19

Short Version:

I have a budding friendship with a coworker, but recently said something incredibly stupid that has left them feeling justifiably hurt. While I think it would be best to give them time, I am about to go on extended work leave and feel that if I don't try to resolve the issue now, the friendship will completely wither and die by the time I return.

Long Version:

I am a married man dealing with some personal issues, foremost among them is a lack of a proper support network of friends to talk to about the stress in my life. I have been trying to proactively get involved with new people through work so that I may eventually develop the kind of friendship(s) I need.

Foremost among those I have begun to develop some comfort with regarding person topics is a female coworker. She is part of a larger crowd I have been going out for drinks with for the last few weeks. The other evening at such an outing, I noticed a conspicuous simultaneous absence of her and another male coworker. After she left, I made the regrettable choice to send a text asking if something was going on there, with a "good for you" vibe. This was a poor choice in and of itself, and justifiable anger resulted. My immediate apology included the phrase "I only wished to let you know I am okay with whatever".

What makes it particularly horrific is I did not realize that male coworker was married. My choice of phrasing things has thus taken on a much darker meaning, suggesting that I might be looking for similar attention. This was not my intent.

Normally I think it best to let tensions cool, but given the magnitude of the error, I left a follow-up apology by text the next day when I realized this. I explained that I would never wish to imply she was playing with married men.

Although she is a coworker in the broad sense, I don't work with her directly. It has now been two days without any contact. I will go on extended leave in two more days. She probably doesn't realize the exact date my leave starts.

I realize that things are pretty bleak here in general. The only silver-linings is that she already knows I am a social idiot who doesn't really know how to approach friendship. This is something we had discussed previously.

The question:

What approach regarding timing is the least-bad option? Should I attempt to talk to her (at work!) about the issue before I leave, or should let it be? I have also considered recruiting a mutual friend (more hers than mine) as a proxy to initiate conversation, but that has its own complications.

Update:

She texted me, apparently we are talking again. I am as surprised as anyone. Thanks for all of the advice from everyone.

  • Where are you located? Interpersonal skills are culturally specific; location helps us determine culture. – user288 Sep 26 '17 at 15:30
  • @henning Historically I have had very few, but very strong/personal friendships. I see my original error here mostly as of saying something that would have been okay (if not ideal) a year from now, but that we were not ready for yet. My follow up and the misunderstanding of intent make a bad decision much worse. Now, I realize the odds of any continued friendship here is remote. – fool_of_all_fools Sep 26 '17 at 16:05
  • @henning To answer your question more directly, my intent was to build the kind of friendship where I really could talk about anything. I got way ahead of where things actually were. – fool_of_all_fools Sep 26 '17 at 16:19
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    "I am as surprised as anyone" I wouldn't be. Women are not the stereotypical forever-grudge-holding monsters movies make them out to be. Obviously some are, but it seems to be the exception, not the rule in my experience. – corsiKa Sep 27 '17 at 1:55
34

While I think it would be best to give them time, I am about to go on extended work leave and feel that if I don't try to resolve the issue now, the friendship will completely wither and die by the time I return.

Your first instinct is correct. Give her time and space. You apologized. The ball is in her court.

If she wants a friendship with you, she'll either contact you ("Haven't seen you in a while. You ok?") or resume the friendship when you come back.

But repeatedly apologizing and expecting an answer from someone who doesn't want to talk to you will seem like harassment, and co-opting a friend of hers will resemble stalking and/or manipulation, adding insult to injury.

You made a mistake. It was, you need to admit, kind of a creepy one. Maybe she doesn't feel safe right now; maybe she has other reasons for staying out of contact. Showing her some respect cannot possibly hurt your friendship if you still have one.

If you don't hear from her during your extended leave, apologize again next time you run into her (it's probably best that you not seek her out) and see what happens. Hopefully she will come to see the awkwardness of the text as amusing.

  • 2
    Two apologies, (did I miscount?) doesn't seem excessive, as suggested by "repeatedly". The incriminating text is the epitome of putting your foot in your mouth, but I'm not sure how or why it was or is creepy. Certainly, it was a "klutzy" thing to write without knowing the facts beforehand. – user3114 Sep 26 '17 at 10:48
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    @Mari-LouA It can appear creepy because it may sound like the OP is a) trying to closely monitor her personal life (read: stalking), b) thinks she needs his permission to have sex ("I'm OK with whatever"), c) condones extramarital affairs and is seeking one himself. It can also feel creepy if OP and friend have widely different ideas about the closeness you can achieve in a few weeks (i.e. "Why does this coworker I talked to a few times in the last few weeks and had a few beers with feel entitled to comment on my sex life?"). – AllTheKingsHorses Sep 26 '17 at 11:02
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    @Mari-LouA I sincerely hope that's because of the "lack of" bad experiences with creeps :-) I myself was quite unburdened by this until I read and heard about incidents e.g. from friends; some of that made my skin crawl. – AllTheKingsHorses Sep 26 '17 at 11:15
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    Great answer - I'd like to add also, that since you don't know exactly what she's upset/creeped out about, any more apologies are just guesses, and guessing wrong is typically pretty bad. Consider if she were only creeped out that OP brought up anything to begin with, and OP texts "sorry I said you needed my permission to have sex." If that thought never crossed her mind, then OP's foot just goes even deeper into his mouth. – Lord Farquaad Sep 26 '17 at 13:50
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    @fool_of_all_fools well, if you managed to talk together, one to one, and you were completely yourself, it could be that she'll understand your first blunder, and forgive you. I'm in agreement with LordFarquaad about the interpretation of the 2nd text, I would not mention it for the very reason he explained. You sound very contrite for what amounts to be a silly throwaway text, far worse things have happened but she knows you are married ... – user3114 Sep 26 '17 at 15:18
13

