Okay, how many of you out there have ever been in a rebound relationship? And by rebound I mean someone else was using you as their rebound. Come on, raise your hand! There’s nothing to be ashamed of here! It happened to me—25 years ago in high school and earlier this year at work.
When I was in high school I had a major crush on a girl named Stephanie (named changed to protect the not-so-innocent). We would occasionally flirt and from time to time exchange notes (or what I like to call old-school text messages). Problem was, she was dating another guy, which basically meant I was relegated to friend status. Or worse, my best “guy friend” status. Until one day she tells me that she broke up with her boyfriend! Holy sh*t, I said, this is my chance! So I mustered up the courage to ask her out and she said yes, which I almost couldn’t’ believe was happening. We had the perfect relationship—for about 2 weeks until she dumped me and went back to her old boyfriend. He was jealous enough of our “perfect” relationship and promised to clean up his act just enough to convince her to come back to him. Which, in retrospect, was a 100% predictable outcome. So with that heartbreaking experience, I learned what it meant to be the “rebound” relationship.
I thought I was done with those days until it happened again – except this time I was someone’s work rebound relationship.
I spent months recruiting for this role and even waited an extended period of time for the person we ultimately hired to join my organization so that they could transition from their current job (warning sign maybe?). After just a few short months (like 4), this guy went back to his old girlfriend/company with promises of a new role, more money, and a heavy dose of “we didn’t realize how much we valued you until you were gone and we promise this time we’ve really changed.” I felt spurned like it was 1993 all over again (minus the flat-top mullet I used to sport). Why? Because, in retrospect, there was sign after sign that I was being rebounded that I either missed or I chose to explain it away to make myself feel better. So, here are the 4 things that I missed and hopefully you won’t.
- Mistake #1: The long good-bye. You asked them to go out/join your team. They say yes. But when you want to actually have the first “date” you don’t quite get a firm commitment. They insist they’re done with their current job and you’re the one for them but they just need a little more time to end their current relationship. You know, the break-up is going to be hard on them so they want to take it easy on them so they don’t get hurt. You understand, right? And with lovebirds floating around your head, you convince yourself what a great person they are for being so considerate.
- Mistake #2: Beware of the “we.” I’ll admit, when I was first hearing him say “we” I was super excited—they were already becoming part of our culture! It wasn’t until a couple of weeks in that I realized the “we” actually wasn’t referencing our organization at all. They were talking about their old job. Worse yet, when we called them out on it, they very cleverly made it into a joke. Which, at the time, I thought was funny until I realized it was a cover for when they inevitably slipped up again. I couldn’t be mad, it was only a joke, right?
- Mistake #3: They start to dress you up like their former boyfriend/girlfriend. You know what I’m talking about, your partner subtly makes a suggestion about what to wear, maybe buys you some new clothes and before you know it you’re dressed up like some dude straight out of a J. Crew catalogue. At work this means they slowly and quietly—without you even knowing it—recreate their past job situation. Same ideas, same setup, same lingo, same collaborators.
- Mistake #4: They still see their ex but insist they’re only friends. This was my most egregious miss. They basically never left their old job, but I convinced myself they had. They would get calls almost daily; they’d help out on a project that “only they could do;” or they generally just stay connected. But every time there was an interaction with their ex… I mean old job… the old job was doing everything it could to woo him back. At some level I knew it, but I didn’t want to believe it, so I ignored it.
- Mistake #5: I really like you. And finally, the most embarrassing one of all. Ever been in the situation where you tell someone you love them and they respond with either a) silence, b)some response about how much they really like you, too, (notice the selective use of words) or c) you get redirected onto some other topic. I professed my work love to this guy, and I got c for a few minutes followed up by an awkward dose of b. And I then convince myself they just needed more time.
Look, in the end it actually was best in this situation for him to go back to his old job. It was a great opportunity for him, and I honestly can’t say I blame him for taking it. But a change like this that happens so soon after someone joins is inevitably disruptive for any team, which is why if you experience any of the things I just described, get out while you can!