So, you’ve made the somewhat risky decision to ignore the experts and their well-researched and impeccable hair styles and — gasp — date someone you work with?
I’m sure you’ve been asked some or all of the following questions: “Have you gone mad?” and “Seriously, have you gone mad?”
“What’s the big deal?” you may be wondering. Well, don’t worry, this can be done if you are prepared.
Here are some of the inevitable problems that come along with dating someone you work with and how to avoid the pitfalls.
1. Take it slow
Many people have experienced love at first sight at work and thrown caution — plus office supplies and photocopying etiquette sheets — to the wind, only to see their fledgling relationship crash and burn similar to an out-of-control race car, only with slightly fewer skid marks and fiery explosions. Even though your blood is pumping (an important, often-overlooked, first step) and your heart is racing and you are constantly in either a hot or cool sweat, you must take a deep breath (or two), a cold shower and, if necessary, some medication for your heart. Remember in the early days of a fledgling office romance, take your time and enjoy the bliss before the inevitable whispers and gossip and being asked “Have you done it yet?” 45 times a day begins. But don’t take it so slow or else it may peter out before it gets going unless the two of you are huge moving-in-slow-motion-like-some-movie-montages fans.
2. Keep it secret!
It will be so tempting to climb the nearest hill and yodel about your undying love for all to hear (don’t want those yodeling lessons to go to waste, do you?). You can’t be blamed for your excitement, as you are only human, but it can’t be repeated often enough how important it is to pretend this new relationship is a baby bird just learning to fly. Yes, we mean that literally! So, don’t send out a mass email to the staff announcing your undying love for each other using 72 pink font. Instead, take baby steps. No, not actual baby steps, as that will draw more attention your way and have people wondering aloud about your gross motor functioning. You will need to get through the day enjoying the occasional moderately-suggestive sideways glance, the random cryptic Post It note, and the obscure and vague public compliments such as “the formatting of your recent report was hot…I mean adequate.” Don’t hold hands, don’t eat lunch together, and absolutely no googly eyes! And if anyone asks if you two are “a thing,” deny, deny, deny, and if that doesn’t work, be prepared to offer bribes and boxes of discounted chocolate as well as a hypnosis session on the house. It might also be necessary to rent a smoke machine.
3. Check with HR
After a few weeks or so, this is no longer a spring fling or a romp in the hay (the majority of couples, after several romps, upgrade to actual bedding for better lumbar support). If you have gotten this far, congratulations are in order, as is a date with human resources. Weeee!!! This is important, because for all you know, your workplace might frown over two colleagues dating (note for the uninitiated: workplaces themselves don’t typically possess the ability to make facial expressions). So ask. I suggest marching in there together — don’t hold hands, speak in unison, or pretend that one of you is an exchange student from Sweden or Finland. Iceland is fine. It is also advisable to remember that you hold no trump cards in this, so don’t make “I bet they won’t call our bluff” demands such as “let us openly flaunt our passion for each other or we quit” or “we’d like to reserve the break room each Thursday at 12:15 for precisely 21 minutes, or 23 if we are lucky.” Instead, brooch the topic with civility, use good posture, and make sure you compliment them on the whiteness of their teeth. While there is a chance the HR representatives will either slap you on the back (or the front, depending on which way you were facing at the time), what is more likely is that they definitively say “absolutely no dating.” But if you are truly in love, you will either have to decide who quits, pretend that you misheard them and thought they said “aggressively pro mating,” or you will need to purchase a large variety of wigs.
4. Arriving together in the morning
So, you’ve made it through the first few weeks and, from all accounts, you’ve have a green light to plow ahead full steam (in some cultures, the exchanging of small green lights marks the beginning of a love for the ages that is, oddly, often cast in a fluorescent green tint). As things progress, one thing will invariably lead to another, and you may start spending the night together. Don’t panic — this is highly normal and, depending on how conservative your upbringing, encouraged. Even if you have done a bang up job of keeping your romance hidden, easily one of the first noticeable signs that something is up is when two people start arriving together in the morning. Now, this may not sound like a problem to you, as you are leaving the same apartment, going to the same workplace, and driving in the same vehicle, so what are you supposed to do, have one of you get out in an abandoned alley five blocks away and arrive, out of breath, reeking of wet dog through a different door 10 minutes later? No, but you do need to take some basic steps. You can show up together in the morning as long as you (a) each ensure you are wearing different clothes then you had on the day and, it must be emphasized, this doesn’t mean you can wear each other’s clothes from the day before, because as cute as that is, it is still unacceptable until you are in your 80s, (b) keep the smoldering heat between the two of you that is akin to two live wires on a low simmer as most people will have just eaten and strongly dislike mixed metaphors so early in the morning, (c) are carrying around a variety of eye-pleasing-yet-annoyingly-accurate pamphlets on how carpooling is good for the environment.
