A 20-something who's surprisingly bad at Tinder, Em learned a few lessons indulging in a workplace crush once.
A few years back, after spending many a boring work week going through the same routine in the confines of my small workspace, something exciting happened—my longtime boyfriend and I split up at nearly the same time that my new coworker's relationship with his girlfriend hit the skids. While we'd spent the first few weeks of his employment there practically ignoring each other unless otherwise necessary, we suddenly had a lot in common, which we discovered during shared lunch breaks that eventually led to late-night text sessions.
And, well, you can guess the rest.
And then you can guess the rest after that because rebounds are rarely a long-term solution for two 20-something broken hearts.
But I digress.
I dabbled in a workplace romance, something I'd never before experienced or even considered. After all, is it really ever a good idea to hook up with a coworker (or even more risqué—your boss or someone you have authority over at work)?
In my experience, it was just that—an experience, with no lasting impact other than the extreme awkwardness of working side by side when things didn't pan out.
Still, scan through Reddit or any girly magazine and you'll find I'm not the only one whose harbored a crush at work. It's pretty common—you spend a lot of time with the people you work with, often more time than you even spend with your own family and friends outside of work.
Whether pursuing your crush at work is a good idea or not depends entirely on your own unique situation.
Here's what I learned during my brief stint as fodder for office drama about handling my crush at work.
Handling a Big Fat Crush When You're on the Clock
I can't stress this enough. First and foremost, be cool. One of the most irritating parts about having a crush, besides the elation mixed with misery, is the part where you can't string together a coherent sentence while in this person's presence because all you can think about is how the collar of their shirt sits stiffly against their collarbone.
So, if you have nothing of substance or value to say when you're around them, say nothing. It'll help stop you from blurting out stupid asides that'll keep you up all night thinking, "Why would I say that?" If you think you can handle some verbal interaction here's some ideas for breaking the ice (these would probably work well for getting to know a male coworker too).
I don't care if you're serving fries at a drive-thru or making presentations to your company's CEO—do yourself a favor and stay professional. Most companies, big or small have policies in place for dating in the workplace. Make sure you understand them and abide by them, especially if this crush is not on equal footing in the company.
Give This Person More Space Than You Want To
Being in pseudo-love with someone causes a sort of magnetic phenomena in which your elbows always seem to be bumping into each other and you're magically in the same office at the same time, every.single.time.
Not only is always being near each other at work feeding vibes (whether real or imagined), it's also a great way to become jealous when that person is suddenly not in the same room and has to interact with another coworker, because, well, you're at work.
Also, just because you have a crush doesn't mean that it's reciprocated. According to CNBC, one-fifth of Americans report that they've experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. And while your advances may seem innocuous to you, the feeling may not be mutual. When it comes to a crush at work, assume the other person isn't interested.
When it comes to a crush at work, assume the other person isn't interested.
Workplace Crush Signs: How to Know if They Like You Back
I mean let's just get down to business here. Assuming your work crush doesn't like you back is the safe bet - but what if they actually do feel something for you? Here's some signs your coworker might have a crush on you too!
Do They Like You Back?
- They often ask you questions not related to work
- They seem to favor you over other coworkers and are quick to help you when they may not be so quick to help others at work
- If given the option of different areas to work, they always choose to be near you
- They don't shut you down when you ask questions or bring up topics that aren't work related
- Other people notice that they're interested in you, or you hear through the grapevine that they talk about you (kindly and with interest) or ask about you when you're not around
- They try to find out if you're single
- They reciprocate interest in hanging out outside of work
- If you're out with a group of coworkers, they gravitate towards you
- They aren't just flirtatious or extra friendly with everyone
Signs Your Work Crush Does Not Like You Back
Alternately, and unfortunately, work crushes won't always like you back. Here's how I know—because, in my many years at my previous company, I had one or two coworkers who misinterpreted my friendliness and willingness to help out as flirtation.
Guys and gals, remember, just because someone is kind to you doesn't mean they want to date you.
