Welcome to Big Brother: Office Edition.
September 17, 2012 9:13 AM   Subscribe

Office Crush Filter: We work in a tiny office. Is this still worth pursuing?

I’ve been working in an office of less than 12 people for under a year now. I have a coworker who at first struck me as very quiet and even cold. In the process of trying to work better with him, he started opening up to me a lot more after a few months, to the point where now he’s teasing me in staff meetings, telling jokes ("Anyone come in yesterday afternoon?" "Nope, totally quiet. I stripped down and worked naked after you left."), and otherwise appearing to flirt with me (it’s not normal to claim that someone is seducing you when you send an office email about making lunch plans, right?) and I’m crushing pretty hard. In some ways he seems interested in me (out of nowhere the other day he asked me where I lived) and in other it seems like he’s avoiding me (would rather speak to a coworker over the phone when calling in when the information was general and anyone could have taken the message but I happened to pick up the phone; avoids being alone in the lunch room with me). We have had occasion to confirm that we are both single. All touching has been rare and accidental.

In addition to being confused and unsure if I’m reading things correctly, it has gotten to the point where my boss seems to have concluded that something is going on, because we have conversations like this:

Boss: We’ll be having lunch, and then convening at $time, and then you can come back here with X.

Me (outwardly calm): -- or, whoever will be driving back this way. I appreciate that people are open to carpooling.


Boss: … so that was my vacation. How were things at the office with you and X?

Me (again, outwardly calm): Everything was fine - $other_coworkers were there too, of course. You know that X has been busy with Y project; I avoid bothering him unless it's important. [True.]

This is my major problem with expressing overt interest in my coworker – not only will it be awkward if he turns out to not really be interested in me (I’ve never told someone I had a crush on them and had it end in something other than awkwardness, rejection, and that person disappearing/going incommunicado. I wish I were exaggerating.) but the impact will be amplified because our office is so small and we see each other every day. Additionally, because the office is so small, everyone knows if my coworker tells a joke and I giggle, or if I go for a coffee run and he suddenly invites himself along. Surely everyone would notice if the dynamic suddenly changed between us, and we can't get away from each other - would it turn into a situation where one of us would have to leave? I don't want that at all.

I am very sensitive to the fact that we are in the office to work above all things, and I am very careful to limit the time we spend talking, partially because we both have things to do and partially because I feel eyes on me and ears listening when I talk to him about anything. I don’t want to make the work environment difficult for anyone, and it makes me wonder if pursuing him is subsequently impossible and I'm just not thinking straight. When I bring up the subject to friends, they change the subject.

Previous AskMes have me believing that extra-office dating is theoretically possible so long as ground rules are in advance, but I have to find a way to approach him first, if that is the right thing to do. Is this a risk worth taking, given the evidence, the close quarters, and the potential for fallout? If so, how should I go about it?

Certain details necessarily omitted. Throwaway email: openofficesecret@hushmail.me
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (32 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Don't shit where you eat, dude.
posted by elizardbits at 9:15 AM on September 17, 2012 [10 favorites]

12 people? I'd say no. There is no where to hide if it doesn't go well. But I know there are people who have stories where those things worked out just fine.
posted by magnetsphere at 9:17 AM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I agree with elizardbits. This is a terrible idea unless you have other job prospects in the event that the situation goes south and you're looking at having to face this guy and your coworkers and have it drug up in a multiple little soul-destroying ways.
posted by Kimberly at 9:18 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are millions and millions of people in the world.

There are 12 people in your office.

Seriously, look elsewhere.
posted by xingcat at 9:18 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

It sounds like this is a very small company, but do you have a policy manual? Start there. Most should have something to say about office relationships.
posted by charmcityblues at 9:19 AM on September 17, 2012

I wouldn't be surprised to learn he feels the same way but I wouldn't pursue anything with him. Your office is small enough that things would be really unpleasant if it goes south.

