Question: I’ve been working at a job for over six months now and flirting with one of my co-workers the whole time. He’s single and so am I, and recently, at an office happy hour we finally made out. I really like him, and I know the feeling is mutual. How can we date and make sure it doesn’t affect our work or our working relationship?
Answer: You can’t make sure of anything, but you can rest assured that if this doesn’t work out, it could mean a new job for one of you. You should seriously understand (and accept) this if you’re going to proceed with, or without, caution. The good thing is, you’ve been getting to know each other for the past six months, so it’s not like you’re jumping into something brand new, but six months can be, depending on your age and your biological clock, long enough, or not so long.
According to a 2011 survey on office romance conducted by Vault, you aren’t along in your office love. In fact, 59% of worker bee’s have been involved in an office romance and 63% would do it again. So what can you do to keep your office life and your love life separate?
Keep them separate. For starters, don’t engage in PDA’s in front of the copy machine, printer or water cooler. Avoid using company email to make dates or to discuss how and when you’re going to peg him. Conversation with your office boyfriend should remain casual at work, unless you report to him, or he reports to you, and if that’s the case, stop the romance now. Power dynamics can make things messy, especially when one of you is the boss of the other one.
When it comes to sexual relations, don’t do it during office hours. Best not to do it in the office, but if that’s your thing, come back at a time when nobody is around - like 1am or on a weekend. Even try to limit your contact at the office. Jealousy can be a bitch, and if you start to deconstruct his every move (or he yours) then you will go mad over time. Try to keep your contact to out-of-office activities as much as possible and enjoy the bonus of lunch dates (once a week) since you do work together. You might also want to avoid too much work talk, keeping the gossip about Luke’s bad breathe, or Marsha’s crush on Jan, to a minimum. It’s fine to have this connection and talk about everything, but make sure office talk doesn’t saturate your relationship.
The thing is, if you’re going to have this office romance, have fun, but without being too morbid, think about how you will handle it if, and when, it’s over. I’ve had at least three office romances (yep, I’m right there with you) and all of them ended quite differently. In the first one, I watched him start to flirt with another co-worker and decided this could get messy, so I ended it then. The next was casual and fun at first, and then when feelings got highly aroused we both agreed it wasn’t the right time. And the third, well, he wouldn’t look at me after it was over, and he got some people to think I was the devil. In that last one, work did get awkward, but we worked in the kind of place (a radio station) where we could talk it out, literally and on-air. At times it felt like there were two teams, but the truth is, we didn’t work on the same projects, so it didn’t matter to me. I had my life and he had his, but still, I won’t lie and say it wasn’t weird.
So be safe and plot the out. Are you wiling to leave your job if things go sour? Is he? I’m asking, because even at the beginning of an office romance, you need to see the end.
For more on office romance, read Colleagues with Benefits and NJ.com’s best practices for conduting an office romance.