How Can I Stop Romantic Feelings For My Boss?

A Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about how to deal with romantic feelings toward a boss who says all the right things to encourage a relationship.

Question:

My boss is very nice to me, unlike to other staff. He has a bad attitude, is hot-headed and is very tetchy to others. He is married but separated and currently has a girlfriend. He is 6 years older than me.

In my first month as his EA he invited me to eat out with him, which I didn’t think I could refuse. I found him very attractive from that day on and day by day my attraction to him has become deeper. One night we went out and had some drinks. I’m not into alcohol, so I became weak and drunk and things became blurred to me. When I came back to my senses, he told everything that happened. I did things I shouldn’t have done, but he didn’t take advantage at me. I felt very weak but I remember him asking me to sleep while he cleaned me with a towel. We decided to keep it to ourselves but after that night we become more closer. We chat till midnight and talk a lot about work, life and even personal stuff. He always says that he doesn’t want me to go and that is why he allowed me to enter his life, like he sold his soul to me, which I really don’t understand.

He keeps on saying that he wants us to be successful. Weeks ago he asked me to have some drinks again but unlike before he doesn’t allow me to drink much. He even brought me to my place afterwards. After that night I’ve kept my distance from him, like ignoring his messages when I’m home. For me to keep my distance from him keeps me out of trouble, because he is married and has a girlfriend and a business partner. All I want is to stop this feeling but I really don’t know how. If I resign as his EA, I might disappoint him which I’m afraid of. What should I do?

Response: 

We often hear from young women who are involved emotionally and/or physically with an older boss–although in your case, six years is not all that much older. It’s not surprising those relationships happen, when you consider that working together brings a closeness that isn’t found in many other situations. There is also the reality that it makes a person’s ego feel good to think the boss is attracted or for the boss to think a younger woman is attracted.

In the many letters we’ve received about these situations, we have often heard that the boss says the young woman is the only person who really understands him. The woman involved often tell us that the boss treats her in a more gentle or special way than he treats anyone else. Very, very often, the boss has a relationship with another woman or he has a wife AND a relationship with another woman. In every letter so far, the young woman says she doesn’t want to hurt her boss’s feelings or disappoint him by stopping the relationship.

I expect all of that sounds familiar to you, because it includes some of the things you described. There are only so many ways for an office relationship to start and end and nearly all of them are a bit grubby and not romantic. Think about your own situation–it really started with you being too drunk too make a good decision and your boss had sex with you anyway. If you live in the United States, that could be considered the crime of Sexual Assault, according to how it all happened.

The harsh truth is that your boss probably does not intend to make you his wife or even to date you, he intends to have you as a relationship on the side, for as long as it works well for him to do so. He may genuinely like you and feel protective about you, but the odds are slim that he will ever acknowledge you to others as a close friend and confidante. You will be in the background, while he will continue his life in his business, having a relationship with someone who is more his social and business equal.

The important thing for you is to make sure you are not harmed physically or emotionally over this situation. You also don’t want to lose your job unexpectedly.  I couldn’t tell from the way you wrote it, if your boss’s girlfriend is his business partner or not. Either way, the business partner would probably have you fired right now, if your relationship was known. It’s never good for business to have relationships that involve sneaking around.

Your boss may suggest you move on, if he’s ready to end the relationship and perhaps marry his girlfriend. At best, if things continue much further, you will be very uncomfortable there. The other employees will suspect and will resent you. When it comes time to seek another job, you may have some part of this follow you when you want a good reference.

You need to either find another place to work, to take you out of this situation or take yourself completely out of a personal relationship so you can focus on working and earning a salary there. I think you would find it much easier to quit that job and find another one, but that is a decision that obviously will be tough for you. So, maybe you can convince him that you want to stay and help him and the business but you don’t want to continue the relationship you have.

Do remember that you can say no to having a physical or sexual encounter and you do not have to continue working there. It is illegal for someone to force you into physical contact or to have sex with you when you are not sober enough to give consent. On the other hand, it’s not right for you to send mixed messages and go along with everything, then claim later that you weren’t in control. So, if you do not want to kiss, touch and have sexual activity, say it clearly and stick with your decision in your words and actions. And, if you do not feel you can say no, you should quit the job immediately and get to a safe workplace.

You’re wise to not respond to your boss’s messages when you’re away from work. Consider getting involved in an activity (or saying you are involved in an activity) that will keep you busy at night and unable to meet him and sit and talk to him. If you have family nearby, invent a family situation that is keeping you busy in the evenings. Get a friend to give you support by having someone exercise with you after work or go with you to events.

The only way you will be able to have long, long personal conversations and physical contact or sexual contact, is if you’re away from the office. So, don’t be alone with him away from the workplace. Just say you can’t get together after hours or before hours. He will be upset and irritated but I will bet he won’t fire you over it. He needs the work you do and if you do it well, he needs those skills. If he pushes the issue with you, tell him honestly that you have liked him and appreciated his caring for you until now, but you don’t want to keep the relationship going, because it makes you feel uncomfortable to have to keep it concealed.

I gave that same advice to another young woman and she told me that once she started saying she wasn’t available, she was shocked to find her boss didn’t even question it, he just stopped asking—and soon was involved with someone else. It hurt her feelings, but she was glad to be free of a situation that had been bad-feeling from the beginning. I think you will also feel better to be out of this.

Almost every young woman who writes to us about a relationship with her boss, ends by saying something about wanting to stop the feeling. Focus on stopping and changing your actions and the feelings will be easier to handle. When you are not alone with him in dark settings, when you are not talking in personal ways, when you are not sharing intimate thoughts, you will stop feeding the emotions that are keeping you miserable.

Best wishes to you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens. Stay strong and do what is best for you and your career, your life and your sense of morality and ethics.

Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors