What to Do When You Have a Crush on Someone at Work

Updated on April 29, 2019
Em Clark profile image

A 20-something who's surprisingly bad at Tinder, Em learned a few lessons indulging in a workplace crush once.

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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

Be Cool

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).

Stay Professional

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.

Stop that.

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.

What's keeping you from making a move on your crush at work?

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Signs Your Work Crush Likes 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 the feeling is mutual:

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

Always sitting next to each other during meetings even though there's like ten empty chairs? That's a pretty good sign there's something real there.
Always sitting next to each other during meetings even though there's like ten empty chairs? That's a pretty good sign there's something real there. | Source

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 a 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!"

If the person you're crushing on at work seems aloof and uninterested in getting to know you when you're out together, there's a good chance they just see you as a fun person to kill time with outside of work—not a potential romantic interest.
If the person you're crushing on at work seems aloof and uninterested in getting to know you when you're out together, there's a good chance they just see you as a fun person to kill time with outside of work—not a potential romantic interest.

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. When things didn't work out with mine, I wasn't in a position to just up and leave my job and he wasn't going anywhere either. I quickly realized I had to find a way to walk my bummed-out heart into work each morning and still do a solid job while maintaining a sense of professionalism with this person.

Here's some stuff that helped me get over my work crush:

  • Asking myself if I really had feelings for this person because we had a true connection or people we were just in the same place at the same time every single day.
  • Refraining from texting, messaging or scrolling through their 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 and if they were really someone who was a good match for me, or what kind of character they 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.

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, 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 this person 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.

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.

Have you ever had a workplace crush turn into a relationship?

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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.

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© 2019 Em Clark

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