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The M Dash

Live with purpose.

My Favorite Faux Pas: The Work Crush

May 29, 2015

I’m not the type who gets embarrassed easily. For better or for worse, I tend to view awkward situations and social missteps as a necessary part of life. They’re kind of like vitamins: a pain to choke down, but ultimately fortifying.

Workplace embarrassment, however, is an altogether different thing—less fortifying and more just… humiliating. This is particularly true in the early stages of a career, when one’s embarrassment threshold is at an all-time low and need for approval is at an all-time high. A dangerous combination.

My first real job was working in media at a well-known advertising agency in New York. The hours were long and the job was pressure-filled. Days were spent sweating through conference calls with our perfectionist client, entering numbers in complex spreadsheets, and bitching about the unmanageable workload with my co-workers. But despite these undeniable downsides (and the piteous pay), I actually liked going to work. My friends were there. The atmosphere, although hectic, could be exhilarating.

And—oh yes—I had a work crush.

Lenny* was my first work crush. A “creative,” Lenny was artistic, funny, very cool, and whip-smart. As is the case with many work crushes, we had our first real conversation at the holiday party. We talked about music (our shared tastes ranged from The-Dream to My Morning Jacket) and made fun of people in the agency that pissed us off. We drank (too much). We probably (?) danced, then attended the after-party, hand-in-hand, and drank more. The evening ended hazily with some questionable food choices, “meaningful” conversation, and an awkward hug goodbye. No kiss, but a solid work crush had been established.

Work Crush

Flash forward several days and I am at work, literally mooning over Lenny. With the holiday break looming, I imagine us kissing in front of a fire, snow gently falling outside. We drink hot chocolate—spiked hot chocolate—and stare into each other’s eyes tenderly. The strains of Christmas carolers outside provide a romantic soundtrack. Yup, ‘tis the season, and I’m in love, and… I need to go to the bathroom.

Lenny’s desk, as fate would have it, was directly en route to the bathroom. Since my bladder is the size of a pea, this was a fortuitous and cursed circumstance for me. On one hand, it allowed me to see him often and always have an excuse to “casually walk by”; on the other, I’d get really stressed out about having to pee. (It’s a natural and necessary bodily function, and at 23 years old, I really didn’t need another thing to stress about.)

That day, I had my period and I was wearing tights and a dress. Bad idea, guys. Now a seasoned work veteran, I’ve learned that pockets are key to discreetly managing your period in the office; in fact, they’re almost as important as the damn tampon. Anyhow, the brilliant solution I contrived for moments like these was to stick my tampon up my sleeve, pull down the sleeve, and hold it in place with my hand. This is what I was doing when I approached Lenny’s desk with no intention of stopping.

As I got closer, I realized that a whole group of men had congregated around Lenny’s desk. They were looking at holiday party photos and laughing uproariously. Lenny called me over. “Julia! You need to come look at these!” All six (seven? eight?) guys looked up at me expectantly. Blushing and frustratingly tongue-tied, I was at a total loss for words. I motioned—way too forcefully, because I’d clearly lost all self-control—that I was going into the bathroom.

The tampon I’d deftly concealed under my sleeve went flying.

It was like a helicopter’s wing gone rogue. It spun, chopper-style, in slow motion. MAYDAY MADAY. Abort mission. I lunged to try and grab it. Silence ensued. Everyone was watching, captivated (it was like witnessing a car crash—you don’t want to look, but can’t help it).

It landed about four feet in front of me. I stared at it. Am I alive? SOS. Help. This is a searing, deep, paralyzing embarrassment. Surely, this is the end of me?

Three weeks later, Lenny and I started dating.

Illustrations by Mai-Dea

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Julia Sweeney is a freelance writer and the Director of Marketing at S.W. Basics, an all-natural skincare brand based in Brooklyn, New York. As a copywriter and editor, she’s worked on behalf of brands like Marriott Hotels, ABC Carpet & Home, and DARA Artisans. She lives in Manhattan’s West Village and considers My So-Called Life a profound source of wisdom. Spirit animal: red fox. Read more of Julia's posts.

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