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How do I tell a colleague that I won’t have an intimate relationship with her without hurting our work relation?

Background
We have been working together for a few years; she was single and I was not. I became single a few months ago and I noticed that she could be interested in dating me. I liked her and we went out once or twice as friends. She invited me to a happy hour with a few of her friends and long story short: she left with another guy in the end (yes, I was mad!). The next day I called her and she obviously regretted, blaming alcohol and apologized...

The problem is that we work together and we always had a very good relationship at work and even though I see that she is hoping to get me back, I believe that I need to tell her that we will never be more than friends now.

My goal
I want her to know that what happened has ruined any possibilities of moving beyond friends (without blaming), but still keep our good relation at work. The other possibility is not to tell her anything, but I am afraid she will try to get me back and it might hurt her more in the long run. I don't see an easy way to talk about his.

Any ideas?

  • 3
    Did you and her both know you had a romantic interest in each other before? You said she apologized so it seems like that could be possible? Describe more about how far along you’ve gotten :) – Anilla Feb 13 at 2:11
  • Lately we went to see a movie and had dinner after, I could see the interest in her eyes, but we do not kissed. Still she wanted to see me outside of work again, we do have a concert planned to go together in a few weeks. – Simon Feb 13 at 16:37
  • So you don't want have a relationship with her but still want go to movies and concerts as a couple? – Juan Carlos Oropeza Feb 19 at 19:31
  • We went to the movies one time before the latest "event". The concert was also planned before what happened. It was never mentionned that it was as a couple (it could have been). – Simon Feb 19 at 21:12
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I suggest you start by not doing anything about it. I don't usually advocate not dealing with things openly but this might be a situation where that is at least the first approach. There's a chance that she lost interest, or moved on, or simply by not pursuing her she will understand where things stand. Doing nothing and everything working out for the best is the happy path, but if it doesn't work it won't leave you in a worse position than you were in before.

Now if she brings it up again, or begins coming on to you again, you talk to her. Be as open and honest as possible while still remaining kind. I see two approaches to this.

  1. Honesty:

What happened the other night really hurt. I don't currently want to pursue this.

Or something like that. Notice how I made it not about what she did (Which would come off as judgmental,) but about how what she did made you feel. This will make it way less likely that she will take it as an attack.

  1. Half-Truth or White Lie:

After thinking about it, I'm not sure I want to do this after all. We are colleagues. If something goes wrong it could be disastrous for both of our careers.

The drawback to this is it will be harder to be done convincingly. Depending on how good you are at lying it could be thin. a thinner stance means it is less likely that she will take your position seriously and she may continue to try to "win you over".

  • Not saying anything until I confirm she still has interest is a good advice. She could have lost interest. Thanks – Simon Feb 13 at 16:40
  • How is doing nothing an interpersonal approach? – Astralbee Feb 14 at 8:33
  • 5
    @Astralbee Knowing when not to react is absolutely an interpersonal skills. I'd call it waiting for them to make the first move. – AGirlHasNoName Feb 14 at 13:38
  • 3
    Waiting a few days really helped, emotions were too high. Also waiting to see if she was still really trying something or just being kind was important. Now the work relation is still as good as before, I didn't speak about it and I will not until she "really" tries to flirt with me, which is not the case right now. – Simon Mar 12 at 12:50
18

You said that:

she left with another guy in the end

This is a noticed behavior you did not like or find attractive. It upset you and you have good reason to not want a relationship with her.

When I was younger I would try giving people a reason I found them “unfit relationship material”. This never worked though. They would either:

  • Become defensive and say X and Y point I have are invalid.
  • Say they’ll fix things and make it better; even after I’ve finally made up my mind.
  • Start to blame me and get argumentative, leading to even more hurt feelings and strain.
  • Feel hurt because they feel attacked or flawed.

I wouldn’t recommend directly telling her:

I don’t wanna date you because you did ABC thing I didn’t like.

This will most likely lead to her reacting in one of the ways I mentioned above.

Approach

Assuming that you both know that you’ve had a romantic interest in each other in the past, say something like:

Hey (friend), I really value you in my life, but I think it’s best we remain friends. I don’t feel the way you feel and I don’t want to give you anymore false hope.

Saying it like this removes the openness for dispute. She can’t argue with how you feel or the specific things you observed since they were never mentioned.

There really isn’t a guarantee that your work relationship will remain the same. It all depends on her reaction and how she felt. Prepare for this fact.

Some people find it very difficult to be in “the friend zone”. Once they know you don’t see them in that light, they won’t feel the same around you.

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