Relationship problem with female colleague
I have a problem with a female colleague (my manager). After working together for 18 months we became very “close”. We spent a lot of time talking to each other about work and personal issues. She went through a relationship break up and told me later that I had been a great source of support to her at that time. We clearly liked working together and had started communicating a little bit by text outside of work. The “relationship” was more about her though – she talked an awful lot about her own personal life (she was well known for this) and I listened. Quite unexpectedly, I then developed feelings for her – it was an infatuation due to stressful events in my own life at the time. I eventually told her – she said she was “flattered” but made it clear that we could never be together due to me being married and us working together. I never really wanted a relationship with her – I was just very mixed up at the time and was reaching out emotionally – it soon became apparent however that she wasn’t the sort of person who was able to give any emotional support – she was too wrapped up in her own “issues”.
We spent 4-6 weeks of me telling her how beautiful she was – how lovely her eyes were etc. etc. She loved the attention. She beamed from ear to ear every time I complimented her and we loved spending time (at work) together. But then I realised – this has to stop. So I made a conscious effort to keep out of her way. This lasted for 6 months. This hurt me because I did have feelings for her and we actually had a very good working relationship and a close personal friendship. It also hurt her – that was very clear.
Consequently, she has spent the last six months trying repeatedly to get my attention (at work) – even when I have become sharp with her (I didn’t do this intentionally). She clearly hasn’t enjoyed me “ignoring” her.
I could understand this happening for a while – but six months? I know her self-esteem isn’t good and she is a very “needy” person. It seems that she really got a lot from our relationship and in recent meetings set up to try and resolve our differences she has made it very clear that she wants us to start working together again – although she has said she doesn’t know whether she can “trust” me anymore.
I have spent six months trying to keep out of her way. I stopped going to meetings so that I didn’t have to be around her, I would walk out of a room full of people when she entered – basically do all I could to make her see that we crossed a line and had to spend some time apart to reflect and recover. Yet almost every day for six months she has tried to make contact with me. She comes across very much as though she is saying “why don’t you like me anymore?”, “I thought you liked me?”, "you used to like me", “why do other people get your attention and not me?”, "I'm here - look at me".
I’m just wondering whether we can work together again or whether I have opened a can of worms that can’t now be closed. If we work together again – will she revert to telling me all her problems 8 hours a day? I like her and hoped we could work together again but she seems too mixed up/insecure/needy. We have both found the last six months very difficult emotionally.
What do I do for the best for both of us?
Yes, you have opened a can of worms. It's not so much about her, rather it's about you. You have attempted to and you need to continue to do what you have done for the past 6 months, and you need to keep on distancing yourself from her.
It's plainly obvious that you can't just be friends with this woman because while you have 'been there' for her, you have unwittingly become entangled with her and damaged yourself.
If you can't see any light at the end of the tunnel, then you may need to consider leaving the workplace altogether and working elsewhere. Just as you have basically initiated choices and made decisions when you have needed to throughout this issue, you will need to keep on making them...but for YOU and YOU alone.
Thank you for your reply.
I have thought (and still think) about changing jobs. The thought of working somewhere else fills me with relief but I have a good job and so it isn't quite that easy - although I haven't ruled it out.
I think I am just going to have to play it cool - I don't have the option anymore of completely ignoring her at work - we have to spend some time together and so I think it needs to be kept brief and strictly professional. When I get the sad eyes from her though I feel guilty/sorry for her - but I suppose I just have to toughen up to that?
Just before I started to distance myself from her we were at a stage where she "expected" support from me - she seemed to see it as a given - that was ultimately very selfish of her and I don't think even to this day she has realised that. She is very needy and it all became a bit too suffocating (made worse by my infatuation).
She has essentially reacted very badly to me distancing myself - she has taken it very personally and seems to have made it her life's mission to have my attention again. It is sad to see someone struggle like that - but I have had enough of it now.
Did you TELL her things were over, or did you just start IGNORING her?
From what you have posted here, it is very clear why you want to distance yourself from her. Why isn't she understanding?
That is the question I am trying to answer - why isn't she understanding?
I have told her numerous times that I had to distance myself from her as it was the only way I could see of dealing with/quashing the feelings I developed for her. I did find it very hard to distance myself because although I developed an infatuation, I also developed genuinely very strong feelings for her. Fortunately, these have now subsided which is why I am ready to move on.
As I have said - she is very needy and she has a history of very poor quality relationships with men who have never really shown her much affection. I think that potentially I gave her the kind of attention and flattery that she has never had from a man - someone who listened to her and was genuinely interested in her. At work she has a defensive hard outer shell. I found out that she actually has a very soft and caring inner core - which was quite endearing. At first she was very defensive about that but when she realised that I viewed it as a positive attribute - she seemed to melt. That is probably why she felt so hurt when I started to distance myself.
She is actually a very worthy person - relatively successful and essentially very intelligent and capable professionally, but she seems crippled emotionally. She is very insecure. I know I made her feel good about herself and so I don't know if she wants that again? or simply just wants some regular attention from someone who made her feel good? I don't know. The more I ignore her - the more needy she becomes. So I have found myself recently saying hello or smiling just to placate her - to ultimately make her feel better. I want her to be happy - I just want her to be less needy.
As I said - can of worms.