When I first moved to New York City after graduating college, I was a little desperate for a job. After a couple of months of temping, I eventually took a position as an assistant account manager at a fairly terrible PR/Communications/who-the-hell-knows-what-the-clients-are-actually-paying-for agency.
Almost immediately, I wanted to leave. I spent a lot of time reading Harry Potter fan fiction copied-and-pasted into a word document (so it looked like I was working), making up excuses to leave the office in the middle of the day and Gchatting with the other disillusioned and bored 20-somethings in the office. We filled our days pretending to be doing worthwhile tasks while secretly playing Would You Rather and 20 Questions over our laptops. We basically did anything we could to make the workday move any quicker.
One of the guys I worked with was named Kevin. He was nice, if slightly clueless and a little socially inept. I liked Gchatting with him – we shared the same distain for the older partners and we both passionately hated our jobs. We had a lot of shared interests, an affinity for early 2000s pop punk and an ongoing argument about whether Hermione should have ended up with Ron or Harry.
Eventually, Kevin and I started talking about moving on. Which jobs we were applying for, what we actually wanted to do, and how badly we wanted to leave. We even started sending each other job postings we thought the other would like. I was more or less committed to staying in New York, but Kevin was looking for opportunities everywhere. I sent him a link to a job in Wisconsin, where I grew up and went to school. He was excited about the position and decided to apply.
A few days later, I got a Gchat notification after I came home from work – a rarity, since my coworkers and I spent so much time Gchatting at the office, we didn’t usually communicate outside of working hours. It was from Kevin, asking for content advice for his cover letter for the Wisconsin job.
Me: will you let me see it?
Kevin: .. if i get the job. i might be too embarrassed to let you see it otherwise.
Me: no no. let me see it before. I can edit
Kevin: alright, we’ll see
Kevin: By the way, my hesitation in showing you the cover letter has nothing to do with not thinking you could help (which I’m sure you can), it’s more that I say some very nice things about the person who brought the job to my attention how it relates to me wanting to go live in Madison, and well, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea, thinking I might have something resembling human emotions.
Me: blah blah, just let me see it.
Eventually, Kevin relented:
Kevin: okay fuck it
do you want to read the first draft of this thing
please don’t judge me
And then he sent it. He started off the letter talking about how even though he was front the east coast, he felt like he needed to be in Wisconsin. Then he moved on to this:
“It’s hard to say when I fell in love with Wisconsin … It might have been when I quickly came to love a new co-worker who hails from Wisconsin and is a recent UW grad.”
Um, what? Did I read that right? Did this dude just say he was in love with me? Did he mean that he loved me as a friend? As a coworker? “Came to love” me as in the man that sits less than five feet away from me every single day suddenly has feelings for me?
I decided that the best course of action was to ignore the letter, which, of course, was probably the most immature route I could have taken. But I didn’t know what else to do. I panicked. I immediately began questioning my every action, whether I should have seen this coming or if I had led him on in any way. The next couple of days were some of the most awkward of my career. Without a response from me, Kevin sent a series of Gchats and texts, admitting that he did indeed have feelings for me but asking me to forget what he wrote in the letter. But our relationship had already changed.
As is bound to happen in a small office, people sensed the tension between us. They didn’t know about the letter, of course, because I was too embarrassed to tell my office friends what had happened. But people knew that Kevin had feelings for me, based on our interactions and how he talked about me. I became the target of unwelcome questioning, mostly from other male colleagues, asking “what the hell is going on between you two.” At an office party, a particularly bold intern asked if I had “fucked Kevin already or what.” It was mortifying. In the office, my identity as a coworker took a back seat to the identity of The Girl Kevin Had a Crush On. Through no action of my own, my position in the office shifted and my ability to be taken seriously in a male-dominated office (which was difficult enough to begin with), quickly vanished.
The situation continued to be uncomfortable for months. Every time Kevin Gchatted me, I was worried it would be something else – another proposition, another confession, another veiled attempt to get us to hang out together outside of work. The dynamic of our office relationship – and our friendship – had changed, and not for the better. I understood that he thought he was doing something bold and romantic (and something worthy of the rom-com he assumed every girl dreamed of), but it landed in the complete opposite way. I felt violated as a coworker, as a woman, and as an individual. I was the subject of office gossip I had never volunteered to be a part of, and I felt like a bitch for rejecting the advances of someone I never expressed romantic interest in – a person I genuinely believed was just a friend and coworker.
I eventually got another job. After I left the company, I didn’t see Kevin for several months, until I ran into him at an event in Brooklyn. The moment I saw him, I felt a rush of discomfort and anxiety. I thought of a thousand things I wanted to say to him but never got a chance to – things like “what were you thinking?”; “that letter was a pretty ridiculous move”; and “how did you think this would turn out?” all ran through my head.
But I didn’t say any of them. Instead, I waved hello, made some small talk and walked away.