How Do I Get Over Being Attracted To My Manager?

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about
feeling attracted to a manager but wanting to get over it. 

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Question:

I am happily married and find myself attracted to my manager. I started this job 6 months ago and a couple months in, found myself attracted to his personality. Since I first realized the attraction it has grown stronger on my part to the point I think I am more infatuated than anything. I suspect, although I am not sure, that he may feel the same way. Nothing inappropriate has been said or has happened, just to clarify. I find myself wanting to know if he feels the same way, mainly for egotistical reasons. I also know that I will never know. The main problem that has arisen from all this is that my feelings for him have become quite intrusive on my personal life. I think about him constantly if I am not at work. My thoughts are distracting me from my marriage, children, and my life in general. This has been going on for over two months now. What do I need to do to get myself straight and get my life back together? I have not spoken about this to any of my friends as this is quite embarrassing

Answer: 

Hello and thank you for sharing your situation with us. It’s a challenging one for you—and one that will require your best judgment and the full extent of your inner strength. However, it will be well worth the mental and emotional effort, to maintain your commitment to your husband, your children and your family. This response to you will be lengthy, because your question deserves more than a quick or flippant answer.

You are very wise to not mention your feelings about your manager to friends. Don’t talk about it at all, unless you are discussing it with a professional counselor. Talking about it, even if the motive is supposedly to “talk it out” or get advice, is sometimes a subconscious way to hear yourself say his name and admit your feelings, out loud. You’re already talking to yourself about him a lot, so you don’t need to add to the obsessive thinking by verbalizing it. In addition, once you have told someone, they can’t just forget it. No matter what happens in the future, they will remember there was a time when you were infatuated with your manager.

In situations such as you describe, I often think of the song from the musical Camelot (look it up on You Tube, if you enjoy theatrical music—which I do!). In the play, Lancelot secretly meets Guinevere when King Arthur is away from the castle. They embrace and move away, feeling guilty and unhappy about their love and about sneaking around behind the back of Arthur, who has been good to both of them. Guinevere sings about the irony of it all.

I loved you once, in silence.
And misery was all I knew.
Trying hard to keep my love from showing,
All the time not knowing
You loved me too.

Yes, loved me in lonesome silence;
Your heart filled with dark despair.
Thinking love would flame in you forever,
And I’d never, never know the flame was there.

Then one day we cast away our secret longing;
The raging tide we held inside would hold no more.

The silence at last was broken!
We flung wide our prison door.
Every joyous word of love was spoken.

And now there’s twice as much grief,
Twice the strain for us;
Twice the despair,
Twice the pain for us
As we had known before.

The silence at last was broken!
We flung wide our prison door.
Every joyous word of love was spoken.

And after all has been said,
Here we are, my love,
Silent once more,
And not far, my love,
From where we were before.

You said in your question that you know you will probably never know how your manager feels, you are just looking for a way to get your thoughts under control. However, I do want to help you reinforce for yourself that you not only may never know, you do not want to know—nor do you want him to know how you feel.

You may always have a feeling of infatuation for your manager and wonder what might have been if you could have talked about it to him or if he had said he reciprocated your feelings. But saying anything to him about it has such potential for a bad result, that it can’t be considered an option if you want to stay married and if you want to have the love and respect of your children, family and friends. I would feel I was wrong to not mention that aspect of it.

Whether he is married or single, your manager may not want to hear so much as a hint about your feelings for him, no matter how he feels about you. He could decide to ask you to quit working there, which would be very hard to explain. If he doesn’t have the organizational ability to ask you to quit, he may end up avoiding you or feeling awkward every time he sees you. Or he may just tell you that he doesn’t feel the same way and ask you to never mention it again. Then, he would feel he couldn’t be as friendly as he has been or he would respond to your efforts to put things back together by pushing you away even further. How embarrassing that would be!

If he feels the same way you do, he may like to hear that you return his feelings, but it will just add to the discomfort of working together and wishing you could spend more private time together. Or, perhaps he would think, if you both feel something about each other, the obvious next step is to start a physical relationship. If you don’t want to meet him for a sexual relationship, things could become very difficult. If you decide to meet him just for sex, how on earth would you arrange that with your already busy schedule—without having to lie to do it?

For the sake of discussion, let’s say the two of you find one afternoon where you can get together at a motel or his house or someplace else and you’re able to spend some time in bed without anyone knowing. It could be romantic and sexy if there was no one else to consider. But, what if he wants more than that and decides he would rather be with you than his own wife? Or what if he isn’t as discreet as you thought he would be and he starts sending you text messages or emails or trying to contact you away from work? Or, what if he slips and does something overt at work, where someone can see him? One thing is for sure: You never know what someone is going to be like when they’re having an affair, until you’re in it with them.

The other thing to consider is that relationships at work are always found out by someone. Always. Some people don’t gossip—much—about it. But, it’s always figured out by someone at some time. If he is your manager he could lose his job or you both might. Someone may decide to do your husband a favor and let him know about it. Or let the manager’s wife know about it. Or, send a letter to higher level.

