'I slept with a much older man at work, and now he won't talk to me' – The Irish Times

‘I’m a very emotional person, I know I can’t have him as my life partner but I at least wanted him as my friend in my life’
Dear Roe,
I am 25 and work in a hospital. At work I met a colleague who’s in his 60s, but he’s well maintained and looks like he’s in his 40s. Around six months ago he started talking to me and five months ago he told me he liked me. I have really low self-esteem because I’m not good looking, and I always avoid having boyfriends. Since he was a mature guy and he was giving me so many compliments and noticing me, I started to believe him. We had a physical relationship but after a few weeks he told me he can’t have a relationship with me because of our age gap. I could tell he was looking after me, so we decided to be friends. For about four months we would still meet and get intimate. But a couple of weeks ago he told me he started talking to someone he used to love years ago, and now he doesn’t want to have even the friendship with me. I’m a very emotional person, I know I can’t have him as my life partner but I at least wanted him as my friend in my life. I was trying to have a talk with him and it made him very upset. Even though we work together now he’s not even talking to me when usually he’s a very gentle guy, nice and polite.
So much of your question, your description, your focus is centred on this man, and I want you to re-centre your focus back on to yourself. There is one sentence in your question that is the most important, and will be possibly hard to examine, but it is vital that you do so: “I have really low self-esteem because I’m not good-looking, and I always avoid having boyfriends.”
Reading that sentence made my heart break a little bit. You have an impressive job that you have obviously worked hard for and marks you as someone who is smart, diligent, capable and responsible. I’m sure you have interests and ideas that make you even more interesting, and you’re still young, meaning you have an incredible, potential-laden future ahead of you that you can fill with whatever you like. You are inherently worthy as you are, and still have so much to unlock and discover about yourself — and yet you are already limiting your life because of these self-hating ideas about yourself.
You believe that you are not attractive — which I guarantee is untrue, there are endless ways to be attractive, despite what mainstream pop culture tells us — and because you believe you aren’t attractive, you “always avoid having boyfriends”. You have shut off even the possibility that someone could want to date or love you, just as you are. You don’t elaborate on what “avoiding having boyfriends” means for you, but I’m guessing that you don’t try dating much because you feel like trying and reaching out to the world is somehow embarrassing or futile. I bet that when people do act interested in you, you convince yourself that they are just being polite or that maybe you’re somehow tricking them, and so you don’t pursue the dynamic. Your certainty that you are unworthy of love means that you are pre-emptively shutting down possibilities for it — and then you use the lack of romantic connections in your life as proof that you were right all along, that love isn’t for you.
This is the issue that you need to tackle. This man is a problem generally that you need to address to make sure your personal and professional world is safe — but he is also a symptom of a problem that you need to address to make sure that you make healthier choices moving forward.
Let’s address this man first. This man is not special, he’s not mature, he’s not the person for you. He is a much older man who should never have pursued a person decades younger than him in his professional sphere. He took advantage of a deeply unequal power dynamic in your relationship: you are much younger, in a lower professional position hierarchically, less professionally established, and you have low self-esteem. You were and are a vulnerable person compared to him.
If he truly cared about you, he could have either maintained absolute professionalism and mentored you, helping you develop professionally, or he could have removed himself from your professional world altogether and offered you a committed relationship, if that’s what he really wanted. He did neither. He instead weaponised his professional and personal position to make you feel special, to make you rely on him for your self-esteem, had sex with you, then told you he couldn’t have a relationship. He then continued to have sex with you while declaring you were “just friends”. Now, he is ignoring you in your place of work because you understandably expressed confusion over his actions, affecting your work and professional sphere. None of this is what friends do, none of this is what good romantic partners do, and none of this is how ethical professionals behave.
Now, to you. In terms of your career, you need to make a record of your interactions with him, keep text messages etc, and immediately go to HR within the hospital. You are a young employee and he is a more senior colleague who is no longer speaking to you in your place of work after initiating a sexual relationship. This is not acceptable in a workplace. You deserve to be treated with professionalism and respect and he is not doing that. He has done something wrong, not you, and you need and deserve protection so that his unprofessionalism does not impact your career.
Going to HR is not doing something to him, it is not being petty or vindictive, and it is not something to be embarrassed about. You are alerting your place of work that one of their employees and your superior is acting unprofessionally and punishing you for a personal relationship, and letting HR address that in the manner they have protocols for. (It’s also possible that this man has a habit of targeting young employees, and you could be helping to protect other people in the workplace.)
In terms of your life and emotions, I would strongly urge you to get a therapist to both help you process this complicated and upsetting relationship, but also to address your self-esteem issues. You fell for this man both because you let him define your self-worth and because on some level, you knew he wasn’t right for you, knew he wasn’t treating you well, but believed that you don’t deserve any better. This is why, after this man treated you terribly both personally and professionally, you are still defending him and expressing no anger over his treatment of you. You still believe that you don’t deserve better than this manipulation and game-playing. Trust me, you do. But until you believe it, you’ll shut down any chance for real connection and will keep subconsciously settling for people who reaffirm your belief that you are not worthy of real love and respect.
Life and love can be so much better than this, I promise. Please believe that, and start reaching out to people who will help show you.

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