I am a post-doc (male) and I am working on a research project with another post-doc (female) from the same university. During our work, I got to know her and started developing emotions towards her. Recently, I find myself thinking about her and missing her between our weekly meetings, instead of concentrating in my research. I do my best to avoid this development, in particular:

  • No physical contact, even not friendly handshakes.
  • No social events, even not eating lunch together. We only meet once a week to talk about our research.
  • No romantic talks, I never tell her that I like her or miss her or anything else that can be interpreted romantically.

But this does not help very much.

I worked with other women in the past but this is the first time I feel this way.

I am NOT interested in any romantic relationship now. I only want my focus back. How do I get it?

EDIT: After reading the answers, I did some research and found some relevant articles.

  • "She Wanted to Do Her Research. He Wanted to Talk 'Feelings.'" claims that women might be disturbed by expressions of romantic feelings by men colleagues, to the point that some of them decide to leave academia altogether. Of course, there is difference between senior-junior relations and two postdocs of the same level (as is my case), but this is still quite disturbing. And it makes me feel happy I did not reveal my emotions.
  • "Sexist Scientist: I Was Being 'Honest'" is about a man professor who was bashed and fired for saying "let me tell you about my trouble with girls... Three things happen when they are in the lab: You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry". This further illustrates the problem with talking about love in academia.

And, I think this might show that the question is on-topic in academia.

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this is not specific to academia. Apr 8, 2017 at 20:12
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    Maybe if you get to know her better, as a friend, you'll either discover aspects that turn you off, or that bring the two of you closer together. Also, it might be helpful to diversify your social life in general. Apr 8, 2017 at 20:40
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    @einpoklum How so? He admits that he developed feelings. He, however, has no interest in a romantic relationship, and says clearly that he wants his focus back. That's stated with no room for ambiguity. I do not think it is respectful to second-guess the OP that they are interested in a relationship, because despite clearly contradictory tendencies in the OP, the question is unambiguously put. I think the OP deserves to be taken at face value, and your comment is not really doing so. Apr 8, 2017 at 22:33
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    This could be a great sort of question to talk over with a counselor or therapist, especially if your institution provides these services (many do at low or no cost). Professionals are literally paid to listen to you talk about your feelings (wanted or unwanted), discuss them with you, and all while being ethically required not to gossip about a crush. Having such feelings are perfectly natural and not unhealthy, and emotions which become intrusive and unwanted can be distressing. I highly suggest finding someone to talk them over with, so you can find some clarity and maybe even peace.
    – BrianH
    Apr 8, 2017 at 23:25
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    @CaptainEmacs: As BrianDHall suggests, this is "psychology territory". Very often we develop feelings unconsciously, or semi-consciously, while at the conscious level we've decided not to have them. So we become ambivalent, or have part of our behavior be incompatible with what we tell ourselves, or others, that we want and feel. And, indeed, OP tells us that on the one hand "I am not interested in X" - while "I find myself [emotionally drawn to state X]" - it's as though it's someone else having the feelings OP decided he can't have. But it's not... it's still just OP.
    – einpoklum
    Apr 9, 2017 at 8:04

2 Answers 2


Good point by @DanRomik about the futility of getting rid of romantic feelings; after all, so much of world literature is just about that one topic. Dante even traveled through heaven and hell to process his unrequited feelings. And Goethe thematised this, especially in the context of a scientist and truth seeker, in his legendary Faust.

However, there are surprisingly few scientists who are expressly known to have a real romantic vein - yes, they marry, etc., but, for what is generally known, Einstein's first marriage was notoriously unromantic, we also have the singular Don Juanism of Feynman - although that may have been the expression of unfulfilment of his original, real romantic interest; and Galois, who claimed to have been trapped into his duel because of an affair; apart from that, one starts scraping the barrel for any interesting gossip about affairs of scientists.

Who knows, because their primary love is science, perhaps?

Taking the OP's statement at face value, they will have a reason of not wanting to get embroiled in romance at a possibly critical stage in their live. So, one way may be to consider science their legitimate jealous wife who will not tolerate a mistress. Or else imagine a nasty boyfriend at the other side of the equation.

