Ask Dave-Office Romance: Uh-Oh!

What can you do when you start seeing a co-worker and things head south? Our columnist gives advice.

By Dave Singleton

ear Dave,
I’m usually really smart about figuring out why good relationships go bad. But this time, I’m not too sure. I was recently dating an older man (17-year difference), and everything was great! We traveled together, met each other’s families, and just enjoyed our time together. All the signs pointed to
I’m usually really smart about figuring out why good relationships go bad.
a great and strong relationship. Until one day out of the blue, when I received a card saying he no longer wanted to see me. He felt overwhelmed and not emotionally stable. “I need to find myself” was the term he used. He didn’t feel I was being treated the way I deserved. (How does he know that?)

Anyway, the other problem is that I work with him. We see each other every day. We are cordial but distant. The thing that confuses me the most is that he looks so good, always smiling and upbeat. Is he pretending to be OK, or he is really trying to get his life together? Or perhaps I was a load on his shoulders and he feels better without me? What do I do at work? How should I handle it?
-Post-Dating Tension at Work

Dear PDTW,
Is he pretending? Were you a load on his shoulders? You ask good questions, but only Mr. Confused knows the correct answers, and I wouldn’t bet the farm on how sure he really is about anything in his life right now!

I know that getting a “Dear John” letter is so disappointing. You deserved better than a cop-out note, especially since your relationship had progressed to a deeper level. Saying goodbye via letter, telephone or email may be OK after a few dates, but not after you’re engaged in a relationship.

In short, for whatever medical or non-medical reason, he’s having second thoughts about your relationship. One thing is clear: Age doesn’t imply rock-solid clarity when it comes to relationships. Your older man seems to be in the middle of a mid-life crisis.

I’d believe him when he tells you that you deserve better. You do. In addition to the pain of a breakup, you face the complicating factor of sharing a workplace. Your situation points to a real challenge in the dating world: How to handle a romance gone wrong when you have to see the person at the water cooler every day.

Here are some tips for handling yourself, especially given the tricky “business” of having to work side by side with Mr. Confused:

Schedule an RCD (Relationship-Clarifying Discussion) ASAP.
Contact him, but try not to come across as overly dramatic, knee-jerk reactive, or angry. He owes you more than the letter, cordial hallway smiles, and verbal bouquet of mixed messages he has sent you. Someplace other than at work, ask him to explain to you, as best he can, what went through
Sometimes they call it a breakup because it’s broken.
his mind as he weighed the pros and cons of being with you. Find out why he decided to write you a letter ending your relationship without talking with you first. Why did he give such mixed messages? Ask the questions as directly as you can, and then sit back and listen. Don’t interrupt or put words in his mouth. His responses, both verbal and non-verbal, will tell you volumes. If, for example, he went through a troubling time that has since passed, he can convey that to you. If he wants to re-establish any relationship — friend or lover — with you, he needs to rebuild the trust that was challenged when he sent a message crashing through your heart.

Stay focused on your job.
You asked, “What do I do at work?” Make work a priority, since your career and livelihood are important. Romance with a co-worker can spark up an otherwise dull nine-to-five workplace. But now you’ve seen the downside. The exciting feelings of love can quickly become a gut-wrenchingly terrible mess in which your financial, career and emotional stability are threatened. The best way to act is professional, cordial, and drama-free. Limit your personal discussions with Mr. Confused to outside the office.

Stop, look and listen to your instincts.
It’s hard, particularly after such a postal ambush, to be emotionally clear about what you want. You’re so focused on trying to understand and making sense of inconsistent behavior. But take some time to consider the possibility that he may not be what you want. Are you sure you’d be interested in fixing this if it was up to you? The way I look at it, he’d have to work hard at getting back in your good graces before anything could be fixed. If he says that it’s been a temporarily bad time and now he has second thoughts about breaking up, will you be able to trust him again? Sometimes they call it a breakup because it’s broken, possibly in ways you hadn’t considered.

Bottom line: His ongoing confusion doesn’t have to be your ongoing problem anymore. Why would you want to wait around for someone who either doesn’t want to be with you or can’t make up his mind? You deserve better.

Dave Singleton, an award-winning writer and columnist for since 2003, is the author of two books on dating and relationships. Visit Dave’s website and send your dating questions and comments to him at
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