Wednesday March 30, 2011
In defense of office romance
So, you're in a relationship with a co-worker? Congratulations, you've managed to find love without the torments of speed dating, blind dating or Internet matchmaking. Yes, you have to be careful and yes, you're risking your reputation and maybe even your livelihood if something goes terribly wrong. But for many of us, the pluses by far outweigh the minuses. I met my husband at work in the early 1990s, in a mid-sized office where at least four other women in their 20s and 30s also met their future spouses, and I highly recommend the experience.
Among the pluses:
You get to know someone as a friend and co-worker before dating them: Is she good in a crisis? Is he loyal to his team? You get the back story: How, say, your seemingly happy-go-lucky co-worker volunteers at a homeless shelter or mentors the office intern.
You get a relatively high level of seriousness and sincerity: Who wants to risk their work friendships or their boss's good opinion for a casual fling?
"In the office, you're generally not looking for love, so whatever happens is organic," says Stephanie Loseeco-author of Office Mate: The Employee Handbook for Finding – and Managing – Romance on the Job. Her book is filled with stories of unlikely or clueless couples (the intellectual and the frat boy, the pushy salesman and the appalled supervisor) that slowly but surely came together in the workplace.
"You have (the opportunity for) this sort of old-fashioned courting," Losee says. "That's why it results in so many marriages."
Also helpful, Losee says, is the built-in matchmaker. Human resources (or the small business equivalent) vetted both of you two lovebirds for similar or compatible talents and personality traits. That's probably a more reliable gauge of compatibility than, say, a meaningful glance across a crowded bar.
According to surveys quoted in "Office Mate," about 50 percent of us have dated in the office, and about one-third of those who have dated in the office have ended up marrying their co-worker. Among the famous couples that met on the job: President Obama and his wife, Michelle, who was his adviser when he was a summer associate at a Chicago law firm.
Still, there are definite dos and don'ts for office dating says Losee, who, like her co-author, Helaine Olen, met her husband at work. Among them:
Take it outside: Office romance refers to how you met, not how you behave at work. No lovey-dovey work emails or texts. No flirting on company time. It's great that you found someone, says Losee, but it's your job to make everyone else comfortable with the situation.
Avoid office hook-ups: Losee characterize these as "stupid," although she acknowledges that 20-somethings in some workplaces may get a little more leeway from their colleagues than 30-somethings in others.
No serial dating: Reasonable people will root for you if you have one serious office romance that fails, or maybe even two. At some point, though, you're pressing your luck.
The reality is that your long-term office relationships – even when conducted in (attempted) secrecy – tend to draw the scrutiny of your co-workers and reflect on your judgment.
"You're forced to be a grownup on the highest level – and I don't think that's a bad thing," Losee says. "You have to conduct yourself with real integrity."
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