How Do I Deal With My Attraction For My Boss?

Question to Ask the Workplace  Doctors about attraction to boss:

For nearly a year, I have been terrified of my supervisor because I have more than professional feelings for him. We have a good working relationship and I don’t want anything to ruin it, but, every day, I find it hard to hide my feelings. How do I deal?

Signed, More Than Professional

Dear More Than Professional:

It is good that you can differentiate between professional behavior and personal feelings. Now you need to define what communication and action transgress the boundaries that should be maintained between them. It is not uncommon for us to be attracted for someone with whom we work. We are not machines. We have drives and fantasies. We often interpret each others’ verbal and non-verbal acts as interests that go beyond the job. Therefore you are wise to understand those feelings that well up in you.You don’t say if either or both of you have significant others or are married. This fact is information that you should learn if you do not know it now. Nor have you said if you superior has made playful advances that have encouraged your personal feelings for him. However you might respond to those whether your feelings might cross the boundaries of marriage or have been encouraged, your question recognizes that your feelings might “ruin” a good working relationship.

You were hired to work and not to fall for your boss. So here are several guidelines that might help you talk yourself out of what might ruin what you now have; a job:

1. Avoid the temptation to rationalize by telling yourself that you simply can control falling in love. Don’t allow your hormones to dictate such scripts as “You are meant to love and what happens will happen.”

2. Talk business and don’t talk with coworkers or your superior about topics pertaining to your or his personal lives other than a friendly hello and goodbye and conversation about the weather. Especially don’t make or take compliments about clothing, hair, and appearance. Other conversation beyond the job include much conversation about music, television, hobbies, etc.; that’s also personal not business conversation.

3. Don’t speak at work or to others about how much you admire and/or are attracted to your boss. Such talk can whet the appetite rather than extinguish it.

4. Keep the doors open. If your superior closes a door, open it. Tell him that is what your father or significant other said an open doors is the best rule for tending to business.

5. Get a life outside of work. Workout. Sing in a choir. Take yoga or ballroom dancing. Volunteer at a hospital or tutor a child at the library.

6. If your superior proposes anything beyond work, don’t reject it. Rather, firmly state that is not appropriate now because you are in a working environment. State kindly that should either of you be transferred or take employment elsewhere, that is when you would welcome such an invitation.

7. Focus on character. You don’t want to be attracted to anyone who would push his job aside and confuse what he’s hired to do with his and your personal interest. That would cheat the company and risk your job. More often it’s the subordinate and not the boss who get fired if there is even a hint of boss-bossed communication that goes beyond either one’s job to sexual talk or acts.

8. See your current job not as an end in itself or as a chance to fall in love, but as a learning station on a longer career path. You will only be in control of your life (and that include your personal welfare) if and when you have the skills and experience that best assure you can support yourself independently.

These few suggestions are intended to help you get your head on straight. You are not a victim of your emotions unless you allow yourself to seek instant gratification of fantasy. Think professional. Think team and that is more than a boss/bossed coupling. Think how working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. If these suggestions make sense, after a couple of weeks let me know if you are making them work.

FOLLOW UP: To bring you up to date, he is seeing someone, while I am not. I am trying to keep things between us on a professional level, but, there are times when I want to (for a lack of better term) freak out on him.

Response: Hello! Dr. Gorden and I often respond to those who have written to one or both of us, and I especially wanted to respond to your recent message. I recall your first message and thought Dr. Gorden’s advice at the time was excellent. I had hoped things would be resolved now and that you would be feeling better able to focus on work and less distracted by your feelings for your supervisor. However, I also know that those feelings can be very difficult to control and they often don’t go away quickly.

Since they have continued for so long, apparently without your supervisor knowing, I congratulate you for your restraint. That shows thoughtfulness on your part, to avoid embarrassing your supervisor, and wisdom to avoid jeopardizing your job!I think you will need to decide what you want out of this and compare that with what is likely to happen.If you want your supervisor to have a relationship with you, that is probably not going to happen. For one thing, it seems that two people in a situation such as yours often go too far down the path of coworker or friend to ever return and find the path of romantic partner or even temporary romantic partner. It just becomes embarrassing to even consider. Your supervisor might feel that way. But, in your case you also have the issue that almost certainly there would be a policy against you two having a dating or sexual relationship, so you would be harming each other to do it. Or, if there isn’t a policy, there should be.

We get many, many letters from people who are stuck working with someone they once had a relationship with and now it’s over. When the other person is a supervisor or manager it’s doubly problematic. Your supervisor may simply know it’s not even a possibility and wouldn’t consider it even if he knew of your interest or was interested himself. Work is work and few people will give voluntarily give up a career for a relationship. They certainly don’t want to risk getting fired, which is what would probably happen. If what you want is for him to just acknowledge there is something, some kind of attraction, some kind of special bond, between the two of you, that isn’t going to happen either. He can’t risk you being offended by that, because of his job situation, and he may not feel that way anyway.

