Benjamin said I could ask for help if I needed anything. So when I had a problem installing the latest Adobe Illustrator, he was the first colleague I turned to.
“What is it this time? Connection problem? Boyfriend problem?” he quizzed. I pointed to my laptop screen and groaned with frustration.
Benjamin was the office’s unofficial tech guy. Name a technical problem you can’t solve and he’ll fix it. Funnily enough, he wasn’t part of the IT team.
He was a social media specialist. A lanky guy with only three things on his desk: a thumb drive, a wallet, and a motivational quote by entrepreneur Li Ka-shing.
“Next time, you let me install okay,” Benjamin said while subtly undermining my tech know-how.
After I explained everything, he clicked swiftly like he knew his way around a problem. For the first time, his dexterity impressed me.
When the problem became progressively complicated, he hovered over my shoulder to examine the download closely. So close, in fact, that I caught a whiff of his woody cologne. Burberry? Calvin Klein? Whatever it was, I liked it.
While I pondered over our proximity, he sighed deeply and pushed up his sleeves. The small tattoo on his forearm caught my eye, and I thought, “What a badass!”
After a moment of inappropriate glance later, he turned towards me and said, “Okay done!”
He seemed so pleased to solve a problem yet again. “Looks like you owe me this time?” he flashed a triumphant smile without realising that he leaned too close for comfort.
We locked eyes for two seconds before he hurried back to run his Facebook ads.
Wait, am I crushing on…? Nah, that can’t be.
That same night, I thought about how close we were. Why was he leaning so close? Did he notice I was checking him out? Gosh, why am I blushing?
And just like that, my crush bloomed.
Stage 1: You look forward to seeing your crush every day
Some internet wise guy said it’s unprofessional to have a crush on your colleague, but in reality, you can’t control it.
When it happens, it happens.
Despite your best efforts of erasing your crush off your mind, you fail miserably.
What made matters worse, your imagination would buoy into this romance-novel fantasy of your crush tucking that strand of hair behind your ears. And then leaning close to…
Oh wait, that’s me I’m talking about. “Stop, damn it, stop!” I muttered silently, but my mind refused to listen.
Over and over again, these romantic scenarios played out like a broken record. Some were happy thoughts (Ah, laptop problems begone!) while others were slaps of ridiculousness (Seriously, Benjamin? Out of all people?).
Crazily enough, I looked forward to seeing him the next day. I searched for his smile out of the 23 people in the office.
When he returned my morning greeting with a charming grin, everything seemed trivial. From my boss’ ridiculous demands to the coffee stain on my blouse, who cares? His presence just made my day better.
Like a teenager, I found myself grinning behind my laptop all day.
Stage 2: You want to be close to your crush
Since that day, Benjamin’s presence has been magnetising. Whether the Calvin Klein cologne had something to do with it, I don’t know – all I knew was that I wanted to constantly be within his peripheral view.
You’ve experienced this once, I’m sure.
Have you liked someone so much that you want to be close to them? A pull so strong that fighting it felt pointless? At last, you surrendered to their attraction, gravitation or whatever that was called. And you just let it overwhelm you.
Come to think of it why should we isolate ourselves from things that make us feel good?
Benjamin was the ecstasy I craved but never tried. Not the best example, but the addiction felt similar.
So after a few days of crushing from afar, I braced myself to move to the empty desk opposite his. It was a move I hoped would go unnoticed except to that one person.
“Why did you move here?” asked Dinesh, our sales manager. He sat next to Benjamin, and he purposely asked loud enough for my crush to hear.
While acting cool, I faked an excuse about how the work desk was closer to the pantry which made coffee breaks more convenient. Deep down, I hoped Dinesh bought it.
Stage 3: You crave for one-on-one moments
I hated that word, but that was the only way to describe it.
When you have a crush on someone, you wonder how it’d be like to spend time with them. You crave for one-on-one moments. You, your crush and no one else.
Then, you can’t help picturing how it’d be like to date them.
Now, those were words I loved.
