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Co-workers to Close Friends to Almost Lovers? to EMPTINESS


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I (34F) and a co-worker (33M) hit it off at our work on a friend level pretty early on. We had a great professional rship which then grew into a hearty, healthy friendship. As we got closer, we realized that many things about our lives were parallel and pretty karmic, even down to the weird fact that both of us were carrying torches for ex-lovers. Ex-lovers that sounded weirdly the same in personality. (It's pretty crazy.) Our friendship grew very slowly, naturally, and organically, and eventually drinks with our crew became drinks between us two. A lot. Eventually, though (in Jan of this year) he acknowledged that there was a connection and an attraction between us, but that he refused to cross the line. 1. We worked together, and he doesn't mess with work (understandably), and 2. he was actively trying to get back with his ex and was emotionally unavailable (his words). I knew these things from the start, acknowledged them, and completely respected that. At this point, we were super tight, and I was totally cool with just staying friends. We really value each other's friendship, and I know more about him than most people in his entire life (his words). He trusts me implicitly, and I trust him implicitly. We're like bread and jam, imo.


Soon after that conversation happened between us, his ex finally pays attention to him and they start having an affair. (Mind you, she's in a committed relationship with someone else and has been for a few years, but he's trying to get her back by being her side piece. ::forehead smack:: I was concerned for him and said as much, but honestly, it's not my business, so mostly I just stepped back and stayed out of the way. He's an adult.)


Then, corona hits. During this time, he and I get SUPER close. (Ironically, both our exes drop off the face of the planet in their own horrible ways... around the SAME time, lol.) We're both working from home at this point, and so we talk on the phone every day. Text every day. About work, but also about other things and life and our usual stuff. Most of the time we talk several times a day, and sometimes for several hours (4-5 hours). HE initiates most of this contact, mind you. I merely pick up. We grow even closer during this time. Phone calls turn into hangouts again. Hangouts go on until 3-4 in the morning. Hangouts turn into him planning a camping trip for two for us to get out of the city and into nature. O_O (which I'm amped about obvs, because it'd be my first camping trip, and he's taking the lead on the whole thing.) Hangouts turn into sleepovers and movie days. (No, we never slept together!!! We haven't even kissed.) At one point, I'd spent more days at his house in one week than I had at my house. Then we're holding hands and talking into the night, and THEN, he invites me to share his bed and we cuddle. Again, no sex. But all of this? Initiated by him.


But it was so wonderful. And at this point, against all logic and common sense, I'm clearly developing much deeper feelings for this guy, but I don't want to admit it. I'm delusional at this point, lying to myself, telling myself "he's not available, and we work together. we're just friends, this isn't a big deal, just a snafu". (Like a dum dum.)


Then, the bomb hits: this past week, I get a text from him basically telling me that his ex (who'd disappeared to another state with her bf at this point) was feeling jealous and threatened by me. (We often talked openly about his ex with no problems in the past, fyi. But this time? It didn't go over so well.)




Not because she's still in the picture. But because I'm thinking he's deliberately using our friendship and rapport, using ME, to get a rise out of the ex. To make her jealous and thus make her want him back (when she actually just doesn't). I couldn't understand why else he'd be bringing me up to her otherwise, ya know? So, I'm pissed off and I let him have it. I cancel the camping trip, and I cancel our other plans for the week (we were supposed to go to the beach), and I tell him I need my space. He's really upset. He claims he was NOT deliberately trying to use me to make the ex jealous, but that he was sorry he'd hurt me. He was deeply regretful. He said he would respect my space until I was ready to talk again. I bid him goodnight, and then I break down in tears, devastated.


Fast forward, I decide to reach out to him to clear the air. See, I'd done some inner soul searching and realized that while what he did was dead wrong (intentionally or not), that I also had to own up to this one thing: I have feelings for him. Period. Any platonic friend would have reacted the same way I did if they thought they were being used to incite jealousy, but upon reflection, I realized that my reaction was even stronger because of my emotional investment. And it bothered me that I hadn't been honest with myself or with him about what I was feeling.


