If an office relationship happens, and no one objects, is it still bad?
January 30, 2009 6:45 AM   Subscribe

Are Office relationships still a bad idea if everyone else in the office endorses/encourages them?

1) I like this girl at my work
2) Another Female Co Worker independently suggested I should go out with this girl.
3) My boss and another manager think I should go out with this girl and even gave me tips on how to ask her out.
4) There are a number of Intra-office relationships that occur in my company, they apparantly have not caused problems or hurt people's upward mobility.

Given that situation are Intra-Office relationships (pursued with appropriate respect, caution and tact) still a really bad Idea?

-----LONG STORY------

I somewhat recently started at a job I really like, and want to keep long term, at a small/mid sized company (less than 100 employees). For a few months I have had a crush on a girl (I am a guy) in the same department. She is also a relativity new hire and the same age as me (in the 20's). Based on research I decided office place relationships were a bad idea and, up to this point, have decided to do nothing to pursue a relationship with her.

Some time after consciously making that decision another female co-worker, who I am friends with, surprised me with the unsolicited observation that she thinks "The Object Of My Crush" (hereafter TOOMC) likes me and suggested that I should ask TOOMC out on a date. I was surprised because I had not admitted to anyone that I had feelings for TOOMC. I said dating was a bad idea citing the dangers of office place relationships. Even so, my co-worker friend said I should do it. This co-worker and TOOMC are friendly if not friends.

Then, a few weeks later, while having a social dinner with my boss (also TOOMC's boss) and another manager (both guys), we get talking about the state of intra-office relationships in our company. Apparently they are somewhat prevalent and even a former employee in my department (who has since been promoted to another department) had/has one.

THEN, the other manager asks me point blank if I "had a thing for" TOOMC. I was shocked and a bit embarrassed that I was so easy to read and sheepishly replied yes. My boss chimed in that I should totally ask TOOMC out, the other manager agreed and my boss even suggested tips and observations to help to that end. I was amazing and brought up the objections to intra-office dating and asked if they were worried about negative effects to the department and the response was effectively "Well don't be an idiot about it and stay respectful".

I should note that while this conversation happened between 3 guys we are not sales people or construction workers (no offense) and I am pretty sure this was not simply "guy talk" or bravado. In-fact I quickly asked my boss afterward if he was serious and he said in effect "why not? go for it!"

Finally, obviously no office place relationship would occur unless TOOMC was OK with it too. So who is left to object? Clearly care must be taken not to let the relationship end in explosion, but honestly TOOMC seems to be a very mellow and even-keeled lady, and I am not the type to be an ass-hole and screw her over.

***Also***, even if I continue not pursuing a relationship: How do I deal with the fact that my emotions are apparantly an open book and probably everyone in the office knows I like her?!?!?

posted by anonymous to Human Relations (40 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I was the girl in this situation -- same thing, small company, everyone in the office is waiting for it to happen. We did finally end up going out, and it was one of the best relationships I've ever had. But, we actually kept it a secret (only our close mutual friend at the office new), and he was already scheduled to move cross-country to a new job, so it was just for a few months. We knew it was a temporary thing and wasn't worth making it a big deal to everyone.

A few potentially useful points:

-- The first day after the official "Okay we're going out now" was supremely awkward. Like, I-can't-look-at-you-without-giggling awkward. Be prepared.

-- Keeping it quiet (even though everyone is expecting you to hookup) means it's easier to be more professional. For example, other coworkers still mentioned to me when they had a problem with what my SO was doing, and presumably they told him when they had issues with me. Since I was in a sort-of-project-management role, it was important that I kept hearing this about someone I was supposed to be coordinating.

-- Both of us were pretty much open books - had either of us been asked directly if we were dating, there's no way we could have covered it up - so we made it a game to see how long we could go without letting anyone know. We did pretty well. People actually didn't believe me when I finally admitted after the fact that we had been together. You'll be surprised how easy it is.

-- The two of us worked extremely well together. We had similar work ethics, similar standards, and knew we got along well. That made it easy to revert back into "professional" mode from 9-5.

