It sounds like you do not want to actually dislike your coworker (and it’s not like noticing whatever aggravating/gross/obtuse characteristics they have would cause you to do a total about face and hate them with a passion in any case), but practising this idea helps to train your mind to think, oh there’s Coworker. Wearing slacks again. Whatever, I don’t have to wear them, so who cares.

      Which is a pretty good place to be 🙂

    • Also anon for this said:

      I feel you. I considered quitting for the same reason and I also love my job. However, she then quit, for reasons which I know to be wholly unrelated to me, so i didn’t have to. I coped, sorta, by acknowledging that the crush was my brain’s way of distracting me from Horrible Life Events at the time and trying to deliberately enjoy it for the secret pleasure it brought. I also made a big effort to make friends and get to know the real person rather than the projection from my imagination which was what was driving the crush. It kinda worked and didn’t. We became closer, and work became less charged, but I still have Feelings, and I gotta say, I’m actually quite glad we no longer work together and work is just work again. I realize this doesn’t help much. However don’t forget this crush will eventually end whereas your career will hopefully last much longer.

    • Anon for this said:

      I just want to thank everyone for their amazing replies. I wasn’t expecting so many comments, or that they would be so helpful and compassionate. Literally everyone who commented said something that is going to be useful to me when I go back to work (I’ve been on holiday) in dealing with this crush.

      Thank you so much, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it. I think I will be visiting and revisiting your words over the coming weeks as I start seeing my coworker again.

    • So Anonymous, Lol said:

      I found myself in a highly creative job requiring constant focus, artistic decisions and discussion, with clients who were sometimes literally shoulder to shoulder at a desk with me. These people were attractive, brilliant, competitive, and crazed by deadlines. The most brilliant seemed to be the most disordered, and it didn’t help that they boosted their fatigue with the creative use of various powders and drugs. Add in long, long hours day after day where we were alone together in these small, dark rooms…

      I call the attraction I’d feel for them “Proximity Burn.” Giving it a name helped me keep from being seduced by all the energies.

  11. Elektra said:

    Oh, LW. I think so many of us relate to the awkward, overly intense unrequited crush, and a rejection-induced spiral of inappropriate and regrettable behaviour. I hit on a few dudes so misguidedly and awkwardly I’m cringing just remembering it (seriously, don’t make me remember it!). A guy once tried to convince me to go out with him after I said no by jumping into a creek at midnight and just kind of bobbing round in the water for a while. It was weird at the time, but he was actually a good dude who just got a little too intense, so we’re friends now and have been for years.

    It feels like you’re going to die of shame, but you aren’t. You’ve done the right thing by apologising for your behaviour, and you now need to stop contacting her or planning to contact her. Maybe you’ll be friends with this woman, and maybe you won’t. It’s up to her and what she’s comfortable with. You need to respect whatever response you get from her, including a non-response.

    Your ‘neurotic obsession’ and guilt are probably going to stick around and torture you for a while (a little like quitting smoking, or another addictive substance), so I think the best thing to do is for you to occupy yourself as much as possible with positive things while you ride it out. Learn a language, take a pottery class, attend a LARP or start running – whatever appeals to you, and bonus points if it gets you meeting people who have no connection to your workplace. If there’s something you’ve been wanting to try your hand at, now is the time.

    It’s ok to feel whatever you feel: hurt, anger, humiliation, shame. You don’t need to block those feelings entirely, just don’t let them consume your every moment, or push you into further inappropriate behaviour. Give yourself 30 minutes to journal everything you’re feeling, and then at the end of that 30 minutes, go make yourself do something else. Give yourself ten minutes to swear, or talk out loud, or facepalm – and then just let it go, and do something nice for yourself.

    Or you could take a more physical approach – when I was getting over someone who hurt me, I used to focus on my anger and rejection while I was working out, doing push ups and inverted rows and the like. It was good on every level: I worked out harder, I could feel what I felt without it destroying me, and when I finished the workout I was just a little bit further along the path to healing. Maybe something like that would work for you?