So I told him.


He basically said that he didn't mean to lead me on or confuse me. That he "tried to keep things clearly platonic with me but understood if there have been mixed messages." (wait, WHAT? YOU'RE IN DENIAL, SIR. "Clearly platonic"? Really. Don't act like this whole romantic progression was just in my head. YOU INITIATED. Camping trips for two? Hand holding? Snuggling? You tried it.) That he should have kept a clearer sight of how/where our friendship was headed so that there wouldn't be confusion. That he cared about me very much, but that we wouldn't be together because his heart isn't available, and that's not fair to me. That from now on, he'd pull back from our friendship and draw some hard boundary lines so that we wouldn't ever be in this situation again. It's very likely that the only time I'll get to see him ever again / at all is during our larger group camping trip, where we're going with two other people to stargaze in a few days. (I'm going on this trip. I legit bought $400 worth of camping equipment and I am determined to use it. And yes, full disclosure, I'm stubborn and dumb and want to see him. Even if things are different now.)


And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I ended up here. We ended our last convo on a solid and good note, and we were direct and clear with one another, but now, he's pretty much gone from my life. And it sucks. I miss him. My heart yearns for him, and I KNOW this is the right healthy thing for me and for him, considering the circumstances. Things aren't going to be weird at work; we're too grown for that, and we have enough space such that we can maintain a healthy distance and even not cross paths if we don't want to. So I'm not worried about that part.


But I miss my friend. I miss the laughter and the jokes and the steamboating about work and the mutual support and caring and the long conversations into the dark of night. I miss his warmth and the way he teased me about me being a brat. (Because I am.) I miss him. Aside from this foolishness between us, he's a really amazing person overall. A beautiful, kind, warm, incredible, deeply flawed man... and I miss him.


Help? Is there any way to salvage ANY of this? And why the hell is he acting like this was a case of "accidental mixed messages" as though something more WAS NOT going on between us? Am I crazy? I'm emotional, so logic is always welcome.

Edited by nyghtfalls
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"Salvaging" would mean knowing his heart is with his ex. You can try to kid yourself that you can be just friends and you won't get hurt, but you will. And you know you will.


I'm sure you have other friends. Connect with them, not him. Because in order to get past this you can't spend time or communicate with him.


You can't lose weight if you keep eating donuts and pizza and chili dogs. And you can't get past romantic feelings if you keep hanging out with him.


You can use your camping equipment on a different trip another time.

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He's not available. You keep your sanity by believing what he says. It's a give and take. It may sound incredulous but take it for what it's worth and collect yourself.


I can't tell you exactly what he's thinking or feeling but I feel for both of you. I've been in his shoes and also in yours.


It's normal to need touch and intimacy with someone and still be emotionally unavailable. Unfortunately he wasn't completely clear to you at the start. What's he's done is he's used you as a surrogate for warmth, affection and companionship. It happens. I have done this and there is no shame in it either as long as there's an understanding. You have every right to feel hurt, confused and frustrated. I'm very sorry about this.


What you can do from now onwards is practice some safer emotional distancing, take care of yourself and spend more time with people who care and validate you.


This arrangement hasn't worked out for you and your feelings have gone on for a lot longer than is healthy in this type of set up. Be glad that you didn't have sex with him as you might have felt worse about everything.


I am competitive and stubborn like you and I'd feel too that it's my choice to go camping or not. I wouldn't let one person get me down like that or take over an activity that I've planned for. That choice is really yours but I do understand where you're coming from. If you are going to go camping, I'd suggest you meditate or reflect on the reasons for going and staying safe out there. Don't go halfheartedly or not in the right frame of mind. If it's for nature, research and look up some activities and trails and maybe check out the campsite online if there is an online map of the camp site and read about the bylaws in the area. If this is your first camping trip also, look at your gear and check which items are returnable or returnable with credit in store so that as you're experiencing this trip, you understand your gear and are prepared to exchange or return items that don't work in your favour or don't fit well or aren't insulated enough etc. You get my drift. The point is to refocus and center yourself in your reasons for going. If you're going to go, do it right.


