How Can I Start A Relationship With Him?

The first stage to any healthy relationship is ‘mutual attraction’.

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Q I have feelings for a co-worker who is older than me. I can’t tell if he feels the same way about me or is just being friendly. Maybe he just doesn’t know how to tell me to get lost and to leave him alone.

I’ve only had one boyfriend and he took all the self respect I had from me, so guys and me don’t mix well. But this lovely guy would be perfect if only he felt the same way I do – and if only I knew how to approach him, and maybe build a connection, and possibly date him. But I just don’t know how to get to know guys like him or how to be close to someone.

My dad was never around and I find it hard to be close to anyone – so I'm usually lonely and stuck in my own company.
Really I am asking – how do you build some sort of relationship with a guy you like – even if it doesn’t end in you dating him (although ideally you’d like it to end up like that)?

A I’m saddened to hear that in the past you weren’t robust enough to prevent someone from ‘taking all the self-respect you had’. You probably didn’t know any better back then, or didn’t have the personal skills necessary to stop that from happening to you.

In all relationships it’s vitally important that you remember to protect the vulnerable little child who still lives inside you. That will mean avoiding the people who aren’t good to be around. Although we have to be sure not to become too protective and end up avoiding the good people too.

I’m curious about why you say ‘this guy would be perfect’.

What evidence do you have for that?

Are there other men in your vision or have you laser-targeted this one?

If you have then you’ll have a lot riding on it – and a lot of disappointment if it doesn’t work out.

It would be better to see your position as that of a ‘curious detective’ for a while – at least until you have more to go on.

In a nutshell – does he want what you want? How do you find this out?

The first stage to any healthy relationship is ‘mutual attraction’.

Then comes ‘availability’ – and believe me I’ve found out the long hard way that there are MANY ways for someone to be unavailable both physically and emotionally!

Assuming two people are attracted to one another, and both have the time and willingness to begin a relationship… they need to establish early on whether they are on the same path or not.

If not, then time will tell anyway, and they’ll end up eventually going their separate ways (unless one gives up their plans or dreams to suit the other – and possibly lives to resent it).

If you do both want the same things in life – be that to go travelling, or to settle in a quiet village and raise a family (or many other possibilities) – then that’s a great start and will make the effort (and it IS an effort) to build and nurture a relationship worthwhile.

After jumping those all important hurdles then you’ll need to see how ‘compatible’ you both are. This includes such things as your shared values, moral standards, sense of humour, your ‘energy’ levels, your outlook on life etc.

None of these is a ‘deal breaker’ by itself and many relationships have grown in spite of some significant differences… because they found a compromise that worked well for them as a couple.

Some couples have bigger obstacles to overcome too – such as geographical distance, different religious beliefs, sexual and intimacy dysfunction, ill-health and family responsibilities.

Yes… it can be a minefield! But still, as a species we humans are born to relate and to seek happiness in relationships (although many bear the scars of mismatched relationships, and then sadly choose not to trust anyone to get close to them again).

So, to move away from the general – and I hope you’ll agree, still very relevant – considerations of a potential and new relationship… and let’s be more specific about your own question.

You will need to be clear about whether this man is interested in a relationship with you.

The age difference is more relevant to health and child-rearing than it is to your overall compatibility.

Has he given you any CLEAR indication that he wants to be more than a work colleague/associate/friend of yours?

I mean the sort of indication that any impartial and objective observer would also see as a sign that he wants to get to know you at a deeper level.

It's as easy for us to ‘see what isn’t there’ as it is to ‘not see what IS there - and which other people can see’.

When people are shy, self-conscious, lacking in self-esteem and confidence they have difficulty in giving out clear signals – for fear of being ridiculed or rejected.

It may take a big dollop of courage for you to ask him a question or two… but without knowing more about him and how he sees you, then you’re going nowhere anyway so you might as well put your fear and anxiety in an imaginary cupboard and allow the calm, warm, kind and friendly ‘you‘ to step forwards and make contact with him.

In your place (and I have been there a few times in my teens and early twenties) I would be chatty about whatever you are both seeing, hearing or doing at work. Light, maybe humorous, comments bring a feeling of safety to early connections.

After this stage I’d suggest you might make very gentle enquires (no-one likes to be interrogated, assessed or judged!) as to his relationship status. Finding a way to bring into the easy relaxed conversation something about what he does when he’s not at work – e.g. hobbies – and whether his ‘partner’ likes to do those with him.

Remember you’re finding out if he’s physically available – if he has a partner/wife/girlfriend then he isn’t!

You could ask him where he grew up and what it was like for him living there … gently enquiring about his family and the emotional bonds between them – which is a vital template for his emotional bonds and availability in his current relationships.

Ongoing chats – whether at work , or over a ‘friendly non-threatening’ cup of tea/coffee – will enable you to find out (subtly and sensitively) whether he is emotionally available. That would include whether he’s still getting over a broken heart or a bereavement; or even if he has a disorder which would affect his ability to emotionally engage with you – such as Asbergers Syndrome.

It’s reasonable to ask what his family set up is – does he have any children and other family commitments?

Perhaps later you could include some other questions (in a light way) such as:

What sort of women does he feel most comfortable with and why?

What female celebrities is he attracted to and why?

You should of course share things about yourself too – assuming he’s also interested in finding out ‘what makes you tick.’

Keep your conversation light and flowing with other general opinions and comments. Treat him as you’d like to be treated yourself… with respect and sensitive interest.

I’d also like you to ask yourself a few questions to ponder over:

Who do you know who has a happy and healthy relationship – and what sets it apart from the many other types of relationships out there?

What does a good relationship look and feel like to you?

You’ll need to to be clear about what it entails, what you can compromise on and what you definitely can’t. How would you share your time together?

It’s important to know what YOU want and expect and not to just go along with what someone else wants. You must clearly assert what is OK with you and what isn’t – and stick to your guns (unless you genuinely change your mind).

Good luck! Remember it isn’t a huge challenge or anything to fear. You’ll be doing what should come naturally (but sadly for too many of us it doesn’t) of making a friend and in this case a potential partner.

Take one relaxed, light and friendly step at a time.

Maxine Harley (MSc Integrative Psychotherapy)

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Maxine Harley