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Unsure how to define a relationship


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Old 8th January 2019, 5:55 PM   #1
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Unsure how to define a relationship

I'm not sure this is the right forum for this post or not, as I'm not involved with anyone outside my marriage and have no plans to. The reason for my post is that, for the first time in my life, I am unable to define a relationship with someone. Please bear with me, as this could get long and confusing.

Quick background:
Me: Male. 48. I've been married 16 years, 2 kids. Almost got divorced about 5 years ago, went through MC, reconciled. But have always been in an unhappy place in my marriage/life for several reasons. Been back in IC for about 4 months for chronic depression, anger, unhappiness in my marriage, etc. But, truth be told, I have a very good life and really have no reasons to be unhappy or settled. I have a great job, a supportive wife, healthy, happy kids and a healthy family. But, I've always been a bit of a mental mess and finding happiness has always been a struggle for me.

Her (my "friend"): 40. Never married. A bit of a party girl. Never been in a LTR, as far as i know. No kids. Lives with parents.

Story:
About 8 or 9 years ago, I got a new job at a fast-growing company. A few months in, our CFO (my boss's boss) hired an assistant, I'll call Mary. I found her very attractive from the very beginning and we got along right off the bat. She's a bit edgy, loud, has a quick temper (she's Italian - haha), but very thoughtful and kind. We talked about stuff (nothing ever really deep or personal - although, I've learned over the years, from things I've overheard, she has had a few, short-term relationships with guys that were abusive towards her) and enjoyed being in each other's presence. As the years went on, there was an unspoken affection towards each other that developed and we really grew to care for each other. One moment that stands out for me is: during a workplace happy hour, I made a joke about something while we were standing around with a few other co-workers and she just gave me this loving, sweet look, reached out and lightly pinched my chin, and said "You're so cute." It was a flash of affection that really rocked me, because my own wife isn't affectionate like that towards me and I just *loved* how it made me feel. Here we are, years later, and I remember that moment vividly.

Fast forward a couple of years, our company is sold, things go downhill quickly, our CFO leaves and takes Mary to his new company. She and I keep in touch and she ends up putting in a lot of effort in getting me hired at this new company a few months later. We've both been at this company ever since, now going on 6 years.

Around that time, I was going through a difficult time in my marriage and I realized I had a strong crush on Mary, even though I knew I wasn't her type (she's into macho, latino-type guys "with flava" as she said once - I'm a white bread, middle-aged dude). Again, nothing ever went on, but I caught myself complimenting her a lot more. My marriage survived, but I stopped socializing with people from work, including Mary, outside of work, because I always left events depressed, wanting something I couldn't have.

The following 3 years or so, our affection towards each other (IN THE OFFICE ONLY) seemed to get stronger and stronger. I'd visit her in her cube all the time, just to say hello or smell how nice she might be smelling that day, lots of hugs, kisses on the cheek, she would sometimes touch my chest, rub my arm, hug me TIGHTLY, touch my chest hair, whatever. I'd say we flirted quite a bit, even lots of affectionate, flirty bantering and such on our internal IM system. She's always told me that she loves me, etc. Once in a while, however, she'll see me and call me "friend." I absolutely crave(d) the attention I got from her.

Two years ago, around Valentine's Day, I went down to her cube to help her with something. There was a huge bouquet of flowers on her desk. I have no idea who they were from (pretty sure they were from a guy, but could have been from her mom, for all I knew), but I felt this intense wave of jealously come over me. Like, a literal wave of heat from deep inside me and my heart starts racing and I started sweating. I was jealous. Really jealous. And it hit me then that I needed to back away. I had no business being jealous of someone getting flowers when I'm married. Her life, for the most part, was unknown to be and none of my business. So, thus began a conscious effort to avoid her as much as I could. I stopped visiting her unless it was absolutely necessary. But the flirty banter continued over IM, occasionally. But I stayed away, with the occasional meetings in the hallways that were unavoidable. There were still plenty of times, especially over IM, that I think I hinted that I had feelings for her. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't pushed the limits here and there.

Come Summer, we have our annual company summer outing (side note, I hate company parties). We went to an island off the coast, so it required a 30-minute boat ride to and from. Mary and I ended up eating lunch together (with a bunch of other people) and we were the last group to leave on the boat. We sat together, my arm around her and her hand on my knee - she was even lightly caressing my knee while we talked and we just enjoyed the nice ride back to the docks (she did ask me why I never went out for drinks with her and others after work any more, so she did notice I had withdrawn a bit over the years). I'll be honest when I say that was THE highlight of my summer that year. A perfect moment. I went on vacation for a week after that with my family and was just depressed and preoccupied the entire time.

