Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Married Co-Worker Confessed Feelings for Me!”

Recently, my coworker who’s married with kids told me he has feelings for me. We’ve always been a part of a group at work of about five to six of us who hang out together, and we started talking a bit more last year, after he experienced a death in the family and I bought a little box of chocolates and wrote him a note saying how sorry I was for his loss. We never hung out on our own in or out of the office, though. We did sometimes stop by each other’s cubes for a little chat, and also sometimes talked over text messaging, which I do with a lot of my coworkers so it wasn’t unusual to me.

Then, today after work, we were texting about our other co-worker when he came out and basically told me he has feelings for me. He said that it’s hard for him to be my friend at work and that he made a vow to his family that he cannot break and doesn’t want to ruin his life, and that he cannot be ‘that guy’ for me even though he would love to. Now, let me be clear: I DO NOT have feelings for him. And even if I did, he has a FAMILY and I would NEVER even think about him in that light because of that reason alone!

I honestly thought he was joking with me first (he is known for pranking people), and I told him so but just today I saw that he deleted me from Facebook, so I guess he was serious. I am confused, angry and basically freaking out about this entire situation and wondering if it’s my fault. Did I unwittingly do something to provoke this? Why did he feel the need to come out and tell me this and ruin our work dynamic? What do I do now? I have no idea how to act and what to say and what to do. — Work Crushed

You didn’t do anything wrong and you aren’t to blame for this. And although the guy in question can’t help his feelings, he was wrong to express them to you and put you in such an awkward position, considering that you work together and he can’t be easily avoided. I’d suggest you speak with him in private and nip this in the bud right away. If he’s resistant to talking with you in person, send him an email along these lines:

“I appreciate that you would never disrespect your family by acting on any feelings you think you might have for another woman, and I hope you know me well enough by now to be sure that I would never pursue or lead on a married man. If I’ve ever given any indication otherwise, I’m sorry for the confusion as my intention has only ever been to foster a cordial and friendly work environment. I hope the environment we’ve enjoyed together and with our colleagues will remain as pleasant as always.”

And that’s it. Eventually, this will blow over and it will hopefully be but a blip on the radar. If there’s an upside to him confessing his feelings to you it’s that they don’t have as strong a hold on him. And really, this isn’t worth getting too freaked out about. Office crushes happen. They aren’t the end of the world — especially if they’re never acted upon.

*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com and be sure to follow me on Twitter.

47 comments… add one
  • avatar

    emjay July 13, 2011, 7:34 am

    I agree with Wendy on this one. Try to keep things and pleasent as possible. You are in no way wrong here but guys have a tenancy to think that just because a female is nice to them, we have feelings for them too (just going by my own experiences). But if he acts a weird or anything, just let it go and ignore him until it blows over. You can still say good morning, but I would stop going by his cube to chat and stop with the texting. He is propably embarassed that he even said something to you the way he did. So I guess to sum it up, be nice, explain things the way Wendy said to and than try to keep some distance if it is possible, and this to shall pass.

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    • avatar

      honeybeenicki July 13, 2011, 7:58 am

      In my experience… you’re right. Often times men equate friendliness with more than that. I’m sure its not all men and its not all the time, but it happens a lot.

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  • avatar

    Jshizzle July 13, 2011, 7:58 am

    I wonder if there are other women in the group. Could just be a case of a woman other than his wife talking to him, he jumps to the conclusion she must be interested. Depending on the type of workplace I would be tempted to mouth the word “Never.” and wag my finger up and down indicating my greatness at any opportunity.

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  • caitie_didnt

    caitie_didn't July 13, 2011, 8:30 am

    It was wayyy inappropriate of this guy to bring up his feelings for you and put you in such an awkward position. Double inappropriate since you in no way led him to believe those feelings were reciprocated. I think Wendy’s advice to send him an email is excellent! Whatever method of approach you use, you do need to talk to the guy because it’s not cool that he’s now created a hostile/uncomfortable, awkward work environment.