    Best of luck. We’re all human and do things we regret, including awkward things that make us cringe (years and years down the track). The most important thing is to recognise it and move forward as best we can, respecting ourselves and others as we do.

  12. MrsLokiofAsgard said:

    LW, Captain’s right…nearly everyone has awkward, cringe-worthy stories that still have the ability to make us feel embarrassed for our younger selves but we’ve managed to move on. You can do it too!
    You mentioned that you were lonely. I second the advice from the Captain and other commenters who’ve said that looking for a group with similar hobby interests might be the way to widen the circle of friends.

  13. Rhoda said:

    I did this. Asked a co-worker out to the company Christmas party (he was contract, I was staff). He was a lot older and gently turned me down, but it was humiliating at the time.
    Don’t contact your co-worker, she may view it as a harassment if you keep trying. There will be other people that you fall for, and some of them will be interested back.

    • Dear LW:
      The Captain’s and Awkward Army’s advice is very very good.

      All I’d add is this: find a hobby that doesn’t play to all your strengths, and is perhaps slightly out of your comfort zone. For example, if your work is mostly sedentary and cerebral, do something physical. If you’ve been successful at team sports, find a local theatre group and volunteer for the production end.

      Do something that’s not solitary. Many activities include vast amounts of socializing.

      Jedi hugs if you want them.

  14. ladybear said:

    Everyone has really great advice here LW. I too have said and done many terribly embarrassing things that make me cringe so hard when I remember them. When that happens, because I’ve just seen a person involved, or something has happened to remind me of it, I tell myself to make a deliberate decision to interrupt the train of thought.

    It goes something like ‘remember when.. oh yes I remember, that was hella embarrassing! Can’t do anything about it now though, so how about that OTHER THING’

    If I have to talk to a trigger-person I would focus on something not connected to the embarrassment, this is easier if it’s coworker because there is always the job to focus on. If you can at least pretend to be calm and disinterested/professional, most people most of the time will mirror your behaviour or else respond at face value, especially at work where no one wants to deal with feelings. Eventually it gets easier, when neutral or positive interactions stack up and the embarrassing thing gets more remote.

    It strikes me that this is the kind of thing to talk to a therapist about, and there might be some root causes to this situation that a therapist could help you with. I wouldn’t focus too much on whether you acted like an asshole, you apologised and you clearly regret what you did so I doubt this makes you some kind of Terrible Person.

  15. GreyjoyGardens said:

    Welcome to the Awkward Work Crush Club, LW! As you can see, so many of us have been there, done that, got the T-shirt of shame! Live and learn!

    In my own experience, when I had unsuitable (married/taken, my boss, a player who thought work was his own personal dating pool – this was before internet dating took off in a big way; yes, I’m an Old!) crushes that I dwelled on all the time, it was because my own not-crush-centered life was lacking in some way. For whatever reason, I wasn’t putting in the time and effort to make my personal life fulfilling. That meant fantasies about the current Crush Guy were providing me with escape and fulfillment. Looking back, I don’t think that even if a relationship were to have taken place, it would have made me feel better in the long run. The guy was a placeholder for living my life. Wherever you go, there you are – and whoever you love/like/crush on, there you still are!

    Another thing I took away from these experiences is that putting all your emotional and/or relational eggs in one person’s basket is a bad idea. Again, this was before internet dating was as commonplace as now, so proximity, kismet and luck were bigger factors in one’s social and love life, but now, the internet has put more options before us. Hooray! I find that *feeling like I have options* is crucial. Crush Object is not my Very Last Chance. Toxic Frenemy is not My Only Friend In The World. So do what you can – via internet, joining a church, synagogue, or mosque, getting to know your neighbors, going to Meetups, getting active politically, writing fan fiction, whatever floats your boat – to expand your social circle. (I mention church – the Unitarian Universalists are an option for nonbelievers and the spiritual-but-not-religious, in many areas. YMMV, I know some are more secular-friendly than others. And, I met a couple of really good real life friends through writing fan fiction, believe it or not!)

