Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pouring My Heart Out...Was It My Fault?

"I think I've fallen in love with you," he confessed to me one day at lunch.  "I can't imagine what my life will be like without you in it."

He was my employer, a married man with 3 young boys and a wife I was fond of...and I was a naive 27-year old.

I sat across from him in disbelief, though I don't know why the acknowledgment of his feelings took me by surprise.  Deep down, I suspected he had felt this way for awhile and was just waiting for the right moment to tell me.

I babysat his children on occasion, he and his wife had strongly encouraged me to go to graduate school, he let me cry on his shoulder when I found out my first husband was cheating on me, he held my hand and told me I was strong enough to leave my marriage because I deserved someone who cherished me, he witnessed my reckless behavior during my divorce and called me on it.

He was my friend.  He also happened to be the rabbi of a large congregation.  In their eyes, he was a trusted teacher, a family man...above all, a religious leader.

I'm not sure exactly when his feelings for me developed or what exactly he expected me to do with this information once he shared it.

"Why are you telling me this?" I demanded. "I have a God, I'm young enough to be your daughter.  I adore your boys, your wife is amazing.  You're moving to Canada in a couple months...why are you doing this?"

He didn't answer for a few minutes, perhaps stunned by my reaction.  The silence between us was almost deafening.  I kept my eyes focused downward on my half-eaten salad, which I was now pushing around my plate with my fork.

I considered grabbing my purse and leaving the restaurant but then quickly remembered we had driven together in his car.

As my mind contemplated what to say next, he finally answered, "I don't know what I expected.  I guess I just wanted you to know.  If you feel the same way, I won't move.  I'll stay.  Or you can come to Canada.  All I know is that I can't imagine my life without you in it."

I leaned in closer to him, not so much to be in closer proximity to him but more out of a desperate need to keep the conversation between us as much as possible.  He was well known in the community and the thought of running into someone from the temple who might overhear our discussion made me want to vomit.

"What?!  Are you kidding me?  What about your wife?  Your boys?  Don't they matter?  Why would you risk everything?  What would you even tell them?" I asked.

Before he could answer, I continued, "I don't feel the same way.  You have to know that.  You are a friend to me.  Nothing more.  Someone I thought I could trust, someone I enjoy spending time with but that's it.  And all this time, you were falling in love with me?"

I couldn't help but wonder if I had led him on during our friendship.

At the office, we were nothing but professional, although there were times he would lean in a little too close for my liking as we went over things he needed me to do or I would catch him watching me but I never said anything.

Outside the office, we would sometimes enjoy lunch together or chat at his house upon his return after babysitting his children.

Had I ever said anything which would lead him to believe I felt more for him?  Did he think every time I smiled at him from across the room that there was more to it than just a friendly gesture?  If I had kept things on a professional level and never entered into a friendship with him, would we even be having this discussion?

"I didn't expect this to happen," he explained.  "It just did.  I'm saddened that you don't feel the same way but I understand."

I gazed into his face and the sadness was evident in his eyes.  I imagined his wife giving him that same look as he disclosed to her that he was in love with someone else.

"And just so you know, even if I did feel the same way, there's no way in hell I would ever enter into a relationship with a married man.  For God's sake, my marriage ended because my husband cheated on me!  You know that!  How could you even think this was okay?"

I partially wondered if I was chastising him to make him feel guilty or for the sake of convincing myself that he was the bad guy here, not me.  I hadn't done anything wrong...or had I?

It was then that I realized that while I knew whole-heartedly that I was not in love with him, I did get excited when I would drive into the parking lot each morning and see his car already there.  I would often greet him with, "I'm so happy you're here today."  When he would tell me how pretty I looked on a particular day, I'd smile politely and blush.

It brought me back to that age-old question...can people of the opposite sex be just friends or will it inevitably lead to one or both people having stronger feelings?  Will someone end up hurt or misconstruing the friendship for more than what it really is?

Things were never really the same between us after that.  I tried to avoid him as much as possible, while he acted like the conversation had never occurred.  

He decided to leave the congregation after all and follow through on his move to Canada with his family.  I received a letter from him a few weeks later.

"I know you would love it here.  The city is so beautiful and I while I walk around here taking it all in, I can't help but think of you and miss you," he had written.

I never wrote back.  He never tried to contact me again and I was relieved.

While it did occur to me that this could be a case of sexual harassment, I never reported it to the board at the temple.  However, I did spend a great amount of time wondering if I should have told someone.  But then would I be dragged through the mud...with no one believing me, especially now that he was gone?  Even if I showed them the letter as proof, would they think it was my fault somehow?

It continued to bother me for months afterward.  Within time, I was able to let it go.

Did I truly believe it was my fault?  In my heart of hearts, I knew I did nothing wrong.  I wanted nothing more than friendship but, then again, I wasn't exactly clear on my expectations...didn't think I needed to be.

And perhaps I should've never entered into a friendship with him based on the fact that he was my employer.  That, alone, was obviously something I was guilty of.