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    • avatar

      El July 13, 2011, 9:50 am

      I totally agree with you. This guy is a major douche. If he has no plans to be “that guy”, why even bring the topic up? My guess is that he has every intention to be “that guy”. He just hit the ball into LW’s court in hopes that SHE will make the next move because he’s too chicken shit to be the one who initiates the physical affair he so desperately wants.

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      • bagge72

        bagge72 July 13, 2011, 10:20 am

        Yeah this is exactly what I was thinking, if this guy truely had no intentions of cheating on his wife, why on earth would he even bring it up! The only situation this guy should have brought this up would have been if the LW was actually hitting on him, then he would want to let her know how he feels, and distance himself. He was clearly looking for a reaction from the LW to see if she had the same feelings towards him, and once he found out she didn’t he is acting like a child.

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        silver_dragon_girl July 13, 2011, 10:27 am

        I kind of agree. If he 100% didn’t want anything to happen, he wouldn’t have told her. I think on some level he wanted a reaction, and if he gets it this way he can be all denial, “oh, I told you I didn’t want anything to happen! Why are you throwing yourself at me? Oh, stop it!” Even without physicality, a lot of people really like to feel “chased” and wanted.

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      • caitie_didnt

        caitie_didn't July 13, 2011, 10:31 am

        Huh, I actually didn’t think of it like that, but now that I read your post I think you’re totally right! I’m just a big believer in “coworkers first, friends second” and I think it’s more important to maintain your professional relationship than your friendship (in most cases).

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      • avatar

        PFG-SCR July 13, 2011, 11:01 am

        @el: I agree – there’s no reason to even mention this in the manner he did unless he was “feeling her out” (no pun intended). And, when she reacted differently than he had hoped, he likely felt stupid (and possibly angry) for what he texted to her.

        Since she’s done nothing to encourage this, I wouldn’t talk to him or email him. Instead, she ought to stop communicating with him in any way other than professionally, and in order to minimize the awkwardness and let this blow over quicker, she shouldn’t make this office gossip.

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        EB July 13, 2011, 8:02 pm

        This.
        I’m also pretty skeptical how deep of feelings a person could develop when private interactions consist solely of text messages and 5 minute office chats. A crush? Sure. An all-consuming love that makes you question your otherwise happy marriage? Yeah, not so much. LW, I just get a skeezy vibe from this guy; not only do i think he’s open to having an affair, i think he was probably open to having an affair before he met you. I think it is quite possible that his feelings for you could be the result by him already wanting an affair instead of his willingness to stray being the result of his feelings for you.

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    • avatar

      jessielyn July 13, 2011, 2:19 pm

      I TOTALLY agree he was trying to feel her out to see if she felt anything. LW, don’t blame yourself. You did nothing inappropriate and I think the email is a good idea.

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  • avatar

    BoomChakaLaka July 13, 2011, 8:38 am

    My usual gut instinct in these types of situations is to play the avoid game. However, that always leads to an awkward working relationship. Also, you never know where you two will end up later on down the line, i.e. he might be interviewing you for a job! I say try to maintain a professional relationship going forward and cool it on the friendship for a while. Of course, if there are group functions, continue to attend, but the texting and cube visits are going to have to come to a halt for a while until he gets his stuff together. Of course say hi and bye, because that’s cordial. But beyond that, I would keep all interaction on a professional level.

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  • avatar

    G July 13, 2011, 9:42 am

    Too bad this guy didn’t write in to Wendy before he decided to make the LW feel so awkward. He could have simply given the “friendship” some distance himself without saying a word. Kudos to him though for keeping the promises he made to his wife/family sacred. Hope he continues to do so. And LW, don’t feel bad- just continue to do the awesome job you are doing!

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  • avatar

    Tel July 13, 2011, 9:47 am

    I agree that this is good advice- He said something he shouldn’t have to you. But now that you know of it? Take the warning and stay strictly professional only in all situations going forward with him. I would not attempt any written or phone communication to address the issue. Why? Because you will have acknowledged something has happened which can be traced back to you because once it is written down there is a record. It doesn’t matter that you did nothing to encourage it and it is absolutely not your fault- unfortunately; he sounds wacky enough that he could say that you are pursuing him after all. And you would have contributed to there being an actual record of you talking to him about the situation (that he created, but so it goes and that is all HR would pay attention to) your company can find- never mind his wife as well! Interesting that he told you directly so there is no way to prove he said it, right? Burden of proof would be on you. If you want to do something; go ahead and try to speak to him- once, privately but not outside a distance where there are others nearby so there is no way the discussion can be more than a minute tops- and say only what Wendy told you to; but no more. If he avoids you- let it go, stay professional but keep a record off site of all that transpired. You may need it in the future in case he brings it up again. Protect yourself; the hell with him.

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    • avatar

      TMSC July 13, 2011, 10:33 am

      It sounds like he told her over text. If that is the case, she should keep those texts just in case.

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  • avatar

    Laurel July 13, 2011, 10:21 am

    “…and that he cannot be ‘that guy’ for me even though he would love to.”

    Ugh how presumptuous. As if you need some married co-worker fantasizing about you.

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    • avatar

      RMM0278 July 13, 2011, 10:54 am

      Yeah, that’s something you say to someone who has express feelings for you and you have to reject them — not the other way around.

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  • avatar

    callmehobo July 13, 2011, 10:28 am

    Protect yourself, LW. Protect yourself.

    This man is looking for an in with you. I found myself in a very similar situation when I was young, and it ended horribly, with him attempting to force himself on me. This man has demonstrated that he is delusional and narcissistic, so there is no telling how he would react with you sensibly ending your interactions with him. This may be projecting my experiences on you- but I would rather you err on the side of caution than end up hurt. Record everything, with dates, just in case.

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  • Jess

    Jess of CityGirlsWorld.com July 13, 2011, 10:31 am

    Yeah my take was that he needed to confess maybe in hopes that she WOULD tell him she felt nothing in return. I think he’s trying to keep himself honest and this is what he needed to do that. It’s unfortunate that LW had to be dragged into an awkward (probably) icky conversation as a result.

    For what its worth, I think telling the guy that she has NO feelings for him would be doing him a HUGE favor. We all know the power a crush can have over us. Often the best way to kill it is when you learn in no uncertain terms that it is NOT reciprocated. Hopefully he’ll be able to smack himself in the forehead before long and dismiss this as one of those crazy ideas that are born out of the summer heat 🙂

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  • avatar

    LSD July 13, 2011, 10:32 am

    You did not do anything wrong in this sitution, but you need to respect his request and try and keep all communication with him professional. At least he was smart enough to recognize that there is a problem with his communcation with you and stop it. It is better than him trying to cheat on his wife with you, that would create an even more awkward situation. Give the guy props for trying to control a potentially bad situation.

    Do not email him on your work email. Your company might monitor that and it could create an even more awkard situation if HR has to talk to anyone about their “relationship.” I would refrain from any non-work communication from him for a while. Let the situation blow over. It’s not your fault he has feelings for you, but you can keep the communication professional from now on.

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  • avatar

    artsygirl July 13, 2011, 10:34 am

    It is possible that this guy is slightly delusional. I am not saying anything as extreme as mental illness, but there must be some reason why he would construe such a superficial relationship into a romantic one. He might be secretly hoping that you would be interested in him and reading too much into your friendship. The other possibility is he has been speaking to his wife and talking you up. I imagine if my husband came home night after night and talked about some other woman and then preceded to text message her, friend her on facebook, etc. I would begin to think that there might be an emotional affair going on. So possibly she confronted him and told him to break off contact with you.

    My first thought when reading your letter was to go straight to HR and explain the situation to them along with showing them the text messages you received from him. I am going to step back from this position and agree with Wendy that a polite professional email is the best course of action, and if he acts suspect in any way you can then go through HR. Make sure you keep any documentation that can bolster your side in case this snowballs. Unfortunately even in 2011 a lot of damage can happen to a woman’s career if an inter-office rumor suggests that she is immoral and chasing after a married man.

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  • avatar

    ReginaRey July 13, 2011, 9:36 am

    I would try not to take this all that personally, which I know will be difficult. Nothing you described should have lead this guy to believe that you were into him. Miscommunication happens – maybe he doesn’t know that you text other coworkers too, or he’s one of those people who tries to make meaning out of EVERYTHING…your stops to his desk to chat, you giving him chocolates after he went through a hard time, etc. There are some people who really are absolutely clueless when it comes to correctly interpreting other people’s signals…and these people usually err on the side of “GASP! They’re into me!!! What do I do?!”

    BUT…I’m wondering if there’s more to it than meets the eye. Since you gave him so little reason to believe that you had any romantic interest, I think there’s a good chance that this guy was actively seeking some sort of romantic attention outside of his marriage, and you were the first person he jumped to. Maybe he’s got problems at home, maybe he’s bored, maybe he’s avoiding dealing with some serious issues…but it seems like he latched on to the idea that you were into him and ran with it. If not you, it would have been someone else…and probably WILL be someone else down the road. Either way, none of it is your fault. Send him a cordial email and maintain a very professional demeanor. And while I hope this isn’t the case – it couldn’t hurt to brush up on your HR policy, if for some reason he takes this very badly and goes to HR to accuse YOU of something. Protect yourself first.

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    • katie

      katie July 13, 2011, 8:59 pm

      yea- maybe even save the text he sent you and any other communications you two have on the subject… just in case. thats a really good point.

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  • avatar

    ele4phant July 13, 2011, 10:46 am

    Oh, I guess I read the letter differently than most. I assummed he broke off the friendship not because he assummed she was interested, but because it was hard for him to have these feelings he couldn’t, and shouldn’t, act on and while having a friendship with her. I assummed he told her why he was about to freeze her out so she wouldn’t assume she’d done anything wrong, that she’d know he was the one with the problem.

    In any event, its not the LW fault, and while she should still respect his request for distance, she can maintain a cordial, professional relationship with him.

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    • avatar

      artsygirl July 13, 2011, 10:58 am

      I can see what you mean but some of his statements such as “I can’t be ‘that guy'” suggest that he thinks his feelings are reciprocated.

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      • avatar

        ele4phant July 13, 2011, 11:03 am

        Yeah, I guess I can see that too now that everybody else has pointed it out. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter why he said it, the LW isn’t at fault here, and she can let the friendship cool off, as it was his request and that will probably nip any expectations of returned feelings in the bud. It sucks to lose a friend when its not your fault, but life is too short to deal with friendships that are filled with drama.

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      Ray25 July 13, 2011, 11:25 am

      That is how I read the letter, too. Whether or not he thought she reciprocated, he told her about his feelings and on the same day (she said both things happened “today”) deleted her from facebook. I agree, I think he was just trying to distance himself from her, but didn’t want her to think she offended him or something like that. I don’t know if telling her about his feelings was the best way to go, but if he had pulled away from her without explanation, she might have gone seeking one and found out the reason anyway.

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    • KKZ

      Pankakes July 13, 2011, 8:20 pm

      That’s how I read the letter too, that he was confessing not in hopes of getting something started but with the intention of putting distance between the two of them in a mutual way. The “I can’t be that guy” comment was a little weird, but if he was really torturing himself over this, it might have just been the repetition of something he’d said to himself a million times already, something he was trying to convince himself of.

      Maybe the phrase “that guy” is the problem – he might have meant he can’t be “that guy” who leaves his family to be with someone else, but we’re all interpreting it differently. This was said over text, after all, and we all know how much gets lost in that kind of communication. I also kind of think that if he thought he might have any chance of having the feelings returned, or if that’s even what he wanted, he would have maybe confronted her in person or otherwise put himself in a situation where something “spontaneous” could happen. Which would have been totally sleazy. But as it is, he communicated this from a distance, which either means he wanted to pursue but was too cowardly to try it, or he really did want to give her a heads-up that he was preparing to back off from their friendship, through no fault of her own.