Even if you never say any words to your manager, you need to watch your actions. All it takes is a lingering look, a special smile, hands touching when it isn’t necessary, closer observation than usual, talking more than usual about the other person, or using a warmer tone of voice than for others—and people will make assumptions.

The bottom line is that there is almost never a chance that feeling infatuated with someone at work will stop at that, once both people know the feeling is returned. That’s just the way it is. There is also almost never a chance that things can be comfortable again, because there will be concern that someone will find out—especially when one is a manager and the other is a subordinate employee.

I realize all of the above paints an apocalyptic picture of the situation—but that is usually the way these things end up. Such a dismal picture also is a way for you to do some self-help aversion therapy to help you deal with the feelings you have—which is what you asked about. As I said, I wanted to at least reinforce that you are right to be intentional about keeping your feelings to yourself.

I’ll say this one last thing about that part of it: The feelings you have are human and acceptable. It’s not wrong to have feelings of special caring for someone or to feel that they are exactly what you like in a man. You share many things at work and of course you will feel a bond and a closeness that you wouldn’t feel with anyone else. So, feeling infatuated and daydreaming about the special person isn’t terrible—it’s the results of showing those feelings that is the problem. And, since feelings usually have a way of showing themselves, you need to find a way to reduce the feelings or at least not feed them so they keep coming back for more. And, as you said in your letter to us—they can get in the way the rest of your life.

1. The Aversion Therapy approach. Try this, since you’re thinking about him a lot, anyway: The next time you are with your family, think of him standing nearby as you tell your husband you have a strong infatuation for “Ken”. You can say, “I love you and I love the kids and I don’t want us to break up our home and family, but I want you to know I think about Ken all the time and can hardly wait to get to work every day to see him. Is that OK?”

How would Ken react to that if he heard you say it to your children and husband—the people you’ve probably talked a lot about at work. Would he be horrified or upset or sad? How would your husband or children react? Picture the look on their faces, one at a time. How could life ever be the same again at home? How would your parents or siblings react if they heard? Your friends?

Or, when you’re with your family but thinking of Ken, what if you picked up your phone and called him at his home and told him how you feel? Think of the shock everyone listening would feel and what you’d have to face when you clicked off the phone.

Think what you would have to face at work, if your coworkers heard that Ken and you were seen standing so close together it was obvious something was going on and Ken was transferred or demoted or sanctioned about it? Or, what if Ken very gently sits you down and tells you he really admires you, but not in “that” way and he looks sad and embarrassed for you? Or, if he pretends he thinks you’re joking and tries to laugh it off—but you can tell he is very uncomfortable?

Make some part of your “thinking time” every day, as long as you need to do it, involve realizing there can be no good results from ever showing your infatuated feelings or talking about them. The aversion-therapy approach works for many people, especially those who know they have a lot to lose. Even if you never intended to say anything to him, the unpleasant thoughts you can put in your mind can help replace the romantic ones.

I don’t expect you to feel aversion for your manager, because he is probably a great person who is admirable and fun. But you can teach yourself to feel so horrified at the potential results of showing your feelings in even the mildest way, that you will look for ways to avoid it at all costs and that will lead you to find more comfortable things to think about.

2. Avoid—and if possible, completely eliminate—any chance you will have private time with your manager. Communicate by email rather than going to his office, especially if the door would have to be closed. Don’t ride on an elevator with him or in a car with him. If he comes into a room where you’re the only occupant, put distance between you and leave as soon as you can. Don’t make it appear that you are being coy or playing hard to get or upset with him, just do it naturally.

If you have always smiled and joked with him—keep doing it. If you have talked seriously to him, keep doing that as well. You can keep many of the components of your working relationship, just don’t have conversations that seem intimate because of the location or circumstances.

I can tell you as one who has observed many office interactions and participated in them—it’s quite possible to have fun and share camaraderie without having private time. It’s also quite possible to come up with a zillion situations that involve being alone with someone. You can make that choice and still seem like a friendly and comfortable colleague.

Your goal in this step is not just to make it impossible for you to talk to your manager personally, it is also to reduce the number of warm and personal memories of your time around him. Thinking about an interaction in front of others, doesn’t lead to the same string of thoughts that you have when you replay one-on-one interactions.

3. Focus on work at work. Do not discuss your manager with other employees, except in the most businesslike ways. A whole group of us caught onto the fact that an employee had a huge crush on our supervisor, because she talked about him all the time and avidly listened to anything that was said about him. He transferred and she got over it—and the change in her conversations were noticeable.

Another way to put your focus on work is to put extra work into building credibility and value with coworkers. You can also look at any performance evaluation form used by your organization and see what you can do every day to show evidence of high quality and quantity of work, so you are more focused on the pragmatic and evidentiary part of work than the personal part of it.