If the day comes when you're about to give your two-week notice, or he's given his, then sure, say something. Other than that, leave it alone.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:21 AM on September 17, 2012

You seem really concerned about what others might think in this situation, so as a theoretical co-worker (who has worked in small offices/teams where people), you are right to read that this is something that would affect everyone.

Maybe I'm just getting old, but, as a theoretical co-worker/boss, I would not want this to happen to me again. Even in the situation where it went well and I was happy for the people who had gotten together, it was still pretty complicated and awkward, though (in my opinion) by no fault of the couple who had gotten together, who did everything right from a professional point-of-view. They didn't really act any differently in the office and there was no preferential treatment or otherwise obvious situations. But their relationship still became the office's relationship. If you work in a situation where people would make it their business even if it isn't (which, given your read of your boss seems very likely), you'd be fighting a losing battle trying to make this part of your personal life not part of your professional life.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:23 AM on September 17, 2012

Which do you prioritize -- your job or your relationships? Life is too short not to be honest with yourself about this. It's OK to prioritize one over the other even though a lot of us have been pressured by our friends and family to pick a particular one. If this is just a job to you and you could find another one without too much sadness, I say go for it. If this is your dream job or you'll be out on the street without it... look elsewhere.
posted by telegraph at 9:24 AM on September 17, 2012 [15 favorites]

Hahaha I think your boss might next pull what Alan Rickman did with Laura Linney in Love Actually....

But...that's a movie. And you should definitely avoid office romances at all costs. And actually, it kinda sounds like that is exactly what this guy is trying to do, too.
posted by Grither at 9:24 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

As someone who has done this, but in a larger office, NO. If either of you leave, as mentioned above, go for it, but otherwise NO.

When I bring up the subject to friends, they change the subject.

Sounds like your friends don't think it's a very good idea either.
posted by dysh at 9:25 AM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Offhand, I think going for this is a terrible idea.

But I'll be contrarian today, and say 'go for it'. Only, you both need a super-green light to proceed, and right now, you don't have it. So if he invites himself along for the coffee run the next time, and you're alone together, simply be flat-out blunt and ask him if there's a real connection between you two, or if it's all playful office banter. And proceed accordingly.

Good luck.
posted by Capt. Renault at 9:30 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

In some ways he seems interested in me ... and in other it seems like he’s avoiding me

My read of this is that he feels some attraction as well, but would prefer that it not go anywhere. I, and several guys I know, have used this behaviour to moderate interaction with office crushes, even mutual ones. He likes you and enjoys being your friend, but being co-workers he may well not want to take up with you, for all the circumstantial reasons you mention in your post.
posted by bonehead at 9:34 AM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Don't do it.
posted by oceanjesse at 9:35 AM on September 17, 2012

Is this a risk worth taking, given the evidence, the close quarters, and the potential for fallout?

My opinion is that the decision to partake in office relationships depends on:

1) Would you be willing to lose your job over this in the rare case that drama explodes? (aka: do you work in a state where you can legally be fired for any reason? Such as if your boss decides it's easier to replace you guys than deal with the drama tornado?)

2) How well do you typically handle breakups? Do they destroy you? Do they sear you in pain and torment every time you see your ex? Or are you the type of person who can easily more on? What type is he?

3) How far are you willing to go? Do you just want a companion to hang/sleep with? Or are you looking for a LTR? (aka: what are you looking to get out of this?)

4) If things socially go bad, how will this affect your reputation in your field? Your career? Could you just slip away and work somewhere else with little reputational damage? Or is your field a small community where this could affect your ability to get a good job and be taken seriously?

5) Say that you do get into a relationship. How will you handle having each others back? You would basically be socially allying yourselves. How will that affect your work? You are usually allowed to disagree with co-workers and chose to not support them in their ideas and/or projects, or not take their side in an argument, but how will you handle that if your co-worker is your partner? Will you always have their back, even if it is on a work related matter that you would have strongly disagreed with had it been anyone else? If you agree with your partner on a topic, will your coworkers/boss thing that you're agreeing just to support your partner instead of because you agree with the idea? How will you handle that? How will they?

