I'm a recent college grad who finally got my first real programming job. For better or for worse, I am extremely attracted to my boss and have quickly developed feelings for her. This seemed awesome at first (like getting the hot teacher in a class), but now I've realized that this have made things very difficult. A few examples:

  • Whenever we are in the same meeting, I am always stuttering and making a fool out of myself
  • Sometimes she will be wearing an outfit that will make it extremely difficult to concentrate on work. (She sits a few cubes down from me and I can see her from where I'm sitting). Coworkers will catch me zoning out staring at her.
  • Last week when my coworkers were making fun of my boss, rather than joining in or remaining silent, I got really angry and aggressively defended her to the point where I made things awkward. They now only talk to me about work related stuff.
  • Sometimes I find myself getting irrationally jealous about stupid things, such as seeing her socialize and laugh with other coworkers.

I fully recognize that these feelings for her are unprofessional, inappropriate, and bordering on infatuation. My question is: what should I do about this? I've seriously considered quitting, but this could be a horrible career decision considering that this is my first programming job and I've only been here for two months. Is it inappropriate to ask to change teams or move seats without specifying a reason? Would there be anything at all gained by admitting to her or somebody else (like HR) that I am attracted to her?

Just want to clarify a few things:

  • Under no circumstances am I looking to try to pursue a romantic relationship with her. Not only would that be highly inappropriate, but she's way older than me (probably the same age as my grandmother).
  • Despite everything, I still feel like I'm performing decently at work. I'm not doing my best, but still doing well. My boss has complimented me several times on the quality of my work.
  • To elaborate more on the incident with my coworkers, basically they were making fun of her weight.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Nov 23 at 0:27
  • Is she literally the same age as your grandmother? It sounds unlikely to me as I would expect somebody that age to have retired by now. I am asking that because it seems the age difference is your primary reason for ruling out the possibility of a relationship. And if you hadn't stated that an actual relationship is out of the question, I would answer this question quite differently. – kasperd Nov 23 at 14:58
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    Can you elaborate more on the clothing that "makes it extremely difficult to concentrate?" Depending on what she's wearing it may be she's 1) guilty of sexual harassment, 2) Simply dressing unprofessionally, or 3) happens to be attractive even in professional attire. It makes a big difference. – Physics-Compute Nov 23 at 16:35

13 Answers 13

You may not be able to control your feelings, but you can control your actions.

So the first thing, staring at your boss ( or any other employee ) is simply creepy and in some locations can be considered sexual harassment. When your co-workers talk bad about your boss, stay silent if you cannot participate without anger and aggression. Once again this is behavior that can get you in trouble at work.

I would first try to work on controlling your behavior before considering something like quitting or moving to a different location and under no circumstances should you reveal to anyone within the company that you are attracted to your boss.

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    I like this answer. Something to consider with respect to the first part of the last paragraph - there is always going to be the chance for any workplace problem to exist at any employer (coworker you don't like, coworker who you like too much, and so on). It's best to try to learn how to deal with problems like these, versus immediately switching jobs as a way to run from them. If your first response is to consider running, you'll find yourself in a pattern of always running. – dwizum Nov 21 at 15:07
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    The OP has already specified he's trying to control his behaviour, which he finds difficult. Hence the question here. – rath Nov 21 at 15:32
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    @rath Did he? From the OP I don't see anything about trying and failing to exercise self-control. Phrasing makes it clear that the OP recognizes that these behaviors are not great, but there wasn't anything written about trying to correct them himself-- the ideas were based around leaving or having HR do something. – Upper_Case Nov 21 at 15:58
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    I think this answer is correct in suggesting to try self-control first, but the answer will benefit from outlining what to do if self-control fails. Going to a psychologist to help with self-control is a valid strategy here. – svavil Nov 21 at 16:24
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    While this answer isn't wrong as such, I don't think it's especially helpful either. I think the OP already realizes these things, and the answer is lacking in real concrete actionable advice to improve the situation. – Martin Tournoij Nov 21 at 23:16

HR IS NOT YOUR FRIEND

Take that idea out of your head immediately. I would advise you seek counseling outside of work. This is a personal problem on your part and if you do not correct course, you will almost certainly find yourself on the receiving end of a sexual harassment charge.

If you cannot control yourself, you will need to move on. It's much easier to explain a short stint as a "bad fit" than it is to explain "terminated for cause", especially when the cause is "sexual harassment".

At that point, you'd be lucky to have a career in fast food or retail.

