Crossing Borders – Tales of Office Dating

AUGUST 26, 2012
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Photo: Alice Plati

My grandmother, a young nurse, met my grandfather fresh out of medical school in New Orleans working in the hospital.  While working as a teller in Atlanta, my mother met my father, a young loan officer, at the same bank.  My brother just recently married his wife whom he met while they both worked for a consulting firm in DC.  My sister, a nurse, was asked out by her boyfriend, still in his residency, with a comatose patient between them.  I guess you could say it is tradition in my family to find love in the work place.

It has been proven that sheer proximity to someone can make him or her more attractive.  The mere-exposure effect states that we develop a preference for things solely because they are repeated and they become familiar.  Think about it in terms of advertising.  The more you see a commercial for a product the more likely you are to buy it.  Why would this be any different in relationship?

With the increasing amount of time our generation spends at work it is only natural that it becomes a social outlet.  There is no way to avoid personalities coming out and you developing feelings (either negative or positive) towards your coworkers.  You know the ones that will make you laugh and those that are always awkward.  I have found mentors at work, babysat for supervisors’ kids, and become life long friends with coworkers.  Why not find romance at the office too?

People tend to have strong feelings about dating in the office and more than likely you have dated someone in your work place or know someone who has.  Based on the successful relationships in my family and considering I have done it, twice, I do not have a problem with dating in the workplace.  I do, however, have strong feelings about how one should go about it.

The No No’s

These are some ground rules you should remember if you do decide to interoffice date.  If you company has any advertised policy against dating, than obviously you should not become involved with a fellow coworker.  Additionally, you should NEVER date your supervisor.  Leave emotions and arguments at home.  Avoid discussing the ins and outs of your relationship with your coworker friends.

Make Sure There is Physical Space

Steer clear of dating if you work in a small office environment or if you work directly with someone you are interested in.  As much as you love the way they click their pen now when they are thinking hard, it is not going to be so cute when you break up and they are still doing it.  Date outside of your immediate department.  Multiple floors and lots of space make it easy to not see someone everyday if you break up, or conversely allows for you to have some space to continue to be professional.

Take It Out of the Office

Avoid being the talk of the office by limiting the amount of time you spend together while at work.  If you become involved in a relationship, treat it like any other relationship and do things together outside of the office.  It is inevitable that convenience will make it tempting to see each other all the time, but steer clear of stopping by each other cubicles; instead leave the office and have lunch together or grab a coffee.  Often I would meet my boyfriend after work for dinner.  We were extra careful to leave at different times (and not pick restaurants close to work), so that it was not so obvious to other coworkers that we were dating..  However, it is not to say that you will not run into people from the office outside of work.  I had a situation where I ran into a paralegal while with the attorney I was dating.  Luckily, we were in a group and could play it off as having mutual friends, however I would advise you to be a more prepared in case that happens.

Set boundaries. 

Setting boundaries from the beginning is very important to make the relationship successful.  It puts you both on the same page so no ones feelings get hurt.  My sister and her boyfriend now work in different hospitals, but while at the same hospital she was “Veronica Skittles” in his phone and he “Red Fox” in hers to cover who they were just in case someone glances over when a text comes through.  They also monitored what Facebook photos of them together were posted.  They left out photos of them on vacation, but instead would put group shots of them with other coworkers at happy hour.

Vocalize feelings. 

One of the largest barriers when starting a relationship at work is the fact that it has to be discreet.  Typically when things are secretive they feel wrong or shameful.  One way to combat this is to make your relationship very public with friends and family.  Be sure to vocalize how you feel about each other and show affection (just outside of the office).

Depending on the poll, roughly 22% (Fortune Magazine) to 34% (CareerBuilder) office romances actually lead to marriage.  Considering all the pressures presented before the relationship gets off the ground, I find this a positive statistic.  Remember to remain professional while at work and be discreet about the relationship when it starts.  If it does become serious, take the appropriate measures to inform your chain of command before sharing with everyone else.

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