Dopers! Help me with this male/female dynamic that's driving me crazy.

Here’s the basic setup. Mary and I work together at an advertising agency, although in different departments. We are both of the same approximate age, mid 30’s. I am married, but going through a separation/potential divorce (amicable, yet very sad and tough). She is happily married, with two young children.

Over the past several months, we have become very much friends. We share quite a lot of intimate (emotional, not sexual) detail with each other, although more me than her. For both of us, it’s almost a necessity to sit and chat first thing in the morning (to the point where something seems missing when we can’t), and usually later in the afternoon. We laugh a lot together.

Needless to say, I am extremely attracted to her. From an objective perspective, she’s pretty, yet nothing another person would go “wow”. From my perspective, she’s beautiful. However, as attractive as she is, for a number of reasons I could never go forward with any kind of intimate contact/relationship - but that doesn’t mean I don’t daydream of being able to kiss her.

So…I have no idea how to read our situation. How do I read things like the following:

  1. I bring her a cup of coffee from Starbucks. She says “God, that’s great, I could just kiss you.” <pause> “But what would people around us think?”

  2. One morning, late in the a.m., I’m talking with my boss in my office and she comes by. I jokingly berate her for not saying hello earlier that morning, and she says “What do you want me to do, come sit on your lap and give you a smooch in the morning?”

  3. We’re talking about not being motivated for work. I ask her “How can we get motivated?” She says “Well, nudity would help.”

Now, it’s not like these three things happened within a week. And there have been hundreds of conversations with nothing (seemingly) untoward being said. And she has said things like “I depend so much on my husband”. And I know she absolutely loves her kids. There has never been any sign that she doesn’t love her husband/family. But we do have a great time together (last week we went to see a movie together - but don’t read anything into that, other people from work were invited but couldn’t make it).

What it boils down to is I’ve never been any good at all at reading signs/interpreting male-female relationships. I tend to become much closer to females than males as friends, but the whole sexual dynamic always drives me nuts.

So…what’s your take on this? I’m not asking on how to move forward or not, or the morals of the situation. I’m asking…what would you think is going on?

She loves you as a friend, she loves her husband as her husband, and she’s got a great sense of humor. There’s nothing more going on. But it sounds like she truly does value your friendship a lot. Enjoy it.

Be extremely careful. Been there, done that, got into a world of stuff. It’s all innocent and friendly until it isn’t, and that line disappears faster than a dropped thong.

If you’re serious about not wanting to have an affair with her – and I hope you are serious about that – you need to cool things off a little. If you’re truly friends, tell her why – but, yeah, dances is right, you’re both playing with fire here, and no, it’s not all just innocent fun. Rapport to banter to flirting to … whatever … can be an incredibly slippery slope.

There’s also the phenomenon of Flirting Because You Know It’s Safe thing.

I’ve had similar (though reciprocal) type exchanges with gay male friends and married male friends, where we’ve been downright Highly Inappropriate because we’ve been so solid and secure in our relationships with our respective spouses that there was no way of making any mistake that it was all in jest.

So, because we are both very comfortable with each other and also very much NOT AVAILABLE to each other, it’s a very safe way of being overtly goofy-flirtatious in an ironic way that is not at all meant seriously. We know damn well it was meaningless.

It could get downright obscene with my gay friend (I was his hag). But as we were definitely NOT really interested in each other, it was taken always as a joke.

I don’t know if that’s your case or not. She may see you in such a non-sexual context that you’re the Best Male Friend, so she may not realize that you’re not so sure about her intentions.

In my experience, I’ve had a male friend at work whom I’ve gotten along with great. We had so much in common and laughed a lot, but were also very happily married. So, as a happily married woman, I would never have said any of the questionable things that your co-worker has said to you. That would feel really inappropriate. I never would have brought him coffee or shared anything terribly personal. It was a fun, but professional relationship. We never went to each other’s homes or did lunch alone together. It never even occurred to us to do so.

The only time I flirted like that was in a previous job when I and my co-worker were single.

I don’t know but, to me, it seems almost like hinting on her part.

She’s attracted to you and, I suspect, ambivalent about it. IMHO, you need to cool it off.

My perception is that she is happily married, but that happy marriage is a sometimes boring state of affairs, and she is flattered by your attention. I think her behavior is a bit careless. I am a little suspicious that your coworkers who didn’t show up for the movie may have been a little uncomfortable around the 2 of you. If you look at it from the perspective of someone who sees 2 married coworkers being overly flirtatious, you can see why they might be creeped out.

My suggestion is that you actively start seeking dates, even just friendly dates, with eligible women away from work. If church or similar is an option for you, try a singles group. Try a few. If church is not your thing, try a club like Toastmasters or Jaycees or a sports league. Volunteer at a hospital or museum or other environment that has a good mix of people. Even a speed dating service, like one of those meet 10 people for 5 minutes each over lunch.

After a breakup it is really easy to fall right into another relationship. It’s rarely the right thing to do. Give yourself time and opportunities to re-establish yourself and a circle of friends who know and support you as a single person.

Wow, thanks for all the thoughtful replies. It means a lot, although it may not totally clarify things. But were I to generalize, I see it kind of like this:

  1. Friendship is great, and not something to take lightly.

  2. Sexual attraction is nice. The attention is nice. Honestly, that’s part of what I want to know - just the simple fact that someone could find me … attractive. And if I were to guess, based both on experience of being married for 6 years and what others have said here, it may be what she is experiencing - it’s just nice to know that someone of the opposite sex is interested in you, other than your spouse.

  3. Knowing someone finds you attractive does not trump love for your spouse.

  4. Flirting between friends (although I know we’re not overtly flirting) is walking a very dangerous line.

  5. There may be different kinds of love. I really understand what SolGrundy posted.

I like her. I like the way she looks, the way she laughs, her intelligence. But in no way shape or form could I live with myself for causing any upset in her marriage. And I really like being able to talk to her.

Not to mention that I do love my wife.

So…what’s the best way to approach this? Is this something that you address directly with a friend of the opposite sex, so it’s on the table and dealt with? But knowing that approach can that cause some irreparable damage?

Or do you just let the friendship develop, let the (supposed) fires cool off, but live with the questions/anguish/uncertainty?

To be honest, I’m a confused and hurt person right now. I can’t imagine ever having another deep relationship with anyone other than my soon-to-be-ex-wife. I can’t deal with relationships on that level. So, yes, it’s nice to feel an attraction to someone, to laugh with them and to watch them smile, and to share things. It’s not even that I want a relationship per se, it’s just that I like the feeling of possibility, of potential. But ultimately, nothing will happen. I can’t and won’t let it. I won’t be a destroyer of another marriage, even in the unlikely possibility that her feelings go beyond a simple “hey, it feels kinda good to have someone like me as well”.

I don’t know, sorry, at this point I’m basically just vomiting my confused thoughts.

Are you old enough to deal with the possibility of talking to her directly? (I keep reading all these threads with the 20somethings saying “oh, I can’t actually say anything about how I feel” and just roll my eyes.)

I’d say something like “I’m going through all kinds of shit right now, and my self-esteem has taken a beating, so I really enjoy our friendship – but I’m not comfortable with the more flirtatious direction it’s taken.” And she’ll either confirm or deny that her intentions are dishonorable – but even if she gets all disingenuous on you, you’ve let her know that you’re not okay with it.

And then back off a little. Cool it with the outside work excursions. Curtail the conversations a little. Make sure that your behavior is appropriate. And if you find yourself slipping – run! run for the hills!

I hear everything you’re saying, rex-but the problem is your big head is speaking to the boards. As one guy to another, I know what power the little head carries regarding veto of previous agendas in the big head.

Sure, I’ll just talk to her, and it’s only a friendly glass of wine, and what would be wrong with a movie between friends, and the next thing you know, body fluids are being exchanged.

If you think you are capable of rewriting the rules of biology, be my guest. Good luck. :dubious:

IMO, she’s flirting. I can’t imagine my mother ever saying those things to another man but my dad, EVER. You’d have to put slivers under her fingernails.

You have a decision to make. You have to decide for real that even if she were to make a pass at you, you won’t go for it. Then your attitude will change, and you won’t be sending out “kiss me” vibes.

If she’s doing it in the work place, I find it extremely inappropriate and unprofessional.

How do you think her husband would feel if he knew his wife spoke to you this way?

Back away. You’re still married, you’re on an emotional rollercoaster, and you do not need the added drama of an interoffice extramarital affair in the midst of your divorce. (My condolences, BTW.)

You should read this as: “She at least likes the idea of messing around some. If/when it gets down to brass tacks maybe she would, maybe she wouldn’t, but she likes the idea.”

twickster, among others, offered some good advice about what to do next.

Sorry about your potential divorce situation. Be aware: This is a tough time for you and you need a shoulder to cry on. Her shoulder seems to be available. Walk softly, for your sake and hers.

I was going to post what twickster suggested: to advise your friend that you’re going through a turbulent time and while you appreciate her friendship you’re looking to sort out what you’re feeling at the moment and you find her usual flirtaceous behavior a little confusing. Don’t put her at fault or pin any of your problems on her; just let her know that you’re still working things out.

If she’s your friend she’ll curb those behaviors and you’ll know it was nothing. If she aspires to be more than your friend she will know that it is now up to her to make her intentions clear.

Do you like your job? Does she like hers? If you keep going, one or both of you may lose your job(s)?

There is clearly a choice to be made here – do you take her up on her invitation (it is an invitation), and risk your jobs and marriage for a few minutes of sexual gratification; or do you cool it off?

Intellectually, most people would choose ‘cool it off’. In reality, ‘bang like weasels, and regret it’ is more likely. And sometimes banging like weasels is OK. Sometimes it not, really, really not OK.

Your choice.

A lot of good advice here.

If possible, I would wait until the next time she says something “frisky” and then make your little prepared speech then. But make it sound natural, like a consequence of her recent comment, not like you’ve been stewing about it for a long time. Does that make sense?

I think it is odd that she is making these comments, but I don’t think that it absolutely has to mean anything too nefarious. (It could, though.) She could just be one of these women who is so totally full of bullshit and she thinks you are on the same wavelength. Gently letting her know that you are not on that same wavelength (gratuitous flirty bullshit) will give her a heads up without making it too embarassing or making too big a deal of it.