Suffice it to say that this was yet another life lesson for me.  Certainly not the first lesson and definitely not the last one...not by a long shot. Registered & Protected


Samantha said...

My friends have always been guys, but I'd be lying if I said that I never thought about having a relationship more than just friends with them. You are a respectable woman though, who didn't fall into the trap that most women would have. It's flattering when you find that someone is attracted to you, even if you're married or they're married. Good post. You write such great stories.

Lisa @ Two Bears Farm said...

You did nothing wrong. He is the one that ruined the friendship by putting his expectations on you. At least he left, so you don't have to worry about it anymore.

Kristen said...

Ok. I love you... you have to know that. (but not in THIS particular sort of way.) I don't think you were at fault. But... so many people end up having an emotional affair long before a physical one. I think it is a really slippery slope. I once asked a close friend (coworker) what he was doing this weekend. We are both married and the look on his face was like *****???? I honestly just wanted to know what he AND HIS WIFE were up to :) Anyway - his response was a little overboard, but it helped me to remember that little words can turn in to big words. Good for you for saying no. But.. I do really check myself that I don't share more with some other man than I would my husband. That means danger. Anyway, good for you. You didn't do anything wrong. Love the post. Kristen

Shell said...

Oh, girl- definitely not your fault.

And you were so clear in your response to him!

Eva Gallant said...

Interesting post. I have always had a few male friends, but I do think it is rare that such friendships can work. You did nothing wrong and responded appropriately.

Kristin @ What She Said said...

It wasn't your fault. You did nothing wrong. It sounds like he was very confused and in his confusion he dragged you into something that you never should have been a part of. Given your marital history - a history that he KNEW about - it was utterly unfair of him to burden you with his feelings. At the same time, given what you wrote about him, it's hard to pain him as some lascivious villain. It sounds like he was a good man who was just very, very confused.

Definitely a life lesson!

kristi said...

I would be lying if I said I never had a little "crush" on someone at work. People always put their best foot forward in the workplace, or that has been my experience (most of the time). People can be VERY attractive in one place and not so attractive at home. Would I ever leave my hubby for someone? No...but it is nice to fantasize sometimes.

Brad Jenkins said...

Go watch "When Harry Met Sally" again. In case you don't want to watch the movie, Harry says men and women can't be friends.

I'm sure we can all be friends, but it really depends on the two individuals and what they believe.

I definitely have guy friends that think every woman wants to sleep with them, and that it's only a matter of time until it happens. If you go into a friendship thinking that, you were never friends to begin with.

Did I really just quote "When Harry Met Sally"? Yikes.

Lisa said...

I have many, many guy friends, and they are good friends of mine. I am sure some of them have had feelings for me at one time or another (and me to them) but it's never damaged our friendships.

Definitely not your fault.

Sela Toki said...

Interesting story. Sometimes things like this happens even within circles of close friendships. How bazaar though. I don't think I'd call it a form of sexual harassment though since he is confessing his honest to goodness feelings to you. I feel sad for his wife and kids though. What a jerk!

Natalie said...

I find that it is hard for males/females to be "just friends" as an adult. I feel like you always here stories of one of the people having feelings for the other. I don't think you acted inappropriately. I think for some people they just can't have a close relationship with a person of the opposite sex without thinking they have more than just friend feelings. Ok now I'm just rambling!

Barbara said...

You did nothing wrong and it was not your fault. He was abusing your relationship as your superior and most of all as your friend.

Jennifer said...

Yeeks, I think "awkward" wouldn't be a strong enough word? ;-) I'm glad he moved away so you didn't have to deal with his crazy, but what a lesson to learn! I feel sorry for his wife! To be in a marriage where your husband is in love with someone else? Ugh.

Anonymous said...

I have found that in my experience it is possible to just be friends, on your account. But as adults, married adults, it sometimes adds problems in other areas even if no extra feelings surface between the friends... Wives or husbands become suspicious because no one really believes the opposite sex can be JUST friends. Growing up majority of my friends were only guys, many of them I never grew to 'like' but others I couldn't help but develop feelings for. Ever since I've been with my husband, the only feelings I find are for my husband, but I enjoy the company and friendship of other men as ONLY FRIENDS. Like I said before though, it's tough because wives and husbands don't always believe it's JUST friends.

I do not believe you did anything wrong in your situation!

Deputy's Wife said...

Oh man! You definitely did nothing wrong and I wish this whole scenario weren't so rampant that tons of people could comment. I've been on both sides of this: the naive 21 year old who didn't say no to the married man and the daughter who caught her dad 2 months ago in an emotional affair. Neither place is a fun place to be. I totally believe, however, that guys and girls can be just friends, as long as they are friends with each others' spouse as well.

Heather said...

I don't think you were wrong especially since when he told you you were very clear about your feelings. I think it is very unfortunate and I think that perhaps he was very confused about a lot of things and it was easier to say his "confusion" was his love for you. Not that I really know anything :)
I don't think it was sexual harrassment though because it doesn't sound like he used his position and his feelings for you to effect your work. I am happy that you decided not to report the conversation.
Hopefully he has been able to sort through some of his confusion and you obviously have moved on.
I am not sure if men and women can REALLY be friends.