What you do now is you look to the future and you start refocusing every single point. It's a bit like refocusing a pair of binoculars. Your lenses need to refocus as you focus on new images further in the distance or that require different depth. Keep up the good work professionally too.

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How many times do you have to be kicked in the stomach by this guy to realize that he was using you and doesn't care about you like you cared about him?


He desperately wants his ex, he has always wanted his ex and decided to use you in order to deal with the burn of her not coming back to him and having her own boyfriend and to see if he could stir up her feelings for him by telling her about you. Which by the way is manipulative, and very arsey thing to do.


Why you even like this guy at this point, I don't know. But it is making you look desperate and needy. You know he doesn't care, you know hr used you, so why keep on?

He should be blocked and you should have enough self esteem to know when to walk away.


And is he a nice guy? Really? He decides to get onto his ex and cheat with her, (because yes, she did have a boyfriend and yes, his feelings matter too).

He also used you and makes no apologies for it. Even now, you go back...(sigh) and basically look like a dog wanting any kind of attention he will throw you and he tells you again to basically get lost.


His morals and how he treats women, is not a nice guy. He is self centered, he will use people, he doesn't care about lying or betraying anyone. He has little to no respect for your feelings.

Please, wake up. You need to stay away from this guy and get your self esteem back.

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I'm stubborn and dumb and want to see him


So, you're going to go back for more and again seek out attention from a guy who already told you, no. And who has already used you.


Wow, come on...surely you know better than to keep on like this? At some point, your pride should kick in where you won't allow someone to keep doing this to you. I think most people would feel somewhat humiliated over him basically telling you no...again and wouldn't want to see him on this camping trip.


Because if you had any chance at all of looking attractive to him, it would have been to walk away and stay away the first time you knew he was using you. Then at least it would have given him the chance to see that your value is more than how he was treating you and that you have higher standards and self respect, (which is attractive).


But to keep showing up, to keep basically trying to talk to him and asking for something he's not willing to give you, is just making you look like a pest.

That stubborness in you, should be telling you "to heck with him" and staying away so you can focus on meeting someone else. Not running back into the same ole useless situation.

Edited by SherrySher
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This guy is not that great a friend, OP.


He was slotting you into the void left behind by his ex, but keeping you just far enough away so as not to get sexually intimate with you. He's lonely in love, and wants his ex, but figured you would do - for most intents and purposes. But not all. He knew what he was doing, and you better believe it was awfully convenient that his ex even knew enough about you to be threatened by you. He orchestrated that. Friends don't treat friends like this.


And no, this was not in your head. He behaved in dishonorable ways if he had no further intentions with you, though this probably shouldn't surprise you coming from a man who's playing side-piece to a taken woman. His moral compass is off.


I am not sure what you want to salvage, really. A pseudo-friendship that served him a very specific purpose? You're kidding yourself if you think you'd be able to remain friends with this man while you have romantic feelings and he does not. It's going to hurt like hell. So is this upcoming camping trip you're insisting on attending. That is not a good idea whatsoever. I would book a different camping trip. Sorry, girl.

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It sounds like it was a fun time for a while but started to veer off to a place he didn't want it to go. No one used anyone. You both had fun and both had recent exes. He did not want an office romance and was clear on that. The mixed messages was him noticing you were getting too carried away. Act professional and date outside of work.

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With the huge amount of text you used to pour out your extreme emotions, the last thing you should do is to subject yourself to his presence 24/7 for several days of camping. Go on an all girls trip with other friends.


