Advice: My ex-fling can't let go

Last updated 05:00 30/08/2012

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.

- Stuff

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Kas   #1   06:58 am Aug 30 2012

It's certainly messy. I think the root of the problem is that you have always told her one thing, and done another. You told her you were straight, but you went out with her anyway and in your words fooled around. That doesn't match what you were telling her and I think you know that. She has had mixed messages all the way.

In my opinion the best thing you can do is sit down with her. Tell her that you are sorry for confusing and hurting her, that you are in love with someone else. You really want to be her friend, but can't be right now until she sorts things out in her head - and that you still want to be professional in the workplace. Then leave it at that. No meeting/calling outside of work, so discussions non work related in the office, and it will hopefully start to right itself. Good luck!

Curious   #2   07:19 am Aug 30 2012

It sounds like you've been completely honest and direct along the way, but this has become quite serious.

You need to talk to other people, including your new partner and tell him what is going on. Talk to her friends, or a parent and let them know what she's saying. She needs help quickly and is not thinking straight. Encourage her to get therapy (although that could upset her more), or prompt an agency now.

The fact that she told you she loved you after a first date (after only knowing you for a short time) and now telling you she will hurt herself is not normal. She may have other issues under the surface which is making her feel this way.

Leon   #3   08:15 am Aug 30 2012

Some serious alarm bells going here. Two things, one she apparently has declared her love very very very early, and two she is now threatening to harm herself.

I'm not sure what your answer is, because you never know if you should take the self harm threats seriously or not. It could be very serious, in which case you might need to warn people that she is making these threats. But with some people it's just a way to guilt trip you, basically it's the adult version of a tantrum "do what I want or ELSE".

If you think there's a chance she could be serious about her threats, get a medical professional involved. If you think she is a serial guilt tripper, then simply put as much distance between the two of you as possible and be very very careful what signals you send out. Either way, I suspect she isn't a person you're going to be able to be friends with.

careful   #4   08:30 am Aug 30 2012

As someone who works in the area of family violence, it sounds like this person has deeper issues. I agree with the advice you have been given, her behaviour and feeligns are not your responsibility to fix. You are only responsible for your own behaviour.

You obviously feel bad about what has happened and want to support her, but this person can only be helped if she realises she has a problem. It is not right or ok for her to threaten her to take her life. Whether she is feelign that bad or this is a manipulative attempt to make you feel guilty and come back to her - that is not your responsibility. Seek professional help for her, but it may be best to put some distance between the two of you. I also agree that you need to be honest with your new guy, let him know what is going on.

M&M   #5   08:48 am Aug 30 2012

Your actions sure as hell haven't matched what you've said Casual flings with colleagues rarely end well, especially when you supposively don't even have the same sexual orientation as that person. Next time think before you mess with someone's feelings, the girl stated she really liked you & you just 'went along with it'

Megan   #6   09:46 am Aug 30 2012

Something the advice does not mention is that this is not your fault. You are not responsible for someone else's emotional state after one date. It is also quite manipulative to threaten suicide, and seen quite often in domestic abuse. It is also strange to be in love after one date.

That being said, obviously you don't want your colleague to come to any harm and helping them get help is the right approach, but will require the greatest diplomacy as a "you need help message" can be offensive.

Erina   #7   09:52 am Aug 30 2012

You simply used her and were essentially feeding your own ego, and now you don't want to wear the fall-out. For goodness sake, do not do it again with anyone else as break-ups are never pleasant at the best of times, and at the worst could turn this woman suicidal. It was such a low-life thing to do. Let's hope the man you've fallen for isn't using you as an experiment.

Ross   #8   10:06 am Aug 30 2012

Dont experiment, youre leading her on and dont date someone with a history of depression..

Bea   #9   10:07 am Aug 30 2012

I was in a similar situation when i was 19, a girl showed interest in me i was quite curious and we started hanging out a bit and started a sexual relationship. she knew i was straight, i too was also careful in what i said to her. A few weeks on and she tells me she loves me. I straight away cut all ties with her. She was calling, texting a hundred times a day, she even showed up at my work a few times. i was mean and blunt with her. In hindsight I wish I dealt with it better. I should have been a nicer person and talked to her about it but I was only 19 and not ready for that talk, especially with a women!!

I agree with Kas #1 – you need to sit her down tell her about the guy and make it all clear for her. I do think her issues are deeper then you not wanting to see her.

M   #10   10:24 am Aug 30 2012

I think the first warning sign was that she claimed to be in love with you so early on. That's on the loopy side no matter what the genders or orientations of the people concerned! It's probably safe to say this is more about her than you, and that she would have behaved just as badly if it were someone else who broke it off after a couple of dates, so don't feel guilty. Make your boundaries clear, get some distance between you, be honest with your new partner that this shit that's hitting the fan. If she's threatening self-harm, tell someone about it. She'll probably feel betrayed and I doubt the friendship would survive, but she sounds like someone you need to keep at arm's length anyway so that could be a blessing. Good luck.

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