Here are some quick ways to tell if the person you like at work isn't feeling the same way (and here's some reasons they might not like you back):
- You've worked together for a while now (6+ months) and they haven't made some kind of obvious move like asking if you're single or inviting you to hang out one-on-one.
- They're kind and helpful to all of their coworkers, not just you.
- They confide interest in another coworker (something that most people aren't going to do if they want you to think they're available).
- They often try to pull other coworkers into your conversations with each other, at which point it's not just the two of you talking, rather, it's turned into a group chit-chat.
- You've asked them out on a date (like you explicitly stated it was a date) and they've declined.
- They've mentioned what a good friend you are. Oftentimes, my code for "You're nice but I don't want to see a movie alone with you if it means you're trying to take me home afterward" was "You're such a fun friend!"
Guys and gals, remember, just because someone is kind to you doesn't mean they want to date you.
How to Ease the Pain of a Work Crush
What's the saying? Something like "They call it a crush because it hurts"—well, it's true. Crushes are the fickle thing between interest and mutual love. The edges are blurry and undefined; Who likes who here and is anything really going to happen? Or more importantly, should it? If either of you is married or in an otherwise committed relationship, the answer is simple: no.
Whether you've gleaned clear answers about your feelings and theirs, there's still the predicament of how exactly to ease the tension of having feelings for a coworker.
Here's some stuff that helped me get over my work crush:
- Asking myself if I really had feelings for this guy because we had a true connection or because we were just in the same place at the same time every single day.
- Refraining from texting, messaging or scrolling through his feeds after work once I knew we weren't going to work out.
- Recognizing that what made this person cute and mysterious - being new to town - is also what made them a gamble - none of my friends knew this person or if he was really someone who was a good match for me, or what kind of character he had.
How to Make a Work Crush Less Distracting
Do You Like This Person Because it's Convenient?
Something you should ask yourself is if you like this person because you connect on a deep and intimate emotional level, carry common interests and share core values, or if being around them 40 hours each week has just made it really convenient to develop feelings for them.
For me, I found that while I enjoyed the time we were together, I also didn't have a lot of friends or connections outside of work and perhaps our mutual interest in one another said more about our level of loneliness at that time in our lives than it did about any genuine connection. Truthfully, if we'd met outside of a relatively boring work setting, I'm not sure we would have taken a second glance at one another at all.
Perhaps our mutual interest in one another said more about our level of loneliness at that time in our lives than it did about any genuine connection.
Quit Texting Them After Work About Things That Don't Have to Do With Work
If you've been harboring deep feelings for this person for a while now and they still seem unsure of their own feelings (or either of you are MARRIED), take a step back from your connection outside of work.
It's easy to think that texting each other Stranger Things GIFs at 2 AM means you're soul mates but if you find that outside of random banter, you don't have much to say to each other, removing that meaningless small talk will help you filter through your interactions.
You might find that there isn't much substance to your communication—or your feelings—after all.
Do You Know Anyone Who Knows Them Outside of Work?
Because my workplace crush was new to the area, I didn't know anyone who knew him outside of work. On the one hand, this made him seem really mysterious and added to my intrigue.
On the other hand, it also meant I couldn't get anyone I trusted to vouch for his character. Had I been able to do that, I might have learned more quickly that my feelings were misplaced because plot twist this guy was the type to take up an affair with my married friend sometime after our flirtation fizzled out. Ew.
Do you have any connections to this person outside of work?
Can you get a feel for how they treat others, what their dating M.O. is? If you can, you might find that they're not as amazing as the persona they portray at work.
Learning that a person you're crushing on isn't the unicorn you were dreaming of can really help knock you back down to earth and give you a healthier perspective on who exactly you're spending all of this time daydreaming about.
Workplace Crush Q&A
Due to Covid-19, our office has closed and I no longer see my work crush in person. Would now be a good time to start chatting them up on social media or through work email?
Probably neither, but definitely not through work email. Remember, just because you're working from home right now, it doesn't mean your company's work policies don't still apply to you. If this is someone you already regularly chat with on social media or through text, it can't hurt to chit chat during non-working hours, but only if it's within your work crush's comfort zone.
