ask cam: crushing and confused

Today Crushing and Confused asks Cam how to navigate a sticky situation as a monogamous person with their polyamorous coworker crush.

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Dear Cam,

I started personally IDing as bisexual a few years ago. I’ve also been friends for a while with my coworker and his girlfriend. Prior to the two of them getting together, I had a crush on Coworker, but never pursued anything and moved on after they got together.

I received a message from the two of them a while back indicating that they were opening up their relationship, and were wondering if I was interested in having a sleepover with them. I am personally monogamous and I know that polyamorous situations don’t work for me, but do not judge those that it does work for. I’m also more demisexual in the ways I experience sexual attraction, so I told them that I was flattered but that this wasn’t really my thing, and left it at that.

More recently, the two decided to take a break, and sleep with other people during this time. I got another message from Coworker asking if I’d want to “hang out” or exchange photos. I did admit that I had a crush on him when we started working together but expanded more that I would prefer to remain platonic as it seemed that we had different needs from partners that I wouldn’t be able to fulfill and that I feel much more comfortable with monogamous partners. He was very respectful and kind about this (or so I thought), but I’ve been starting to receive some flirty messages again, which are leaving me confused.

I am still attracted to him and greatly value his friendship. I would be interested in going on a date with him if the situation between he and his girlfriend is different now. If they are still together and are still in an open relationship, I am still not interested in entering a polyamorous situation. If they are together but not polyamorous, that’s cheating, and I’m not someone to cheat with.

I know we need to have a conversation about this sooner rather than later, in the interest of clearing the air, communicating boundaries more effectively, and maintaining this friendship–and professional relationship!–if his romantic situation remains the same. But I’m really not sure where to begin this discussion and am feeling anxious. I would really appreciate any advice you have on opening up this conversation without hurting feelings to badly. Thank you so much in advance!

Crushing and Confused

Hi Crushing and Confused,

Thanks for writing in. This sounds like a bit of a confusing situation you have on your hands. I can see that you have been clear about your boundaries and preferences and it seems that you aren’t sure if these boundaries are being ignored or if the situation has changed to warrant Coworker still flirting with you. It’s natural that a situation like this might put you on edge leaving you uncertain how to proceed.

I have some thoughts for you I hope will help.

Firstly, you say that you are seeking advice on how to navigate this situation without hurting feelings too badly, and while I think that shows that you have a very kind heart, I want you to put aside your concern over feelings for this and focus on clarity here.

I say this because often times when we are dealing with awkward situations like this, we invest far too much in our own anxiety- anxiety that can stem from a lot of things: fear of conflict, fear of hurting people’s feelings, fear of how you will be perceived, etc. And while that anxiety is perfectly normal, when we invest too much in it, it can get in the way of what is most important: being in our integrity.

Being in our integrity requires us to manage our anxiety and push through it, because we know in our hearts and heads what the right thing is.

It is that strong sense of who we are and what is important to us that holds us as we push through something scary like that.

From your letter it’s clear that you know who you are and what you want. Hold onto that and use that as your anchor rather than being too concerned with what will avoid hurt feelings.

I think this is particularly important in situations like you are describing, because we don’t know whether or not Coworker is willfully ignoring your boundaries here, and one of the most important things we can do to protect ourselves in our friendships and relationships is to show others with our behavior that we prioritize our own integrity over social niceties.

It’s far too common that others will take advantage of the fear we have around being impolite and because of this we end up in compromised situations. These situations have a way of snowballing as well, so starting off on the right foot is important.

My next suggestion is to do a bit of journaling and get a few things out:

First, take some notes on what information you need so you know what exactly it is you need to ask when having a conversation with him.

For instance you need to know if he is single now or in a relationships, and you need to know if he’s discovered that he wants to be monogamous (if he is single), or if he is still polyamorous.

Note any other important information you’d need to know to fully understand the situation and why he is flirting with you.

Next I want you to journal out all of the different possible scenarios, and with each one I want you to think about how you might handle it. This is a good exercise in preparing yourself for the possibilities and being able to manage the feelings that might come up in any given situation.

I think this can go a long way in handling the situation in the most grounded and kind way. While I think it’s important to make sure you’re not subduing yourself out of fear, setting an intention to approach a situation with kindness and emotional maturity is a great intention to have.

Pay particular attention to what you might do if Coworker was flirting with you while in a relationship or single and still polyamorous.

This is the place where, if this is the case, your red flags should be popping up.

If you have been clear about your boundaries and preferences and he were flirting with you knowing that you aren’t interested in the kind of situation he’s in, it means he is testing your boundaries to see if you are willing to bend your own rules so he can be with you.

I want to stress here that this behavior doesn’t make him a bad person and it doesn’t even necessarily indicate a pattern of abuse or anything- this kind of behavior is incredibly common (albeit self-serving and rude).

But it does show that he is thinking more about himself and his desires than he is thinking of you and your boundaries, and that would be important information to have, and is something you should be prepared for.

If this ends up being the case- you have a lot of options in terms of how to proceed, from a more passive ghosting approach to a more a direct approach.

If you choose a more direct approach, my suggestion is to be clear and firm. Not just reiterating your boundaries and saying you aren’t interested, but also telling him directly the behavior you’ve observed. This might look something like this:

Coworker, thank you for clarifying your situation. I want to reiterate that I am not polyamorous and not interested in relationships like the one you are seeking. I can see now that despite having been clear about this in the past, you ignored this and attempted to pursue something with me anyways. I want you to know that while I care about you and like you very much, this isn’t acceptable behavior to me, and I need to ask you to stop making advances.

You might add something like “I understand if this is difficult and I am happy to process this more, however I am not willing to open up the discussion of my availability again.” Or you might say “I understand this may be difficult to hear, but I’m afraid I have to ask that we do not discuss this any further.” – depending on if you feel you are able to continue the conversation and stay in your integrity or not.

The risk with further discussion is that it could possibly lead to him denying that he was doing what you said he was doing and you may end up on the defensive and this may detract from the boundary you set. But we know that his behavior speaks to his intentions whether or not he is willing to own up to them.

There is a crucial distinction between him responding with defensiveness and denial that you invited, and him responding with defensiveness of his own volition.

The latter is far easier to accept for what it is without feeling obligated to engage in any argument.

This is where it’s so important to put down your anxiety around hurting people’s feelings.

When you show someone that you can clearly see their behavior, their reaction on the surface is likely to be embarrassed and defensive. Below the surface however, they know that their behavior has been unacceptable to you and will not work for them to produce their desired results, and most crucially, they are going to be far less likely to repeat the behavior.

Probably the best part is that you will also be actively building your own self-confidence and self-trust, and showing yourself that you are able to be clear and firm in your boundaries. This sets you up for greater clarity and confidence in the future.

In the worst case scenario, were he to continue this behavior even after telling him not to, I would suggest taking some space in whatever way you can. These sorts of situations are great for gray rocking- which is when you act as boring as you can to someone so they lose interest.

There is the possibility of course that you speak to him with this directness and he owns up to it- in which case, awesome!

And of course there is also a possibility that he is single and choosing monogamy and is seeing if you’re interested. I’ve been assuming that this isn’t likely to be the case, just given the information you’ve presented here, but I could be totally wrong!

If this is the case, my suggestion is to have fun and go for it- but do be sure to have a clear conversation that in the future you expect directness and clarity. Explain how it was confusing and what your concerns were, and let him know that directness and clarity is foundational for trust, especially given the background of your situation together.

I hope this was helpful for you, Crushing. If you feel like writing back to update us, I’d love to hear how it goes!

Best of luck,

Cam

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