-- When he left my company, he went to a company that we were partners with. I happened to be the project manager for the project with that partner. That made for some awkward interactions, particularly after we decided we didn't want to do "the long distance thing", and when there was potential for him to come back to my office to do some contract work. This is the "when the relationship ends" awkwardness. Be sure you know what your professional relationship is like so you know how it feels and it's easy to fall into it when you need to, and be prepared to suck it up if/when she's returning your work-related phone calls and emails but not your personal ones.

-- If you do have a mutual close friend you want to tell, don't gang up on him/her at lunch, explain everything, and then demand they not tell a soul. Makes things awkward and makes them pissed at you. (Not that we, you know, did this or anything)

Good luck!
posted by olinerd at 6:58 AM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Life's too short. If you like her, ask her out.
posted by Jakey at 6:58 AM on January 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

Why do you think your colleagues/superiors are pushing this on you? Do you honestly think they care about your happiness (or the happiness of TOOYC)? I'd venture to say that they are just hoping for some office drama, and something else to talk about around the water cooler.

The tough thing is, I've been in your position, and it's very, VERY difficult to take rational advice when emotions are involved, especially a romantic crush.

Think about this: what if your ex-girlfriend was suddenly hired at your office and you had the same boss. Would you be nervous? Uncomfortable? Think about that before pursuing this any further.

Think you do this on "the down low" and keep it all a secret? Think again. The urge to confide is a powerful one, especially with women. So assume that every little aspect of your relationship - especially the most shameful/embarrassing ones - will be known by your co-workers.

Think everyone will like you more if you start dating this colleague? Maybe it will feel that way - but in the end all they care about is the gossip. Maybe is will feel like they respect you - but they'll be taking credit for the relationship, and WHEN it ends badly, it will make you appear weak.

So my advice is: don't do this.

Stay friends with TOOYC, and keep up a very mild flirtatious banter with her, so that when one of you leaves the office, you can make your move. In the meantime, go on dates with other people and VERY SUBTLY let it be known that you have a romantic life outside the office. As a general rule, don't talk to colleagues about your personal life.
posted by BobbyVan at 7:02 AM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

As long as you aren't supervising her work or indirectly managing her, I think it sounds like a great idea to ask her out. It sounds like your coworkers- who surely know both parties better than we random internet strangers do- also think this may work out.

Be prepared, though, that if it doesn't work out, your work environment will be uncomfortable, at least for a little while. If you are in close proximity to this person all day long, it may be easier (if you two have a problem later) for one or the other of you to change to another part of the company.

As long as you're prepared to be an adult about the whole thing, I'd say go for it.
posted by jenkinsEar at 7:02 AM on January 30, 2009

You're in the worst possible situation for this to either happen or not.

while having a social dinner with my boss (also TOOMC's boss) and another manager (both guys), we get talking about the state of intra-office relationships

1. This is the last thing you should have done.
2. Who is your boss that he is encouraging this type of gossip?

the other manager asks me point blank if I "had a thing for" TOOMC. I was shocked and a bit embarrassed that I was so easy to read and sheepishly replied yes

Dude. Stand up for yourself. If someone asks you this again, look them straight in the eye and say, "It's none of your fucking business."

obviously no office place relationship would occur unless TOOMC was OK with it too

Or maybe she's just as sheepish and easily bullied as you are and would go along with anything...

Look. You've stepped in it big time and really poisoned any chance of making this work.

Stop being such a blubbering idiot. These people don't need to know about your emotional life and they certainly don't need to be machinating to bring you and this poor girl together. It's borderline harassment.

If you do get together with this chick you both have to keep it 100% secret, otherwise it's going to blow up in your face when the relationship heads south. Word to the wise: it the guy who takes the fall in these types of settings, no matter the facts.
posted by wfrgms at 7:03 AM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yes, what happens when the relationship fails?

Provided everyone in this situation is older than 12, I would imagine both would continue to go to work and do their jobs.
posted by The Gooch at 7:05 AM on January 30, 2009 [7 favorites]

In a perfect world, office dating and breakups don't matter and people can still work together after breaking up.

We do not live in a perfect world.

