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April 6, 1998 e-mail e-mail to a friend in need


The Politics of Office Romance:
Breakup Girl Tries to Keep up With the Joneses

Hoo boy, was Breakup Girl relieved when that sassy judge dismissed you-know-who's case against you-know-who's you-know-what. Not because BG was facing any sort of subpoena, but because she feels that the level of discourse about sexual harassment had become as nuanced and thoughtful as dropping trou in a motel room.

You can argue with me later about whether, in a strictly legal sense (not everyone, of course, has been so strict), Paula Jones had a case. (And if you are arguing with me based on your experience as Lawyer Boy, Breakup Mom may wish to have a word with you as well.) But what no matter what you think about how the judge applied these standards, she did remind us that there are legal standards -- heavy-duty ones -- that must be met to make a case for the class of employment discrimination now defined as sexual harassment.

Still, throughout this whole Flytrap scandal (the new word for it over at Slate, which, now that they charge for subscriptions, damn well better be coming up with clever neologisms), some people have been acting like "sexual harassment" is this special code term that women can yell whenever they don't feel like being complimented on their sweaters, which magically transplants the offender to a seat in front of a cruel and unforgiving tribunal consisting of the female leads in "Thelma and Louise" and "9 to 5." At the other extreme, since the Jones case's dismissal, BG has also heard sarcastic murmurs of, "Oh, so now it's OKAY to drop trou in a motel room!" Uh, no. There's a middle ground here. If you notice, the judge did not actually come out in favor of lame, intrusive come-ons. No one's endorsing on-the-job obnoxitude; it's just that you just might not always be able to make, so to speak, a Federal case out of it. Put another way: for reasons aplenty, not all bad behavior is a job for Clarence Thomas and Co. What do you think Breakup Girl is here for?

All of which is to say: sexual harassment and workplace dating are, in BG's ideal world, unrelated. The only romances you start at work (as you'll see below) are the ones that appear to be based on real attraction, respect, and promise -- which are not a fertile growing medium for harassment.

So, if you're having a cow about the prospect of dating someone you work with -- well, you should be. Arguably, it's more complicated and issue-ridden than dating someone you live with. But: you needn't have a bigger cow today you would have had pre-Jones. That cow is one big red herring that's making us all more nervous around each other than necessary -- the genders still mix way more smoothly than BG's metaphors. So let's all settle down and deal with workplace romance as a matter of dating dignity and professional conduct. Details to follow.

Finally, let the record show that there is no formal policy against office romance at BG HQ. (If anyone wants to send me a package with that message written on the outside SO THAT THE CHARMING ADORABLE UPS MAN WILL SEE IT, be my guest.) In the meantime, Breakup Girl does not want to hear any more insinuating jokes about her new intern. If she had time for that kind of intern, she wouldn't need an intern.

And now for the letters that you better not have written me on your office email account.



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