4. Reduce the obsessive thinking away from work. Right now your brain may be whirring with thoughts of your manager much of the time. You probably wake up at night and think about him, then think about him when things are quiet and think about him when…well, you know what I mean. It’s like a song that plays repeatedly in your brain. The only way to reduce those thoughts is to replace them with something else, at least part of the time. And the thing you replace them with needs to require concentration. You know best what hobbies, activities and interests you have that can take time–the more mentally engaging and consuming the activity is, the better. The goal is to make it where you can’t do what you need to do and still keep thinking of him constantly.

If you listen to music that reminds you of him, stop listening to it and replace it with an audio book or some completely different kind of music. On the way to and from work, listen to an audio book mystery or something else that encourages you to pay attention. Play upbeat music, not melancholy music. I suggested that you might enjoy “I Loved You Once In Silence”, but only listen to it once or twice—not repeatedly!

Use your energy to get good things accomplished at home and with your family, rather than just sitting around and thinking. Really be in the present and show enthusiasm. If someone asks you, “Are you OK?” you’ll know you need to be doing a better job of engaging.

Focus extra on your husband and children. Even though you love your husband, it may not be easy to try to put him in the center of your mind when you’re thinking of someone else…but do it until it is comfortable again. Do not let even the slightest barrier develop or it will grow and grow to the point that you can’t remove it. A woman who I coached on her interviewing skills, told me she had recently gone through a sad divorce. She said she never would have thought it would happen, but for the two years previously, she had felt uncomfortable and hypocritical, trying to be loving or romantic with her husband or even joking with him or talking about the house or vacation plans, when she was thinking of a man she was involved with at work. She and the coworker weren’t sexually involved at the time, but they were always looking for times and places to kiss or hug or just hold hands and talk. She thought of it as the most romantic relationship of her life.

Finally, such a huge wall was built between her and her husband that she felt as though she was living with a stranger. After that, they both did and said things that led them to a divorce and broke the hearts of their pre-teen children. About that time the man with whom she was involved decided he didn’t want to lose his family, so he asked her to release him from the relationship and let them just be good friends. She said yes….and quit her job a few weeks later. (That’s why she was brushing up on her interviewing skills.) Her life and her family will never be the same. Don’t let the wall even get started.

Try any techniques you read about that are suggested to help people avoid smoking, drinking or any other destructive habit. One woman told me she put a rubber band on her wrist and snapped it hard every time she thought about a man she was trying to break up with. The snap reminded her of why she wanted to break up. Maybe the snap can remind you of the pain you are causing yourself in other ways.

5. Let the actions of your manager speak to you about how he feels toward you—and let it go at that. If he asks you for your input or tells you about things that are going on at his level, that’s a way to say, “I appreciate you and value you.” If he treats you with respect and listens when you express an opinion, that’s a way for him to say he admires you and he’s glad you’re there. Don’t let him say things he should not, no matter how good it would make your ego and emotions feel to know this great guy has the same crush on you that you do on him. Just translate how he treats you. You can know that he DOES think of you as special and he probably does have a crush on you–and let that be enough.

6. Learn to smile about your feelings and accept them as an indicator that you are a caring person with a lot of warmth inside you. If your manager is a nice person and he continues to treat you with caring and respect, your feelings probably won’t ever completely go away. If he or you works somewhere else, you’ll wonder how he’s doing and you’ll occasionally get in touch. But, as the song, “The Impossible Dream” says, you will feel pride in knowing you can “love pure and chaste from afar.” (Listen to that on YouTube too.) There is a lot to be said for being the kind of strong person, man or woman, who can care for someone so much they don’t do anything to hurt them or to destroy their mutual respect. You can do that and you will be very glad you did.

Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote a sonnet about obsessively thinking of the one she loved but who was no longer in her life. She said she thought of him constantly and everything reminded her of him. Then, she said, one day she went to a place where nothing reminded her of him because they had never been there and it had nothing to do with him or their time together. The last two lines of her sonnet were:

“I say, ‘There is no memory of him here!’
And so stand stricken, so remembering him!”

This will take away the angst and drama of that sonnet: I read an interview with Ms. Millay, in which she said most of her sonnets, including that one, were written when she was very young and had never been in love and had never lost a love. In fact, she said, she wrote many of her sonnets just to get the practice of writing them. How I was disillusioned when I read that! But it reminded me of something that I found to be true: The feelings we have when we have an infatuation or a crush or when we’re in love or when we break up, can be torturous. However, they can also bring some inner amusement, as we realize most of us are young adolescents at heart, with feelings that are sometimes rooted in our very early romantic fantasies or our current self-image or emotional needs. We can smile at how those youthful feelings can overwhelm us just as much when we are decades older as they did when we were not much more than children.

When you can smile at the sweet but slightly amusing aspect of this situation you are going through, it will seem less cosmic and more comic. (Not entirely, of course, but it will help.)

As a final note, remember that your first unguarded comment to someone is enough to break open the dam—and you won’t be able to repair it. So, be willing to absorb this back into yourself and keep it between us.

I’m confident, from the tone of your letter, that you can do whatever it takes to do what you know to be right and what will allow you to have good feelings toward your manager—feelings that you can remember with a smile, years from now.

Best wishes to you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know if you use a strategy that is particularly effective, so we can share it with others.

Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors