Group Therapy is a relationship advice column that asks readers to contribute their wisdom. Each week, we offer a problem for you to weigh in on, then publish the most lively responses, with a final word on the matter delivered by our columnist, Lynn Coady.
A reader writes: I have just started seeing a colleague of mine. We grew very close over the past year, and even strangers would comment on the strong connection between us. I have never clicked so well with someone. Initially, I was hesitant to start something with a colleague, but we had a long talk a couple weeks ago and decided to "be together." When we are alone together, we laugh and have fun like we used to. But when we are at work and around friends, he is now distant. It feels as though he is practically ignoring me in public, but this is no secret relationship. I'm not looking for major public displays of affection, I just miss our daily interaction. Is our potential relationship ruined - and our friendship too? Should I wait see how he handles this transition period, or is this just indicative of how he acts in relationships (not so cool or sweet)?
Don't make it a big deal
Don't overreact, because your friend probably is. If this is a new relationship, he is trying to figure out how to treat you with professional distance at work and overdoing it a bit. It probably won't be too long until you are both comfortable with a professional-private relationship and the parameters of both situations.
- Evelyn Schellenberg,
Take the lead
Why is it that women always want to wait and see how he handles the transition period? Take the lead and voice yourself here. What is it you want to say to him? Grow up? Maybe, but ultimately you are the one feeling off about the situation so you have a responsibility to let him know. Like so many psychotherapists like to tell us: Always come from a place of I. You may say to him, "When you act distant and cool around me when our friends or colleagues are present, I feel …" Now you can open up a dialogue (hopefully) and even resolve the issue and parse the truth beneath the cool layer you see.
- Stephanie Needham,
Salmon Arm, B.C.
Office romances are fraught with challenges and perhaps he is merely trying to behave professionally, as you both should. His behaviour in the office is understandable and you need to be mature enough to see this. But if he is acting distant around your friends, he could be intimidated or, perhaps, involved with someone else. Share your views with him in a non-threatening way. Perhaps you will understand each other better and may decide you are emotionally not suited to one another. On the other hand, if you are able to work toward something that feels right for you both, I strongly suggest one of you finds another place of employment.
- Susan Silverman, Toronto
The final word
You know what I don't get? I don't get how it is that someone capable of having a "long talk" on a topic as ladened with emotional landmines as do-you-like-me-I-like-you finds herself paralyzed at the prospect of walking up to that same conversational partner and kicking off a what-gives-with-the-cold-shoulder-at-work colloquy.
I mean, I get what it is to be a young person starting up a new romance, not sure where she stands and not wanting to screw it up. But believe me: Skulking around your cubicle, scratching your head and typing up furtive letters to advice columnists when puzzled by your paramour's behaviour is no way to foster the kind of open and communicative relationship we all strive for.
I eschew essentialist generalizations along the lines of Stephanie's why do women always … But her overall point, couched as it is in tough love, is not to be denied: Find your voice. Talk to the guy. Like, ask. And, no, I don't mean now, in the middle of the work day. For the love of God, don't jump up from your desk and corner him in the lunchroom. Wait until you are alone together, in a hitherto-established couple-friendly zone (a favourite restaurant or one of your apartments). It seems obvious your new man is simply acting in such a way as to reassure his colleagues that the two of you will not be grossing them out by grabbing each other's butts on the way to the copier or doing smoochy-faces across people's desks. As Susan notes, the guy is simply being careful and establishing professional boundaries. Yes, he might've given you a heads-up on that plan in advance, but it's likely he assumed you'd understand. Take Evelyn's advice and don't overreact.
His acting distant around your friends is a slightly different matter. Are these friends from work? If yes, that explains itself. If not, could be he's still trying to figure out where the line between private and public should be drawn. Remember you're still transitioning into this new relationship, and some men (but not all men, Stephanie!) can feel awkward about that period, especially when it comes to establishing protocols around the dreaded public displays of affection. One more time for good measure: Ask.
Lynn Coady is the award-winning author of the novels Strange Heaven and Mean Boy, with another one currently in the oven.
Next week's question
No matter how I try to apply reason to this situation, the bottom line is that my partner seems to be "addicted" to his grown daughter, who is almost 30. He sneaks out of the house to see her, never wants me around them when they are together and buys her extravagant things. Click Related contenthere to read the rest of the question.