A reader writes:

I screwed up. I work in an office of around 30 people, and a handful of us share the same job and are close. One happily married woman wanted a younger person’s perspective on Tinder. I had just joined and explained to her how it worked. She was wary about the sorts of men that use it, and it came up that I had a date scheduled.

We looked over his profile with a couple of other coworker friends. They approved, but since we work in an open office soon they were talking about it loudly and everyone knew. Word even spread to my bosses, one of whom really started asking a lot of questions. That would have been bad enough, but this gets worse.

The next day, once everyone saw I hadn’t been killed on the date, they asked for a report and I said it went well. What I didn’t say was that after a few drinks and what seemed to me like a really strong personal connection, things ended up going farther than I intended and we slept together.

He texted me a few times the next day, which led me to tell everyone I hoped to see him again. But now instead of constant texts, he sends me short responses. I let him know I had a great time and … nothing. He updated his dating profile. I think he is freezing me out.

I feel so ashamed of myself for not paying attention to the yellow flags I saw before the date. It was so exciting because I haven’t been out in a while due to low self-esteem from previous relationships. This isn’t helping and I feel sick imagining going back to work and having people ask about this, especially my boss who will latch onto a subject and drive it into the ground. I actually did call in sick today because of the anxiety.

I want to pretend this never happened, but how can I suddenly do an about-face when the last time these people saw me I gushed? Should I just pull aside one or two of the people I’m close to that talked a lot about it and ask them to nip any conversations that may pop up in the bud? How can I let them know how sure I am of how this situation is playing out without revealing I was so naïve and reckless (and we can’t chalk this one up to youth; I’m not the youngest person in my workplace)? I have never messed up so badly in my personal and professional life. I know I’ll get over this personally, but how do I deal with questions when I go back to work?

I … don’t really think you messed up here in a significant way.

You went on a date, you liked the guy, and then things didn’t work out. That happens! It doesn’t mean you did anything wrong.

And yes, it would have been better not to let it become such a topic of conversation at work. But when you have warm, friendly relationships with colleagues, sometimes this stuff comes up and you end up saying a little more than you wish you had. Lots of us have done that. It’s not ideal, but it’s not a terrible sin either. (It does tend to make you lie awake at night cringing sometimes, but it’s usually a blip for other people unless you’re continually over-sharing, which it doesn’t sound like you are.)

It sounds like you feel embarrassed because you liked this guy and thought he liked you but it turned out that he’s not so interested, and you feel like you’ll have to report that to your office and it’ll somehow reflect on you.

But you don’t, and it doesn’t.

You don’t owe your office a full accounting of what went on! You can just vaguely say, “Yeah, I’m not sure it’s going anywhere” or “We didn’t click enough” or “Eh, we’ll see” or any other vague response you want. And if people push to know why, you can say, “Who knows with these things” or “Just not right for each other, I guess” or any other information-free response, and then change the subject. People will probably follow your cues, but if they don’t, it’s also okay to say, “I realized I shouldn’t have talked about it so much at work! This is a dating-talk-free zone for me from now on” or “Oh, I’m really trying not to think about it — thanks for understanding.”

Frankly, you’re also allowed to just make up a cover story if it makes it easier for you: he’s moving in a week, or he hates kittens, or whatever else lets you easily convey “it’s not going to happen.” I don’t normally advocate lying, but this is no one’s business and a cover story about one date won’t affect them in any way and might be the easier route if you work with boundary-pushers.

Most importantly, though, there’s such a sense of shame coming through in your letter, and it isn’t warranted here! Try thinking of it this way: If you’d gone on the date and decided you didn’t like him, you might feel a little silly for having talked him up ahead of time, but you wouldn’t be feeling as embarrassed as you are now. You’d just come in, be like “yeah, wasn’t for me,” and wouldn’t have all these big feelings about it. I think you feel worse because it’s all tied up in the rejection, but your office has no claim on those details. None! You can reframe this as “just didn’t work out” and not get mired in the rest of it.

It’s true that there’s a lesson here to be more cautious in what you share at work, especially about something like a first date where you can’t predict how it’s going to go. But you know, some people share about upcoming first dates and it’s fine. You really didn’t commit a massive faux pas — you just put yourself in a situation that now feels a little awkward, but it’s easily fixable!

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