There's a saying I learned at my first office job: "Don't get your meat and your taters at the same store." And another: "Don't shit where you eat."
posted by notsnot at 7:11 AM on January 30, 2009

Also, regarding talking about your personal life with colleagues:

There exist companies where this is totally kosher. My last company, only about 65 people, was extremely social. We'd all been to each other's houses. We've all seen each other embarrassingly drunk. We know everyone's SOs, their kids, medical issues, and drama, from the technician level up to senior management. And the fact that someone recognizes that one employee has a thing for another, and calls them on it, is pretty normal.

So if it's a company where this sort of thing is common and appropriate, I don't see a problem with these conversations happening (as other people here seem to). If, however, this is not a company where this is the norm, then definitely step lightly.
posted by olinerd at 7:12 AM on January 30, 2009

Provided everyone in this situation is older than 12, I would imagine both would continue to go to work and do their jobs...

...miserably and tormented. The company won't collapse, you just won't be very happy.
posted by specialfriend at 7:14 AM on January 30, 2009

One day she could end up being both your ex and your boss. Or one day she could be your ex and you could find that a future boss is dating her, possibly like in that dream scene from Office Space, making sweet sweet love to her while drinking a cup of coffee and asking you about TPS reports. But theoretically that's at least a remote possibility with anyone you date.
posted by XMLicious at 7:15 AM on January 30, 2009

I was in an office relationship that we kept secret for a year, just because it made things easier. That was 5 years ago, and we're getting married this fall.

Ask her out. Be an adult about it. Don't discuss the relationship with other people at work, weather they know or not, and be professional. If it doesn't work out, continue to be professional. If you're both capable of that, there shouldn't be a problem.
posted by thejanna at 7:16 AM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

But you know, the future boss might be a girl too, and that would be kinda hot. If you had to dream about something like that, I mean. So maybe it's worth the risk.
posted by XMLicious at 7:19 AM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Well sure, it's a bad idea, but it doesn't stop most people, and usually doesn't end terribly, if both people are mature about the break up. What if it turns out great for you? If you both actually like each other than no amount of "this is a bad idea" will get in the way of you two getting together. I would ask her out. Or just start hanging out with her more until something happens. Just don't make it obvious at work if you two start hanging out, and don't update your boss or anyone about it.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 7:19 AM on January 30, 2009

Life's too short. If you like her, ask her out.
posted by Jakey at 6:58 AM on January 30

This needs to be a pithy acronym.

Make JFKH. k= kiss. You get the point.

Don't listen to wfrgms and his grumpy ilk. Life really is way too short to worry about what might happen--act extra mature and considerate and don't be vindictive if she ends up not being into you.

When you're old, or just older, you weigh your regrets, and regretting what silly stuff you did never comes close to the burden of silly stuff you didn't do. CF HIMYM Episode 3.11, The Platinum Rule.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:31 AM on January 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

Are you planning on working there forever? If no, then ask her out.

Is there any possibility that one of you might possibly be promoted and need to supervise each other's work? If yes, then cool your jets.

You may fancy each other, but unless your attraction is so strong that you'd consider it for longer than a fling, then I'd hold off. Sex is sex, but a job can turn into a career.
posted by Grrlscout at 7:37 AM on January 30, 2009

I think you should go for it, and keep it on the down low. You don't want to be fodder for office gossip. If people keep pestering you then you will have to put your foot down at some point and tell them to mind their own business.

As far as it being a risk, I don't really see any here. You are both adults, your company obviously seems fine with it. The only risk I can see is in not seeing where this can go and then wondering five years from now "What if.....".
posted by WickedPissah at 7:41 AM on January 30, 2009

Why do you think your colleagues/superiors are pushing this on you? Do you honestly think they care about your happiness (or the happiness of TOOYC)? I'd venture to say that they are just hoping for some office drama, and something else to talk about around the water cooler.

That sounds like paranoid crazy talk. I agree you should ask her to a drink or something and see how it goes. Be prepared to be an adult if anything goes wrong (no pithy gossip, no vindictive behavior), and to have a thick skin if you hear professional criticism about her if you end up dating. Also, if anything happens, make sure the two of you agree to never kiss and tell at the office/with coworkers.
posted by piratebowling at 7:44 AM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

If it's a really social company and you don't have job contact with her (which sometimes you don't, despite being in the same department), that's one thing. I worked with my husband for a couple of years, and he was a peer of my boss'. But we didn't work together--he wasn't even on the same floor--and we also weren't the only married couple on staff.

