I like a certain gentleman at work, but is he gay?

I am not sure how to proceed -- my feelings for him are quite strong!

Published October 26, 2006 10:37AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I really like someone, but I strongly suspect that he is same-sex-oriented. Do I force myself to stop feeling anything for this gentleman? Or do I just allow myself to feel my emotions for him, even though they will never be returned in the way that I may want?

We work together, and he displays great tenderness with me. He asks for my opinion on complex matters and takes it into account. In his work, he is very ethical, brilliant, and a true intellectual who can shift from topic to topic at the drop of a hat in a correct way. For a while, I did not understand that he might be gay because he would stare at me for long periods of time. It seemed that every time I lifted my head or turned around, he was there, staring at me. But I have noticed that he has a roommate/assistant who is gay. Despite this, I started staring back. We hold long glances often, but each glance has its own context and meaning or feeling. Sometimes I think he just needs some comforting during a stressful day. I do not know the meaning of some glances we share and it is confusing, maybe for both of us.

He sets boundaries and does not take advantage of what he likely knows are my feelings by giving me too much work. He is also very shrewd in business and clever. He is very intense about his work, like me. He did not seem handsome at first, but once I got to know him he became very attractive. I am physically attracted to him. I realized this one day as I was talking to him, and it was like lightning striking.

He brings up a whole range of emotions that I have never felt for another person before, which I really enjoy. I suppose it is enough just to be around him and help him with work. And anything else would be inappropriate because we are co-workers, anyway. I have started staring at my desk and ignoring him, but do not feel good about this approach.

I don't have a problem meeting men, but no one really holds a candle to him so far. The conversation is several notches lower, and they seem to be surprised that I have a job in a tough field and that I have a full life -- volunteering, exercising, etc. They do not take the time to get to know me. So it's been about a year since I have accepted a first date.

I will keep looking for the right person, and I am sure that I will find someone like my co-worker now that I know what qualities allow me to flourish. But how should I reason with my emotions for this gentleman right now? Should I just kill my emotions, which will necessarily involve distancing myself from this person? I can definitely force myself to detach emotionally, but then I will be a bit cold toward him. Or should I continue to feel all these new feelings -- but also risk becoming more attached to someone who is ultimately unattainable? Am I avoiding real intimacy by focusing on a person who is safe?

Thank you for your time. I really enjoy your column.


Dear Single,

Your letter asks many questions, but what it does best is describe a situation with remarkable accuracy, fullness and yet restraint.

If there is a way for you to get to know this person better, so you can ascertain exactly what his status is, that would be best. I know that this is not an ideal situation, since he is not only a co-worker but, I take it, in some sense your superior at work. But there must be a way to find out more about this man. Is he in fact gay? The fact that he associates with other people who are gay does not mean that he himself is gay. Does he fraternize with other co-workers, or is his personal life kept completely separate from work? Are there people in the office who have worked there longer who might know more about him? And is there any opportunity for you to have a conversation with him in which you might glean more? Perhaps you could have a meeting over lunch to discuss your work and your prospects at the firm. During this lunch, if you are willing to trade a few details of your own personal life, he might offer certain facts about himself in return.

You mention forcing yourself to stop feeling things, and reasoning with your emotions, so it appears that you have a fairly strong control over your emotional life. If so, I suggest you chart for yourself a course of moderation, in order to spend enough time conversing with this man to get a more sure sense of his status without being bowled over unfortunately by his attractiveness. It may be possible that in such a way you could become friends. He may be able to help you in your work, and you may be able to help him.

Much of this hinges on whether you truly are able to control your attraction to him. If not, then you will probably have to use the techniques you mentioned to distance yourself from him -- keep your eyes off him, look at your desk, etc.

But I must say that my ability to address your situation seems to fall far short of your own ability to portray it. I admire the scene you have painted; it is almost like a large painting of an office. I can see the woman and the man; I can see his character and appearance as the painter would evoke it, and I can see you, too, your look filled with contained desire and intelligence. That's what this letter is for me, really: It is a painting.

I wish you luck. If I knew more about the particulars perhaps I could say more. But it is apparent that you have a broad and detailed grasp of the situation, and of your options. So I think you will make the right choice. Be true to yourself. The answers will come.

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