There are also some very uncharitable pieces of famous (and controversial) polemic essays that can take the charm out of dating for quite some period to sensitive people, but I won't mention them as the effect of reading this stuff takes quite some time to be undone. Reading this is likely to create an aura of disenchantment, no matter how captivating the other person is; and it can act as a date-killer, even when one doesn't actually want them to fail. I do not recommend trying to discover this literature, but for fairness I believe I have to mention it, since I am aware of this as a possible solution that indeed addresses OP's request (even if sometimes too well).

If you are not afraid of consequences if the relation goes sour, OP might give consideration to @DanRomik's solution to give the possible developments a chance; after all, some of the best and most creative work of artists arose during times of fresh love, and it might not necessarily be different with scientists? However, this type of risk-taking is not for everyone and can also go in a bad way; it should not be taken if OP can not afford to lose this collaboration the middle term.

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    I'm rather unhappy with how you characterize scientists as some sort of bizarre species devoid of emotion and romantic aspirations. You've cherry picked a few instances and made a sweeping generalization. And what those cherry picked instances show is that, in fact, we run the full spectrum, from hopeless romantic to practical to inveterate philanderer (and someone who is unfaithful is not necessarily someone devoid of love and romance for his wife, or any other partner). Apr 9, 2017 at 17:34
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    @zibadawatimmy Personally acquainted with people from very different areas of life, I can assure you that, in my experience scientists, amongst these, display to the public by far the most boring "typical" lifestyle. Artists, for instance, I found to be quite in a different category. I am not saying scientists are not romantic, but I found they - very distinctly - try to not show it. And I know quite a few scientists for whom science is clearly #1, at least in the public image they project. This is not cherry-picked, but of course coloured by my own experience. Apr 9, 2017 at 17:46
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    @zibadawatimmy And let me add: Perhaps this is due to the special environment of scientists, which is typically academia. Romances are difficult to develop because of power gradients (and no, while abuse of position has finally become actionable these days, teacher-student relations have for a very long time been considered problematic, even without proper legal treatment, I have seen many examples for that), "two-body" problems, or to ensure continued collaboration. In other words, I hypothesise that the academic environment discourages romantic experiments. Of course, I might be wrong. Apr 9, 2017 at 17:58
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    @CaptainEmacs I remain unhappy with it, but thanks for explaining further as I can at least understand where you're coming from better. You may be performing an apples to oranges comparison, as well. I'm pretty sure most (tenured) professors and industry science professionals pull in six figure incomes, which is typically well beyond the "starving artist" income pulled in by most starving artists. As such you would not be able to conclude that it is "science" that has this effect; it may be the money and social standing. Apr 10, 2017 at 1:26
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    @zibadawatimmy Scientists start out as students, and PhDs, and postdocs, with quite uncertain academic future. I was not referring (at least not particularly) to tenured academic staff. Apr 10, 2017 at 13:40

I'm afraid I can't answer your question about how to suppress romantic feelings you have for another person, for the trivial reason that humans have been grappling unsuccessfully with this question for thousands of years. The attempts to answer it have led to some wonderful works of fiction though, so I recommend that you do a "literature search" on the problem (pun intended) and maybe find some of the answers you seek.

What I can also add is that one of the most romantic love stories I'm aware of in science started off in a situation pretty similar to yours. It involved the meeting and eventual marriage of the mathematicians George Szekeres and Esther Klein. They were married for around 70 years and died of natural causes on the same day - see here, here and here for more details. So maybe falling in love with a coauthor is not something that one should categorically rule out. Of course, only you know your own circumstances and can decide whether this lesson is applicable to your situation.

  • I am not sure it solves my problem, but the "literature search" seems like a fun option. Thanks!
    – anonymized
    Apr 9, 2017 at 4:36
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    Here is another article about couples who met in academia: gizmodo.com/…
    – anonymized
    Apr 20, 2017 at 13:41

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