I did my best to maintain my distance from her. Last Valentine's Day (2018), we were both at work early to set up for a big meeting. In a moment of weakness, I asked her if she wanted to go to breakfast after we were done setting up and she responded with a "YES!!!" We drove to a nearby place and had breakfast. We never really got into anything deep or talk about relationships. Although, she started to mention a guy she was friends with and sort of stopped herself when she said she was sort of seeing him, but not really. She's *never* asked me anything about my wife and has only briefly met her a couple of times at holiday parties in the past. One thing that I had a hard time with that morning was that she was dressed in the hottest outfit I've ever seen her in. Jaw-dropping hot. I struggled mightily to not compliment her. We got back to the office about an hour or so later, hugged at the side door entrance and gave each other a peck on the lips. I said we'd have to do it again some time and she said "I'd love that." And off we split. (A year later, now, and I still can't get over just how HOT she looked that morning. Took my breath away and I always wonder if it was just coincidence or not.)

I've done my best the past year to maintain my distance from her. Of course, being co-workers, that's impossible 100% of the time. At some point, a few months ago, she was in my office and I asked her about her weekend and she told me some generalities, saying she hung out with her friends and started to say "boyfriend", but cut herself off/corrected herself and said Friend. That struck me as odd. She still gives me hugs, kisses me on the cheek, tells me she loves me, etc. In fact, a few weeks ago I was in the kitchen area, she saw me and started running toward me, jumping into my arms and hugging me super tight and kissing me on the cheek, as usual. I loved that - and hated it, too. Those moments mess with my head.

Fast forward to last month. Our annual holiday party. I make excuses not to go again, as I leave those events feeling bad for one reason or another and I get socially anxious, too. This was actually the first time she hadn't said anything to me beforehand about me not going. Come the next week, and the party pics were posted online. I knew I shouldn't look, but I did. Of course, she had a date and that hot wave of jealously took me over again. From a comment someone made recently, they are dating. She's never asked me about the party. Only thing she's said since is asking me over IM if I'm ok, as I've been really quiet. I just say I have a lot going on in my head and leave it at that.

So, that all being said, my relationship and happiness issues are an ongoing thing and that's why I've been back in therapy for a few months. But I can never seem to get this particular woman out of my head. Even if I *WAS* single, we have such different lives that I don't see us being compatible (I'm submersed in domestic life and my kids' sports every weekend, she's a free spirit with no responsibilities). For that mater, I don't even know if she'd be interested anyway. And, for as long as we've known each other.....we don't truly KNOW each other.

Her affection towards me all these years has really confused me. But we've never crossed "that" line. I did also realize that this office affection was really inappropriate, as I don't see anyone (even those who are dating or married to other co-workers) acting towards each other the way Mary and I do when we're around each other. I'm sure it's raised a few eyebrows. And the more I'm around her, the more I "feel" for her.

The main reason I'm posting this is that I was really thinking about it the other day and it hit me: out of all the people I know and/or may be friends with, or whatever, this is the ONE relationship I can't define. Besides co-workers, are we actually friends if we don't know much about each other's lives? Is she just a naturally-affectionate person and I'm latching on to that because of what I lack in my own life/relationship - even though I don't see her act this way towards anyone else? IS she actually interested in me, but doesn't want to be the OW, so she's maintained HER distance from me? Or has she simply moved on?

I'm NOT pursuing her, as I have my own sh*t to figure out and my own marriage to either fix or end. I would never have an affair, despite the temptations. I've been in a pseudo emotional affair with someone that I never got romantically involved with about 10 years ago, but absolutely fell for and had feelings for. But......I'm just really, really confused how to define my relationship with Mary. I'm sure it will eventually come up in therapy, but could really use more feedback on this.

Thanks for reading and for your replies.
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Old 8th January 2019, 7:07 PM   #2
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I’ll take a stab at this. This has been going on for quite some time. It almost seems like your checked out of your marriage. I think you’re afraid to let go of your marriage and go after her so you’re doing this halfway thing. I think you are really betraying your wife by staying in a marriage with her and harboring these feelings for someone else. If I knew my spouse felt this way about someone for so many years I’d say see you later. I’m not going to tell you what to do but if you really love this other person so much I think you’re doing you’re wife a disservice by staying with her.
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Old 8th January 2019, 7:34 PM   #3
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Thank you. I can't say you're wrong that I may already be checked out. That's been an issue fo me for quite a while. However, I won't say that I'm actually in love with this other woman. I don't know what to call it (hence why I posted). I feel like I could be in love with the idea of her, but we don't know each other well enough to truly love each other. I certainly care for her a great deal, but we lead two different lives. Maybe I'm in denial about that, but that's what I think.
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Old 8th January 2019, 9:13 PM   #4
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I don't think you are friends, if you don't know anything about each other. She doesn't know your family, you don't know hers. She doesn't even tell you when she starts dating somebody. No. That's not friendship. I would call it a casual work friendship. Yes, she might act excited when she sees you in the hallway/cafeteria, but that's probably just how she rolls in general. Some people are louder than others. It's a personality/culture thing, and how people were raised, etc. I would not read too much into that relationship. I'm afraid it's all in your head.

