I’m Attracted to My Boss and Getting Mixed Messages From Him.

Question:
I have an attraction to my boss. I can’t explain how it transpired but it did. And I get mixed signals from him. Like, at our annual staff party he told me, as he knew I was on a weight loss journey, that I’m such a beautiful woman and that when I’ve reached my goal he will introduce me to some people. He calls and sends me texts late at night. I’m just lost. Please help.

Response:
If you look at our archives you will find situations similar to yours. You’ll also see that we are consistent in saying it’s understandable that a coworkers at all levels in an organization might find a boss attractive and develop a crush (even to the point of obsession.) We also consistently say that such relationships nearly always lead to unhappiness for one or both.

Working together creates a special bond because there are shared experiences and challenges that bring closeness. In addition, most people come to work freshly showered and groomed. Our coworkers see us at close to our best. Bosses can especially seem attractive, because an effective manager is usually courteous and respectful of employees and tries to support them in their professional and personal efforts. They also may seem confident, wise and admirable for their achievements.

There are entire genres of romantic fiction related to office romances—especially a romance between a confident male boss and the female employee who blossoms as she works around him. However, those books don’t take into consideration company rules against such relationships or the damaging scandals and harmed careers that result. The books also have happy endings rather than very awkward situations when feelings are not returned or when the romance fades or the employee feels she was pressured into the relationship.

Bosses are just as vulnerable as employees to workplace romances. Quite often they feel isolated, overworked and under-appreciated. Finding someone who seems to understand them may seem to be a way to help them through tough times.

Of course, not all motivations by employees or bosses are pure and unselfish. The egos of either may cause them to flirt, hint, make sexual propositions or pretend romantic feelings they don’t actually have. The key point is that whether people are predators or romantics, workplaces often provide a setting for intimate feelings and relationships.

In your situation, it sounds as though your boss has stepped far over the line of appropriateness with his comments and late night phone calls and text messages. You can bet those above him in the organization would not approve and probably would demote or dismiss him—and maybe you, too.

He might say he isn’t trying to establish a sexual relationship, but he certainly is giving all the indications of it. Even if he isn’t, there is no organization where late night phone calls and text messages (a more personal way to communicate) between a boss and an employee is considered OK.

If he is married, he is risking his family. And, if you respond to his lures, you are risking everything as well. The only way this could have a happy ending would be if you are both single and you think it is likely you could date openly and maybe be together in the future.

You know all of that or you wouldn’t have written to us. So, now you need to use your good judgment and self-protectiveness to ensure that your relationship with your boss goes back to being professional, open to inspection by others, and limited to work hours.

Here are some ways to make that happen:

  1. Don’t be alone with your boss at work and don’t have private conversations in corners, parking lots or other places where both of you might be inclined to talk personally or do more than converse professionally, such as touching, hugging or more.
  2. If he calls on your personal phone during work or after hours, either don’t answer or wait and send a text, such as, “Will talk to you at work tomorrow.” If it’s your sleep time, don’t respond at all. You can always say you didn’t hear the ring.

If, up until now, you’ve indicated that you like for him to call or text, you may feel that you can’t suddenly cut the calls off. If so, soften the text with a thumbs up emoji. Here’s why: A smile might indicate you’re happy he called. But a thumbs up just means you heard the ring but will talk to him at work. A thumbs up is a very handy but bland emoji.

  1. If he texts, either don’t respond or respond with the “Talk to you at work tomorrow” message. He doesn’t need to know what you are doing and you shouldn’t tell him. If he asks, text back, “Busy, but will talk to you tomorrow.”

If these were business calls, your responses would be different, but apparently they are not. You aren’t obligated to talk to him away from work unless it’s a business emergency—and he knows it.

  1. If you have to, create a family or friend situation that will prevent you from conversing or texting away from work.
  2. If he questions why you aren’t responding to his calls or texts anymore, be honest about your concern that serious problems could develop if others thought the two of you had a closer friendship that a professional one. You can say that the phone calls and texts tend to break down work boundaries and you don’t want that to happen.

You have no reason to be embarrassed. You shouldn’t tell him that you are feeling attracted to him or if you’ve already told him, don’t refer to it. Just say you value your job and you know he values his, so you don’t want to go any further with something that could hurt both of you.

Avoid making this an angsty drama if you talk to him about it. Be matter-of-fact, as though you’re looking out for both of you, but especially for yourself. Show your confidence and control over your life.

  1. Seek someone in your area who could provide some advice or counseling. Talk to those who will limit the conversation to a short time frame, rather than a friend who might talk about it even when you’ve moved on. Sometimes friends become more obsessed with the relationship than is healthy.
  2. Find other things to think about besides him and what he is doing or thinking. Since you are working on your physical self-improvement program this is an ideal time to develop your mental and emotional strength. When you’re working on such an important goal, the last thing you need is something to take the joy out of it!

Think of your boss as a weight that has the potential to hold you back. Free yourself from it by putting your relationship with him in perspective. He’s the boss and you’re a staff member. That’s the way it was before and you need to get it to that point again.

Fortunately, it appears that things haven’t gone so far that you can’t move through this and continue to work around your boss comfortably. If you put some distance between the two of you, he will be able to resume his correct role as your boss, you will be able to focus on your work and your private life, and no one will need to feel embarrassed. You may find that he can quickly go back to being supportive and pleasant but without any hint of personal interest—that would be best for both of you.

Best wishes to you as you exert your determination and maturity to deal with this situation. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know about your results.

Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.