The old crush thing

The way he organized the office NCAA pool just stole my heart, but I'm afraid it's unrequited lust.

Published April 10, 2003 7:00PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

Stop me if you've heard this one before. I have what is, at times, a massively aching crush on a co-worker. And I'm too chickenshit to put myself out there and confess my feelings for him. Sometimes a declaration of my feelings seems like such an easy answer, but when I ponder actually taking action, I think I might vomit.

We both attended the same college, which means I've known him on and off for a little more than three years now (he graduated a year ahead of me). Now, for just over a year we've both been working in the same office under different bosses.

While he's never been a close male friend -- i.e., the kind I'd confide my deep dark secrets to and muse about why we don't have significant others -- we hang out fairly regularly for Thursday/Friday happy hours, we travel in compatible social circles, and he always accepts invitations to informal get-togethers at my house.

He's a great guy and I find myself drawn to all these little things he does. Last month it was the way he anal retentively organized the office NCAA pool. Last week, it was the way he came out of nowhere to free me from a strained conversation with an annoying male co-worker.

But just when I'm ready to confess my crush, all psyched up and waiting for the right moment -- the moment never seems to arrive. I'll catch him checking out another girl at the bar, or I'll overhear his talks about weekend conquests that never quite materialized, or he won't make a concerted effort to chat with me for a couple of days in a row.

On two occasions (separated by about a month), I've called him to hang out over at my house or suggested in an obvious way that we should see a movie that we're both interested in together. That's been it -- besides the normal hair tossing and laughing at even mediocre jokes -- but both times he hasn't made any effort to make the one-on-one interlude occur.

It is possible I'm sending mixed signals. I occasionally decide to make an "executive decision" and avoid him in an attempt to move on to a more naturally developing relationship. But the lovey-dovey feeling gradually returns whenever I see him out and about.

I just re-read this letter. Is this as ridiculous as it seems? We're in our early mid-20s now, and I thought I'd left this indecision and slightly pukey feeling behind in sixth grade. I want to be a woman of action. How can you tell if a guy likes you without a note bearing Yes, No, or Maybe boxes to check off? And how do you tell a guy you've got a crush on him once you've moved beyond the teenybopper stage?

Still Trying to "Fight This Feeling" a Little

Dear Fighting the Feeling,

If a guy likes you, you can usually tell. If he hasn't picked up on your invitations, sad to say, he might not like you in that way.

But if you're really not sure, don't out and out confess your crush yet. Hold your ground and maneuver yourself into a position where you can spend some time with him, just you and him. Take him on a long drive. Get out of town together. Go to a long beach with crashing surf where you can walk for a while and talk easily. If you spend enough time with him, you'll either be drawn closer together and mutual feelings of attraction will arise, or a wall will seem to come down. If you pay attention, and you're honest with yourself, you'll know.

Think of attraction in its literal sense: Is he pulled toward you? Does he seem stuck to you by some invisible force? Is it hard to remove him from your side once he gets there, as if some power were keeping him there? If so, then he could be said to be "attracted" to you. If not, then perhaps the charge between you is neutral. Or do you feel that you're always sort of catching up to him, moving toward him while he moves away? If so, perhaps you are attracted to him but the attraction is one way. He could be shy, he could be busy, he could be gay or intentionally celibate. But for all his good qualities, he's probably just pathetically blind to your beauty and charm.

When you feel like you're sure, just accept the fact that nothing is going to happen. Then might be the time, if you want to remain friends, to say that for a while there, you felt something more than friendship for him. He might be pleased, or flattered, or he might feel bad that he didn't reciprocate, but if you're going to be friends, it would be nice to have it in the open.

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Want more advice from Cary? Read yesterday's column.

By Cary Tennis

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