If you two work closely together, or one of you might end up as the other's boss/team lead, don't get your honey where you get your honey. And if you choose not to ask her out, go looking for other girls, because otherwise the temptation will always be there.
posted by immlass at 7:48 AM on January 30, 2009

Also, I should add, even though the office where I worked with my husband was friendly/jokey, I had some awkward moments about the working with my husband thing. One year for my birthday, I got a card from my department (6 other women and 1 man + female boss) that featured a nude statue with my husband's head pasted over the statue's head.

We laughed it off, but I was uncomfortably aware it was probably technically sexual harassment of one or the other of us under company rules.
posted by immlass at 7:53 AM on January 30, 2009

How do I deal with the fact that my emotions are apparantly an open book and probably everyone in the office knows I like her?!?!?

You'll have to deal with some good-natured ribbing and suggestions from others for awhile. After awhile, something will happen to someone else and they will become the subject of office gossip. You really just need to hang in there and wait for your 15 minutes of gossip fame to be up. If there's one or two people who are being assholes and continuing to bring it up months later, just get used to saying in a weary tone, "What, people are still talking about that? That's ancient history" or something.
posted by cabingirl at 7:56 AM on January 30, 2009

Office relationships aren't bad because of the politics (well, it sure can contribute). They're bad because you two are stuck in the same workplace if things go sour.

If you like her, ask her out. Life's too short to debate everything. If it doesn't work out, just realize that it could be a bit awkward being in the same office with unresolved issues, so try to keep things clean and tidy and polite, and if things are going to end, try to make it a nice clean end with no resentment or lingering issues.
posted by Meagan at 7:58 AM on January 30, 2009

Dating at the office is a bad idea -- for all of the reasons listed above. Nobody pointing out why it's a bad idea is "grumpy", they're realistic. We all choose to do things which look like bad ideas from time to time; the risks here are obvious, as are the potential benefits. You need to make a decision based on that, and then don't look back.
posted by ellF at 8:03 AM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

I dated a girl I worked with and married her two years later.

"Don't be an idiot about it" and you'll be fine.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:05 AM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

A lot of the advice in this thread is super harsh/bordering on paranoid.

Ask her out on a date, but don't tell anyone. Everyone's assuming that you guys are going to immediately get in a serious relationship with her. It's a date. You may not even click on the date, but you should at least give it a shot. Many people would love to be in your situation-- a person they like who most likely likes them, with full permission from everyone to pursue something.
Keep it secret for a while to minimize the drama if it doesn't work out.
If it becomes serious to the point of possibly posing a problem, then you guys can figure something out then.

Everyone assumes that people should always put career before their personal lives. That's not always how priorities work. I know a lot of people who met at work, fell in love, and eventually one of them changed departments, or got a different job because the relationship was more important than their job title. I know three of those who are married with kids now and one or both of them still work at my company.
posted by fructose at 8:06 AM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Are you her supervisor? No? Ask her out. You have to be extra-careful of your behavior so that if it ends, you can still work together. (i.e., If you ditch her for her sister, you're gonna need a new job.) The now-very-public crush is as disruptive as any repercussions from dating. Lots of people meet their sweeties at work.
posted by theora55 at 8:07 AM on January 30, 2009

anonymous said: I somewhat recently started at a job I really like, and want to keep long term, at a small/mid sized company (less than 100 employees).

While the work/relationship rule is a rule of thumb, it is there because in this modern day, things have to be perfect on many fronts for a blooming work relationship to work. Sometimes when things seem perfect, other things happen to throw everything into chaos and you've lost a love, a job, and respect. That really doesn't leave you with much. At least with an outside relationship you can still spend part of your day at a place where you can escape the drama.

I have seen office relationships work and I have seen them fail horribly. Don't mess up a good thing, keep it in your pants.
posted by JJ86 at 8:24 AM on January 30, 2009

In a perfect world, office dating and breakups don't matter and people can still work together after breaking up.

