Woe Is Me! “My Colleague Has a Crush on Me and Keeps Crossing My Personal Boundaries”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
My office colleague, who was close to me, confessed that he liked me but I made it clear immediately that I have no such interest. This happened 3 years ago and we are still friends. We had issues like him crossing his limits often but I used to explain how his actions make me uncomfortable and sometimes scared. He used to apologize and swear never to repeat it. But of late, his actions are more worrisome as I feel that he tries to control me in most aspects of my life. He has a say in everything like I should not eat non-veg food, I should not hang out with my friends. This often leads to fights as I snap at him for trying to control my life. I don’t have any romantic interest in him but I cannot even think about hanging out with other guys without feeling guilty. But I feel bad about cutting ties with a good friend and still remain in contact with him. A few months back, he motivated me to apply for post-graduation in the UK. Just a month back, after I submitted my application, he informed me that he had also applied to the same university and the reason he didn’t tell me beforehand was to surprise me. I’m really torn about moving to the same University as him. Should I cut all ties with him immediately or is maintaining a safe distance enough?
— Do I Run or Hide?
SK: Cut. All. Ties. Immediately. What you describe are painfully glaring signs of a very toxic relationship. Clearly, you’ve tried communicating, you’ve done (more than) the bare minimum to establish boundaries. The warning signs are all there: he tried to control your behavior, your social circle, even your career choices. The guilt, shaming, gaslighting you mention seem relentless! No distance is ‘safe’ at this point — it will only form a vicious loop and alienate you from others in your life. You have the chance for a fresh start, to discover yourself beyond this dynamic. Sunlight is the best disinfectant to negativity, they say; for you, a foreign sun away from this person might do wonders. Stay safe!
AS: Oh wow, this guy does not seem to quit! If you were talking about a friend crossing boundaries, I’d advise you to have a frank conversation with them about it — but you’ve already done that. If the unwanted attention continued, but you still wanted to maintain a friendship, I’d say, try again — but you’ve done that too! And the university ‘surprise’ seems a little suspicious to me… why would he be so closely involved in your decisions and withhold his side of the story? Seems like he knew that you both going together would make you uncomfortable, but he wanted you to do it anyway.
I’m not trying to discount the positive impact your friend may have had on your life (also, congratulations on your post-grad!), but from the way you’ve framed this, the rest of your relationship with him comes across as unhealthy and controlling from his end. Do you feel so too? In that case, I think you should consider putting an end to it since it’s clearly also coming in the way of your other real and potential relationships. Even if you do land up at the same university together, it might be beneficial to keep a lot of distance. A new experience/beginning for you could be the perfect time to shuffle up your social circle and push all toxic people from the ‘close friends’ to ‘distant friends’ category. Perhaps you could maintain the niceties, while also making it clear that things were different now, and he was no longer entitled to your time or your attention.
DR: Cut all ties immediately — in fact, I would suggest you block him before you even make it to the next sentence. To be frank, your woe is reminding me of true crime shows I grew up watching, and I’m really, really scared for you. He has completely disregarded your ‘no’; it’s very apparent that he thinks he can change it into a ‘yes’ through sheer persistence — just like the typical toxic Bollywood ‘hero.’ And that is really not the kind of energy you need, trust me! Going by what you’ve described, he’s not just disrespecting your agency (which is pretty horrible in itself), but also actively trying to manipulate you. It seems like on some level, he believes he has some sort of ownership over you already — why else would he think he has a right to dictate what you eat, and who you hang out with? And the more this belief grows, the more difficult he’ll make it for you to live your life on your own terms. The fact that his presence in your life makes you feel guilty about hanging out with other guys simply proves that he’s already exercising invisible control over you. That’s the thing with emotional abuse — people often don’t have any idea it’s happening to them while it’s going on. And quite often, we don’t recognize the abusers in our lives because they don’t fit into our idea of what an abuser ‘looks’ like, which is a one-dimensional, evil person. But abusers are people too, and real human beings have many more layers to them, making it difficult for us to think of them as nothing but an ‘abuser.’ And while it’s great to not reduce people to just one aspect of who they are — you cannot condone abuse. If they’re abusive to you, it’s important to cut them off from your life and get away from all the toxicity as soon as you possibly can.
Look at this objectively: a person who prevents you from hanging out with your friends has convinced you to go away to a foreign country, where you don’t have an established support system, and now, he is going to follow you there — what is this if not a ploy to make you depend on him? He’s isolating you from your support systems to make it easier for him to manipulate you away from their influence, which is classic emotional abuse. And he knows that you’d probably have thought twice about applying had you known he’d be there too, so he revealed that to you only after you submitted your application — that is deliberate withholding of crucial information. He is obsessed with you and has been for over three years now. Please don’t mistake his obsession for affection, or friendship, or whatever else he’s telling you this is. However, given how obsessed he seems to be, I think you need to be careful of the consequences of cutting him out of your life as well. Please inform friends and family members you trust about this ordeal. I would also recommend you consult a lawyer and try to get something akin to a restraining order, or if not, ask them if there’s any other legal step you can take to protect yourself if he were to threaten your physical safety. I know it sucks, but you’d be surprised to learn just how many people have been similarly manipulated, only to realize what was actually going on after they were long outside their abuser’s influence — I’ve been there too and felt ashamed of not seeing it, but hey, it happens. Now for you, it’s time to put an end to this — it isn’t going to be an easy process, and I’m sorry if I’m scaring you, but for your own sake, RUN.
SM: You should definitely cut ties with him immediately. In case you haven’t shared what the situation is with close friends and/or family, you should also tell more people about this behavior. Most importantly, you should have an honest conversation with yourself and try and unpack where this guilt about hanging out with other guys and cutting ties is coming from? Intuitively, from my experience, if you really considered him a good friend, you would not be torn about him moving to the same university as you, and so that guilt too, seems more a result of his manipulation of your feelings, than what you actually feel. It might be helpful to seek the professional help of a therapist to unpack this person’s controlling and manipulative behavior towards you. Friends have done it in the past, and it has really helped with getting clarity.
KB: This guy is a total creep. I want you to tell him off and run as fast as you can in the other direction, but I also know that men who behave this way also tend to have extraordinarily thin skin, and so it may not be prudent to tell him you’re about to cut him off. Unequivocally, though, you need to cut ties immediately, by creating distance between you and him. If you have a manager you trust, you may want to ask for help from your workplace — they may be able to separate you by moving him to a different floor or team. You also need to become increasingly distant, and simply not engage. People who have so little self-awareness are not likely to suddenly be cognizant of your feelings and boundaries, so I think you have ample proof that this situation cannot be remedied. Step back, step away, and do not continue to have any sort of relationship with this person. Hopefully, he takes the hint.