What I do suspect, though is that she's representing something that you don't have, but want. Freedom, a free spirit, no responsibility, no social anxiety, fearlessness, easygoing attitude, confidence, outgoing personality, etc. etc.

For some reason you want to be a little bit like her; can that be the case? Sure, you might have a little crush on her as well, but I think the main issue is that you don't want to be where you are right now, and apparently (like you stated above) this has been an ongoing thing nor for YEARS. I don't know what the problem is in you marriage, and if anything particular happened in the past that cause the ongoing "crisis"/funk, but apparently it's not resolved, at least not to your satisfaction. I think that's the main issue here. You want to be a little bit like Mary.....You get sad after having drinks after work with a group of colleagues, because you don't want to go home......that's sad.

I am glad you're in therapy, and maybe you could find out with the help of your counselor what Mary means to you, and what role she plays/what she represents to you. I wouldn't focus on "defining" the relationship. I don't think ther's much there really.
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Old 9th January 2019, 8:28 AM   #5
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"That" line

You may not have crossed "that" line, but you've done damn near everything else. Kisses and hugs and caresses of the knee and jumping into your arms. I'd classify this as an emotional affair on your part and, given that you are married, you are playing with dynamite. She sounds like a player who reads you like a book and enjoys the "game" but has no intention whatsoever of more (which makes sense, again because you are married - that may even increase the frisson for her).
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Old 9th January 2019, 12:35 PM   #6
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Here is my personal opinion, FWIW:

You are definitely in a full-fledged, long term workplace EA; there's nothing undefined about that.

The reason you have greater than normal PDAs at work and also feel like you don't truly know her/aren't sure if you're friends after all this time is because you and she don't see each other outside of work. Your interactions and the EA are limited to that context. Some EAs are like that. (Note: I'm certainly not suggesting you start seeing her outside of work.)

You seem to be in some denial/downplaying this because you haven't had actual sex. A useful thought exercise might be to reread your entire post while imagining that your wife had written it about a man she knows at work. That might help clarify things. Pecks, hugs, hands on knee, affectionate words, intense jealously, and flirting over IM are all not trivial.

As you point out, you recognize this at some level and also realize it's not a true, fully healthy relationship. So, you're ambivalent about the EA and try to resist it. But at some level you consider her "your girl" - hence the jealousy, especially when seeing her with someone else happens in a work context, since that is the context of your EA.

I would conjecture that, after 6 years of this, your EA has long passed being gossip/watercooler talk and is now simply an accepted (if inappropriate) feature of your workplace. I can imagine new employees being told by coworkers at some point that "<YourName> and Mary have a thing." And they observe the two of you and draw their own conclusions.

It's good that you are in IC. You should consider the possibility that your EA with her is enabling you to better tolerate your happy/unhappy home life and other emotional issues. It might also be causing/contributing to some of your emotional issues (but all this is for you and your IC to figure out).

Quote:
Originally Posted by LonelyITGuy View Post

Her: Never married. A bit of a party girl. Never been in a LTR, as far as i know. No kids. Lives with parents.

...she ends up putting in a lot of effort in getting me hired at this new company a few months later.

...In a moment of weakness, I asked her if she wanted to go to breakfast after we were done setting up and she responded with a "YES!!!" ... she was dressed in the hottest outfit I've ever seen her in. Jaw-dropping hot.

... At some point, a few months ago, she was in my office and I asked her about her weekend and she told me some generalities, saying she hung out with her friends and started to say "boyfriend", but cut herself off
Sounds like she likes the EA and has feelings for you. She definitely gets something out of it as well. She puts effort into maintaining it. She recognizes (and may be flattered by) your jealousy and bothers to try to minimize it. It is possible that she has wanted to "go physical" at certain points but like you felt that was "crossing a line".