But after sitting in front of Benjamin for weeks, he never once asked me out. I was disappointed. I wore my best outfits to get his attention, but the only one I was getting was from Dinesh who kept insisting that I returned to my old spot. He needs to stop bugging me.
Despite the absence of a date invitation, my conversations with Benjamin became frequent albeit purely platonic. Sometimes, he would show adorable dog videos from his phone and said, “See this, Cheryl. So cute! You like corgis right?”
French bulldogs, Benjamin. But that’s okay.
Honestly, I can’t complain about the platonic nature of our conversations. Fact is, he doesn’t have a clue about my feelings for him. In my life, I never once confessed my feelings to my crushes, and I wasn’t planning to be upfront with Benjamin either.
Unless he feels the same way, of course.
For a long period, our one-on-one moments were trips to 99 SpeedMart for noodle cups, Starbucks for happy hour frappuccinos, and Baker’s Cottage for breakfast pastries.
No dinner dates, no after-work drinks, nothing.
Stage 4: You remember your crush’s favorite things
You can’t remember the clothes you wore two days ago, but you recall how good he looked in navy. You can’t remember your brother’s phone number, but you memorised his coffee orders down to the smallest detail.
You hope he would notice it one day – about how kind and thoughtful you are.
But in reality, he was too busy soaking in the compliments about his new shirt or praising your excellent memory.
Life’s unfair for the unrequited (and those afraid to express their feelings), but it happens.
Remembering every single detail of his likes and dislikes is a side effect of your mild obsession. For whatever reason, boring details about him became interesting. No matter what his interests were, you connected with it.
He likes spicy noodles? Me too! He prefers nasi lemak sans peanuts? Same here! He enjoys durian with a side of congee? Sounds strange, but I guess I can try?
Eventually, his favourite things morphed into the things you’re interested in. I remembered Benjamin mentioning how great The Map of the Invisible World was. Wanting to know him better, I bought the book a few weekends later.
You put more effort in creating mutual interests. Silently, you rejoice at the thought of how compatible you two are becoming.
After all, isn’t compatibility the best ingredient for coupleship?
Stage 5: You wonder about your crush’s relationship status
After wondering and wishing to great length, it’s time.
You need to find out the odds of dating them. You have to find out if the love story in your head is possible in real life.
I found out by chance when I asked Benjamin about his holiday plans.
“Nothing much. Just going road-tripping to Ipoh with my girlfriend,” he said.
For a moment, I didn’t say a word.
I felt embarrassed. For myself, mostly.
I felt foolish for romanticising the thought of being with someone – who already has someone else.
Why did I feed this infatuation, build this fantasy, and be let down by a relationship status that I prayed I wouldn’t hear?
It hurt slightly, but the disappointment was the closure I needed. The full stop to a long narrative. The closing chapter of a one-sided love story.
All I needed to do was reminding myself that he belonged to someone else.
He’s taken, he’s taken.
And I repeated it like a mantra for eight weeks until my crush faded away.
Stage 6: You get upset when they leave
Sadness is inevitable when your crush moves on to greener pastures. You wish you could tell them to stay, but let’s be honest: who are you to them?
Despite the connection and happiness you felt, some people are only meant to stay for a while. Benjamin was one of those people.
When I saw him clearing out his desk, I couldn’t help but steal a final glance at him.
Like the helpful colleague I know and once liked, he said, “If you have any questions about Facebook, WhatsApp me okay?”
I nodded while making a mental note (and a favour to myself) not to reach out to Benjamin for anything at all.
While everyone in the office bid him goodbye, Dinesh walked up to me.
“I know you’re sad with Benjamin leaving and all. If there’s anything you need, you know you can tell me too,” my sales manager said.
I’ll keep that in mind, I replied.
We stood next to each other for a while until Dinesh invited me out of the blue. “By the way, let’s have lunch one of these days. You know, just you and me?”
I looked at him judgingly.
Wait, does Dinesh have a crush on…?
Nah, that can’t be.