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Could I have been so, so wrong?

Oliver wrote:

I'm forty-one and literally never been kissed.

This odd predicament has perhaps come about for a combination of reasons.
(1) I'm somewhat shy, though not "publicly" so.
(2) I'm quite short (160cm). I've been dealt the "You'd be the perfect boyfriend, if only..." line on several occasions. I've never seen my lack of stature as a shortcoming, however, as I believe I have much, much more to offer than height. I'm intelligent, even-tempered, humorous - even handsome and very athletic - and I get along very well with all my colleagues and friends.
(3) Throughout my life, I've always been very involved with my work or study, almost to the exclusion of all else.

Early last year, I moved to a new branch of my company. There, I met a female colleague who seemed to take an immediate interest in me. She asked me numerous times if I was involved with anyone. She began telling me jokingly, on a daily basis, that I was handsome. She would comment on my powerful chest. She would touch and prod me. She once said, when we were alone in the office, that if I were to ever leave, she would cry. On my birthday, she gave me a bunch of flowers. On my office birthday card, she wrote "I love you"!

I'm rather cautious, and at first kept a cool distance. She was eccentric, and I suspected that she too had had little if any experience with the opposite sex. But gradually, I grew to appreciate this woman's brilliant, sharp wit, her vitality, generosity, and warmth. All our colleagues noticed that we got along fabulously well, and began dropping hints at the possibilities. At a certain point, however, I perceived a change in her. She seemed to "go cold". Her behaviour had become at times subtly hostile. She even began backtracking. Twice, out of the blue, she said: "Remember how I asked if you had a girlfriend? I was just wanting to give you some advice, that's all."

This was about three months after I had first met her. I decided it was time to make a fast move, and invited her out for an ice-cream. There, I told her as gently as possible that I was quite fond of her. She said the thought of me being anything but a common friend had never so much as crossed her mind once! She would need time to think about it. I found her response baffling, given her previous behavior, but I was willing to give her that time.

She never responded to my advance until she was finally pressured by another colleague to do so. She told me that she had no interest in me at all. I was heartbroken, of course, but hardly expected what was to follow. From that point, she embarked on a campaign of constant ridicule and derision. She snapped at me several times in sudden moments of anger that didn't seem connected with anything.

I realised she was no longer willing to be even ordinary friends, so I kept my distance, and tried to simply be a cordial colleague, limiting our interaction to "Good morning" and so on. It didn't work. Her bullying continued. Now, I've been reduced to treating her as if she's invisible, even though we work in the same office space. This has minimized her jabs at me, but it's not a situation I'm comfortable with, of course.

My questions are: Could I have been so, so wrong about her initial intentions? Can people's feelings change so suddenly? If she did have some initial interest, is there any chance that anything could ever be salvaged from this mess? How should I deal with the current situation?

Dear Oliver

Hard to tell what happened, as your story is incomplete, and looks like it'll stay that way, as you aren't talking.

Neither of us can read her mind, and we do not know of her previous experiences ... she may have been flirting with you, precisely because she never considered for a second that you would take it any other way; her cooling off may have been her fear, when the comments of others (never to be relied on) made her realise your feelings.

I suspect that in your panic at her 'cooling off' you probably terrified her with your "fast move" - so obviously out of character.

But, we're agreed that that's conjecture; we'll probably never know.

As to the future, unless one of you leaves, you can only hope that time will soften the pain and fear. Do not expect, ever, to 'get back to how things were'; what is possible is an unspoken truce, with a new friendship at greater distance than before. Give her space, and time - and understand that for whatever reason, it wasn't mean to be, and ain't going to happen.

I doubt you need to blame yourself entirely, but you do need to consider the poor judgement in relying on office gossip - everyone loves a lover, half the office want to be matchmakers. But it's not their risk. Or their pain.

As a shy person, Rules 1 through 101 state "Take it slowly, one step at a time, no sudden movements" - The Turtle can win the race - but not if it starts leaping about like a Hare.

Good Luck; get on with your life.

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