    • thetigerhasspoken said:

      “I find that *feeling like I have options* is crucial. Crush Object is not my Very Last Chance.”

      Oh my heavens YES. This is huge. I recently had a very intense crush on a person (I do believe it is requited but we haven’t gotten that far) but in my head it was This(!) Big(!) Meaningful(!) Thing(!). Then I expanded my social circle. Made more friends. Started online dating (and chatting with some cute, nice people) and started casually dating another person. And now my CRUSH is more of a crush. Less high-stakes omgwhatifhedoesn’tlikemebackohgodnooooooooo, and more meh, who cares, I like the attention and it’s fun to flirt with him.

      Isolation cultivates neediness which cultivates desperation. And when you are in that space, every connection feels SO BIG and MEANINGFUL. If you expand your world to more people you connect with, each connection doesn’t feel as high stakes, which I think is key to avoiding Feelings Overwhelm. And like Greyjoy said, this goes for friends too. So LW yes, put yourself out there and take other commenters advice on meeting people.

  16. Tea Rocket said:

    Count me in as another member of the “had an unrequited crush on a friend and did something bizarre and dumb” club. I am also proof that you can come out on the other side still being friends with the other person—you just have to live with the awkwardness for a little while until the other person reaches out to you again. I’m aware this isn’t how it pans out for everyone, and it might not be how it pans out for you, LW, but I offer it as proof that this isn’t the end of the world and it won’t necessarily be the end of your friendship.

    It sounds to me like you were/are stressed about your job situation. I hope that’s at least on the way to getting better, if it isn’t already. If your friend was aware of what was going on on that front, I’m willing to bet she made a connection between your stress over that and your texts. I’m sure your apology was appreciated, even if she hasn’t replied. Now you just have to leave her alone, which is difficult to do emotionally, but easy to do in terms of action, since it’s the total lack of it. Unfollow her on social media for a bit, save her phone number on your computer somewhere and delete it from your phone until your hear from her again.

    In the meantime, try some of the other commenters’ suggestions to meet some new people. Additionally, you have a job-hunt to do/new job to acclimate to. Focus on those things and you’ll find that the sting of the embarrassment and of missing your friend will start to dissipate. You’ll still have moments of cringing and wistfulness (possibly both at the same time), but they’ll be come less intense and less frequent over time. Years from now, you might even find yourself laughing as you tell this story to someone else who has inflicted a similar humiliation on him- or herself.

  17. LW, I agree with what many others are saying about moving on, forgiving yourself, getting help with the bits that are troubling you, etc.

    I also think you need to find some room for compassion for how unpleasant, even frightening, your behavior may have been for your crush. I know it’s easier not to hear that, to think that she’s beautiful and strong and full of joy that cannot be dimmed by your small doings. But I’ve been on the receiving end of many a crush much like what you’re describing, where the crushers thought the same about me. And that shit wears you down. Eventually, after X of these crushers, their praise starts to sound like, “You are so full of life and joy and strength, SO I MADE SURE TO TAKE THAT DOWN A PEG, BITCH. Can’t have you walking around being calm and joyful in peace. I was suffering in the small hours, so so should you.”

    I’m not remotely saying that’s what you meant. I’m saying that’s what these things sound like when you’ve heard one too many of them, especially the ones that make sure to work in the nasty-sounding digs that come across as, “FINE, I didn’t like you anyway, I just wanted to hit that. Sheesh, get over yourself”. Again, not saying that’s what you meant, but it sure could come across that way, especially since you felt so driven to say it that you sent it to a work colleague, of all people, and in the middle of the night. It’s kind of hard to not have that sound threatening on some level.

    So as part of this moving forward and working on yourself, work on having some compassion and empathy for aspirational crushes as actual human beings, ones who very likely get harassed a lot. Your behavior does not take place in a vacuum — work on knowing that.

    • Actually lw said:

      Oh Helen, I know. It was such a cruel thing to say, and at the time I was so insensitive, wrapped up in my own feelings, I couldn’t even see it.

