Dear eNotAlone: I recently got friendly with a female colleague at work and although we aren't the best of friends as yet a friendship has slowly developed. We chat regularly, chat about our weekends, lunches etc and it does feel like a friendly environment - like I'm getting to know her more and more. The thing that is bothering me is that although she seems quite open and happy to chat with me, she never invites me to anything. I've never seen her socialize with anyone in the office outside of work or spend time with family during lunchtimes or breaks. I opened up to her on the weekend and told her about an event I was going to with some college friends, and although she seemed interested she never took it farther than that. Do you think I'm in her social circle, or am I just a co-worker who she is polite to and nothing else?
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When developing a new relationship with a colleague, it can be difficult to tell if it will become more than just polite conversation in the office. Trying to discover if your female colleague is in your social circle or viewing you merely as a co-worker can be a perplexing task.
It can be disconcerting when you feel like you are opening up to someone and they don't reciprocate or follow-up with invitations. In your case, you invited her to an event but there was no further developments. However, this is not necessarily a reflection of your relationship, instead she may have other commitments outside of work that don't include socialising with colleagues.
The best way to establish whether you are in her social circle is by asking. Initiating a more personal conversation about reconnecting outside of work could provide you with a clearer picture of the future of your relationship. There are several ways to do this including suggesting to grab lunch, coffee or drinks after work, or even providing an open invitation for her to join your friends and family if that's something you would feel comfortable doing considering the early stages of your relationship. There is of course the risk of rejection, however that is better than leaving things ambiguous and being left with unanswered questions.
Furthermore, if she continues to turn down your offers without providing a thorough explanation, then this suggest that she may be not making space in her life for a social connection to develop beyond work.
You can also look at her behaviour during work hours to consider her level of comfort. If she is exuding confidence during conversations with you, sharing information about herself without reservations, and responding positively to your jokes then it is highly likely she is more than comfortable around you. If your personalities continue to align and she is chatty and openly contributing to conversations she may feel comfortable taking your relationship beyond the perimeters of work, however you need to empower her by giving her an opportunity to do this and also considering any challenges she may be facing stopping her from accepting invitations from you.
If after speaking with her and all else fails, then it is possible your female colleague is unsure of your intentions. It is important to remember that everyone is different and there could be many reasons why she is wary of engaging in a socialisation you are are initiating. By being respectful of her boundaries and showing your interest with patience, you may find she begins to let down her guard and develops a deeper level of comfort with you.
Simply put, the only way to truly know if your female colleague is in your social circle or not is by having a conversation with her. Making sure you create an open and non-threatening space to have this conversation is key to gaining clarity and understanding her perspective.