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  • avatar

    Greebo July 13, 2011, 11:07 am

    It sounds to me (maybe over-analyzing here) that the LW wonders if the card and chocolates were inappropriate or conveyed the wrong meaning; otherwise, why mention them. I don’t think it was “inappropriate” or “wrong”, as long as the card wasn’t “gushy” and the chocolates weren’t $100/pound. This is an example of why I stick to brief, “sorry for your loss” cards and donations to charity in the name of the deceased.

    Regardless, it’s not your fault, LW, and he shouldn’t have said anything to you. Keep the text he sent you, in case you need to document for your own safety. Also, I totally agree with Wendy’s proposed email and suggest you keep a copy of that too.

    FWIW, a coworker made a pretty heavy-handed pass at me once. He was married, and tried all the usual lines. “She doesn’t understand me”, “I never loved her”, “I felt obligated to marry her because she planned this big wedding”. I finally told him that he was (quote) “pathetic and spineless”, and needed to either work on his marriage or end it. He looked me dead in the eye and said “You’re a really strong woman. I find that incredibly sexy” and asked if I thought I’d like to tie him up. Believe me, the way I felt, I’d have happily tied him up and dumped his naked butt on the side of the road. But I doubt that’s what he had in mind.

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    • avatar

      honeybeenicki July 13, 2011, 11:46 am

      I had also wondered if maybe she felt somewhat responsible because she has been friendly (such as the card and chocolates).

      I’d really like to try the $100/pound chocolates, though.

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      • avatar

        Greebo July 13, 2011, 4:06 pm

        I think a lot of women feel obligated to be nice, even to people who don’t earn our friendship, and then either feel guilty or have that “niceness” used against them. I hope LW realizes she can’t take on responsibility for this guy’s feelings, especially since the “I can’t be that guy” comment sounds (to me) like he’s trying to shift responsibility for his impulses and behaviors to her.

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      MsMisery July 13, 2011, 1:33 pm

      “Believe me, the way I felt, I’d have happily tied him up and dumped his naked butt on the side of the road.” <— made me LOL

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    • avatar

      AKchic July 13, 2011, 7:01 pm

      *snicker*

      I think there are idiots everywhere that act like that!

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  • avatar

    ladybug July 13, 2011, 11:17 am

    Although I agree 100% with Wendy, I would NOT do this as an email – especially over the company waves. I would send it via text – EXACTLY the channel he professed his feelings over. And keep both texts somewhere – just in case.

    If your email to him is found, it may look as though YOU are the instigator, since an email expressing his feelings doesn’t exist!!

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    • avatar

      zombeyonce July 13, 2011, 11:55 am

      I agree. If she’s going to email it, it needs to be on a personal account and probably mention the fact that it’s in response to his text. Using company email for this is bad, bad, bad. I think a text would be more appropriate (and safer) in this situation, since that seems to be how he sent his preposterous message.

      If it weren’t for the FB deletion, I would almost wonder if the text were meant for someone else, with the way he implies that the woman’s feelings for him are something already acknowledged. And I kind of like the idea of texting back with something like “Was this meant for someone else? Since I don’t really get where this is coming from, I’ll go ahead and pretend I never saw it.” Passive aggressive, but effective.

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    • avatar

      ReginaRey July 13, 2011, 11:43 am

      I agree with this. But if she’s kept the text conversations, she could say “in response to the texts you sent me…” in the email, as kind of “insurance.” I just hope she didn’t delete the texts…this could really turn nasty for her if she has no proof that he came on to her.

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    • avatar

      ele4phant July 13, 2011, 1:26 pm

      Does she even have to email back that she in fact, does not reciprocate any romantic feelings? Wouldn’t a simple text “I understand, respect, and support your commitment to your family. I hope we can continue to have a good productive working partnership” and then just let the friendship go? It seems that saying “Hey, I don’t like you anyways” is just going to further stir up the situation. If it were me, I would just let this friendship go with as little fuss as possible and focus on keeping my working life as stress-free and productive as possible.