The place where I work is enforcing "social distancing" and I'm no longer able to talk to my crush like I used to. How can I still talk to my work crush if we have to maintain a social distance of six feet?
By shouting across the room. Kidding. Don't do that. Communicate through work email and put your romantic feelings aside for now - it's going to be hard to meet up for drinks after work considering all of the bars are closed anyway.
I have a crush on my friend at work but I don't think he knows about it. I've had a crush on him since the day I met him. Until now I didn’t have the courage to tell him how I feel. What should I do?
What you should do depends on what positions you both hold at your jobs and what kinds of signals he's given you up until now.
First, I want to say it's okay to tell a person you're interested in them even if you're not sure if the feeling is mutual, as long as you're prepared for how you'll react if they don't like you back. But when it comes to a workplace crush, it could be super awkward! Are you prepared for that and are you okay with working alongside him even if he turns you down? If not, I wouldn't say anything.
I also wouldn't say anything if you are his boss or he is yours since that could create an imbalance in the hierarchy. If one of you is interested in the other and has authority over the other it could become problematic on a professional level. If you're both employed there equally and you're alright with being rejected - go for it! Ask him out to do something fun!
I have a crush on my boss. He recently got out of a relationship. I asked him to a movie and he said “maybe next week." What does that mean?
That likely means that he isn't ready to start seeing someone else yet. If he were interested he would've made a definitive plan instead of putting it off. It could also mean he's interested in you but uncomfortable with the idea of dating someone from work - especially someone who works for him, hence his vague answer. After all, there's some serious cons to dating your boss.
If he comes back to you to make a plan for that movie, you'll know he's interested! But the ball's in his court now.
What's your advice for how to get a male coworker to ask you out?
First, make sure he knows you're available. If he asks if you're seeing anyone, and you're not, tell him. Guys worth their salt aren't going to ask out anyone who's in a committed relationship.
Next, don't wait for him to ask you out if you're into him! If you know he's also available find out what interests you both have in common. Is he into old school arcade games? Invite him to an arcade!
Are you both bonding over your love for deep-fried food? Ask him out to your favorite bar for pub food and a drink. If he turns you down, stay chill. Maybe he has something he has to do that day or isn't really into the idea you threw out. Just say something like "Well, I'm also free Friday afternoon if you want to do something." Balls in his court and if he makes an effort to get together you'll know he's into hanging out with you. If not - next!
I think I'm in love with my boss but he's married and also my boss, would it be wrong to pursue a relationship with him?
Yes, it would be wrong to pursue a relationship with him.
He's married. This is the number one reason you need to stop indulging in the idea of dating him - he's not available.
I slept with a girl from work and now she's ignoring me when we're there and only responds to my texts but never initiates them. What did I do wrong, does this mean she doesn't like me anymore?
Her actions show that she's not interested in a serious relationship with you. If someone wants a friendship or romantic relationship with you, they'll put in some effort to initiate conversations and hanging out. It doesn't mean that you did anything wrong, it could just mean she isn't into you. Relationships are like playing tennis - if the other person isn't swinging back the game is over.
The most respectful thing you can do is let it go, stop texting her and give her space at work. Don't contact her outside of work anymore unless she's the initiator.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: How can I impress a married woman in my office?
Answer: By leaving her alone.
If you're attracted to a married woman in your office that's no big deal. People are attracted to people who they can't be in a relationship every now and then. But how you act on that attraction is a pretty big deal. Look for the attributes in her you're attracted to in another person who's actually available.
© 2019 Em Clark
Lucy from Leeds, UK on April 12, 2020:
Great advice - this type of experience is very painful and tricky, but can be handled if you commit to *either* confessing your feelings or moving on. Anything in between is madness, and turns into the disorder that we label 'limerence'.
Poppy from Enoshima, Japan on July 07, 2019:
Great, great article. I have a huge crush on another teacher at the school I work at. He's got this amazing voice that makes me think he should have been a voice actor. I text him sometimes but he's clearly not interested (or if he is, he hides it well; it's hard to tell with Japanese men). Both of us are married to other people anyway so nothing could ever happen, but I still find myself grinning when I see him. Sigh.