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Office Romance

Natalia J. Garland

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What do people have against office romance? Is it wrong to fall in love? There is nothing wrong with wanting to love and be loved. Romantic relationships, however, can consume your time and energy. If you are hoping to find your life partner in your workplace, here are some complications you can probably expect.

If you start dating a colleague, you will need to decide if you are going to do this openly or if you are going to try to keep it private. If you let it be known that you are involved with a colleague, people will have different reactions. Some people will be for you and wish you happiness. Some will be jealous and will regard your involvement professionally inappropriate. If you try to keep your involvement private, this is almost the same as trying to keep a secret from people with whom you have daily contact. Secret-keeping is usually not a healthy behavior. People will eventually find out, and they could resent you for not having trusted them.

What if you break up with your romance partner? How will you feel about continuing to work every day with someone who is now your ex? How will your ex react? Depending on the personality of your ex, breaking up could leave you open to harassment. What if your partner breaks up with you? Will you become emotionally upset every time your ex walks by you? What if your ex starts dating someone else in the office? Could you cope with this, especially if you still carry tender feelings?

How will you feel when your colleagues discover that your romantic involvement was a mistake? Social workers are only human, but it could be professionally embarrassing to fail in the realm of relationships. Some of your colleagues could get a good laugh at your expense. Some might take sides and will either feel sorry for you or blame you.

What if you get involved in something that is beyond your ability to manage? Or something that turns out to be emotionally or physically damaging to you? To whom will you turn for help? You might have difficulty proving that you were not a voluntary participant. Your colleagues might view you as a consenting adult who had full knowledge of the relationship dynamics. If your partner turns out to be a manipulator, you are likely the one who will look bad. You could even end up having to quit your job in order to regain balance in your life.

If you are a supervisor, many workplaces would consider it unethical for you to become romantically involved with a subordinate. Supervisors can save themselves and everyone a lot of heartache by not dating subordinates. If you are an employee and your supervisor asks you out, be careful. This is a delicate matter. Perhaps the best thing to do is to find a tactful way to say no at the very beginning. If you do start dating your supervisor, depending on how the relationship evolves, you could be subjected to extremes of favoritism or harassment. Supervisors are in positions of power and this could work for you or against you.

Let's look at some of the practical considerations of office romance. Are you doing your job? Or is your romantic interest interfering with your ability to complete your work? Do you behave professionally? Do you clog up the office telephone lines with private conversations? Do you have quarrels with your partner? Do you triangulate others into your relationship? Do you take extended lunch hours? Do you expect others to cover for you?

It is advisable to know whether your workplace has any policy regarding office romance. There seems to be less restriction against this nowadays. People are going to interact with one another and it is not necessarily an employer's right to police employees' personal relationships. Some employers are using love contracts to try to manage any workplace irregularities that might result from office romance and to protect themselves from sexual harassment lawsuits. Workplaces need to have, at least, a policy on sexual harassment. It would also be helpful to have a policy regarding the maintenance of professional standards when employees are romantically involved with others in the same agency.

If you are a supervisor and your workplace has no such policy, it might be wise to confront romances on an individual basis. In other words, do not pretend that you do not see what is going on. You can talk, casually and in a spirit of goodwill, to the employees involved. This should help reduce any workplace tension. And, in cases where there is potential for inappropriate behavior, it lets the two employees know that they are not invisible.

Since we spend so much of our lives on the job, it is entirely possible that true love awaits in the office. There are also many other places where two people can find each other. If your choices for a mate exist only in the workplace, then maybe you need to expand your social life in other ways. The office will always be there while you could be missing other opportunities. By looking elsewhere you have a better chance of keeping your private life private, and sharing with your colleagues only what you want them to know about you.

Love does not discriminate. Love can transcend barriers of race, culture, age, and sometimes the office walls. Only you can decide whether or not you can manage the external variables. (Written 10/18/04: bibliography available.)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2004 Natalia J. Garland