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      • avatar

        jessielyn July 13, 2011, 2:23 pm

        I think she does. What you wrote could be read as saying that she did in fact come on to him and that she is accepting his rejection of her.

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        ele4phant July 13, 2011, 2:53 pm

        What does it matter how he reads it? If she phrases it this way, it confirms that nothing in fact will be happening, and that yes, the friendship should be cooled down. I think this is the most drama free way to diffuse the situation. If she makes clear her disinterest he might take offense and make the workplace unpleasant. Who cares if he potentially gets a little ego boost or thinks she is “accepting” his rejection of her? I think keeping it simple, ending the friendship, and moving on is the way to go.

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        Maracuya July 13, 2011, 3:09 pm

        I think jessielyn meant should anyone else ever read it.

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        ele4phant July 13, 2011, 3:30 pm

        Why would anyone in the company be reading texts on the personal phones of their employees? Furthermore, if his wife finds it, what she’ll read is a woman wanting to NOT engage in an affair with her husband. If the wife is still pissed, she has every right to be, the husband has some ‘splaining to do. Besides, the LW will have distanced herself so what goes on in that marriage is none of her concern.

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        Maracuya July 13, 2011, 4:22 pm

        Oops, I thought it was an email instead of a text as I skimmed it since the original post was about how she should be careful emailing him at work. My bad. 🙂

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  • avatar

    cdobbs July 13, 2011, 1:50 pm

    You didn’t do anything wrong, that guy was completely out of line for saying that to you (via text which makes him look like a total coward by the way). I feel very sorry for his wife. And why say it unless you wanted something to happen? I think he was feeling out your response and trying not to look like a cheater incase you didn’t reciprocate. Sucks you have to work with this guy though, akward!

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  • sobriquet

    sobriquet July 13, 2011, 4:10 pm

    I think we’re all a little guilty of over-analyzing the little things whenever we have a crush on someone. Since he had a crush on her, the chocolates seemed like more than a friendly gesture. So did the texts. He perceived that as flirting because he wanted to perceive it that way. Haven’t we all done this? Over-analyzed insignificant things and blown them out of proportion?

    “Joe came to my cubicle and asked me if I was going to happy hour, so OBVIOUSLY HE IS IN LOVE WITH ME!!!!”

    LW, I imagine he’s feeling incredibly embarrassed. If I were you, I would NOT tell him you weren’t trying to lead him on, or that you don’t have feelings for him, or anything that could make him feel even more humiliated. I wouldn’t even bring it up. Just continue to act friendly at work and tell him that you hope you can maintain your cordial work relationship.

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    • avatar

      AKchic July 13, 2011, 6:56 pm

      I dunno – I think the guy needs a bit of a reality check, just like women with infatuations sometimes need reality checks when they are crushing on a guy who obviously doesn’t want to date them, and their politeness is mistaken for reciprocation of said crush.

      Yes, it hurts, yes, it might be embarassing to him, but he needs to know that he was the only one of the two who had the crush, so that the next time he has feelings for someone that isn’t his wife, that he can evaluate with a more jaded and caustic eye rather than a “puppy love” eye.

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      • sobriquet

        sobriquet July 13, 2011, 8:59 pm

        I think he already had his reality check whenever she didn’t reciprocate her feelings. I just don’t see how discussing it further would help their working relationship. The reality is that they are coworkers and she shouldn’t do anything that could potentially make her work life miserable.

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    AKchic July 13, 2011, 6:54 pm

    I’d go with what Wendy said on this one.

    It’s not your fault, even if they guy may act like a douche and try to pin HIS feelings on you. If he wants to play the avoidance game, fine. His feelings are his responsibility, not yours. He needs to put on his big boy pants and realize that he’s at work and he needs to interact with you on a professional level while at work. If he can’t do that, then he needs to look for a different job.

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