5. Give each other space
Those couples that have somehow leapt over the hurdles, avoided the pitfalls expertly covered with banana leaves, and avoided imprisonment for tax fraud probably believe they are in the clear and are now ready to literally spend every moment of every day together. We’ve all been there and understand how tempting it is to gaze, unblinking, into each other’s eyes 24/7. Well, despite how romantic it sounds to either hop around the office in a potato sack or to wrap each other together using duct tape, this just isn’t practical, nor is it a good use of valuable company duct tape. Just because you are dating doesn’t mean you need to literally spend every second of every day in close proximity. So let her have her lunch group while you hang out with the guys and discuss the upsides and downsides of solely hanging out in stereotypically antiquated gender groupings. If she has been asked out for drinks after work and invites you to come with, instead of tagging along because you err on the side of insane jealousy, you should go home and stress eat as giving each other space will help in the long run (though running will become labored what with the stress eating).
6. Dealing with the attention
As hard as you try to be invisible (those striped shirts with matching striped pants aren’t helping) or keep the relationship on a need-to-know basis, everyone will eventually be in the loop except for Brian in the mail room for reasons that make sense after you spend three brain-sucking-blissfully-unaware-of-loops minutes with Brian. Once everyone knows, you will be the talk of the town, the subject of whispers, and the object of hilarious “caption this” photos placed on the bulletin board. To deal with the attention, take each other’s hands, put on inspirational instrumental piano music, close your eyes to escape the world, and watch the jokes, raised eyebrows, and sexy winks melt away like the best friend of your youth, Mr. Snowball. Next, pretend your coworkers are a display of color swatches at the paint store or young deer who only want to be fed lettuce or whatever it is deer eat. If the attention is still too much, then resort to ad hominem attacks and threats of reprisals.
7. Get your stories straight
Don’t worry, your 10 minutes of fame are almost over, but while you are still the “it” couple in the spotlight, you must be ready at any moment to be stopped and interrogated by your work colleagues who will think you are venturing down a path so wrought with potential dangers that they started calling you “Dorothy from Kansas” (note: if your name is Dorothy and you are from Kansas, the fact they are using air quotes when saying your name and place will bother and confuse you to no end). If you answer the questions differently, other people’s eyebrows will be raised to heights previously believed impossible, leading to headaches, permanently furrowed brows, and other eyebrow-related injuries. Rehearse the answers to the following questions: (1) how you went from colleagues who barely exchanged the time of day to partners who love (and seem to be aroused by) the exchanging of the time, (2) how you always smell like a combination of freshly cut flowers, homemade Italian food, and hormones, and (3) how love for two kids like yourselves is even possible in this messed up world in which we live. Bonus marks if you can answer any solely using mime. It is very important your stories align and one of you doesn’t say “they threw themselves at me, repeatedly, often wearing no clothes” while the other says “it was purely pity”.
8. Discretion is key
This is really important. as no one at work wants to hear all of the finer details of your recent love-making escapades except for that one guy who claims he is just looking for source material for a musical he is writing. What happens at home (no matter how cool and in direct opposition to what the high school yearbook committee predicted for you) must stay at home. In case this isn’t clear and you are brimming with unbridled (or even partially bridled) excitement, this rule of discretion includes: sexting, inappropriate emails full of memes and gifs you wouldn’t show your grandmother (ignore if your grandmother is a huge fan of sexual explicit material), no sexual gestures during staff meetings, no making out in the pouring rain on a break and, finally, no loud panting or howling at the overhead lights when each other walk by. Remember, many of your colleagues will have either just eaten, will be contemplating eating, or just not be in the mood for live soft porn under fluorescent lighting in the workplace unless the script is top notch. If you are at work and find yourself in such a considerable state of arousal that you are unable to concentrate on even the most basic of tasks, you must both call in sick using the most believable excuses you can come up with on short notice such as: spontaneous extreme vitamin D deficiency, early-onset cannibalistic tendencies, and unstoppable consumption of liquid glue and/or photocopy toner and/or company stationary.
9. Exit Strategy
Sometimes, despite the two of you crossing all of your “t”s while also refusing to dot any other letters no matter how confusing your sentences read as a result (but you don’t care about things like sentence comprehension as you are in love), things just don’t work out. Before you beat yourself up, remember not every relationship lasts, even when you seemed so compatible early on. Now you can beat yourself up, you unlovable loser. And, yes, because you insisted on having a workplace relationship, everyone will be aware that you failed in the most publicly embarrassing way conceivable. You will feel like hiding your head in the sand, though your boss will throw a fit that you brought in such a large quantity of sand without getting permission. All joking aside, ideally you will both handle the end of whatever it is that you had like the mature adults you are attempting to be and not like the babies you actually are. Finally, if neither of you want to quit and it is just too painful to even briefly see each other, the last resort is the old “paper bag on the head when not alone in my cubicle” or a new stylish hairdo that covers anywhere from most to all of your face.