Bonus consideration: don't think that just because your boss and co-workers see the attraction between you two, that they will want to deal with an inter-office relationship. They may see it as unprofessional and look down on you for it, or attribute disagreements that you and your would-be-partner have to "unprofessional relationship issues" even if the disagreement is purely work related.
posted by Shouraku at 9:38 AM on September 17, 2012 [9 favorites]

Is it possible for this to work out okay? Sure. That said, there are a lot of ways it could go very, very wrong. You'd be risking your job and maybe your career - not to be over dramatic, but it's a possibility. If you're still interested in the idea, read what Shouraku says above and go through that thought process.

If it were me, I wouldn't do it. I say this having done it in the past with a fine outcome - nice relationship, fine breakup, no adverse effects. I still wouldn't do it.
posted by mrs. taters at 9:44 AM on September 17, 2012

It's dangerous, but you only live once, you know? I think Shouraku's questions are great. Also ask: Do you see your work as a "good job"? Or a career? How does he? How well do you know him? Well enough to trust him even if you did break up? How serious is this? Is there a potential for "life changing" level of relationship? Do you know him well enough to tell?
posted by sesquipedalian at 9:51 AM on September 17, 2012

I should also mention in addition to my above post, that I work in a field where office relationships are really common. The deciding factor seems to be the couple's ability to read the office climate and act accordingly.

Think of it this way, there will be three people in your relationship: you, your partner, and The Office. You will have to accommodate and make sacrifices for all three. It's like playing The Relationship Game on hard mode instead of normal mode.

Don't just focus on how awesome your potential partner will be, but really try to read the office environment, because it will become the third wheel in your relationship, guaranteed.
posted by Shouraku at 10:00 AM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I like Shouraku's question about personality types. If you are the type of person to take heartbreak or hurt feelings pretty hard, or to hold a grudge, that moves this into definite no territory. Think of how you would feel if you got assigned to work closely on a project with him after something like that happened.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:05 AM on September 17, 2012

There's an article about how Charles Schumer loves playing matchmaker. And working briefly in Accounting Firms, I know that office romances are fairly common. The most common place to meet your spouse to be is at work thanks to American workaholism.

None of that is to say that it's a good idea. But it would explain why your boss is seemingly giving you a green light.

If you do pursue this, you have to be very private and professional, and be comfortable with the fact that the rest of the office will still gossip about you plenty. You need to be prepared to act impeccably during a potentially ugly breakup. In short, you need the self-restraint that would prevent you from pursuing an office romance in the first place.

But I'm heading to a wedding at the end of the year that started as a very cautious office romance. And I've seen a public ugly divorce when one Accounting Partner chose to divorce his wife (who was also an Accounting Partner in the same firm) so he could move in with his assistant. I have no doubt that it was humiliating and painful, but everyone did survive the fall-out both emotionally and professionally.
posted by politikitty at 10:06 AM on September 17, 2012

Congratulations! You have a work husband! It's a great thing to have, but in an office like this, I'd be veeeery careful about introducing romance into your relationship.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:12 AM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Enjoy your interactions, do not escalate them (and put yourself at a distance if you need to, for your own comfort) and just be glad you get along with one of your co-workers. If you or they ever give two weeks' notice, ask them out on their last day saying "hey, I've always thought you were pretty terrific, but work romances are an absolute no-no for me. What do you say to going out for our first non-coworker coffee this weekend?"
posted by davejay at 10:21 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

The very few times I have dated a co-worker, it wasn't such a small workplace/we didn't work directly together, and therefore it took time outside of the office to establish that there was mutual interest... and I was in no way as (perhaps overly) sensitive to other people's impressions as you are. I think it'd drive you nuts, even if he was interested, being overly- concerned with being appropriate and trying to "read" all your interations through the various lenses.

