When you put a group of attractive people together, in an environment where they work closely on collaborative projects, they sometimes fall in love with each other by accident.
This could be great if both parties are happy and free to act on their feelings, but in the much commoner scenario that the feelings aren’t mutual, or someone is unavailable, it’s not great. It’s embarrassing, or worse.
We hear a lot about toxic scenarios where people abuse positions of power to harass co-workers, or overstep boundaries and make unwelcome advances. What’s discussed less often – and it’s a bit surprising, because it’s quite common – is the situation where someone develops an unwelcome crush on a co-worker and finds themselves struggling to maintain their own emotional stability. They become so besotted that their ability to concentrate evaporates, their productivity crashes, and their performance is compromised. This can rapidly spiral into a professional and personal crisis.
How can such a fraught situation be managed? What’s the best way to get over an office crush, and recover your emotional equilibrium? Well, here’s a few practical steps that can help:
1. Be honest with yourself
The seriousness of the situation depends a lot on your personal circumstances. If you are single and looking for love, then it’s not too surprising that you have noticed attractive people in your orbit. However, if your crush is unavailable, then it’s obviously a dead-end to try and connect with them.
If you are not single, and have become infatuated with a co-worker unintentionally, then the situation is more complicated.
The first stage in sorting the situation out, is to be honest with yourself. How serious is the crush? How dominant is it in your life? What do you actually, really want to happen?
The worst case scenario is a crush that is so powerful that it becomes limerence. Limerence is a life-disrupting romantic infatuation that is best understood as addiction to another person. Unwanted limerence is a trap that is hard to escape from, as your crush will become the main focus in your life, a source of romantic reward so powerful that it is more than just a simple crush.
Many of us indulge a crush at first – enjoying the thrill of romantic excitement, the pleasant fantasy of an alternative life, the intoxication of their company. But there comes a point when you have to get serious. Is this something you can safely indulge, or are you just deepening an obsession that will have to be broken at some point?
Step one is to let go of the fantasies and daydreams and face the situation as it really is.
2. Be wary of disclosure
Many people feel an overwhelming urge to share their feelings with their crush. It’s a natural impulse, because they make you feel so good that you see it as a positive experience, and want to let them know how amazing you think they are. Unfortunately, your crush may feel very differently.
Disclosing your feelings in a professional setting is incredibly risky. It is possible to do it elegantly, but only in some very narrowly defined conditions – if you have excellent communication skills, are free to start a romantic relationship, there is no power differential between you and your crush, and if you can handle rejection with good grace.
Outside of those circumstances, the downsides to disclosure at work greatly outweigh the benefits. It almost always wiser to keep your feelings to yourself as you work your way through the emotional trial.
3. Share your feelings with a trusted friend
While it’s safest to not disclose to your crush, those pent up feelings do need an outlet. If you have a friend who you trust – ideally outside the office – then talking openly with them can be a valuable pressure-release valve. As well as just unburdening yourself, a good friend can help you understand the situation better, and offer advice and support.
A difficult situation is if you are in a long-term relationship and develop a crush on a co-worker. Disclosure to a significant other seems like a high-risk situation, but it can be transformative. Again, this links back to taking the situation seriously. If you sense that your partner has noticed a change in your mood, they may already know that something is up. Disclosure can be a way of re-establishing trust, by being honest about what’s happening to you.
Disclosure to a long-term partner can help you focus on the crush as a problem to be solved together, rather than a threat to your existing bond. More on how to handle this delicate conversation: here.
4. No flirting
Flirting at work is a minefield. It’s especially bad for limerents, because it feeds the infatuation and reinforces the addiction. It’s also unprofessional, even if everyone involved takes it in good spirits.
Some people are very adept flirts. In one of life’s ironies, we can actually be much more skillful when flirting with people we aren’t especially attracted to, than we are at flirting with a crush. The stakes are lower, it’s easier to be playful, and we’re generally less nervous.
When flirting with a crush, we’re prone to overdoing it, misreading cues, pushing our luck, and generally executing the Dance of Romance with all the grace and emotional sophistication of a nervy teenager.
If you’ve realised your crush is getting out of control, ease up on the flirting. Friendly is fine, cheeky is risky. Tone it down as you readjust your mindset towards recovery.
5. Limit contact
One of the most difficult factors in getting over an office crush is that you typically have to see the person you’re infatuated with every day. That makes it difficult to go “No Contact” as a way to drain the crush of some of its power.
You can, however, aim for limited contact. That means only seeing your crush in professional settings. Obviously, you need to meet your obligations and work with them when necessary – attending meetings, exchanging paperwork and so on – but, there are lots of opportunities to increase contact beyond those essential scenarios.
One good way to starve the crush of reinforcement is to avoid social events where they are likely to be present. Similarly, shared lunch or coffee breaks are likely to reinforce your infatuation and deepen the crush. If you can, reorganise your schedule to limit exposure to their allure.
This probably seems rather humourless and grim. Most people want to get over their crush without having to go into Monk-mode and ruin any chance of friendship. Unfortunately, rather like “social drinking”, maintaining a friendship with someone you are infatuated with is usually wishful thinking – at least until the crush has passed.
6. Be decisive
One of the biggest drivers for limerence is uncertainty. Trying to keep your options open, ride the wave of romantic euphoria, indulge in daydreams and fantasies, or generally kid yourself that you can handle the emotional storm, usually results in the crush getting worse, because it keeps you in a state of indecision.
If you are not being open with them, or honest with yourself, you can end up in a state of limbo. The romantic pressure builds up but has nowhere to go except inwards into gut-churning butterflies. Similarly, it’s possible that your crush has noticed your interest, and are not responding in a straightforward way – perhaps they are sometimes friendly, but sometimes distant. Or maybe they enjoy the attention and flirt with you. Maybe they are also infatuated with you, but not able to express their feelings freely.
There are lots of possible scenarios for how unspoken and unresolved romantic tension can curdle. Ultimately, it all derives from a failure to be decisive. If you know the crush cannot work out, be decisive and stop feeding it.
7. Focus on yourself
Finally, the only surefire way of resolving a crush is to try and shift your focus away from them and onto yourself.
We are most vulnerable to romantic obsession when life is unsatisfying and unfulfilling. If you are single and looking for love, but have found it in an unavailable place, then the decisive and purposeful choice is to detach from your fruitless crush and redirect that energy onto someone who is available. Easier said than done when one person has captured your romantic attention so spectacularly, undoubtedly, but recognising the truth of the situation is the first step in resolving it.
If the crush is unwelcome, and you are already committed to someone else, then figuring out why the fantasy of romantic adventure (or escape?) is so appealing is an important step. Limerence can be used as a trigger for personal transformation, if you can effectively redirect the energy into self discovery.
Purposeful living is the best protection against misplaced crushes, as it helps develop emotional stability, self-esteem, sound judgement and lasting happiness, rather than guilty thrills.
Most of the battle in getting over a workplace crush is in taking control of the situation. Shifting your mindset from suffering romantic doom, to being a purposeful and decisive person who can take useful action is key. Crushes can be fun for a while, but left unresolved, they can become a debilitating burden.
Best to work towards recovery.
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