The question at this point (with a good answer already accepted) is:

Even if you "give it time"(which you should) will you be able to salvage this relationship? And if you continue to text apologies that make it worse, or if you try to talk to her (while mentioning her sex life) at work, will you end up having a chat with HR?

Your problem SEEMS to be that you have feelings that you are not willing to acknowledge, and without doing so you'll continue to give half-apologies or even make the same mistakes again.

@henning had two comments that are along the same lines as my thinking here, and he put it better than I can:

...suggesting that I might be looking for similar attention. This was not my intent. What was your intent?

I didn't want this comment to sound snarky. What I'm suggesting is that OP investigates his motivations, in that feeling lonely and in strong need of emotional support easily leads to (secret) jealousy, insecurity, difficulty to accept boundaries, romantic projections. This is just natural and not necessarily bad; but all kinds of awkward situations might result if these issues are not acknowledged but disowned.

With all the context you've given us, either

A) You have romantic or conflicted feelings about this person

or

B) You may have come across this way, to at least some of us and maybe to her.

Given whichever of these is true, you should approach further interactions with that in mind. If you do not, it isn't just your friendship that will be in jeopardy, your job and your marriage (or half of your belongings) will be in jeopardy.

I know I'm reading into things here, but from everything you've said I can't help but read into it:

I am a married man dealing with some personal issues

Unwritten subtext here is that being a married man is one of these personal issues. If that isn't it, then you'd at least have a partner who could help resolve your "foremost" issue:

foremost among them is a lack of a proper support network of friends to talk to about the stress in my life. I have been trying to proactively get involved with new people through work so that I may eventually develop the kind of friendship(s) I need.

It seems from this and from the next thing you've said that you've talked to your friend about the stress in your life (something some guys do when they're stuck in a bad marriage and trying to find a new relationship), and that this stress may be marital-related:

Foremost among those I have begun to develop some comfort with regarding person topics is a female coworker.

Has this just happened to be the case, or is this "foremost" for a reason?

I noticed a conspicuous simultaneous absence of her and another male coworker. After she left, I made the regrettable choice to send a text asking if something was going on there, with a "good for you" vibe.

Send all the vibes you want, there are very few people who are going to believe that a man texted a woman asking if she's having sex with another man for a benign reason.

My immediate apology included the phrase "I only wished to let you know I am okay with whatever".

You don't really say much more about this immediate apology, so maybe you didn't think it was that bad. From an outside opinion (at least this outsider's opinion) this rings entirely false. If you were "okay with whatever" you wouldn't have gotten involved in something that is so not your business. Part of getting a handle on interpersonal relationships is not attempting to make things look better by pretending at something other than the truth. If you are hiding the truth from yourself, you will be the last one to see it.

What makes it particularly horrific is I did not realize that male coworker was married. My choice of phrasing things has thus taken on a much darker meaning, suggesting that I might be looking for similar attention. This was not my intent.

We all agree that this isn't good, but what makes what you did truly "horrific" is that a man having personal issues texted a woman (that he isn't romantically involved with but who he is paying a lot of attention to) asking if she's having sex with another man... WHILE she may have been having sex with another man (you leave this unsaid in your answer). I wouldn't bring up the fact that the guy was married in any future conversation/apology - apologize for what you did, not something you didn't know.

I left a follow-up apology by text the next day when I realized this. I explained that I would never wish to imply she was playing with married men.

Yes, this did make things much worse. It's an apology for the wrong thing, and it implies WORSE things. She could honestly be wondering if you sent something like this out of jealousy, and if this is a fake apology implying worse things as a result of said jealousy. At this point you need to not only worry about whether she's insulted, she may even be feeling some level of threat, and you have to approach this more carefully as a result.

I am a social idiot

I'm a social idiot too, and I've done things on this level of carnage, and they were motivated by feelings I wasn't admitting to at the time. Understanding that you may have had some jealousy, or that you at least may have appeared to have some jealousy, will help you become less of a social idiot to your friend going forward.

Should I attempt to talk to her (at work!)

NO.

If you give your relationship with this person a higher priority than your job, can you really say you only have friendly feelings toward her? Maybe so, but you are seriously proposing here in front of all of us that you discuss a woman's sex life with her at work (if your apology takes the same course as your previous ones). This is where you stop and go out of town and clear your head and come back and be professional at work. If you have to say anything at work, now or 3 months from now at a birthday celebration when you're stuck standing next to her, make it short and simple and professional, along the lines of: "I want to profusely apologize for being an idiot." But the only real place you can talk about this in depth (which may be a bad idea) is a social gathering outside of work.

I haven't said nice things here, and I've gone beyond your original question of "Do I give this time?" I may start my time here at IPS with negative rep. But if you don't come to an understanding of WHY what you did was wrong, if you continue to apologize for the wrong things by saying worse things, if you proceed with someone that you either have feelings for or who may think you have feelings for them without approaching the problem from that angle, you are not only going to destroy your relationship... you are going to have a problem with HR. And problems with HR can always make it back to your wife.

So, yes. Give this time, and quit texting her.

6

In my experience, casual friendships don't "wither on the vine" as much as "go dormant". The next time you run into her after your leave is a chance to strike up a conversation and see if you're still compatible as friends. It's amazing how much a couple months can make social interactions that were horribly awkward at the time seem like just a silly memory, especially for the recipient.

Normally, a little extra effort to mend bridges is worth it, but given that the subtext was that you might be overly interested in her I think giving some extra space is the best way to communicate you're not "looking" for anything and can respect boundaries as a friend.

4

After she left, I made the regrettable choice to send a text asking if something was going on there, with a "good for you" vibe. This was a poor choice in and of itself, and justifiable anger resulted.

Not really "justifiable" anger, unless you phrased it very wrong... If she can't take a joke, you need another friend.

My immediate apology included the phrase "I only wished to let you know I am okay with whatever".

This, however, should have pissed her off a lot more than your silly joke, because giving her your approval before she asks what you think implies that she actually needs your approval to do things. She's not eight years old and you're not her father, so it's quite rude.

I'd suggest just writing an email like:

"Hey, I'm going on extended leave and didn't want to end on a bad note, so I just wanted to let you know I'm sorry about that idiotic joke I made. Will be happy to see you when I come back."

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    I would leave off that last sentence. – Kevin Sep 26 '17 at 12:40
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    @peufeu Even the first part was reason for anger, as I was grossly overstepping the bounds of what topics we were comfortable discussing up to that point. Worse, I was making unfounded assumptions about how she conducts herself. – fool_of_all_fools Sep 26 '17 at 13:52
  • Ah well, in that case, I agree!... – peufeu Sep 26 '17 at 15:25
  • Not really "justifiable" anger, unless you phrased it very wrong... If she can't take a joke, you need another friend. I strongly disagree that it's appropriate to joke about coworkers' sex lives. – DJMcMayhem Sep 26 '17 at 20:31
  • Depends on the level of friendship between you and the coworker, I agree it's utterly inappropriate most of the times, and also in the context of this question, but if you become best buddies then why not. Now, I have no sympathy whtsoever for the coworker who acts like nuclear war has happened because OP fails at humor. A text saying "that was inappropriate" would have been enough. There is no need for drama. – peufeu Sep 26 '17 at 20:35
3

Let it be.

I don't know how close you are with this female co-worker and if you've ever hung out with her alone and you don't even have to tell us what she told you when you apologized the first time, but she clearly felt this was a bit too much.

Yes, you didn't know that other male co-worker was married but you did jump to conclusions about her and to me this almost felt as if you got jealous she was seeing some other man (and wished that man was you (?) even if unconsciously).

Is it possible you are developing feelings for this person? If this is the case, then it's not just her who needs space, you need it, too. So, take this time away to process what happened and why. Perhaps your friend felt threatened by your reaction. Perhaps you are more attached to her than she can cope with or reciprocate or feels comfortable with for the time being.

You worry that the friendship might die by the time you are back. (By the way, I wouldn't email nor text until I returned). If this woman was not just an acquaintance then this time off might be all you need to restore your friendship. If you really feel you want to talk to her, wait for when you are back but I wouldn't apologize again. You might not even have to. She may even approach you by then.

Try to tame your need to talk to her (and be her friend) by keeping yourself busy while away.

0

I think you should try being yourself. See friend, from my personal experience, what happens when a person tries to give some space and time to some other person is that, the other person is at the stake of growing misunderstanding or sometimes even the loss.

Being yourself makes you indulge in the routine situation & making less prone to these sort of situations and boosts your daily confidence as well. Don't try to hide under your self-pity and your imaginary 'what-if' shadows.

For instance just act like everything is normal, smile at people (in a positive way), try keeping your business to yourself. What you really need to do is breath and align your mind in a positive direction. After all, we all seek and love a positive vibe around us.

Most important if that person passes by, just say Hey..!! Keeping an open dialogue always helps. People tend to forget the past when some trustworthy and positive things are happening around. And when you reach to the extent where you feel that everything is 100% normal with that person you had misunderstandings with, when you are confident enough.. you will see that there is nothing grey-ish left in between in you two. I hope it helps you and you two both get back to normal as soon as possible.

Remember - be happy, be you!

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