On the positive side, you can take this as a life lesson, which should have you choosing who you allow into your life more wisely. When you share chemistry with someone who is not available, or if you're not available (as in you already have a bf), that guy is someone you should not be entering into a close friendship with. From the get-go, he should've been treated as just another co-worker--someone you are pleasant with and have an occasional chit-chat with.


Start working on that new dynamic at work. It'll take time, but you can do anything you set your mind to. Retaining a friendship with him will prevent you from getting a bf in the future, as a new guy will not accept you being friends with a guy you have chemistry with and with whom you wanted so much more if that had been possible.


And has others have said, your co-worker is no prize. No decent man flirts with a taken woman (his ex). When you get some distance from him and your "friendship," you'll shake your head at how your mind was once as hazy as a dense fog. I've made those types of mistakes in the past, learned from some, and had to make other mistakes over and over again before I finally wised up. You'll get through this. Good luck.

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Didn't. :-) Fell for him. It happens sometimes. I'll keep firmer boundaries in the future. Thanks for your input!


Exactly. He wouldn't have been able to step over boundaries if you didn't allow it. I get it, you were hoping. But knowledge is power. You can reserve yourself for someone who is truly right for you.

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Exactly. He wouldn't have been able to step over boundaries if you didn't allow it. I get it, you were hoping. But knowledge is power. You can reserve yourself for someone who is truly right for you.


I agree with this.


You'll be just fine. Just know what you want and when things are not right for you.

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Usually this happened to men! no seriously it's call being a cuddle %$&*ch. On the Ladder theory, it's when a guy who doesn't get sex, but other BF like activities like sleepovers, cuddling, spooning. Sound familiar? And you only do this in private, no one knows about it...They confide in you, etc. So this is where you are at.


He only thought this was OK because you didn't disagree to it. So some of this falls on YOU, for letting it go this far without putting your foot down and ask what this is, and why is he doing it if there is no intention of a relationship. The red flags were there. BUT like a lot of us, we hope things would be different, that would this be the day it happens, the old wait and see, etc. He really had you emotionally tied.


So now what? You have to go through withdrawals. Blame that dopamine! It will take some time, but if you don't cut yourself off from him, you will always struggle hard. This is preventing you from having someone else in your life that truly wants to be with you. It's not healthy to let this guy suck every life energy from you to feed your addiction to him. You do not need this guy in your life. It's beyond friendship, and there is no going back. I know it's like taking the bottle away, but you need to do this for your own good. Just say it's over so you can move on from this.

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Read and meditated on all the advice on this thread. (Thank you all!) And I took your advice and just packed it in and called it quits. Joined Bumble and am now being overwhelmed by the crazy of online dating.


Then today happens. My "friend" calls me up. Apparently, while we'd been on break for the last week, he'd done some soul searching about what he really wanted in life (his words, not mine). He told his ex that he was moving on.


Make of this what you will. I still don't know what to think, or why he thought this information might be important for ME to know, but he does want to meet up tomorrow.


I dunno. Meanwhile, I continue to swipe right on Bumble.

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The thing is nyght, you still have valuable information about him that you are disregarding.


His morals aren't so great. He will enter a situation where cheating is happening and he doesn't seem to be bothered by it. That's a crappy type of person.

He did use you and he did try to make his ex jealous. He cared more about his and her feelings, than yours.


He as well, pushed you away, more than once. And you became second choice more than once.


These are not things you should just all of a sudden ignore and push under the rug just because he "did some soul searching"...which to me sounds bogus. It sounds more like, he knows he has no chance with the ex, so he comes back to his second choice.

I would still tell him to get lost...you have to have more self worth than this. This guy is no good for you and never has been.


Online dating can be a little bit messy, however at this point, just stick to chatting. No harm in that.

And really, you just need to find one man who is decent, nice to you and respectful. Someone who genuinely likes YOU and isn't using you as second choice.

I hope you will continue to search for a better man.

