You Need Help: Why Is My Coworker/ Friend/ Crush Pulling Away?

Q:

So I desperately need some help. There’s a girl I work with who over the course of a few months we’ve gotten close. Definitely would talk almost every couple of days, sometimes message for a couple of hours at a time. I always had a bit of a crush but it definitely developed into something deeper the more we spoke. She would always be caring, kind and honest and at work we’d always have fun together.

The problem is, she’s never explicitly come out to me, I have no real idea if she’s into girls. But I definitely have thought she would flirt with me either in messages or in person. We’ve gone for drinks with friends a couple of times (we have no covid restrictions in Aus!) and we have been flirty. I have just never told her how I feel because of the fact we work together, share the same work friends and I would never want to make her uncomfortable if she didn’t feel the same way.

Now I feel it’s too late, the past few weeks, almost overnight we have just stopped talking almost. I know it could be such a range of reasons why, but I get such bad anxiety and can’t help but think she is maybe just not interested anymore, or I’ve been too overbearing or done something wrong. Or if I have completely misread the whole situation. I guess my question is, how do I approach asking if something’s changed, or if I should even bring it up. I don’t want to tell her how I feel if things are awkward between us, but I regret not saying anything sooner. I was so worried about ruining a friendship and losing her and now I feel like I have anyway. Please help! Do I let this go and try and move on, or try and talk this out?


A:

I think you might need to shift the way you’re viewing this situation. This is a friend who has suddenly pulled away and, like you said, there could be a whole slew of reasons for that. It is perfectly acceptable to reach out to a friend who has pulled away and ask about it. But I think you need to first sit with your own feelings and figure out why you’re reaching out. Do you miss your friend? Or are you worried that her distance kills any potential for something more than friendship?

To put it more bluntly: You’re trying to figure out how to talk to your crush instead of trying to figure out how to talk to your friend.

You say you “can’t help but think she is maybe just not interested anymore,” and I know this is probably not what you want to hear, but you don’t know if she was ever interested in the first place. It’s extremely possible that this coworker just wants to be your friend. I am not saying you’re for sure wrong about any of the vibes you’ve picked up on. But based on your letter, they’re just that—vibes. A lot of what you describe at the beginning of this letter is just what really meaningful, kind, intentional friendship looks like.

You’ve picked up on some flirtation, but some people are just flirty. It’s surprisingly easy to misconstrue platonic intimacy as romantic intimacy. Again, I don’t have all the details, and I don’t know either of you, so I’m not trying to negate your interpretation of these interactions. I’m just asking you to look at them from a zoomed-out perspective. It sounds like you’re doing a lot of guesswork and maybe even a little projecting (you’re flirting, so you think her responses are also flirting). The tricky thing about flirting is that it’s subtle. It usually doesn’t come with someone saying “I’M FLIRTING WITH YOU.” I get the sense from your letter that these flirtations have all been verbal/textual, which also makes it even more subtle/ambiguous since there’s no touch involved. But even putting all that aside, flirtation is not always a direct indicator that someone wants to be more than friends.

I trust that you’re experiencing some level of chemistry with her. But since no explicit conversations have been had between the two of you about your intentions or feelings, I don’t think that jumping to conclusions about her sudden distance is helpful. As you say, you don’t even know if she’s interested in dating women, let alone specifically interested in dating you. That’s a major piece of information to have missing here! And sure, just because she hasn’t come out to you doesn’t mean that she’s for sure straight. A lot of people are not comfortable being out at work. And that brings up another key thing to keep in mind about all this: Getting involved with coworkers can be very messy! If you two have never discussed your dating histories in a way that would hint at her sexuality, it’s possible that she has some boundaries in place about what she’s willing to share with coworkers. Again though, this is a lot of guesswork! I say this with love and empathy for your situation, but I think you want me to read your friend’s mind.

There’s no way to really know if her sudden distance has anything to do with her not being interested. In fact, it could have nothing to do with you at all. She might be dealing with change in her life or she might be setting new boundaries between her work and personal lives. It sounds like you’ve been thinking a lot about what it might be like to have more than a friendship with her and that this new distance between you has thrown a big ol’ wrench into those what-ifs. This is all very common and normal though! Sometimes we’re powerfully drawn to the potential of a relationship, and when that potential dissipates, it can almost feel like a breakup. But it’s one-sided. Because that’s what’s missing here: We don’t know what your friend is feeling at all.

But if I’m being honest with you, I don’t think you should be thinking about this in terms of whether this person is interested in you or not. I don’t think you should assume your crush is reciprocated. There are simply too many variables, especially since you’re coworkers. It sounds like you two shared a special and meaningful friendship, and if you miss that intimacy, then you can of course check in with her. You can tell her you miss talking more regularly. That’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do when a friend pulls away.

If you decide that you want to confess your feelings for her, that’s entirely up to you. There’s no real way to know one way or another how she feels without asking. But that’s why I want to make sure you understand that you have to be okay with the possible outcome that she does not return the feelings. It could absolutely shift your dynamic—especially since you’re coworkers. Some people have very strict boundaries when it comes to the workplace, and you have to respect that. I’ve been linking to this piece a lot recently on the scenarios where it’s sometimes healthy to not tell a friend you have a crush.

I think both of these things can be true: 1. The only way to know if someone returns your feelings is to ask outright and 2. Telling a friend you have a crush could change the friendship. If it feels like you’re pining over this person in a way that makes you miserable and you think that telling her about your feelings would actually be a relief, then go for it. But be prepared for all possible outcomes, including the possibility that she won’t want to be friends. It all comes down to what’s more bearable for you.

I think it would really help you to figure out your own motives. Are you wanting to repair the friendship as it currently stands? Or are you wanting to see if your friend wants more than friendship? Those are very different things! And I think figuring out what it is that you want will help you determine how to proceed with reaching out to her.


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kaylakumari

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Miami. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 321 articles for us.

4 Comments

  1. Those are important distinctions you made, as they aren’t always evident or common knowledge. Fantastic answer and good luck to the person asking – asking as a friend (rather than someone crushing) is safer, indeed!

  2. I´ found myself in a similar situation some weeks ago. I´ve had a crush on a client, but decided to finish the project first and ask them out after that. I “just” told them, that I liked them a lot and would not also like to meet them in an out-of-work-context, but would also be open to more, if they would be up for that as well. It needs some guts for sure, but if you are prepared for all the answers, you have clarity, which puts an end to an annoying circle of what-ifs.

    In my case, the client thanked me for asking, and was very open about how to manage this situation in a good way for both of us, but also told me, their heart belonged already to someone else. But there was my clarity, and now I can move on. Good luck!

  3. Here goes same story! And after a while kinda 6 months not bringing out these feelings, I have a sense that she knows. What ‘s an terrifying situation, dare not to go for it and don’t want to give up, it burns inside.

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