Consider that possibility that you may be providing a longer term emotional stability/grounding that she (for whatever reason) doesn't get or wish to get from her regular sexual relationships outside of work. Living with parents is somewhat unusual in our culture if one has a job. She may be have some underlying problems or emotional issues that you are not aware of. The situation might also interfere with her forming a good LTR if they are conservative and insist on marriage before living together, etc.

Bottom line: She wishes to maintain the EA.

Final thought - since you are in a work context, be careful if/when you finally let this go. It sounds like she genuinely cares for you, but people can flip emotionally when it becomes clear it's the true end of a relationship. You don't want her ending up hurt, vindictive, and gunning for your job. If it was me, I would let her down very gradually/gently. I would also have several screenshots of IMs where *she flirted with you* tucked away someplace, just in case you ever needed to demonstrate that this was a mutual thing. I hope this never becomes an issue, but it could.

All my opinion of course, YMMV...

Last edited by mark clemson; 9th January 2019 at 12:44 PM.. Reason: spelling
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Old 9th January 2019, 1:26 PM   #7
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Thank you all for the responses. They are helping me get a clearer picture of whatever mess I'm in. The one thing I disagree with is that she appeals to me b/c of her freedom. I enjoy going out one on one or or with small groups of friends, but I have zero desire to go out every night to the bars and live a wild life. Do I wish I had more free time? Absolutely! But, we have kids and that's my life right now. There are plenty of other single women at work who have just as much freedom and (even if I'm physically attracted to them) I don't have these issues with them.

The living at home thing is a bit odd for me, too, and makes me pause a bit. I know she did it to save money while she went back to school to get her degree. But her family is a bit old school Italian, too, so that could play a factor. Or, she's a bipolar psychopath. Could be anything!

I never thought she was playing me. That would actually bum me out if that was truly the case. But....it's something I need to consider. It's happened a lot in the past with attractive women. They love to butter up the IT guys to get what they want. I learned that lesson a long time ago. But it was never something that went on for several years and she really doesn't ask me for things like a lot of other people do.

She has no idea about my jealousy. I've NEVER said anything to her or anyone else about it or ever made any comments. You folks are actually the only ones that know!

This didn't fit my definition of an EA simply because we never, ever discussed feelings. I *do* recognize the inappropriateness of the physicality and I need to do even more to distance myself from that, as much as I do crave it.

I go back and forth on whether she has feelings for me or not. I doubt she even knows my birthday or how many siblings I have. I could count on my hand how many times she's come upstairs to my office to just talk in the past 5 years. So, it's not like she ever goes out of her way to talk to me, or text me or whatever. Maybe you're right, I don't know. I've even looked up online "signs that a woman is into you" many, many times and my results are always 50/50. (Admittedly, deep down, wanting all the signs to be positive.) See why I'm confused?

Mark, when you say let her down easy, I'm not sure if that's in the cards. As I said, we have NEVER, EVER discussed our feelings at all or any future plans or whatever. Perhaps if she approached me about my distancing myself from her it could come up, but I'd be very hesitant to even acknowledge that out of respect for my marriage (I know what you're going to say...). She's only asked me a couple of times here and there how I am or whatever, if I've been quiet for long periods of time, and I always keep it vague and it doesn't go any further.

I don't need to re-read my post in my wife's frame of mind to get what's wrong. I know things are messed up. I'm sure she'd leave me in a heartbeat if she read it. In fact, one of the helpful ways of getting me to be more distant form her, or not buy her a gift for her birthday/xmas (which I've only done 2-3x), etc., is I *do* ask myself if I thought if it was normal if my wife did that at work for someone. Obviously, the answer is no and that stops me.

Thank you all, again. I appreciate the honesty. I really do.
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Old 20th February 2019, 12:34 PM   #8
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Update: So, I finally brought this up with my shrink a couple of weeks ago. I think he was a bit surprised, as I've been meeting with him now since early Sept. and this never came up. I basically read him my initial post. He sort of agreed that it was a bit of an EA, with a small "a." But, like some of you pointed out, this is more (all?) my issue and really puts the spotlight on whatever it is I'm still searching for/lacking in my marriage and life and what Mary represents to me. He assuaged my guilt by saying my feelings are just feelings and I'm allowed to have them.

Also, I've done a very good job keeping my distance from Mary. However, she did stop by to visit last week and gave me one of her trademark super tight hugs and kiss on the cheek. Of course, she just called me about some office issues and dropped a "my boyfriend" during the conversation. Now, I have a pit in my stomach and just want to go home and sulk.