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Ex probably told him no. So back to trusty old you.


So just because he says some pretty words you're willing to forget everything he did?


If you go running back he will not respect you. He will think he can do anything and you'll just come back for more.


Please think about it before you allow things to go back to the way they were.

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Just meet up with him to satisfy your curiosity, if anything.


I don't know how effective it is to be on a dating site with strangers without acknowledging what you felt for this guy and taking a time out to process things, get grounded.


Do you have any friends you can talk to or hang out with? Opt for that over swiping left or right.


Things didn't quite work out the way you wanted it to but you did feel strong emotions for this person whether he was available or not. Those feelings are yours and yours alone. Just because they weren't reciprocated doesn't mean they weren't good or yours or whole or meaningful to you. Acknowledging your depth of emotion and what you felt is also acknowledging yourself and treating yourself with respect and kindness.


I don't think it's useful to demonize this person even though he does seem awfully out of it. He's going through something on his end. Tearing down someone you care about just keeps you bitter and hurting for longer. Tell yourself that it was what it was and there's nothing else to it. He's someone you care about but it's not what you want or are looking for in your life.


I think moving into swiping left and right is like going from one superficial situation to another, from the kettle to the frying pan.


Time out.

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Thanks, all, for the insights and advice. In my last response, I said I was "continuing to swipe right on Bumble". This is what I'm doing: moving on. So no worries. :-)


I think Rose is right: there's no need to demonize this man. He is not a bad person. No worse than anyone on this thread, imo. This is just life: a long line of gray. It's not always cut and dry, and we humans don't always act the way we should. But we grow. He will grow, and I will allow him to do that without putting the mark of the beast on him, or bringing my own self to ruin. He's made his amends, and I'm not going to hold a grudge. I'm just going to guard my distance and my heart (as you've suggested). There's a thing called "releasing someone with love", and I like to adhere to that.


Moving forward.


To Rose, I really appreciate your insights. Thank you! Still: I've been alone a really REALLY long time. Like, years. Spending years doing what everyone says is the "right" thing to do for growth: working on myself, loving and learning from my mistakes, going to therapy, and cultivating tons of genuine hobbies and interests that I love. I've written novels, I'm building a business, am planning a film shoot, I have a great family, an amazing daughter, have traveled the world a few times (and will be doing more of that next year, hopefully), and I have a 60+ hour per week full-time job that puts mileage on my soul and keeps my hours extremely busy. My friend group is really small, honestly, and they have already settled down in many ways; but they are mighty, and I love them. I have more hobbies than I can count. I go to dinners, movies, museums, and trips by myself most the time, and I genuinely enjoy myself; I genuinely enjoy my own company. I spend most of my time alone. This summer, if COVID allows, I'll be looking into networking groups around my creative interests. I keep myself very fit and am objectively attractive. All of these endeavors and work have been for my benefit, my life's fullness, and my self-esteem, and it's been an amazing period of growth. My life is full and wonderful. I'm not perfect, by any means. I've done and am doing the work.


So, now? It's time for love. Now I'd like to find a partner. I'm not wasting any more time by taking time out. :-)


Yes, I care about this person, but the only way to find what I'm looking for is to move on. I'll talk to my pastor or therapist in the meantime and will definitely do things to heal, but no more time outs for me. I've had 7 years of time out. I look around and see all types of people settling down, no matter what they look like or how many issues they have. I'm starting to realize that I don't have to be in this perfect space to find love. I just need to be honest, self-reflective, and open, and tell my matches what I'm looking for, I think.


Wish me luck.

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Good luck, nyghtfalls! You sound like you're in a good place. Communicate then. I think sometimes people are too afraid to communicate about what they want or shy or feeling bashful or ashamed of what they really want and are not able to handle. Be that burst of sunshine then and go brightly into everything you do. Don't let any dates intimidate you or squash that.


Wishing you all the love and joy imaginable.

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