TLDR:

  • Get counseling
  • update your resume
  • IF counseling doesn't help, find a new job.
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Nov 24 at 6:27
  • This seems extreme and very pessimistic. There is not reason to assume that there is an imminent sexual harassment suit on the horizon. An so far nothing OP has described even comes remotely close to a firing offence, at least not in any jurisdiction I know. – fgysin Nov 27 at 11:48

I've been in similar situations with coworkers. In my case I did not have a productive life outside of work.

You may have to examine what you are doing before and after work. If it's something like video games or surfing the internet, then these are very solitary activities and only serve to further isolate you and make things like infatuation even worse.

You may want to try exercise either before or after work (personally I try to aim to walk about 3-4 miles a day). Playing an instrument can help since it sets a goal for improvement if you are still learning (I play the piano for example). Even just minor travel to see places around you can be productive and a learning experience. Drag your parents, siblings, friend, or significant other- so that you can experience new places and do new things. If you don't have a hobby think about what interests you and try to learn it.

If you don't have a significant other, or you aren't trying to date anyone at all- then that's problem #1 right there. Try to get out more and meet someone new even if you have to use online dating. In my case I dated about 4-5 people before I found someone I liked. I'll be honest, dating is hit or miss and you might be dating a long time before finding someone with mutual interests. Having a significant other you can relate to will probably greatly eliminate these type of infatuations. But make sure you aren't merely transferring infatuation to someone else.

Is it inappropriate to ask to change teams or move seats without specifying a reason? Would there be anything at all gained by admitting to her or somebody else (like HR) that I am attracted to her?

I think this is really something you need to work on personally. There is little others can do to "remedy" a personal problem.

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    I was going to write my own answer, but this answer has essentially all the points I would make. The OP should seek counseling (through EAP or community counseling services), but also cultivate outside-of-work hobbies, exercise, and dating (if they're interested). – S. G. Nov 22 at 3:34
  • Play an instrument and join/found a band. I guarantee this will use up a good deal of you free time. – RedSonja Nov 22 at 8:08
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    I feel this answer is largely tangential to the problem described in the question. OP has a crush on someone he has to be working with 8 hours a day. I don't see how spending his time outside work in a different manner will improve the situation at work. And from personal experience I can tell that it's virtually impossible to get into the right mindset for dating (be it online or otherwise) while having a crush on someone. – Inarion Nov 22 at 9:46
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    I think this answer could be improved by leaving out the 4th paragraph. It is not a problem to be single and please don't tell this to people. – Hakaishin Nov 22 at 16:11
  • That's a great answer. Most of our problems sometimes stems from our personal life, indeed. – Tico Nov 22 at 19:49

Not doing something is remarkably difficult, so think in terms of doing something different for each troubling behavior.

In meetings, try to focus on the effect of your remarks on some other person, perhaps your boss' boss.

Pick some object in your own cubicle to stare at. Any time you find yourself staring at your boss, switch to looking at that object.

Prepare some boss jokes, to use if your colleagues start making fun of her. Dilbert, though extreme, may give you some ideas.

If at all possible, walk away when you find yourself feeling jealous.

This is something that many young people have to deal with when they start working for the first time. There's an awful lot of emotional development required to progress from education and moving into the professional workplace. It's not just the skills needed to do your job, it's also interpersonal skills with people you're working with.

You've taken the time here to write down what's going wrong, so you understand that. You know that your behaviour is irrational and inappropriate for this workplace and your colleagues. While leaving might solve the problem, it's only because it's avoiding the problem. You'll face this again, and again.

Admit to yourself that you're never going to have a romantic engagement with your boss (or any co-worker for that matter), she most probably has a partner and is very happy in her relationship. She's your boss, treat her as such.

Keep in mind that if you're aware that you're staring at her, she is also aware that you're staring at her.

When you make that conscious decision in your head that nothing is going to happen and that she's your boss who has no romantic interest in you, then things will become easier. Segregating your search for romance and work will also help.

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    The random assumptions (has a relationshop, is happy in her relationship) do not benefit this answer. They're blind assumptions, and may just as well be completely wrong. However, that doesn't change anything about the validity of the rest of the answer. Therefor, I'd say that the answer would be better without such baseless speculation. – Jasper Nov 22 at 11:42
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    It's an assumption that helps to divert any unwanted romantic notions someone might have. – Snow Nov 22 at 11:53

I know it is really hard to work in an company where you have a crush on another employee, rather than your boss, who you will see everyday and have to stay in touch with.

If you cannot control your actions, or your thoughts may not let you focus on your job, then you may consider finding another job.

You will find another job for sure, as fresh grad.

I think it is much better than doing something you may regret or get dismissed for harassment or any other reason.

  • That last sentence should be BOLD. Upvoted – Mawg Nov 22 at 7:57
  • This sounds like much more than a crush. – Lightness Races in Orbit Nov 23 at 22:45

In this day and age of mixed office work, when people spend most of their lives either working or commuting with each other, and when fertility rates are in decline as a result, do not feel that starting a relationship in the office is somehow contrary to professionalism.

Work relationships and marriages are normal. Love and life is paramount. Work is one of the main methods of achieving that. Eventually, you might feel that working together became a problem, for you or others, and then deal with it appropriately.

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    Relationships with a coworker are normal. Relationships with your boss are not normal, due to conflict of interest concerns. – reirab Nov 21 at 22:19
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    @reirab while it may not happen as often as coworker relationships, simply because there are more employees than bosses, it's far from uncommon. Regardless of wrong or right. Just think of the secretary/boss stereotypes we all know from the movies. And I can totally confirm this from real life experiences. – sboesch Nov 22 at 0:21
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    @sboesch Fair point. I was using 'normal' to mean more "not contrary to professionalism," as this answer appears to use it. If a boss and subordinate do decide that they want to pursue a relationship (and there's no indication in this question that the attraction here is mutual,) then one of them needs to either quit or move to a different chain-of-command in order to mitigate the conflict of interest if professionalism is to be maintained. – reirab Nov 22 at 3:29
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    Starting relationships is okay, the work place can in fact be a perfect environment to truly know someone before making a move - IF done appropriately. The behaviour of OP, however, is unprofessional and inappropriate. There is no sign the feelings are mutual and OP is risking his career if he cannot get his actions under control. – Darkwing Nov 22 at 9:57
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    @Sentinel Right, you should do something that makes you happy, for some that is more on the relationship side for some more on the work side. Or any other side. And while I'd agree that one should give a promising relationship a chance, we don't have a relationship here. We have an infatuation and an OP who seems unable to control that and direct it into a path where it doesn't affect his work. If he had himself under control and managed to professionally work there and then after a year finds out it's mutual, I'd be with you to carefully go with it. – Darkwing Nov 22 at 10:15

I would like to go on a different approach. First, I want to trash the social stereotypes (man should be older/wealthier than woman), assume perfect parity between men and women, and remark the OP has not made additional statements on the boss's relational status (if she is engaged already or not) or his compatibility with the boss. Let's go split from the personal and professional point of views

Personally

You have a crush for a person. That is perfectly natural because we are humans. I wouldn't suggest you to refrain from going further on grounds that she has more power than you (stereotype), or older (stereotype). I don't know the real situation, but if you could get to know more from the other person, you could also discover whether she may match you. This part of the answer isolates the OP and the boss from the workplace context. It's like someone on Interpersonal SE asked the same question about a woman sitting at a social event.

If she doesn't match you, you should go on on your own interest and find someone else. If she might ever match you, that could become the chance of your entire life. You should not use the social stereotypes and the professional barriers to stop you from growing a working relationship.

At the same time, you must act correctly. If you choose the path to show your feelings to the directly interested party and get a refuse, be prepared to accept a definitive no and face the consequences of which I will talk later. I am not encouraging stalking or similar, I just want to say that if you feel it is worth your romantic life, you can choose to bet on that.

On the contrary, acting like you are doing indeed harms your and your social life. If you don't come to a conclusion soon you will be staring to this person for your entire life, showing weakness and awkwardness. Even if this was not professional context, being in crush of a single individual is bad and can lead, in my opinion, to mental disease problems, mainly becoming incapable of a normal social life like the others. You said yourself that staring at her has consequences over your work.

Life happens. Couple breaks and change. Betrayals, while immoral for some, happen often. Older women are happy with younger and shorter men. Models (while often) do not always marry actors of footballers. Men and women find toy-boys/girls. We are not necessarily talking about full-life commitment here. I am personally talking about mutual consent. Everything consensual is fine to me, regardless of personal stories.

That is your choice. If that is yes, congrats! If that is no, respect her and her decision. Do. Not. Stalk. Her.

And I am not necessarily endorsing you on going forward. Try to know the person more to see if you match her

Conclusion: it is the OP's choice to decide whether to go on or give up. I want to respect his personal commitment into the boss.

Professionally

It is well debated that having any kind of friendship or relationship with a boss can cause harm because of conflict of interest. As others have noted, it is not uncommon to have relationship between peers or people with different responsibilities but working in different parts of the company.

That said, you are likely to show attraction (i.e. your coworkers will guess right) by your behaviour. It must come to a stop as soon as possible.

Consequences are IMO hard in terms of social life at work: if word happens to spread that you have attraction for someone at office and were refused, you may be pointed to be that one for the rest of your entire work career. Everyone will think about you as "the one who was in crush for the boss". This, depending on your workplace, may have silly bullying consequences. Being "that guy" forever is also a soft-bullying in my opinion.

If you get angry easily at defending your boss you will likely lose credibility in other subjects.

And of course the worst that can happen goes between HR and a charge for harassment.

Professionally speaking, despite your choice to really try to get more friendly/intimate with your boss, you must act immediately. I suggest three steps:

  1. Immediately: do your best to control yourself

You know that you are staring, you know you are getting angry easily. Then, avoid the line of sight if you can, try to not join conversations about your boss; walk away from break room if necessary.

This step is not sufficient, because you will be feeling under pressure of controlling yourself. This has a negative effect on your state of mind.

  1. After that: try to get more distance

This works against you. You just began your first job, so going to HR and asking to be moved to another team/office for personal problems with your boss couldn't go easily if you want to hide your attraction status. And speaking about that to HR is a bad idea. Seniority counts here.

The best option is to consider a different occupation in your case. Bonus point: if you ever happen to stay in contact with your current boss after you quit, growing a real relationship is the greatest thing that can happen!!!! But as I said before, I make no assumptions on your real chances. Do not count on that!!

Yet again, do not steal/stalk her number. If you plan to go, try to ask directly to stay in further contact. All future choices of communication depend on your wise.

  1. On the long term: seek help

Friends, family, professional consulting are all great ideas. I have read questions about start dating someone else. Yes, that will help a lot release the tension, as you will be probably thinking less to your current boss and more to one or more individuals. Often dating is seen as a distraction.

I would go for the professional consulting in this case. We all have feelings as humans, and in fact in the first part of my answer I did not want to suggest stop following your feelings. Surak teaches us that we should not necessarily bury our feeling, but learn how to leave with them, to control them and not have them to control us.

You should ask for help to get a training on improving your emotion control. I also think that your fragility in handling emotions could easily bar you from finding a different partner.

Why does nobody suggest (even talk about) attempting an intimate relationship?

Well, here's why:

  • Relationships between colleagues can work perfectly fine, even bond a couple more strongly but have some risks in getting there or once in a relationship:
    • pursuing romantic relations with a colleague can be a very slippery slope into inappropriateness or misconstrued as sexual harassment.
    • In this example the main potential issues that we know of are a very large age gap and a professional hierarchy to consider.
    • Chances are very high she isn't interested,even if she's single and heterosexual.
    • managing work and private relationships (especially if one is the superior to the other) can be very difficult to near impossible without major problems on a professional and personal level.
    • Not the case here, but if a superior is approaching a subordinate there is a power differential that quickly shifts such a relationship into the inappropriate.
      (she might be reluctant as it would cast this light on her)

So it is prudent to be very cautious about attempting to get romantically involved.

You still do have these two choices however.

Pursue a relationship or not.

  • If you don't then follow many of the good answers and either keep everything professional, getting her out of your system or quit if you can't.

  • If you do, make sure beforehand that she is interested and that you're not just infatuated but indeed in love.
    Get ready for a negative impact to your carreer if she rejects you or to leave the company as well if it becomes too awkward.
    Should she be interested but reluctant due to your respective positions offer to quit the company so that you two can become intimate without that professional barrier.

My advice first and foremost is to settle a bit, give it time.
Be professional and work as well as you can.
While slowly and carefully see how your personal, non professional interactions are and what signals you pick up from her.
Don't make any larger advances initially if you decided to do so but wait to see how she reacts to you.
Keep conversations light and friendly, maybe here and there if appropriate very slightly flirtatious if you think, she indeed might be interested in you.

It won't hurt either way to find professional advice and / or friends to help.
Maybe you can introduce a friend or two to her.
External parties often can read situations and behaviour more accurately and objectively.

All in all, if there is a high objective chance for a working romantic relationship I'd suggest to make that a priority before work(without neglecting it of course) unless work and carreer is more important for you.
You're on the very beginning of your professional life, so it might indeed be the best for you to concentrate on that right now.

The way you describe things makes me also think that you're infatuated and excuse my bluntness (and no offence intended) due to your age emotionally still in need of growth to become more grounded in your confidence and emotional maturity.
You might misinterpret your emotions and hers more easily and may make rash decisions.

I think it is self evident but tread lightly and as soon as you feel she is uncomfortable with your advances or rejects you, immiediatley STOP otherwise it becomes SEXUAL HARASSMENT.
Keep anger in check, it is very rarely warranted especially at work.

Should the company have any policies regarding personal relationships adhere to that code of conduct.

  • Probably because it's unethical to engage in a relationship with your boss unless it's a two‐person company… Your boss would have a conflict of interest and would likely either show favoritism or treat you more harshly in an attempt to compensate. – Patrick Dark Nov 22 at 22:35
  • @PatrickDark While what you point out may happen,it is not unethical to have personal relations with colleagues!That's why only companies in special circumstances even prohibit it for special cases(military comes to mind for commanding officers and their subordinates).It happens very often,people usually manage to have their personal lives along work just fine.Discussions in society sometimes make way too much fuss.As usual,society hooks onto something that largely is nobodies business.It may be problematic,impacting others and should be treated carefully but "unethical" is too strong. – DigitalBlade969 Nov 23 at 4:36
  • @DigitalBlade969 You're not answering the question as presently stated ... it says pursuing romance is out of the question. – reinierpost Nov 23 at 10:36
  • @DigitalBlade969 I said "boss", not "colleagues". There is, of course, nothing wrong with engaging in relationships with colleagues when no conflict of interest is involved. – Patrick Dark Nov 24 at 11:30

I read all these answers saying how unprofessional it might be but hey, I was in the same scenario one year ago. We often had to have meetings together and every time was even harder for me until one day she told me "Hey, what are you doing after work?".

And now we're together. :-)

You are attracted to your boss. Since you feel jealousy when she socializes, irritation when she is subject of ridicule by your coworkers, it looks like the attraction is sexual & emotional.

Having a relationship with your boss will NEVER work because of conflict of interest. So DO NOT PURSUE.

If you do not want to seek psychological help suggested by other answers, then personally try to fixate on things you find unattractive about this girl. Try to list them out & whenever you have the urge to stare at her, just mentally fixate on this list.

The things you find unattractive can be as complex or as simple. Maybe she wastes food in the cafeteria, maybe she doesn't care about climate change. It depends on your personality. If you don't socialize with her outside work them stalk her a little on social media to make that list. It can be as silly as she thinking Ronaldo is better than Messi.

Everyone has some negative traits. However, even after trying hard you don't find any fault with her then maybe she's the one for you. Get another job & then try to seek her romantically.

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    You're advising the OP to stalk someone on social media?! For all you know, the lady in question could be happily married, in which case she is off limits. – Time4Tea Nov 22 at 8:22
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    @Time4Tea I am asking the op to stalk someone not with the intention of pursuing her. Going through someone public profile on social media although termed under stalking isn't an indecent thing. – KharoBangdo Nov 22 at 9:27
  • "Having a relationship with your boss will NEVER work" - That's an exaggeration. As I commented elsewhere, it seems to be working OK so far for Barack Obama. (And the wife of the owner at one previous employer had started out as the receptionist.) – Martin Bonner Nov 22 at 9:54
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    While looking at someones public profile isn't a indecent thing. going through their profile with goal of making a list of traits you like and dislike about them is most definitely indecent and quite a worrying/creepy behaviour. This is bad advice, obsessing over his colleague at home to find out more about them is only going to make this situation worse and can only really lead to worse things. – J.Doe Nov 22 at 10:16
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    @J.Doe Hmm. You are right. Online stalking may lead to a person becoming more obsessive. But I thought creepily staring at the girl from across the room was much worse. – KharoBangdo Nov 22 at 10:37

Staying in this job, you're making a fool out of yourself (your words, not mine) and cannot ethically pursue her.

Changing jobs you're no longer making a fool out of yourself and can ethically pursue her.

Get some pictures of her. Put them on the walls of your apartment. Stare at them all you want. Maybe that will get her out of your system enough so that you can function at work.

Call it a fantasy relationship if you will.

Oh, and ask to be moved to another desk. Just say it's for personal reasons; do not elaborate.

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    I am not a psychologist, but it seems to me like this would just make the obsession worse. Maybe this answer is meant ironically? If so, it doesn't communicate it very well. – Philipp Nov 23 at 13:21
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    It's never a good idea to indulge a fantasy that's already causing legitimate problems in the real world. If word ever got back to the office somehow that he had pictures of her on his walls... That together with known incidents of him being overprotective and/or staring at her at work could quickly escalate into a lawsuit. There's also the question of where he would find such pictures and the risk that getting them entails. It's just... not... a good way to handle the issue. – Steve-O Nov 23 at 14:48

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