We do not live in a perfect world.

But we do live in one where people with a maturity level beyond that of petulant, bratty children can rise to the occasion when necessary and act like adults in a professional setting.

There's a saying I learned at my first office job: "Don't get your meat and your taters at the same store." And another: "Don't shit where you eat."

I'm glad I've never let trite mantras rule my behavior or else I would have never met my wife, who was my coworker at a former job.
posted by The Gooch at 8:41 AM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

In any place I have worked before Jakey's comment wins, as long as you are colleagues (no reporting relationship). Your office seems creepy, though. The idea that management even notices your crushes is way over what I'd think of as the work/life dividing line.
posted by jet_silver at 8:43 AM on January 30, 2009

1) Life is too short to let your work life control your social life. It's hard enough to find someone to love without adding restrictions.

2) Act like adults. Don't mix relationship stuff with work stuff (from 9 to 5 she's a co-worker).

3) Co-workers have no "extra" rights to talk about/speculate/manage or otherwise participate in your relationship. It's no different than if you were dating a stranger.

3) If the relationship should happen to end continue to act like... ummm, adults and continue to respect each other as co-workers.

Ask her out. Enjoy. Follow the above rules.

My wife, who works in the office down the hall, doing the same job I do, for the same department, agrees with the above.
posted by pixlboi at 8:50 AM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you are going forward with this, I'd advise you to wait a bit for two reasons. First, you are new at the company and should have some additional perspective on how it operates. Second, when you read all the success stories, they all say that they kept it private at the office. By your own admission, you are transparent and unable to do this.

Many people seem to think that a break up will be okay, if you both act like adults. What makes you think that she will honor that? Considering that you're obvious with your emotions are you sure you can do that? People in break ups sometimes regress to immature behaviors.

Last, if you break up you should expect that most sympathies will go to her. She's been there longer and has more established relationships.
posted by 26.2 at 9:32 AM on January 30, 2009

I agree with most people that fer chrissakes, ask her out already. The "dating a coworker rule" isn't ironclad, and isn't official policy where you work, so who cares?

I also agree that you should be very quiet about it. And if people ask, you should divulge the bare minimum of information and leave it at that. You don't owe anybody at work any details of your love life/personal life just because you're dating a coworker or because they "helped" you two get together.
posted by O9scar at 9:34 AM on January 30, 2009

There's a pretty straight forward way of looking at it-- Make a list of What Can Go Right/What Can Go Wrong. Figure the odds. Weigh your heart vs. your head and decide. Assuming she will go out with you if you ask, here is a list to start:

1. She could turn out to be your soul mate. Ends.....marriage.

2. She could turn out to be a fun date and you guys see each other for a few months until it fizzles. Ends....some good sex/some awkwardness.

3. She turns out to be a nightmare, eats live kittens in bed. Ends.....horrors, you might have to change jobs because you can't stand to look at her.

4. She turns out to be All That but dumps you for no reason while you are madly, deeply in love. Ends....constant heartache and unresolved issues because you can't leave the job and she won't.

5. You are bored with her but she is insanely over the moon. Ends....she is a nightmare of jealousness and petty revenge and you are forced to leave the job.

What are the odds, really, of the first two scenarios happening? Remember, a large percentage of people meet their future spouses on the job, but how many relationships have you had so far that did not end in eternal bliss?

Only you can assess the real odds, only you will be taking on the risks, therefore no matter what advice we give out-- thoughtfully and thoughtlessly-- it is all on you.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 9:42 AM on January 30, 2009

I work at a small firm of less than 75 employees.

I and another guy, of a different role (a prominent one where I am a mere peon) started dating - "secretly" (my work friends knew, but never told me they knew).

After a few months, Guy told the head of H.R. H.R. said, "great!"

We are engaged, and still work together.

We don't hang out at all during work. We don't have lunch together (in fact we only have had lunch once together). We get off from work, and enjoy each others company then.

i give this story to naysayers.

If you like her, take a chance but at the same time be sane about it.
posted by wocka wocka wocka at 12:08 PM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

I know there's lots of Evidence that office relationships are a Bad Idea.

