Strategizing Your Office Romance
or, H.R. Wouldn't Want Me to Say This, but Honey, You Put the Motion in
by Brian Glaser
It's a magical moment when two pairs of eyes meet across a crowded room. But
when it's across a company boardroom or row of cubicles, the spell that's cast
has an eerie undercurrent of dark magic. Because if those locked eyes become
locked lips, you've stumbled into the dreaded yet titilatingly forbidden...
Like running a red light at a deserted intersection in the middle of the night,
office dating wrong wrong wrong... but it's so easy to see the upside.
Let's be honest: if you've got a demanding full-time occupation, how many other
places are you going to meet someone who you know has similar interests, a compatible
schedule, and, well, a job?
A Very Attractive Bottom Line
In contrast with the rest of your social world, an office environment will
provide a constant stream of attractive dating prospects. Even a company with
a low turnover rate will have new people regularly walking onto the field of
play. And chances are you already have an opening line:
"Hi. Didn't Janine used to sit here? I think she borrowed my
office vibe is a very particular kind of romantic relationship. For one thing,
you're not forcing your love life into a thin margin of late nights and exhausted
weekends. And, even though it doesn't get much press, few things are more alluring
than watching someone do something that they're really good at. (Ideally, you'll
get to see that with your significant officemate.) It's certainly a much more
honest view of the person than you get on a regular ol' First Date, and -- at
it's best -- it's an easy way to build mutual respect.
As with any kind of dating scenario, getting
promoted from "let's just be coworkers" has no guarantees, positive or negative.
I've dated people at three separate companies, and have had experiences running
all the way from hassle-free fun to "gotta update
the resume and get the hell out of here" awful.
What They Won't Teach You at B-School
To help you get more of the former and less of the latter, here's a list of
businesslike decision-making guidelines that will help you map out your 90-day
plan and get your corporate merger approved:
Maintain Realistic Projections
Dating at work doesn't mean heading out
to the "Team Building Off-Site and Margarita Blast" just to liquor up that flirt
in Accounts Receivable. If you meet someone on the job, the two of you should
move forward (carefully) only if it looks real.
If after spending genuine, significant time getting to know each other you
just can't blink away the blue sparks, tell your coworker what you have in mind
and gently suggest that you get together outside of the office sometime. I know
of two or three happily betrothed couples who met at the proverbial water cooler.
But they were very prudent and negotiated their joint venture off the clock.
Size Does Matter
Put simply: big company, good; tiny company, trouble. If the two of you
are destined lovers who happen to collide in a 500-person workforce, then thank
your lucky stars and think about "next
steps." On the other hand, you and your intended may account for 30% of
the staff of a small Web
startup. In that case -- if humanly possible -- keep it to
at lunch until the number of employees reaches healthy double digits.
Here's a simple test to see if you've got enough of a buffer to keep your office
affair from really sabotaging your career: if you make no special effort, will
you run into this person often? If the answer is "no," then proceed with the
Date a Coworker, Not Someone You Work With
Meeting someone at your company is fine, but dating someone you actually
work with on a day-to-day basis is filling out an official request form for
Trouble (in triplicate). Let me illustrate it thusly: as nice as it was to smell
my girlfriend's perfume from the other side of my desk every morning, catching
a whiff of
Happy from my ex-girlfriend was a daily, living, working hell.
Avoid "College Break Syndrome"
Remember that crisp autumn weekend when
you came home for you first college break? You met up with your lifelong high
school buddies and” suddenly you and your friends didn't have anything in common
anymore. A lot of times, there just wasn't much beyond the daily grind of that
hard-ass algebra teacher, the other cliques that you and your clique mocked,
and the bonding malaise of having to muddle through until summer.
Just because you're not in high school anymore doesn't mean that you've outgrown
these social triggers. At the office, you've got the daily grind of that hard-ass
middle manager, the other departments that you and your department mock, and
the bonding malaise of having to muddle through 52 weeks a year with absolutely
no end in sight whatsoever.
So be careful. Make sure you and your close personal colleague have more in
common and more to talk about than the dreary politics of your mutual work space.
You'd be surprised how many couples really do rely on, "So how was your day,
dear?" to get the conversation going. Which leads us to...
No Jive Talkin'
When you do proceed to a joint venture, some talk about work is OK, but
don't talk about it too much. You can find yourself blithely wandering onto
dangerous ground, especially when you're both kvetching about other coworkers
to each other. It can all come back to haunt you in a surprisingly rich and
varied number of ways. Particularly true if your relationship ends and someone's
looking for a little revenge. When
it comes to office politics, sometimes total communication isn't always the
Love Your Job, Too
In addition to not complaining too much, make sure you aren't just latching
onto this person as your inside confidant/comforter because you're miserable
at work. Only my honey knew how much I dreaded a certain job, and once I got
the ax for being such a sourpuss, it was no fun to hear her talking about the
great project she'd worked on with my (former) coworkers.
Moreover, if your job really makes you happy, then it's more likely that you're
in the right frame of mind to let someone else in to make you even happier.
That's what we call a "win-win" with "signficant upside potential."
Have Fun, Be Discreet
it's just common sense: don't make a big deal of your new-found bliss in front
of your coworkers; when you do decide to make an, um, Initial Public Offering,
make sure to lay out disclosure ground rules right away. Don't have sex at the
office (even at night after everyone's gone, you naughty monkey). And whatever
you do, don't let the personal stuff contaminate the work stuff. You are not
allowed to snarl at someone who doesn't like your darling's ideas for the big
Your Work's Excellent, but Your Snoring...
Finally, there's one old standard guideline that must be included in any conversation
about office romance: never date anyone
you report to, anyone who reports to you, or anyone in between. Agitate
for that transfer to Marketing if you have to, but you really, really don't
want a fight at the breakfast table to carry over into
your annual review.
You can think of workplace romance as being like so many business plans: fraught
with peril, but oh so tempting. If you're smart and careful -- and if you both
agree to follow a few principles of good business communication -- you just
might be able to turn your favorite office mate into a mate outside the office.
Brian Glaser has stopped stealing hearts at the office and now just steals
Back to Main To Do Page
| Next Date