The Office Crush. Let’s first say that it’s silly. I know that. I’m painfully aware of how trivial it is. I find it embarrassing how it has affected me. But it has affected me, and that’s why we’re here.
So. How is it since I last wrote…
It’s improving. I’m handling it better. I feel relatively normal most of the time. I have off days but a few weeks ago, every day was an off day. Today was an off day which is probably why I’m writing. But yesterday wasn’t.
I’ve been thinking more. I’m 30. She’s at least 40. Actually she’s 43, I should clarify that I know that because she said something that let me work it out, not because I went to the registrar and asked to see a copy of her birth certificate. So she is 13 years older than me. I don’t know why I’m so attracted to someone 13 years older than me, but I am. When she was 18, I was 5. When she is 50, I will be 37. It’s a pretty big gap really. Past the periphery of practicality. Up to 7-8 years is probably OK, but 13 has moved us through ‘eh, that seems like a big gap’ and well into the ‘no, that is definitely a big gap’ zone. At least for anything serious. I know that. I spent a lot of time fixated on this difference and, in my mind, her age raised the bar for what I expected of myself. I think this is what triggered the negativity. Insecurity over where I am as a 30 year old and how it compares to her as a 43 year old. If I wanted her to see me as an equal then I’d have quickly find 13 years worth of adult experience. Probably it was this subconscious realisation that gave me so many problems. If she was a dysfunctional 30 year old it would have been fine.
It’s a strange period for people my age and a bit younger because we entered the workforce in the immediate aftermath of the financial crash, which for many of us essentially meant delaying our lives for quite a few years before we caught up to where a functioning adult would have been a decade earlier. It took me until I was 25 to get a job at the level I should have been at when I was 21 or 22. Not a big deal now, but there are plenty of people my age who still aren’t there and the longer they don’t achieve it, the less likely it is that they will.
Three people I used to know at school have not fared well and have had serious mental health issues probably as a result of this. Perfectly bright and able people who I remember being jealous of at school because they had the maturity to work hard and achieve good results, whereas I played computer games and didn’t. But in the end, things fell into place for me and not for them. That’s not through my later hard work or good decisions and it’s not through their mistakes, it’s just how things beyond our control worked out. But as a result, they’re trapped in a sort of pseudo childhood as they’re not in an environment where they can grow into an adult. It’s not a process that can happen without the environment, because it’s a slow process of you adapting to better handle what the environment throws at you. You make mistakes, see what you did wrong, realise it doesn’t really matter because there’ll be a next time, and when it comes up again you do it better. One of those people wanted to study medicine but didn’t quite get the grades (but ironically got much higher grades than me), did something else, ended up in a job he hated, had a lot of time off with stress, went back to university and did another degree that also didn’t help, and now spends his daytime going to the gym, funded by his parents. He’s 30 and he’s worked for about two years in his early 20s. And then there’s a whole bunch of people who are just-about-managing in low paid menial office work but will need a lot of luck and hard work to obtain comfort and security in the long term.
My sister is two years younger than me but often behaves like someone much younger in some ways. I never noticed it in our early/mid 20s, but there is a big maturity gap between us now. She has good career potential but she hasn’t yet managed to put it into motion and I think the fact she’s still essentially in an entry-level position contributes a lot to her attitude. Her friends have done no better. One is the daughter of an MP, and even with that rather stark advantage, she’s nowhere near having her life together, not entirely through her own fault.
I think a lot will continue to be written about the financial crash and its effect on this generation in the UK in years to come.
So in many ways I’m doing much better than a lot of people my age are. Not in every way, but I have financial independence and security, and I don’t usually act like a teenager (sudden crushes notwithstanding). A lot of people my age can’t say that, and it causes them real problems (unlike my problem here, which is literally imaginary).
Back to the crush.
I found out she smokes. Or at least, I think she does. I’m not 100% sure, but there have been two occasions where she’s come in from outside and I’ve caught a cigarettey whiff. She can’t be a heavy smoker or I’d have noticed it before. Some days she doesn’t go out at all (which seems odd for a smoker?), so maybe I’m mistaken, but the fact it’s happened twice now makes it harder to brush off. It would also explain the cough…
In reality, there are two fundamental barriers on her side to a relationship: firstly that she’s already in one, and (speculation:) secondly that I’m younger. Those have nothing to do with flaws on my part, but I’m aware it’s a non-starter and I’ve struggled to avoid spending a lot of negative effort looking inwards for other reasons why, which better satisfy a sense of insecurity. Reasons that make me feel frustrated with myself and empower a destructive little voice in my mind telling me to prove myself by attaining her validation. And yet, I’ve always been firm about smoking. It’s unpleasant. It makes living spaces unpleasant. It makes the smoker unpleasant especially if you’re going to be intimate. It really is a flaw. Every brain cell I have tells me on the subject of dating a smoker “no, no matter how much you think you like her now, don’t do it!”. And I wouldn’t.
So where does that leave me?
Still confused. Maybe because I’m trying to look at things logically instead of just thinking about it as a series of strong impulses that exist for very good evolutionary reasons and which sometimes get things a bit wrong. If anyone impartial looked at the two of us they’d be surprised which direction the attraction goes. They’d probably say I have more going for me than she does, especially with the smoking. I sort of agree with that, which adds to the confusion but doesn’t actually change how I feel. It makes me wonder – if I actually dated her, would I stay interested in her? The fact I ask that question betrays the fact I have doubts, but I don’t know either way because, fundamentally, I don’t understand why I’m attracted to her. Why would an unattached 30 year old with no real commitments become so interested in an attached 43 year old with two children. I meet plenty of women I manage to avoid falling in love with; this isn’t some general problem I have. Quite the opposite – until I met her I was starting to wonder if my romantic attraction circuitry was still wired up. It’s just her. It’s not a physical infatuation and neither of us is in a position of authority or trust over each other, which seem to be the usual suspects for kickstarting these kinds of things. I don’t know what it is. She is just fascinating for some reason I can’t put my finger on.
But the smoking doesn’t kill the attraction. It doesn’t kill the what-ifs. I still want her attention, but I’m not sure as to what end. I find it hard to understand the source of how I’m feeling some days. I know I enjoy her attention, but I also spend a lot of my working day feeling pretty bored, so there is certainly mixed in there an element of her relieving the boredom. But when she relieves the boredom I enjoy it a bit more than when other people relieve the boredom. When I feel bored I’m more prone to negative thinking which brings up all the other things. It’s a chaotic system and she does seem to be at the centre of it. But I know it’s not really about her, at least, not to the extent that I’m feeling it.
I think I am discovering that there is a certain truth to the maxim of it being important to love yourself, even though when expressed like that it’s not obvious why it’s important. If you don’t recognise what you have going for you, you risk being drawn into focusing entirely on the things you don’t have going for you and that puts you in an unhealthy position when you start comparing yourself to other people. It feeds the negativity. If you’re going to beat yourself up over your weaknesses, you need to balance it by also finding confidence in your strengths and successes.
You aren’t perfect and that’s OK.