But if it wasn't for office relationships most of the happily married couples I know never would have got together.

Most of the "What can go wrong" stuff can only happen if you let it.

Go for it! Girls are fun!
posted by Ookseer at 12:27 PM on January 30, 2009

Some of the people answering here mention their spouses working in the same business. My uncles own a small-med company, everyone in that office is related! Dads, daughters, brothers, and wives. My parents are a particularly good model for this, but I think all the other relationships count for what I want to say:
You can still be professional at work and keep your private/home life separate. It's the same situation I have with my friends at work (I am a supervisor for some, and supervised by others). When we're at work everyone knows who's in charge and that there is mutual respect and cooperation. When we are hanging out away from work the normal behavior takes over. The only difference is we have no problem talking about work when we're not there. It's not really appropriate to talk about "non-work" when we are.
Some people talk about keeping your relationship secret, and that's beneficial in the sense that you should act the same toward each other at work whether you are dating or not. I would just skip the part about trying to conceal anything, too much extra stress.
posted by purpletangerine at 12:50 PM on January 30, 2009

I am friends with practically ALL my ex's. Not into drama... Had lots of terrific relationships. I dated a guy at work. He got very serious. I didn't. He became a total stalker. He made work hell for me. Crying at work at my desk, etc. Buying me a diamond and proposing at work (because I would no longer see him out of work).

Also - I know MANY office relationships go sour when one party stated dating ANOTHER person at the same time.

You don't have to be at fault for an office relationship to go wrong.

There ARE risks.
posted by beccaj at 1:21 PM on January 30, 2009

Keep it a secret. Unless you're Obama, risks aside, you can always get another job. If you are Obama, stay away! We need you where you're at. If you're a Republican congressman tell everyone!
posted by Ironmouth at 2:08 PM on January 30, 2009

Anecdote: I dated (and lived with) a boyfriend and when we broke up he left a suicide note on his desk chair the next day, which we all found. There was a company-wide meeting about it. It was Not Good. He quit shortly thereafter.

A few years ago I said, what the hell, I'll try this again... two floors, different departments, right? yeah. It didn't work out. It was a short-lived and totally quiet thing. To this day, nobody but NOBODY knows we dated. However, it was still sucky/painful/awkward when it didn't work out. We eventually got over it, but...

Basic math says you have a 50/50 chance of it working. If it doesn't, it's going to suck. If it does, you may eventually be resented by other co-workers, accused of things like nepotism or unprofessional behavior...

That said, everyone saying that maturity is an issue would be correct. Unfortunately, the only person whose behavior you can control is your own. You apparently work in an office FULL OF GOSSIPERS WHO ARE OKAY WITH EMBARRASSING/OUTING YOU.

Do you think the maturity of your CO-WORKERS might be an issue? I certainly do.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 3:34 PM on January 30, 2009

I'm an HR guy so I speak from experience. Office relationships are kinda like getting tattoos; easy to get, hard to get rid of. So if you're gonna engage in it, make sure its "the one". And even then...you're screwed.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:08 PM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Another data point: I joined a new office and started dating a co-worker about 2 months later. Despite the fact that we ate lunch together every.single.day (with others, but often just the two of us) there were still some people who didn't know we were dating 2 years later. I think this is how we pulled it off

- Don't flaunt it: We had a totally professional relationship at work. No personal chatting in the corner and whispers and giggling. That said, we don't act like strangers, that's too hard and dumb as it would just raise gossip you're trying to avoid.
- Don't protest too much: For those that knew we were together, whenever they made a snide comment we would jokingly say, "What are you talking about?" with a small wink and then swiftly move on with the conversation as if nothing had happened.

We got engaged Jan 2. I think everyone knows now, but we've practically conditioned people not to talk about it and now I'm a bit crushed hardly anyone has congratulated us. :P

People are right, it may or may not work out and an office romance can get messier than one from "the outside". But just speaking as a person where it did work out I'm immensely happy we didn't pass things up because of a chance things wouldn't work.

Just ask her out, but not at work so that the gossip vultures don't spoil your game.
posted by like_neon at 6:19 AM on January 31, 2009

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