Q: I have fallen in love with one of my co-workers. When I started working at the company, Tom (not his real name) and I got along well. We took breaks together and texted each other periodically throughout the day. He made me laugh, and we related to each other. The day I realized I was in love with him was when his girlfriend came to the office to pick him up for lunch. I knew he had a girlfriend, but once I saw her with him, I felt nervous and couldn't look at him without feeling hurt. He started avoiding me, too, and our work friendship stopped.
I started messing up at work — making mistakes because I couldn't focus. I just couldn't stop thinking about him. He was the one who started flirting with me, so I didn't care that he had a girlfriend. He wasn't married or engaged, and he didn't even talk about her as if she was really part of his life. I wanted to rise above it, so I did not confront him about any of it, but working became difficult for me.
My emotions did come out one day, and I briefly lashed out at him and told him how I felt. Our boss reprimanded me, and I have since controlled myself. Tom then texted me to explain that his girlfriend had seen our texting and threatened to break up with him. He also apologized for leading me on.
I like my job and don't want to ruin things for myself, but I didn't purposely fall in love, and I don't know how to or whether I even should ignore my feelings. This has never happened to me before. What should I do?
A: You should step back, reflect and relax. It's good that Tom took responsibility for encouraging a connection with you far beyond being a co-worker. He was not married or engaged, so you did nothing wrong. You simply responded in kind to the start of a close friendship. Don't concern yourself about the other details about his relationship with his girlfriend. What is important is that you value your job and know it benefits you to behave professionally at work.
Serious personal relationships can be established in the workplace and can lead to marriage. After all, people spend more time with co-workers than they do with personal friends. Although he cut off his personal contact with you, things may still change. He may compare your emotional maturity with his girlfriend's and ultimately choose you. You, too, have the potential for meeting someone else.
For now, your job performance should be your focus. You will very likely be working for many years to come, and you wouldn't want to ruin your work record over a dalliance. Suppressing your feelings for Tom may not be easy at first, but things will improve as you set and prioritize your goals. If one of those goals is to never do anything you'd be ashamed of, you will be on the road to success. It's all part of the journey over country paths and city potholes, and you can overcome it all, as long as you choose to learn.
Email career and life coach: [email protected] with your workplace problems and issues. Ms. Novak responds to all emails. For more information, visit www.lindseynovak.com and for past columns, see www.creators.com/read/At-Work-Lindsey-Novak.