A little more background on me, that I'm working on in IC, is that I am (and have been since I was a kid) apparently suffering from whats called "repressed grief." I lost someone very close to me and not once did I ever cry or mourn that loss. It's scary how complex our emotions and brains are that a loss nearly 40 years ago has, literally, negatively affected my entire life since then, without me knowing it. There's a process I need to go through, but having difficulty getting that needed time to myself. Once I go through that, we expect a lot of things to change for me for the better. It would be nice to get that perpetual black cloud out of my way for once.

Last edited by LonelyITGuy; 20th February 2019 at 12:43 PM..
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Old 20th February 2019, 7:56 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by LonelyITGuy View Post
I'm working on in IC, is that I am (and have been since I was a kid) apparently suffering from whats called "repressed grief." I lost someone very close to me and not once did I ever cry or mourn that loss.
I’m sorry for your loss, as I have experienced intense grief and it does certainly affect our lives in ways we can’t sometimes imagine.

What I struggle with is understanding how grief for a loss you experienced so long ago could be responsible for the poor boundaries you have established with your coworker in the workplace.
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Old 20th February 2019, 8:44 PM   #10
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II agree with the poster who said you're having an EA with a capital A, with very questions physical behaviors attached.


As a female I can tell you I certainly do not touch my male friends chests or rub their chest hair, grab their knees when I talk to them or jumped into their arms when I see them, and I'm Italian so you can't blame me being not emotional! That's with real friends with workmates it's a definite no go, can't you see how inappropriate this behaviour is? Where I work this woman would be one step away from disciplinary procedures, she would absolutely have been talked to by now. Imagine the outcry if this was a man carrying on like that. I guarantee the responses would be much harsher on here.


Yes your feelings are your own but they are impacting on your marriage and your wife. Have you told your IC the full range of the EA and it's effects. This is not just a friendship, if it was it would not be carried out in secret from your wife.


I'm sorry for your loss and hope you find the answer you're looking for but think you grasped the easy out your IC gave you here.
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Old 20th February 2019, 9:04 PM   #11
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Read the book "not just friends". If you need a definition, inappropriate is the word. Use it as a prefix for whatever you want, friend, co-worker friend, aquaintance, doesn't matter because of the inappropriate part. And that's on you to change.

It's not about her or the relationship, you're focusing on the wrong things. Focus on you, your wife, your marriage and what needs are or aren't being met between you as individuals and as a couple.
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Old 20th February 2019, 9:18 PM   #12
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It sounds a bit like a relationship I had at a very low paying casual job once with a married guy. We were buddies, as far as I was concerned, but so comfortable that I'd sit on his lap sometimes and that sort of thing. No kissing though. I'd have drawn the line there. He later fell for me. I used to kind of flirt and stand around that record store with my arm around more than one guy. As someone said above, maybe that's just the way I rolled then. I wouldn't have done it at a job that paid more!!

Sometimes you can just get very comfortable at work that way and be affectionate.

Now, I do not think her dressing hot for that breakfast was a coincidence. I am a woman. There are no coincidences how you dress, really, on a planned event.

I think you may be right that you wouldn't work out even if you both stopped and tried it, mainly because she is very lively and likes to go party and you don't. So I do think it would peter out -- plus you're jealous, so you would try to stop her from socializing without you but you wouldn't want to go. So I think you have genuine affection for each other, but that it's a dead end street. The way you two are touching at work, I'm sure people are talking.
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Old 20th February 2019, 9:20 PM   #13
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It goes without saying, but a lot of people suffer terrible losses and/or deal with depression and unhappy marriages - and still manage to maintain appropriate boundaries with individuals of the opposite sex at work.

I too think you are grasping at straws here... ”It would be nice to get that perpetual black cloud out of your way for once...” do you mean that “perpetual black cloud” that you didn’t realize that you had until your counsellor brought it up?
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Old 21st February 2019, 10:40 AM   #14
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Iím sorry for your loss, as I have experienced intense grief and it does certainly affect our lives in ways we canít sometimes imagine.

What I struggle with is understanding how grief for a loss you experienced so long ago could be responsible for the poor boundaries you have established with your coworker in the workplace.
I don't know the answer to that, which is why I'm in IC. It could have everything to do with it, or nothing at all. That's the million dollar question.
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Old 21st February 2019, 10:42 AM   #15
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<snip>I'm sorry for your loss and hope you find the answer you're looking for but think you grasped the easy out your IC gave you here.
Yes. I was 100% honest with my therapist. I'm not grasping any outs. Nothing has been solved for me. I'm still in the same, messed up emotional state I was in before.

Last edited by LoveShack.org Moderator; 21st February 2019 at 6:23 PM.. Reason: Truncate quote
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