How Should I Handle Having Romantic Feelings For My Supervisor?

Question: I’m 29 years old, in a long term relationship. My supervisor is a few years older than me, also in a relationship. We’ve worked together for quite a while now. Over time, after working directly with him on my shift, and slowly getting to know him, I’ve found myself caring about him more than I would normally care. Also, I found myself slowly attracted to him because we share many similar interests and get along well. I noticed my feelings for him after realizing I blush around him and get shy.

Anyway, I wanted to deal with the situation professionally and appropriately because I respect both my relationship, and my supervisors relationship, as well as his position at work.

A couple weeks ago I told my supervisor that I’d like to only talk about work related events from here on out. He looked very shocked when I told him this, and a bit worried. So I tried to reassure him by telling how I feel, that I really respect him and his spouse, and that he didn’t do anything wrong to make me feel like this.

He tried to get me to tell him why, so I asked him not to judge me about it, and told him that it’s not professional and I’m attracted to him. He wasn’t bothered at all, I guess he was a little flattered. He also told me that if he wasn’t in a relationship, he would take me on a date. I’m not sure if he was just saying it to try to make me feel better, but I appreciated his kindness.

Deep down inside I’m kind of hurting over this whole thing. I care about my spouse a lot. I also love my job and enjoy the people I work with–and I enjoy my shift because it’s not stressful at all compared to the other shift I worked on in the past. What can I do?

Answer: Our focus is on workplace communications, but as you may have noticed from looking at our archived questions, we receive many questions about workplace relationships. I’ll share some thoughts with you that others have found useful.

You say you have developed feelings for your supervisor, but because both of you have spouses or partners, you don’t want to create a problem. You told him you were attracted to him. Now you wonder what your options are, other than switching shifts, which you don’t want to do.

Most people find that it creates even more problems to confess personal (romantic/sexual) feelings to someone, when a relationship isn’t possible or will lead to trouble. It does the person confessing no good, it adds stress to the work and home lives of both people and it changes the communications between the two of them for a long time, maybe always.

In your case, your supervisor realizes that since you are subordinate employee he would probably be fired if he was found to be having a relationship with you—and could be in trouble for having it appear he encouraged you in any way. So, now he is probably on edge more than you are, wondering what might happen next.

It is possible and completely achievable for you to have a crush on your boss but not do anything about it. You didn’t need to tell him to only talk to you about work, because you could have toned down personal conversations and focused on talking about job issues—which is what you should do now. If you admire your supervisor and enjoy his company, just stick to that, appreciate the fact that work is more fun because of it, and help him be successful, while you’re being successful too.

Here are some ways to make sure neither of you ruin your work lives or your personal lives:

1. Do not be alone in private areas with him. If you have to go into a back room or close an office door, keep it brief and stay away from him. Now that you’ve talked about personal feelings, he may be tempted to see what develops next. Don’t let him do it and don’t you do it. Once there is hand holding or a kiss, no matter how brief, things will never be the same. There will not be a good result and you will feel even more unhappy about it.

2. Don’t go places with him in a car, unless there is no other alternative. Being together in a car, seated next to each other, presents the same temptations as a back room.

3. Don’t discuss “what if” situations with him, even if he brings up the subject. As the Beach Boy song says, “You know it seems the more we talk about it, it only makes it worse to live without it.”

Instead, be part of the larger workplace. Invite other people along, if you go out to lunch; look for opportunities to be an excellent employee and help the business be more effective in whatever it involves; be a supportive and cooperative coworker. At the same time, find a project at home that interests you and that encourages you to get home on time and stay busy while you’re there. Never email, text or call your supervisor when you’re away from work; be purposeful about keeping your attention on your home and spouse while you’re there (for example, don’t listen to music that reminds you of your feelings.)

You don’t need to switch shifts. All you need to do is develop a smiling acceptance that sometimes even an adult can have a crush. Then, realize that when you made a personal commitment to your spouse, it closed the door to intimate relationships with someone else—at least as long as your marriage is important to you.

You can feel attracted without doing anything about it. You can have occasional feelings of romantic angst without the drama of an illicit relationship. If you can do that, you will be able to keep a comfortable friendship with your supervisor and both of you will be better off.

Best wishes to you as you work through this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know how things work out for you.

Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors