Dating your co-worker can be risky—but what if it’s your soulmate sitting at the next table? Or what if it’s a disaster waiting to happen?
In a small office or perhaps a large high-rise in Colombo, two pairs of eyes meet, then lock. A lunch date is set up, followed by drinks a couple of days later, and suddenly the everyday grind becomes a heart-stopping romance filled with excitement, drama, sex (if you’re lucky), and danger. The simple truth is that as long as humans work in close proximity to one another, sparks will fly. End of story.
If you really think about it, what do Barack Obama and Ryan Reynolds have in common? They both met their Significant Others at work. In fact, some might even argue that offices supersede the most successful matrimonial sites (aunties, take note). We do, after all, spend more than a third of our lives at work, so it’s possibly one of the best places to find a potential partner who shares similar life goals and attitudes.
Due, in no small part, to romantic comedies and hit TV sitcoms like The Office – thanks, Jim and Pam – workplace romances are seen as the modern-day love story. Gone are the narratives akin to The Princess Bride with swashbuckling adventure, princes and pirates. Instead, a cute guy typing sexily on his laptop is enough to send hearts swooning. In office romances, you get to spend all day together and send flirtatious G-chat messages in rapid succession. You spend extra time in the mornings deciding what to wear, because you want to dress to impress all day every day. You’ve never loved your job as much as you do now. “You complete me…” you think to yourself, as you pull your car into the office parking lot.
Don’t fool yourself. Hollywood scriptwriters conveniently skip over the many office romances that get much, much messier than we see on screen. More often than not, when co-workers mix business with pleasure, it’s a heady cocktail, which can either leave you with an on-top-of-the-world high or a terrible hangover. So, if you find yourself getting hot and bothered for the cutie in IT, think carefully about the best way to embark on this new romance
Know Your Company’s Policy
Always remember, while office dating is not necessarily illegal, many companies have policies that prohibit it as a safeguard against multiple resignations if things go wrong, among other hazards. Make a point to familiarize yourself with any written policies your company’s Human Resources department might have on file and understand the pitfalls. “Don’t tell HR it’s because you’re trying to date a co-worker!” advises Kimaya, 28. “Just pretend you want to refresh yourself on all company guidelines, and ask for a comprehensive document.”
Try Keeping It A Secret
Though it may not be ideal, it’s best to keep things quiet for as long as possible, especially if relationships at the workplace are prohibited. Even if dating at work is permitted, there’s no need to send an office-wide memo with a photo of you two in lip-lock. “Keeping it a secret also means you don’t have a pic of you guys as your desktop or phone background,” says Anisha, 24. “It’s easy to forget, but can lead to disaster in the office.”
Maintain Your Work Performance
Whatever happens with your relationship – and whether it’s prohibited or not – your career must progress. No romance is worth a decline in your boss’ or co-workers’ trust and respect, and in fact, nothing predicts a speedier decline of your new love than hostile colleagues. So, stop planning your next Poya weekend together when a new project falls on your desk—you can pick up with boo once you’ve aced the task.
Remember Your Life (Office And Otherwise) Outside The Relationship
Do not make your office romance the center of your universe. Unlike a regular relationship, where you typically see each other after work, office romances can be all-encompassing because you spend so much time together by default. It’s important to nurture your other relationships, even if it’s easy and convenient to head out with your office partner every night. Make sure to schedule drinks with the girls or Sunday brunch with your family. Otherwise, you’ll feel like the office is taking over your life (which, to be fair, it might be). A little time away from each other is never a bad thing—and it makes for a steamy reunion!
Make Sure It Ends Amicably (If Things Are Not Working Out…)
Not all relationships go the distance. Your office romance can move from unicorns and rainbows to a disaster zone in the blink of an eye. If it does go south, focus on ways to avoid testy run-ins at the office, be cordial at all costs and don’t break down in tears if the two of you are in a meeting together—you always knew a break-up was a possibility, so don’t let it ruin your reputation. Log in more hours, take on new responsibilities and projects, and be more proactive about selling your accomplishments. If your colleagues had misgivings about you getting into a relationship, rebuild their trust by showing them you can be totally professional, even with an ex-BF on the loose.
Forget Your Boundaries
Public displays of affection in office are a no-no, even if your work environment is super liberal. (Remember you are not at a petting zoo.) Nothing is more off-putting than a pair of lovesick employees fawning over each other, and just because it’s called an office romance doesn’t mean you can conduct it in the office. Always be respectful of the space you share with your colleagues.
Mix Business With Pleasure
Never misuse your relationship to get ahead professionally. You don’t want unfriendly, and potentially untrue, labels to follow you to your next review. If misconceptions arise, go out of your way to repudiate them—and do it fast. The quicker you reveal your stellar ethics, the less your co-workers will be able to bitch about you.
Get Involved With Someone Who Isn’t Single
You’re on the road to disaster if you get romantically involved with someone who is already in a relationship…or if he’s just getting out of one. “I made the mistake of casually dating a co-worker who was going through a divorce,” admits Prabashi, 31. “I was leaving work with a few colleagues when his ex-wife berated me in the lobby. That was a tough one to get through.” Office romances are complicated enough without a third party getting in the way.
Flirt During Corporate Functions
While it may be human nature to flirt (and tons of fun), avoid it all costs. Although it might seem like everyone is a little more relaxed after a couple of drinks during corporate retreats or events, keep in mind that whatever you do offsite will always be remembered onsite. Discretion is the key to a successful office romance.
Forget To Dial Down The Digital Love
You might think you’re being discrete but technology, in this day and age, is your best friend and worst nightmare. There is a time and place for dirty talk and that’s not over email or Slack. Best case scenario? You never get caught. Worst case scenario? You accidentally message your boss when you’re hungover AF on a Friday morning or when you can’t control your sex impulses on a Tuesday afternoon. We all know how that story ends…
If Cupid strikes, how should you proceed? A guide to sticky situations. (Ew, not like that.)
Dating The Boss
If there’s one rule of office romances you need to follow, it’s this: Romancing your boss will get messy real quick…and in most cases, could even raise a red flag for HR. “My boyfriend, who was also my boss, kept leaving me expensive presents at my desk,” says Lara, 29. “Obviously the office found out soon enough, and I started getting snide remarks about any pay increases. It wasn’t like that at all, but I understood how it was being perceived.”
What to do: Switch your sights to someone more lateral. Or hide it at all cost, even from your work bestie. Don’t arrive or leave together. Don’t eat lunch together. Don’t sit next to him at meetings. (TBH, it’s easier if you just don’t do him altogether.) It sucks, we know. But remember how it ended for Monica Lewinsky when she told her office BFF…?
So your office doesn’t permit dalliances, but you can’t keep your eyes off the Operations hottie. Ask yourself if you’re attracted to him because he could be your soulmate or because you can’t have him. Forbidden fruit always seems sweeter, but decide if you’re looking for passion or a promotion. In certain office environments, you might not be able to have both.
What to do: Tread carefully. Give yourself time to figure out your intentions and understand the risks of your decision. Then, if things go very wrong, at least you’ve made peace with yourself.
Sleeping With The Competition
You’re both passionate about the same topic or industry, and you don’t have to see each other at the office every day. What could be wrong? It’s certainly better than dating a co-worker, but your boss may see it as a betrayal.
What to do: Never, ever discuss your work or take work documents home with you. It may sound totally overrated, but you can never be too careful. (Case in point: Huma Abedin. You don’t know if your SO will turn into a total Anthony Weiner.) Also, staying late in the office to finish work will definitely earn you points with your boss.
Going Into Business Together
Starting a business with your Significant Other is both a good and bad thing. Good because you can openly discuss anything to do with the office, and work together to make it a success; bad because you’re lethally mixing the personal and professional.
What to do: Unless you want to spend 24/7 together, don’t do it. And even then, give yourself some time off from each other. Too much of one person isn’t ideal, even if he’s your bae.
*All names have been changed to protect privacy.
This article was originally published as ‘How To Survive An Office Romance’ in the July 2017 issue of Cosmopolitan Sri Lanka. For more career advice, grab a copy of our latest magazine.
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