When I was in college, I fell for an Englishman.
We had one of those relationships where we didn't see each other much, but when we did, it was epic.
Long dinners in London.
Dancing all night in Brighton.
Camping in the woods of West Virginia.
It sounds wildly romantic, but there was a slight problem.
Ah, yes. The girlfriend.
For two years, I subtly (and sometimes not-so-subtly) tried to lure him away. I poured on my Southern charm and tightest dresses. I made gallant international trips I couldn't afford. I even wrote a poem.
He was admirably loyal and, slowly but surely, those "gallant" acts on my part started to reveal themselves for what they were: A half-crazed pursuit. Eventually, he cut off our friendship and we haven't seen each other in more than ten years.
To a chapter, yes, but in the process, I learned a lesson I'll never forget.
Relationships are assignments designed to teach us something we didn't know before.
Painful as it was, that one taught me never to play with fire.
Because as much as I wanted to go back and start over -- back to a time before the non-platonic stares, before the cling-on hugs and before it got weird -- the damage had already been done. There WAS no going back.
I know I learned this lesson super early for a reason. I learned it because I would soon go on to have close working relationships with men who also had girlfriends (only they called them wives) and my experience showed me how to compartmentalize the sexual tension that can happen when people genuinely like each other in favor of the long game.
In other words, I don't let it get weird.
And that's enough 99% of the time. I mean, there are obviously tons of amazing partnerships where this topic isn't even remotely on the table.
Except, of course, when it is.
Because really close connections mean that you've invited someone into your inner circle -- and vice versa. That has the potential for ALL KINDS of gray and, if you're not careful, the potential to screw up is huge.
For example, despite my personal promise not to muddy the water of a valued relationship again, there have been plenty of occasions at work where others have done it for me. Most were fairly mild (flirtatious emails), but others were more serious (the boss who invited me to his room on a business trip).
This is the part where I'm supposed to get all puffed up about what douche bags these guys are, right? But it's not that easy. For starters, my own douche bag behavior taught me that smart people can do dumb things and bad acts don't always mean bad apples.
Life is messy, folks.
Still, when you can reach through the surface-level complexities to the long game, the solutions are actually quite simple. At the end of the day, it comes down to what you want most and -- if you can remember to use that filter -- you'll always know what to do.
So, am I asking you to forgive blatant harassment?
No. That's not what this post is about.
But have I forgiven unprofessional behavior to preserve a relationship?
Maybe I learned from my own experience that people can change or, hell, maybe I'm just soft.
Judge me if you want to, but looking past the minutiae to what matters most has allowed me to sidestep a lot of drama and -- ta da! -- get back to work.
Because that's my long game.
And, to this day, whenever I consider how much my "assignment" in college has shaped who I've become, sometimes I'm tempted to reach out to the Englishman after all these years just to say thanks.
But then I stop and think, "Oh wait... that would be weird."