DEAR SUGAR, The Rumpus Advice Column #23

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Dear Sugar,

I started a new job and over the first two months developed a thing for my boss. The work involves communication, so we talk a lot. And since I’m new, he and I talk a lot more than I talk to the other eight people in the office. He’s a charismatic guy – and single – and has asked me a lot of questions that led to my revealing my personal philosophy, my artistic leanings – he asked and so has seen some of my work – and some details of my past that are very personal. He has also revealed some personal information about himself – family issues, his philosophy, his thwarted dreams of being an artist. I don’t know, but I am pretty sure he does not have this kind of rapport with all the other people in the office; perhaps a couple of them, but not all of them. He has even mentioned (in an oblique way) some of the office dynamics that I picked up on independently – how certain people are more friendly, more open, while others are very rigid in how they do things.

When I noticed that in meetings I was mooning over him, I told myself to get a hold of myself. But even as I pulled back, his enthusiasm and interest in conversing with me continued. So I told him, “Look, I’ve been avoiding bringing this up, but it’s affecting my ability to work with you. I’m finding that I’m attracted to you.” I paused and he smiled wide and blushed. Crossed his arms over his chest. So I continued. “I hope you see this as a compliment.” To which he said, “Oh, yes, it’s very flattering.” Not hearing a “And I feel the same way” or even a “Well, I think you’re great, but given that we work together, I think we should keep things professional,” I made an attempt at some sort of damage control, throughout which he continued smiling. “I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, and I’m not asking anything of you, but I’ve gotten to know you through our talks, and I have to say, you have many of the qualities of character I would want in a partner.” Then he said that yes, this kind of work brings emotions to the fore, and that people become close and things develop – he even acknowledged that we had had some intimate conversations, and that these things happen. I said then it seemed to me those kinds of conversations would at least lead to a friendship, and he agreed. It’s been two weeks and I still feel raw. And I kind of want to quit my job. Which of course I cannot do. What is your read?

Smarting, But Maybe Not So Smart

 

Dear Smarting,

That’s not a letter, honey. It’s a novel. But I hear you. It’s a tough spot. Seems to me you did the right thing by telling him how you felt. Not sure I would have said that stuff about him possessing the qualities you’d want in a partner. That’s more appropriate down the road a piece. But hey, you were under the pressure of your own heart, and you did your best. It’s hard to tell the truth when you could get hurt. Most men won’t even drive by that neighborhood.

In fact, I’m most struck by how little this guy said in response to your astonishingly candid confession. You put it right out there and he seemed to act like a mortified twelve-year-old. Then again, maybe he felt overwhelmed. Or maybe he felt that he’d led you on, and was now being hit with feelings that he’d provoked but was, alas, in the white-hot moment, unprepared to face. And then again (again), I don’t know much about this workplace, and given the dynamics – that he’s a male boss dealing with a female employee – it could be that he was exercising extreme caution. I also don’t get that comment about “this kind of work brings emotions to the fore.” (Do you guys work in tantric counseling?)

My fairly uneducated guess is that you’ve developed a little romantic transference here, and that you wouldn’t be so smitten if this guy wasn’t your boss. Or maybe I’m projecting my own insane attraction to all the bosses I’ve had who weren’t complete cretins. The nice ones exude this daddy energy that’s pretty hot-damn delish.

But lookee here, Smarting: you’ve done what you had to do. You leveled with the guy and got bubkis back. I’d cut down on the contact with him, and set about focusing your romantic yearnings elsewhere. Not suggesting that you play games, or go out of your way to avoid him. Simply advising you to spare yourself the anguish of more intimate discussions. If you find, after a few weeks, that he still makes you all tingly, you can revisit the idea of looking for work elsewhere (which, believe you me, is easier to do when you have a job and don’t exude those desperation fumes).

The office romance is one of the less fortunate signifiers of modern life. We’re all adrift these days without the old emotional anchors. So a lot of those very human needs get displaced onto our surrogate family – the people we work with. It’s a shit storm waiting to happen and, in the way of this weary world, perfectly natural. Keep slugging, girl. It’s the good ones who smart, and the dumb ones who play it safe.

 

Dear Sugar,

So I’m in I love with this guy. He loves me back, it’s great. I feel supported, he’s smart, the sex is good, all of it. The only problem is that he brings up his ex girlfriend often. Like, at least once a week often. Things didn’t end well and they broke up. And then… she DIED.

Yes, dead of sudden natural causes a little over a year ago. It’s so sad! At first the story really had me. I love him, so his problems are my problems. But now it’s just getting rude, not to mention (and I know I’ll go to hell for this) dull.

When I point out that bringing her up hurts my feelings, he apologizes and it stops, but then a few days later he’s back to the same thing again. I know they had a lot of great memories together, but they couldn’t have been that great or they wouldn’t have broken up, yes? I feel like I think about this ghost constantly. Is this a deal breaker or can we get over this?

Signed,
The Next One

 

Dear Next One,

Well, you know what the say: hell is for children. Actually, Pat Benetar says that. What they say is that you go to hell for the company, not the weather. And Sartre says that hell is other people. (I’m not 100 percent sure on this, but I think Sartre wrote some of Pat’s early singles.)

Anyway, your question is what to do about this ghost. And my answer is – just drop another nickel in the Sugar slot – level with the dude. Tell him everything you’ve told me, maybe toning down the business about being bored. There’s an unwholesome pattern establishing itself here that sounds passive-aggressive on his end, and probably retaliatory, because he can (of course) sense that you don’t want to hear about his dead ex again. But it’s also true that he’s probably guilty as hell and rubbing at the spot, like old Tootsie MacBeth. And this guilt may even be causing him to deprive himself – or at least hamper – the unbearable pleasure of your company. Guilt works in funny ways.

That being said, I find your frustration understandable and even sort of laudable. This guy has to be a clod not to see how much his mourning chafes your ass. So it’s time for a come-to-Jesus talk. You just have to make it clear how great you think he is and how fabulous his cock feels inside you and how much you downright lerv him and, therefore, how sad it would be – for both of you – if he was forced to mourn the loss of you.