Ms. Behavior®: Don’t Stalk Your Coworker

I love one of my male coworkers, but don’t know how to tell him without embarrassing him. I only see and talk to him at work. I don’t have any experience with infatuation or discreetly telling my feelings.

Is there any way of telling him without hurting his or my employment and feelings?

Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

—Old Shy Guy

Dear Old Shy Guy:

Workplace romance is tricky, because of professional expectations, power imbalance, and office rules. It’s difficult to answer your question based on the scanty information that you’ve provided—so much depends on your position and relationship to your coworker.

So, the answer is presented as an algorithm, below:

(1) Is your coworker in a position that is subordinate to yours? If not, proceed to the next question. If so, stop yourself right now. Take a nice icy shower, and turn your romantic attention elsewhere immediately. Pursuing a relationship with a subordinate at work easily can be perceived as sexual harassment.

(2) Is your coworker gay? If so, you may proceed to the next question. If not, give yourself a little kick in the cajones.

(3) Does your coworker already have a partner? If not, you may proceed to the next question. If so, go sit in the corner for a while. Think about why you want to stir up trouble and heartbreak for yourself and others. Stay in the corner until you can think of a worthwhile outlet for your romantic dreams.

(4) Does your coworker know your name? Do you and he already engage in friendly conversation? If so, you may proceed to the answer. If not, make a little button that says “stalker,” and wear it on your shirt. This button functions in much the same way as a cat bell does, warning the birds (and in this case, the object of your unwanted attention) that the cat is coming.

If you are not chasing a subordinate, a straight person, someone who is unavailable, or someone unaware of your existence, then you may proceed to ask this person to have lunch or coffee with you. Don’t use the word “date,” and don’t stammer. Don’t ask him out for a drink unless you specify that it’s coffee. Better yet, just say something manly, like, “Do you want to grab a sandwich?” The word “sandwich” is important, because it sounds casual. If you ask him to grab a lobster salad with you, it sounds too formal, too date-like, and too foofy.

Don’t just blurt out your feelings. Once you see him outside the office, you more easily will get a sense about whether he’s interested in you. Get to know him over a few sandwiches, and by the third or fourth grilled cheese, you should know if he shares your feelings.

Dear Ms. Behavior:

I’ve been with my partner, Jennifer, for five years. We get along most of the time, but I don’t know what to do when she expresses her anger as silent scorn, especially in front of our friends or my family.

Last weekend, we had a family dinner. Jen was annoyed at me for some small reason. She sat through the dinner silently seething. She also drove us all to the restaurant in total silence.

No one really knows what to say when she acts like this. I don’t want to call attention to it by pulling her aside to talk, but it’s difficult to go on with normal conversation when her face looks like an angry mask. I don’t know what my family thinks. They’ve never mentioned it, but I know they notice.

—Angry Jennifer’s Wife

Dear Angry Jennifer’s Wife:

Try talking about it with Jennifer when she’s not in a state of rage. Tell her that her silent anger upsets you, and you’re not sure how to handle it. Ask her if there’s any way you can help her to feel better when she’s in that state. If she says no, try to let it go.

The problem comes with believing that you’re responsible for your partner’s behavior. If Jen acts out with seething rage, it may be embarrassing, but it’s not your fault.

Let everyone notice the disgruntled elephant in the middle of the room. Don’t try to fix it, cover it up, or make excuses for her. Try to carry on with the normal conversation, and try as much as possible to not let her ruin your good time with family and friends.

© 2008 Meryl Cohn. Address questions and correspondence to [email protected] She is the author of Do What I Say: Ms. Behavior’s Guide to Gay and Lesbian Etiquette (Houghton Mifflin). Signed copies are available directly from the author.

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