      • Okay, so you got into such a state that you felt like it was a good idea to send sexually harassing email to a colleague at work at 3am.

        Get help. Get all the help.

        I like the sympathy you’re getting from commenters and their affirmations that you can rebuild, get past this. But sheesh, dude, you’ve got a hell of a lot to unpack there. YOU SENT SEXUALLY HARASSING EMAIL TO A COLLEAGUE AT WORK. And your excuse is that you were sooo worked up and it was so late at night. None of that computes — being distraught and lonely and having all the feelings at 3am does not translate into sending sexually harassing email to a colleague at work UNLESS you’ve got a giant dollop of male entitlement, misogyny, and rape culture in the mix. Get the help, get all the help, do the work to unpack it, and straighten yourself out.

        • Turtle Candle said:

          Yeah. This is something that I was trying to address more obliquely above, and it’s not because I want to pile on the LW and tell him he’s a horrible person, but because part of the question was “Actually, as a follow up question, I feel like real bastard, but I can’t tell if I did act like one, or if it was just an embarrassing and unwelcome overshare?”

          It doesn’t make you a bastard, but it was, genuinely, an asshole move. It was “I feel bad, and so my solution to that is to drop all my feelings right in my colleague’s lap and make her deal with them.” One asshole move does not an asshole make, but if you let this become a habit or a regular occurrence, then yeah, you’ll be in asshole territory. And to this woman, the one asshole move might very well be enough to make you pretty indelibly an asshole in her mind. I will be blunt: if I was her, it would, and I would very, very, very much not want you contacting me in 2-3 months. I would be flinching any time I got a text or email from you, wondering if I was going to be told that I probably wasn’t all that interesting and that you just wanted to fuck me because I was female and convenient (which, yeah, pretty horrible!), with a side of “reassure me that being a man who is attracted to women is okay.”

          In fact, the phrasing of this question sort of continues that thread? Had you asked “was it a jerk move?” people would feel more able to honestly say, “yeah, you sound like a well-meaning guy, but that was a jerk move.” But you asked “am I a bastard?” And most people, posed with a question like that, are going to not feel like they can pass judgment on your entire character, so they’re going to say “oh honey, no, you’re a good guy who made a mistake!” Especially, and I think this is important, women will feel that they need to soothe you and reassure you that you’re not a jerk, because we’re trained to do that basically from birth. Soothing men is something we are taught to do, for a number of reasons: because we are taught that emotional labor is our job, because we are taught that men’s feelings are more important than ours, and, very importantly, because we are taught that an un-soothed man is a literal, physical danger to us.

          Sometimes insulting yourself can be a way of fishing for reassurance. Everyone does this. It’s much easier to say “I’m sorry I’m a terrible person!” (with the expectation that most people, but again, especially women, will leap in and go “oh you’re not a terrible person! you just screwed up!”, and then suddenly your admission of fucking up turns magically into the injured party making YOU feel better) than “I’m sorry I screwed up” (where it’s more likely that the response will be, yeah, you did screw up, it’s not the end of the world but here’s what you need to do to fix it–whether that’s “don’t contact me again” or “don’t yell at me anymore” or even “take out the trash when it’s your turn”).

          I strongly second the Captain’s advice to not reach out to this woman until she reaches out to you, even if that is “never.”

          I do not say this to shame you, or to be mean to you, or to punish you. I say this because, again, you actually did ask “am I a bastard or was this just a mistake?” And, well, for one thing, you are entitled to an answer to that question: you probably aren’t an irredeemable bastard, but this is way more than an embarrassing overshare; it’s insulting and scary and entitled. I don’t want to soften that too much, because while I strive to be kind, I do not think it is either valuable or kind to you OR to other women you interact with for you to walk away from this thinking that this was some kind of seriously minor goof. And two, the way you phrased the question to the Captain makes me think that you really, really need to dig into the way you are seeking reassurance from people. Especially, for the nth time, from women.

