Played for a Fool

Q: In the last couple of months I have been seduced by a co-worker. He keeps smiling at me only to ignore me the next day or just be mad at me when I don't pay any attention to him. I tried to fight it and keep a smile on my face to save our work relationship. But now he has gotten to me and I have developed strong feelings for him. We have not crossed the line physically. I try to break up and then I can't stay away from him either. I can't sleep anymore. I got mad at him the other day because he blatantly ignored me, and then he came to apologize. He usually tracks me down at one of my work stations and says either "I'm sorry," or "Have a great day," and looks me deep in the eyes with concern. I answered in a sad and emotional voice last time, and I feel completely found out now. I hate to let my guard down and risk falling hard for someone that might just be playing games with me.

Since then, he tries to avoid me and I think he is ready to end this cruel game. Which in itself should be a relief but I can't let go. I am so angry that he seduced me and awakened these feelings in me and now he just wants to drop it. Please let me know how to get over something like that before I completely lose my composure. -- Cheryl, 44

Dr. Susan: It takes two to keep a weird emotional "seduction" like this going. What I'm hearing is that all that's taken place is an exchange of smiles and soulful looks. Even if you've gone out together outside the office, has anything actually happened or been said to make you think he was seriously involved with you? Regardless, I understand that one can get all tangled up in imagining that there's a "real" relationship going on. He smiles, he doesn't smile. He looks you in the eyes, he ignores you. He's either playing a game that he knows is cruel, or he's oblivious of the effect he's having on you. Or he knows he's having an effect, isn't interested, and doesn't know how to manage things appropriately in the office.

Either way, it's time for you to put an end to it. You're not a mere schoolgirl at his mercy. Don't wait for him to end what you call "this cruel game." Smiles in the office don't mean much. Getting mad at someone for not smiling is silly. You work in the same office, so not seeing him at all is not an option, but it doesn't sound as if you actually have to work together on projects. Recognize that you've fallen into an infatuation, and it's going to be challenging to get those feelings to go away. But I strongly urge you to find other interests outside of work that you can look forward to, and not expect anything from this guy. There are no shortcuts for getting over something, but in this case, it might help to realize there wasn't ever anything there in the first place. Just a flirty guy you took seriously.

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