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Carolyn Hax: A married mom pursuing an office crush — stupid, right?

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: I have a very strong crush on my colleague. We work very closely together. We are both married. Colleague has a dry sense of humor which resonates with me.

We have nothing else in common. I didn't even like his attitude when I first met him. But with prolonged contact (I indirectly report to him), I am getting very attached.

I know this is a direct result of my home front not being comfortable. We have a baby and my spouse has become crabby and irritable. He finds fault with innocuous things. I don't look forward to returning home in the evenings. I am trying to not provoke his temper but I sometimes stand up for myself, which seems to egg him on. He backtracks later but my trust in him is getting shredded. I like my partner to be a safe haven, and he is making it harder for me to like him.

I will continue working on repairing my marriage. In the meantime, please give me a quick kick to stop me from making a stupid move with the colleague.

— Crushing

Crushing: It wouldn’t be a “stupid” move. It would be a life-as-you-know-it-ending move. Total obliteration of what you have.

That might seem tempting, but there are ways to untangle knots that don’t involve explosives. For example, there is the truth, pretty much as you wrote it above, followed by: “What has changed? Am I contributing to it? What can you, I or we do to fix this?”

You could also skip the longer version and cut to: “I’m concerned that you’re depressed. [Example] and [example] are not like you.” I suggest this because people tend to think depression is sadness, but it can present as anger, too — and the massive life change of a baby can depress dads, too, not just moms.

Your crush could even be a post-baby mood effect, a need to “medicate” with the intrigue of the forbidden. And dry humor is a catnip of its own, because it’s subtle and personal and so, in its way, more intimate than many other forms of communication.

You breeze past the “working on repairing my marriage,” in part because it’s so obvious — but I think it’s worth pausing there. It’s bigger than just marriage work, because it’s not going to be fully effective unless you both are in better shape yourselves, individually.

None of this is unusual, please be assured. It is really, really hard to have the center of everything shift on you, and when things get hard, our gazes tend to fall naturally on what seems like an escape. Emphasis “seems.” What’s ultimately easiest on all of you is to turn back toward your center and find ways to make home an easier place. More rest, more awareness of each other, more cutting of slack.

Re: Colleague: "Crushing" stands to lose everything. That might include her job.

— Anonymous

Re: Colleague: Years ago you suggested imagining all the flaws the crush may have — personality, temper, habits, hygiene, baggage, etc. Doing that helped me manage my feelings for my colleague (and understand that of course I was romanticizing him). Eventually, my crush faded, and we had a productive professional relationship.

— Faded

Faded: Great to hear, thanks.

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