        • devicat26 said:

          I want to also add, that finding a therapist or a counselor to talk things out with? Is something that every person on earth should do at some point in life. Its hard to see outside your own head, so don’t take it as you’ve failed, or its a punishment or dig at you. You sound like you are in an unhappy spot in life and sometimes a trained professional can give you the tools to get yourself out of the hole.

          My counselor always told me ‘don’t spin your wheels, get help when you need it’

          • Actually lw said:

            I just want to thank everyone on this thread. Can’t deny it was painful to read, but there’s some truthbombs that I probably needed to hear. I appreciate your candour and I’m grateful.

  18. golden peanut said:

    > he bought two packages of little kid valentines on clearance, numbered them, and wrote all his feelings out serially.

    This sounds quite sweet, but yes, super awkward to be on the receiving end when you had no idea and don’t reciprocate.

    • devicat26 said:

      Kind of like – it was a nice idea, but wrong venue. If my boyfriend of some time did that I would be pretty happy, its creative and shows he put thought into it. buuuuut to someone you don’t really know, only know on a professional level, and has never indicated any romantic feelings towards you? NNNooooooo. I think Doc. Nerdlove sums it up pretty well when he tells his readers that they’ve been watching too many damned movies. Grand Romantic Gestures don’t work that often in real life.

    • Me me me! I did this, too. I wrote a chatty, long, friendly letter to a male co-worker crush that was, in all honesty, exactly like letters I would write to platonic female friends. The problem here is that Crush probably had never received a written letter from anyone in his entire life, much less a long one. I doubt he had ever received even a chatty mimeographed Holiday Brag Letter from a family member. AWKWARD. It also ignored that platonic female friends writing each other = Not generally a loaded situation, but a female co-worker writing male co-worker same kind of letter = ALLLLLLL kinds of loaded and with complicated subtext, much of which (in my relative innocence) I didn’t even grasp at the time, and none of which was going to be handled appropriately by either party long-distance. AWWWWKKKWAAAAARD! Let’s just say that it was not one of my smarter ideas. It happens! I fucked up! On good days I hope Crush was flattered a little tiny bit, but I can’t and shouldn’t expect that. On bad days I burn with shame and work to get over that, because it happened 35 years ago and some shit that makes me feel like I fucked up (because I did, no matter what my intentions, because I was Bad At Social Interactions back in the day) just doesn’t need to be carried around that long. Mostly, though: I forgive me! Forgive yourself, chalk it up as a life lesson, don’t do that thing or anything like that thing again, and talk to someone who is professionally equipped to help folks work through life stuff. They’ll keep your stuff private, they have all sorts of therapeutic tools and tips, and they are on Team You. It’s worth the cost. Your employer may have a health insurance package that covers some of the cost, too.

  19. A lot of how you deal with a crush comes down to how you feel about yourself. As someone with long-standing problems with depression, anxiety and PTSD (plus related lack of self esteem), my past crushes have been truly agonising and shameful. Put it this way, LW, I can very much relate… That person is never going to want me! I can’t tell them, they’ll just laugh in my face! And when a crush finds out and they aren’t interested? Argh, run away! Run away! Avoidavoidavoid!

    In the last few years, I’ve been doing a lot of work on myself. I’ve realised a lot and a lot has changed (some of this has come from reading Captain Awkward, yay!). I don’t feel too bad about myself right now. And I have a crush at the moment. Guess what? I’m enjoying it. For the first time ever. I suspect the other person feels the same way, but I’m not going to take anything further until I know that definitely. Whatever happens, I have a good friend in this person. so I shall just continue to enjoy this new experience…

  20. cat thatcher said:

    Thanks for writing, LW. What you did was not just embarrassing for you, but potentially traumatic for the woman you crushed on. It was 100% out of line. But! You are not an intrinsically bad person. (It’s rare that someone is.) The fact that you wrote in bodes very well.