Jen said...

Why does it have to be so hard to have a friendship with a man? Why do so many people mistake friendship for something else?

HoneyDame said...

Once a person of the opposite sex becomes privy to a couple of emotional instances in your life, it is almost a guaranteed way to get ensconced in some kind of deluded feeling of romance.
This one wasnt your fault. He should have known better. I mean, it is understandable if he wasnt married. But being married and a teacher of the word yet allowing himself to get like that, boo on him!
Thank God he at least, respected himself and let sleeping dogs lie.

HoneyDame said...

Once a person of the opposite sex becomes privy to a couple of emotional instances in your life, it is almost a guaranteed way to get ensconced in some kind of deluded feeling of romance.
This one wasnt your fault. He should have known better. I mean, it is understandable if he wasnt married. But being married and a teacher of the word yet allowing himself to get like that, boo on him!
Thank God he at least, respected himself and let sleeping dogs lie.

Jenny said...

Helene, I don't see how that is your fault in any way. He should have known that you wouldn't be interested, because you had already been cheated on! Why would you date a married man?

I think this is more about him having a mid life crisis and wishing for a younger gal to have a carefree life together.

Chocolate Covered Daydreams said...

At first, I thought you were a teen and then I re-read the post and realized that your actions were definitely naive. Boy, do I relate! He took the innocence and naivety that you possessed and tried to take advantage. You were wise though and didn't let it go far. It wasn't your fault.

Kimberly said...

You did absolutely nothing wrong. You did everything right. You had no idea or control over what he "thought" and "felt"...
You said everything right.

Kmama said...

That is such an awkward position to be put in. I think you handled the situation amazingly.

Nezzy said...

Don't ever try to blame yourself for this. The fault lies on the Rabbi.

We had a assistant Principal who would get closely uncomfortable and one time he put his hand on top of mine as I pushed a student in a wheelchair. I stopped right there and told to remove his hand and if there was any physical contact in the future...I would report him.

I never had another problem with him.

I do believe that you can have friends of the opposite sex but you do need to be on guard.

Have a blessed day sweetie!!! :o)

Missy said...

Not. Your. Fault.

I am BLOWN AWAY by your fortitude in your response. You are so strong. Seriously. - I don't know if I'd have had the guts to be that direct. I might have just quit or avoided him after that.

You impress me every day.

As for the opposite sex friends thing - I think it gets harder when marriages come into play. Or more dangerous in the potential for misconstrued feelings on all sides.

Sara said...

You did nothing wrong! Love how you responded to him. I also think opposite sex friends are harder to have when you're married, I've noticed several of mine have disappeared completely.

Twinpossible said...

My husband says it's impossible and I used to buck him, but now I think he might be right. I think WOMEN can stay friends with a man, but THEY eventually, can't stay friends with us. It always comes down to this..sadly. I have lost many a best 'male' friend this way, and I got along great with guys, but I guess I have a sparkling personality, because it always came down to that awkward all or nothing. VERY disheartening. I know that was very upsetting for you, and relieving when he was gone.

I have both fond and bitter memories of my past male friends. Some who were so sweet and ended up so nasty and cold. They almost made me feel like I had led them on, but always had said I was not ready for any relationship, or was already in one.

It's soo tough. Want to hear a slam dunk sexual harrassment case? Worked as a secretary at 23, 24. My boss asked me to come in his office. He wipped out his 3 incher and literally read right my friend...ON MY SHOE! Now I'd have slapped him silly, but as nice and still naive as I was back then, I left quite quietly, threw out my shoe and only spoke of it again one day after meeting my hubster. We met when I was 24, so I guess I told him maybe a year in or so.

I had a lot of sexual harrassment when I was younger. Not much anymore, that's for damn sure, but in seeing these men, I had a very bad picture painted in my mind about them. How could I ever trust one? They are all cheaters! I never wanted to get married. I had two kids with my first 6 yr long term BF, and did not go through with any wedding, because I just between all of that and seeing my own way.

Sad, but impossibly hard to be friends, unless the man is seems.

Shelly said...

~~~NO. You. Did. Nothing. Wrong.

By being nice and kind, he misjudged this (as some men will do)

I am glad you stopped ALL contact with this man.

Thank you for sharing. Xx

Kelli said...

Thank you for sharing. I have been through a very similar situation. I appreciate your story.

Heather said...

Definitely not your fault, but it's always something that can happen with any male/female friendship. It's frustrating for me because I tend to be more of a "guys" girl. The letter was creepy!

Karen Peterson said...

I'm so sorry that you felt guilty about this. It definitely wasn't your fault. As soon as he realized he was thinking inappropriate thoughts, he should have backed off. He never should have let things get to the point where he felt like he was in love with you.

I figure that if the children are alive when my husband gets home at the end of the day, I've done my job.

----Roseanne Barr

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