Let me preface this deep confessional by saying that I would never become involved with someone with a wife and children, because that is pain that I’m not sure can never be healed. Trust is incredibly hard to rebuild, and forgiveness in that type of situation may never come — that’s not something I want to be responsible for. I would never forgive myself for causing such pain. I pray never to be on the receiving end of infidelity, and thus, I would never want to knowingly be the cause the infidelity.
But. This doesn’t mean that a generally good human being cannot develop feelings for a person who is married, even if they don’t intend to act on those feelings. Here’s my story.
In 2013, I was a fresh college grad looking for what I considered at the time to be a grown-up job, meaning a 9-5 desk job. I wasn’t looking for this job because I necessarily wanted it, but because that’s what I thought was “supposed” to do. I accepted a position in a financial agency as an operations manager. I had no experience in finance or managing, but I needed to pay the rent and this fit the bill (literally). The job was boring as hell, to be honest. I am a creative being, and I felt like the repetitive tasks were sucking the life out of me. Most of my coworkers were 30 years older than me, and don’t get me wrong, they were great people, but it’s hard to discuss my love for Nicki Minaj and Girls with people who have never heard of either.
And then one wonderful day, Alex* came along. Alex was less than 20 years older than me! Barely, but still. Most importantly, we were both long distance runners. This sealed the deal on our work friendship. He was a great person and a fantastic distraction from a job that made me miserable. He was the bright spot in the office for me. From the start, I knew he had a wife and kids, so I knew my boundaries.
But even with these boundaries in place, over time, I developed a huge crush on Alex. If something really great or awful happened to me on a run after work, I could not wait to see him at the office the next day to fill him in. Sometimes when I literally could not wait, I would text him. My after-hours texts were always about running, and it was never inappropriate or questionable content. But he never answered and it made me feel like my friendly communication was unwanted. Probably because it was unwanted. The majority of the time we interacted, it was totally me who initiated and facilitated the 20-minute long conversations about running and racing. But on the rare occasion that he came to my desk, I was elated. It completely made my day to feel like he wanted or needed me. He also appreciated all my office hijinks and sense of humor. Picture an early Pam and Jim situation, except the married party actually enjoyed his marriage, taking the potential romance completely out of the situation. Okay, maybe we were just Jim and Dwight.
I would also like to add that Alex was a great friend. He read my running-related articles, reassured me when I was nervous about a race, and he knew my workplace woes. He knew I was unhappy in my position and was happy for me when I found a better opportunity.
Then one fine day I went to a restaurant with Alex and a few other colleagues. Alex had previously managed the restaurant, and knew many of the employees there, including several women my age. After two openly flirted with him, I realized, shit. He is a flirty man. There is nothing more special about me than anyone else. And deep down in my heart, I knew that’s the way it should be. Seeing him flirt with other women made me feel so foolish and a little sick to my stomach. I had so many complicated feelings. I had developed a very deep friendship with Alex, and it never extended past that, although I wished that in a perfect world, we could have been together. At the time, I was going through fleeting relationships with men my age, but they were meaningless. Alex was my constant, at least at work, and I felt that he was a “real man.” I trusted him. I felt like I was in high school again. Maybe even middle school. The feelings I developed for him suddenly made me feel juvenile, because I knew from the start I would never be able to act on my feelings, and I’d only dig myself into a deep hole by letting myself feel that way.
I had to deal with the constant feeling of longing for someone I could never have, and worse — the knowledge that I had put myself in that position. I felt foolish and guilty, though I caused no emotional strife for anyone but myself. Looking back, Alex is not what I wanted but rather the image of what I wanted in the future; someone to laugh with, someone to run with, and someone to talk about running 24/7 with. He was responsible, a good father, well-dressed, and a great cook. He even helped me clean the office kitchen — swoon! Above all, I felt comfort and safety in his presence, even if he viewed me as just a co-worker.
Even though the whole situation made me feel like a vulnerable 6th grader, I learned a lot about myself. I maintained my own dignity and self-respect and respect for his marriage, no matter how strong my feelings were. I understood my place in his life, no matter how my insignificance in it broke my heart. I learned how mentally strong I am. And most importantly that in the future, I won’t ever let myself feel that way about a married man again. I know that I need to create better boundaries — not just for the families of these men, but also for myself. Lesson learned.
*name has been changed!