    Here’s something you might consider in your future interactions with people, especially ones you’re attracred to. You read like someone who struggles with low self-esteem. If so, I relate. Our society has this romantic idea that the right person can make us whole, make us happy, fix us, make all our doubts blow away. That’s a super-attractive story when you feel like you’ve got a lot of problems that you yourself don’t know how to solve. But it’s pure bull$#!+. It sounds like you fantasized that this woman could do that for you. Even if it were true, that’s just a whole lot of responsibility to ask from another person! Women quite regularly get treated by men as perfect beautiful angels who are not of this world, but also, conveniently, there to be someone’s personal magic solver-of-things. (This is called ‘benevolent’ sexism, but it is just as wrong as hostile sexism.) Expecting someone to be other than human is very unfair, and also impossible. Expecting someone to make everything better is doubly unfair and doubly impossible. You’ll continue to see this narrative everywhere, but do not mistake it for truth again.

    The tough truth here is that you can never be happy until *you’re* happy. It won’t work, it can’t work, unless you do the work yourself. The people who care about you can support you, and professionals, such as a therapist, which is a super A+ #1 idea, can guide you. It’s really hard, but it’s totally doable!

    Take the Cap’s excellent advice and do not contact this person. It would be selfish, because it would only serve to make you feel better, but potentially make her feel worse! She probably won’t get in touch with you, and it’ll be sad that you don’t have her company anymore, but you learned something, and that’s good! Good luck!

  21. Sort of a message to all US readers of this site: It looks very likely that the ACA is going to be repealed, meaning that millions of us will no longer be able to afford to go to the therapist. And yes: Congress is coming for Medicare and Medicaid as well. They won’t disappear, but be prepared for big cuts.

    Cap, what do you suggest as a substitute for regular people not connected to a school, a work EAP, or some other form of affordable counseling? I have the 7 Cups app downloaded on my phone, which is a good start; but I think most Americans are going to need a bit more.
    Maybe more of us should gain life-coach certification, and become highly skillful at listening and mindfulness, so we can offer our services as low-cost therapists for others?

    • Turtle Candle said:

      My MIL, who is a therapist, recommends MoodGYM (https://moodgym.anu.edu.au/welcome), Thoughts and Feelings Handbook by Matthew McKay, and mindfulness meditation done regularly, which has a statistically significant chance of reducing the intensity of e.g. depressive episodes (but not of eliminating them).–she likes the Headspace app, but other people prefer other mindfulness exercises and there are a bajillion of them. She says that while they’re not as good as therapy with a person, they’re far better than nothing.

      [Side note: I realize that you probably meant “Maybe more of us should gain life-coach certification, and become highly skillful at listening and mindfulness, so we can offer our services as low-cost therapists for others?” in a tongue-in-cheek way, but just in case not: most therapists charge what they charge not because they aren’t interested in helping poor people but because therapy is expensive to provide. I’ve heard my MIL, who is a therapist working on rape-related PTSD issues and who offers a sliding scale, talk about this in depth, so:

      Let’s say that a therapist can live on $10/hour in your city. On top of that, they’re paying rent on their therapy space–most people are not going to feel comfortable airing their innermost thoughts about their rape, weeping, screaming, etc., at Starbucks, so you have to have a private therapy space, which costs. They’re also paying insurance, both the ‘someone tripped on my carpet’ and the malpractice kinds. They’re paying for payment processing. They’re paying for secure storage of your personal information. They’re paying for the extra hour it takes to make notes about your session and securely store them, to call the insurance company, to handle scheduling. And that’s even without taking into account the expenses of training–whether it’s a psychology degree or a MSW or a life coaching certification.

      My MIL charges $100/hour as her baseline (with a sliding scale in place) and makes something like $13/hour, which is just below minimum wage in my city. Most of it goes to rent and insurance.

      The truth of ‘sliding-scale’ clinics is that people with more money subsidize people with less–which I think is fine, but it’s important to note that if your therapy costs $10 a session, it’s not because it costs $10/session, it’s because someone else is paying $200/session when their therapy actually costs $100/session. I am fine with this as someone on the $200/session end of the scale, but I feel that it’s important to point out, because it helps to explain the economics.]

    • JenniferP said:

      This is a good question and probably deserves its own thread. Short answer: I don’t know and need to think about it & also seek advice from many people.

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