But, the other issue is this: He may feel, as most people do, why even acknowledge it if you can’t do anything about it? He may feel some tug in your direction, but if he knows he can’t do anything about it he almost certainly will feel there is no point in even mentioning it. Or, he got over it now and is involved with someone else, so it’s not an issue anymore.

Unrequited love is only interesting in romance novels. In real life they become awkward and irritating.If what you want is to find a way to hide your feelings indefinitely, while you secretly long for him, that is going to be very difficult to do. You know how, when you have been at a party or at work, you can tell that someone is interested or involved with someone else. Other people, especially women, can tell the same thing. Over time it becomes too difficult to conceal. But, even if you can keep it a secret, it becomes tantamount to asking how you can keep a rash on your arm hidden from everyone. Why not get rid of the rash instead?

Your particular rash is painful and uncomfortable and would be embarrassing if it were disclosed. So, rather than trying to find ways to work WITH the problem, your best bet is to find ways to work OUT OF the problem.So…..that brings us to the fourth option….getting over it. Have you considered talking to someone closer to home who can provide some immediately applicable tips and techniques, based on a better understanding of you and your exact situation? I think that would be a good way to ensure that you can discuss the situation as it goes on. You may be doing that already, and if so, I think that is another sign of wisdom on your part.

We hear from both men and women who haven’t gotten assistance to help them deal with such an emotionally charged issue, and almost every time something happens where they are humiliated, fired or get in trouble in some other way. The result is that not only does it completely destroy any chance of a better relationship with the person they care about, it also ruins other parts of their lives.I particularly wanted to mention that since you made the comment about, “there are times when I want to (for a lack of better term) freak out on him.” That was probably a way to express your overall frustration, but still, if you feel that way there is always the chance you might sometime just blurt your feelings or show your frustration. You know that wouldn’t be good!I would never suggest someone give up a good job on the false hope that it would help a romance, so I hope you won’t consider that. You would probably find yourself not only out of work but still having no hope of a relationship.

On the other hand, if you think you won’t be able to control your impulses and you don’t want to create a bad situation, it might be something you would want to consider. It seems like the last resort to me, but you know your life, work opportunities and temptations best.

Finally, let me give you a suggestion from my personal experience. I don’t usually do that, but will in this case because it may help. Try being the best actress ever created and throw yourself into the role of Nothing-But-A-Subordinate. Treat him more like a boss than anything else. Avoid any conversation that puts you in the role of confidante. But, if he mentions spending time with his girlfriend say something that puts in your mind the image of someone who is happy but doesn’t care. “Good for YOU!” or  “Wow, that sounds fun. I’m SO glad you had a chance to have fun this weekend.” “You two sound like SUCH a fun couple!”

Be happy for him, as you would for any other boss who is doing OK in his or her life.Be a bit more formal than usual, especially when you refer to him to anyone else. Say a “Mr.” now and then, when you talk about him away from work. Keep conversations friendly but businesslike. Make this a movie and figure out who would play your part as the subordinate who thinks her boss is nice, but who has a better life away from work. Make that real for you every day and never lose the role. For example, instead of looking right at him to talk, do something else at the same time, at least part of the time, to keep the conversation more like a guy might have with another guy.

Breezy, friendly but not immersed in him or even particularly interested. You should be courteous of course, but in a more detached way.It took me about a month of that when I was in a similar situation and amazingly one day I realized I not only could act like it, I started feeling like it. It wasn’t that I wouldn’t still have jumped at the chance for something else, just that I knew nothing else was going to happen and I was tired of being sad about it. So, I just made myself get over it. Within about a month or so, I really couldn’t dredge up the angst anymore and I got tired of thinking about it and I got back to work like usual. I remember the angst now, but I’m glad he never knew about it and that I stopped feeling it.That’s just my personal suggestion and might not work for you at all. But, it will take you toward the direction of getting over it, rather than spending more time feeling sad about it.

At some point you have to stop thinking obsessively about it, just to give your brain a rest! (Finding someone to go out with would be a good idea too, but I realize that is often easier said than done.) Before you do anything else though, I really do think, if you’re not now doing it, that you should find a counselor, confidante or professional person to guide you through this. You wrote to us before in January or so I think, so that is a long time for you to feel wishful and longing for something you are probably not going to have. I think you can work through this; and you know you can.

I just also know it will be painful and gut wrenching on occasion. I don’t think there is anyway to avoid that. What you CAN avoid is doing something or saying something that will hurt your life or career, hurt your friendship with him, or hurt him and his life. None of those will get you what you want anyway, but they will certainly leave scars.Dr. Gorden suggested immersing yourself in life outside work and finding other interests, as well as focusing on being the best employee possible. You might also find it helpful to reach out to others who are hurting for one reason or another; either at work or outside of it.Best wishes to you as you deal with this. Feel free to write back as things progress—and I hope they DO progress!–Tina Lewis Rowe and William Gorden