Advice: My ex-fling can't let go

She had a surprise fling with a female colleague, but ended it because she didn't want more. Now she's met someone else and the colleague is threatening trouble. Is there any way to resolve this situation?

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I started a new job six months ago. I disliked it at first but now I really enjoy it.

The problem is that when I started, a one of my co-workers told me she had a big crush on me. It was a bit of a shock - I am a woman - but I was flattered and decided to go on a date with her. We started fooling around for a while, then she told me that she loved me. I started to back away at that point and I was always very careful with the words and emotions I expressed to her. At the beginning I told her I was straight, that I liked men, and that I was just experimenting. I didn't want to hurt her feelings.

We still work together but I have just fallen for a really nice guy who I have been dating for two months. When I told this girl that I just wanted to be friends with her she could not handle it. She threatened that she would take pills or hurt herself.

I am at breaking point because I just don't know what I can do to make it easier. I told her that I was straight from the beginning, and I care about her very much, just not in the way she would like. Also, now that there is a wonderful guy involved, I feel even more lost as to what to do. Please help!

Lost and confused

No matter what our sexual orientation, dealing with the differing expectations in relationships and relationship breakups is difficult, and when you work together there is added complexity.

There was enough in your attraction to your co-worker to engage in the relationship and as you describe, to 'experiment' with being with another woman - and while for you it did not go beyond that, she has fallen for you very deeply and is desperately trying to get you back.  It is clear you are concerned about your friend and it is hard seeing someone you care about becoming so distressed especially when you believe you have set really clear limits and expectations.

The reality is in this situation there is not going to be a relationship in the way she wants and as she is unable at the moment to accept that, you need to set some very clear boundaries around your friendship and interactions with her.

I am not sure from your letter if you have told her you have a new guy you are involved with - if you haven't it is possible she is hoping that in time you will come round to wanting to be with her again. Whether or not you decide to tell her about your new relationship, you will need to be very careful you don't give her mixed messages. She is likely to perceive any expression of care or friendship as an opportunity to hold on to hope that the two of you can be together. 

You need to keep being clear that the relationship is over and you could suggest she might want to get some professional help to assist her with what she is going through.  It is not your responsibility to protect your friend and you may need to alert other people if she is threatening to hurt herself.

Some people really do struggle to look after themselves through breakups and they may need professional help to keep themselves safe.  If your friend won't seek help for herself, then do call the local psychiatric helpline - threats of suicide are not to be taken lightly - and never agree to stay quiet just because someone says that you are the only one who can help, or that it will make it worse it you tell.

At the end of the day, you need to know you have handed over to someone else the responsibility of responding to suicide or self harm threats.

Accept that the working relationship is going to get quite rocky for a while until she accepts you have moved on and she figures out how to manage the loss of the relationship. Get some support for yourself and remember you are not responsible for how other people behave, you are responsible for your own behaviour and setting the kinds of limits and relationships you want.

For more advice and information on counselling, visit Relationships Aotearoa online or join them on Facebook.

We'd love to hear your take on this week's issue. Before you comment below, though, remember that this is a real-life situation. This reader has bravely shared their personal life with you; please show them respect by refraining from hurtful or abusive comments.

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