Workplace dilemmas: I think my colleague has fallen for me

Our resident agony uncle addresses your workplace woes. This time: does your co-worker want to be more than just friends?

Dear Tim,

I’ve a very strong suspicion that a woman I work with has fallen in love with me. We’ve always enjoyed a close, somewhat flirtatious, relationship. I certainly wouldn’t deny a degree of mutual attraction.

But recently, I feel a new intensity has crept in. We’re commercial property lawyers, and have to work closely when deals are going through, often for very long hours and late into the night. Inevitably, that means we end up eating meals together, sharing the odd bottle of wine after hours, and chatting about stuff in our lives that makes us unhappy.

I’ve told her that I sometimes feel rather unfulfilled in my relationship with my wife. I’ve been married for 15 years and have three children. We live in a lovely home and all get on really well. But I suppose like all middle-aged men, I sometimes wonder what life would have been like if I’d taken a different course, maybe been a bit more daring in my decisions.

My colleague is the only person I’ve really confided in about all this stuff. I suppose it’s a function of spending so much time together, and working with such intensity. But I feel that she’s read more into it than I realised and now makes comments about wanting a new life herself, or wondering if she should be braver in telling people how she feels about them.

To give you an example of what’s provoking my concerns, we were recently chatting about the things we find attractive in members of the opposite sex – what clothes we liked them to wear, or the sort of physical build we most appreciate. As I listened to her reflections, I realised she was describing me.

This is all rather unnerving. I genuinely don’t know what to do, and worry that I may have inadvertently led her on. If you can help me out, I’d be so grateful as I don’t want this to progress. I love my wife, and am happy with my life. I don’t want to do anything to imperil it.

Tim says:

I have to admire your candour in writing. And the first thing to say is that you’re by no means alone in finding yourself caught up in an intense and potentially damaging liaison with a colleague. Of the one in five people who admit to having affairs, 58 per cent say they started in the workplace.

The marriage guidance charity Relate acknowledges how easy it can be for affairs to start at work. As with your situation, colleagues often work very closely together, sharing goals and pressures. That can lead to temptation, when an initial spark gives way to something rather more intimate and intense.

As much as I think you’re being honest in writing, I do want to challenge you on something: are you completely free of temptation yourself? You say that you’re worried you’ve led your colleague on, and it certainly sounds as if some of your conversations have given the impression that you’d like to pursue something more in your relationship with her. It’s something of a cliché for a man to tell his would-be mistress that he’s unhappy at home, or longs for a bit of excitement.

Please don’t hear this as me judging you. That’s not my place at all. But it seems as if you need to ask some questions of yourself in all this: is there a part of you, however small, that likes the idea of an affair with this person? Are you secretly drawn to her, as you believe she is drawn to you?

Either way, I think you need to create some distance between the two of you. Easier said than done, I know, especially amid the pressures of a busy legal practice. But if you have a way of working separately, perhaps teaming up with other colleagues for a while, that may provide the space you both need to get over this attraction.

Because, if there’s one thing that can be said with certainty, it’s that any pursuit of this extra-marital relationship won’t end well. Any initial feelings of excitement will soon be displaced by guilt and regret. And it sounds like you have a lovely family who would be devastated by any betrayal.

So, for your own sake, get yourself out of the way of temptation. And if what you’ve told your colleague about feeling a bit stale is true, now may be the time to have a difficult, but potentially marriage-saving, conversation with your wife. If you feel like life’s left you behind, she may well feel the same.

Seek some counselling, talk it all through. You may find you rediscover your spark and breathe new life into your marriage.

Whatever happens, pouring your energies into your existing relationships has got to be better than continuing to be tempted by something new. I think you know that, which is why you’ve written. Now you’ve just got to have the confidence and fortitude to act accordingly.

Published: 27 March 2019

© 2019 Just Recruitment Group Ltd

If you liked this piece, take a look at: How do I help my colleague through mental illness?

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