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Happily Married Work Crush

by Dear Jon
September 22, 2009

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Dear Jon,

I have been happily married for 8 years. As all marriages, we have our ups and downs, but we love being with each other.

I recently started crushing on a married co-worker. I wasn't sure what his thoughts were of me. He recently invited me to his house when his wife was out of town but then quickly changed his mind about it. He kept saying that he could get himself into a lot of trouble because he was playing with fire. He admited to me that he thought I was very attractive and that had we both been single, he would have liked to get to know me. He says he is happily married.

Was inviting me over his house a random thought or do you think he had feelings for me and almost acted on them? I admitted to him that I had a crush on him but that I was committed to my marriage. I'm not sure how he felt about that but he said he wants to remain good friends just like before. What can all this mean?

Dear Blank,

It means at least three things:

1. "Crushing" has now entered the English vocabulary with a whole new meaning.

2. Great letters to Dear Jon still go unsigned despite all my pleas.

3. I can't place an eight-year marriage among people I know personally, so you are likely one of my millions of fans I haven't met.

Now to the point: What you are experiencing is completely normal, so the first thing to remember is not to panic. The second thing to remember is that now is the time to stop flirting.

When it comes to crushing on people, this happens to happily married folk all the time. Crushes remind us that we are human beings with bodies and impulses, and that the things that make us sexually available to our spouses are operative 24/7. Call it "mojo" or whatever you will, triggers for attraction occur between males and females among most species on the planet.

These triggers are chemical, and a lot of them are responses to physical stimuli: appearance, scent, tone of voice and humor will awaken a variety of responses within the beholder, so that if he is attractive to this woman he might not be attractive at all to that woman.

Personally I find about 90% of women to be "attractive."

One of the chemical triggers for attraction is empathy; a shared memory of a mutual experience. People who endure similar events and conditions tend to bond. So co-workers can form bonds of a mutual understanding from which a spouse, involved in another career, is excluded. Sometimes this can lead down the road of "my husband doesn't understand me like this other man does." Piled on top of these other stimuli, a crush can develop. If it did not, frankly I would think you were abnormal.

These triggers serve to remind you that you are alive and a sexual being. Your commitment confines your intimate, romantic and sexual experiences to your husband, but that is not a prison. If your mojo is energized during the day to make you more sexually available for your husband, then guess what? Your marriage improves.

This is what I mean: In most of the marriages that hang together until death parts them, the spouses go through their various crushes without acting on them in an untoward manner. Instead those fantasies can serve to spice up imaginations when spouses are with each other. The important thing is that they are not choosing to trade a life-time commitment for a crush and a fantasy, because those things come and go. Sure, a co-worker might understand what you experience during the billing cycle, when your husband the school-teacher has no idea. But your husband has served you chicken soup when you had the flu, and rubbed your bunions with a pumice stone when your feet were sore, and all kinds of other really unsexy things that you have experienced with him and only him because, while unsexy, they are intimate and vulnerable moments.

When married people talk about falling out of love with each other, usually what they mean is that the spouse does not awaken the same fire as a crush on someone else has awakened. So they think of their relationship as cold or boring, because they are comparing it to the spark that is felt in a new romance. Movies and television and fiction all celebrate the spark of romance, because that is when the story is "interesting." The long haul of a stable relationship is not interesting because it is not "dramatic." This is why sequels are not made about the "happily ever after" part of the story. Sequels always have to introduce a new crisis or a threat; stability and security and unsexy intimacy are boring from a story-telling perspective, but they are the anchors of commitment that most people really desire for themselves.

The security of a committed relationship is built on the recognition that sparks flare up from time to time, but over the long-term a relationship lasts because people have chosen to bear with each other in all of their unsexiness. The problem with hopping from one crush-relationship to another is that when the flower of one's own attractiveness has faded, and the mojo has gone into remission, the person whose whole life has been shallow realizes that there is no depth, that with the beauty and mojo gone, nothing is left. Tthe couple over the long haul, celebrating 35 and then 50 and then 60 years of marriage, has the warmth of a companionship that has seen them and supported them through everything that life can throw at a person.

Which is why you need to stop flirting. Pronto. Period.

Don't get defensive. "Flirting" is a loaded word; usually people think of it as a conscious act that reflects on a person morally. You were flirting but not in that way. The subversion of your boundaries has been more subconscious. This is what I mean by flirting: That he invited you over even though he changed his mind, and that you admitted your crush on him, has already taken the relationship about three steps too far. His offer to remain "good friends" --if he really means it-- has to be taken as an invitation to set new boundaries. Here are six, and they should be non-negotiable:

1. Restrict calls, office visits, texts and e-mail to business related concerns.

2. No closed door meetings at work.  If the business needs to be conducted in a confidential or private manner, hold it in a conference room with windows.

3. No invitations to one-on-one lunches.

4. Your presence with each other during work hours must always be with other people. If that's impossible, see number one and two.

5. After work, if it involves a whole crowd of co-workers going to a pub for happy hour that is fine, but never offer each other a ride home.

6. Your time together outside of work should always be with your spouses involved. In other words, you can enjoy each other's company and sense of humor  from time to time, just not alone. If you are to be good friends, it can only be as a double-team.

If he recognizes the wisdom of these simple rules, which you can share with him discreetly by sending him a link to this article, for example, then chances are good that both of you will remain friends even as you get over each other. Crushes come and go. Trust me, he will not be the last man that stirs those feelings in you. The way you respond this time will reinforce your commitment and healthy marriage habits for the next time it happens.

If he is a playah and a jerk, don't be surprised if he tries to skirt these boundaries. "Who is Dear Jon? He's an @#$-^&*% who has no idea who we are." That ought to be a red flag to you. If he chills out on you, don't be too shocked if rumors start flying that he has started an affair with another co-worker.

In any case, count your lucky stars that this has not yet gotten out of hand.

Comments (2)

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Janet from Cubicle, USA writes:
September 22, 2009
Dear Jon goes deep, and I love it! This analysis is interesting, helpful, and insightful. Bravo!!!

elm from 98801 writes:
September 25, 2009
You have a keen way of broadening the horizon! Very good advise.

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