Ask Natalie by Natalie Bencivenga

Interpreting Co-Worker Signals

DEAR NATALIE: Recently, our office hired a new administrative assistant. She's very cute and admittedly a bit younger than me, as in 23 years old or so. I'm 29. She seemed nice. The moment at which I started noticing an attraction was after she had been there for a couple of weeks. She came walking down the hallway, and I wanted to introduce myself to her to make her feel welcome. Her entire face lit up with a smile, at which point I introduced myself and my friend to her. While chatting, she maintained a big smile and prolonged eye contact with just me. Days after, I started noticing her stealing glances in my direction, followed by her looking away while smiling if I caught her, or when walking past me, saying "Hey" in a way that was decidedly more flirtatious than normal. 

Now, I never approached her at first for a couple of reasons. I've always been reluctant to get involved with a co-worker for obvious reasons. Furthermore, I would see other guys talking/flirting with her periodically. But, she continued to give me what I felt were body language signs of attraction. So, I asked her out for coffee. She said "yes," but our "date" never happened, as work got in the way. I would try to reschedule with her several times, but every time I would ask her to do something, she had a reason why she couldn't. I was starting to feel like it was a lost cause, but what happened next made me think that I was repeatedly led on and played like a fiddle. 

I decided to email her, on her personal account, one last time to ask her out, telling her how it was too bad our timing had been off, but I also hinted that I felt I was being led on. She responded by telling me that she had a BOYFRIEND (facepalm) whom she was "in love with," and that she was "sorry if she had led me on." I was floored. It was an emotional mixture of frustration, sadness, anger and relief because at least I had an apparent answer as to where I stood with her. Would you agree that it sounds like I was seriously led on? I'm very frustrated and agitated about this. How should I proceed? -- FACEPALM

DEAR FACEPALM: Your initial instincts on why you should avoid dating a co-worker were pretty spot on. It can be very challenging to do, especially because the environment lends itself to mixed signals and flirtations that arise out of boredom. But, what always baffles me about some men is this sense of entitlement when it comes to women. What exactly did this girl do, besides smile and make eye contact, that led you to believe that you were owed something? She agreed to go to coffee with you. It didn't transpire, and apparently she had a change of heart. Perhaps she didn't realize your motivations were anything other than getting to know her better because she was the newbie on the block, and once she realized you were crushing on her, she made it clear that she had a boyfriend. 

It can be hard for people to decipher what is "flirting" and what is "friendly," but to become agitated simply because your ego (let's be honest) is bruised is a bit dramatic. Take a deep breath. I don't think she was playing you like a fiddle. She doesn't have to reveal her romantic status to you or to anyone at the office. Clear your head, dust yourself off and don't take this all so seriously. When the right person crosses your path, you'll know. (And she will, too.)

Please send your relationship and lifestyle questions to or tweet them to @NBSeen. You can also send postal letters to Natalie Bencivenga, 358 North Shore Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15212

(This column was originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)