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Getting Involved in an Office Romance

By Julie Fishman

In the clusterf*&k that is the working world, young professionals often have little time outside the office to find their own Harry or Sally. And since cubicle walls are flimsy and easily pierced by Cupid’s arrows, it's not unlikely that you'll catch some feelings for a coworker or two. In many ways, the office is the new bar—and let's be honest: boredom can be as powerful an aphrodisiac as alcohol.

Though most HR managers and employment lawyers still warn that workplace love is a lose-lose situation, statistics show that half of all working people have succumbed to temptation. An otherwise drab office can be totally transformed by the rosy-hued goggles of infatuation. In a best-case scenario you could end up happier than a kid with candy; in the worst-case you could damage your professional reputation, lose your job, or even get hit with a nasty sexual harassment claim. So, before diving into the pool of love, take a moment to examine the situation. Though quickies in the copy room would be a nice bonus, getting fired ain't where the party's at.

If you’re on the same level as your lover, you’ll be competing for promotions, raises, and the boss’s approval, which can turn relationship sparks into a five-alarm fire. If you’re dating a superior or subordinate, there may be rumors of preferential treatment. And while it’s nice to you have a close confidante in the office, working together also doubles up on the bitching, offering no respite from morning till night. (The last thing you want to see after work is something that reminds you of work, even if it has boobs.) Another consideration for office politicians: the more time you spend with your darling in the office, the more you alienate yourself from other coworkers—it’s like anti-networking. If your love goes sour, you may have to work overtime to build back those cubicle cronies.

Ultimately, the odds that “this one” will be “the one” are lower than Sanjaya winning a Tony. The beauty of the normal breakup is that you never have to see the person again. But if an office breakup gets nasty, your ex may seek revenge by spreading rumors, pushing annoying projects onto your plate, or by claiming you were making unwanted sexual advances and filing for harassment at the workplace.

If you do end up in office love, there are at least some rules that you should try to follow. Don’t bang the boss; people will think the relationship, not your hard work, is what’s fueling your success. That goes for underlings as well, as accusations of favoritism are sure to arise when you’re seeing a subordinate. Plus, how will you deal with reviews and disciplining your darling? Most companies discourage relationships but don’t have written policies prohibiting them, but check the employee handbook just in case. Some companies do in fact forbid cross-cubicle coitus or require you to report the relationship. Decide very early on whether the love will be a secret and whether you’ll talk about personal stuff at work or work stuff on personal time. Refrain from any kissing, handholding, caressing, or flirting at the office.

Finally, it's worth noting that a lot of jobs involve frequent boozy meals with clients, and while you're expected to "make them happy," there should be limits to your kindness. If you ruin a deal with a one-night stand, you will be a marked man or woman. If your boss is the one encouraging you to flirt (or do more), you probably don't want to be working there in the first place.

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