And frankly, what you've described what sounds more like a one-sided office crush than two people tentatively negotiating mutual like in an awkward-ish arena.
posted by sm1tten at 10:44 AM on September 17, 2012

I can't really advise you on how awkward it'll be or whether it'll be worthwhile, or how interested he is or any of that. I'll just say that it doesn't matter if you two are meant to be or not, on-the-clock is not the time to figure that out. You've got to stop flirting in the office, because it's clearly causing a distraction to your coworkers (i.e. gossip).

Next time he invites himself out on a coffee run, tell him that it's causing problems for you to be doing that little dance in the office.
"Hey, Coworker, you know, I'm happy to have you walk to Starbucks with me, it's definitely more fun, but have you noticed how Boss has been kind of giving me crap like Boss thinks we're dating? Does Boss do that to you?"
There are a lot of things Coworker could do/say at this point that would make it clear that yes, he is interested in you or no, he is not interested in you. There are also a lot of stupid things he could say that will be super vague. Unless he says something that's clearly a "go", your next line is,
"Well, I'm feeling really awkward about the overall office dynamic, so I'm going to try to dial it down, and I didn't want you to take it personally if I backed off a bit or seemed more distant."
He'll probably be pretty gracious, perhaps apologetic, perhaps embarassed, perhaps defensive. He may tease you because he thinks its funny, and it may be funny - but if he is not at least somewhat decent about this point, then he's a jerk you shouldn't feel bad about washing your hands of.
If the conversation flows in a more positive way, it might be worth pointing out that it's specifically the in-the-office behavior that needs modifying - so if he complains about something he'll miss/lose ("but, who will I talk to about Breaking Bad now?") that's the ideal time to suggest getting together outside of work. "I know, I'll miss that, but it's not for the office. We can go get a beer on Thursday, but let's keep that separate from everything."

Of course, it's also possible that he's just enjoying having a fun coworker, and it's more fun to tease you at work than it is to just do work all the time, but he's not actually interested in more than that. In that case, you've done the right thing: you've removed a distraction and made it a more pleasant working environment for most of your other coworkers, cut out something that could get you a bad reputation, and upped your work focus, though you will be cutting down on the "fun factor". It might also be more awkward at the office short term, but it's going to be awkward at some point sooner or later, and you might as well let that be now instead of later.
posted by aimedwander at 12:08 PM on September 17, 2012 [7 favorites]

It sounds like this is already a source of gossip in your office. So in a way, it's already too late. A lot of the consequences of office relationships have already fallen on you.

I'd be tempted to say go for the relationship, because you're getting all of the costs and none of the benefits. And you are going to be biting chunks out of your desk until you have an answer from him. So part of me wants to say go ahead and disambiguate.

But honestly? I think you should find another job, give notice, and then make a move on the guy. At your next job, you can shag the accountant in the stockroom for all I care, as long as absolutely nobody else in the office finds out about it. It's important for your career safety to keep private things private.

All this is why I don't think flirtations with people in one's inner circle, that you see all the time, are harmless fun. I do not enjoy being teased with the fact that someone I am attracted to, and who apparently is attracted to me, does not want to date me; other people might, but these people are usually coupled-up and enjoying all the sex and intimacy they could possibly want already, and can't fathom that maybe, possibly, romance doesn't just grow on trees for everyone else.
posted by tel3path at 12:21 PM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

One time a group of my friends sat around talking about dating in the workplace. There was some crazy talk, but here were two interesting ideas:

1. For a closed office setting (like you describe), the other person should be a "best of the year" dating opportunity to make it worth the risk.

2. It should be a "sure thing" of preliminary significant mutual attraction. Basically that there was enough energy to fuel a fledgling relationship for a couple of months. Anything less than that was not worth the potential disruption to one's career.

I don't know if what you describe meets either criteria?

But only you can know your social circumstances, how in demand you are for a relationship, how easy it is for you to create dating opportunities, etc.

This is a difficult issue. Extroverts can simply snap their fingers and say "I want to start dating" and generate two first dates a week (sans internet services) without even knowing where the other person's works. I have gotten dates while making copies at the library or standing in line at the grocery store. I met my first wife when we were randomly looking at cars on a Sunday afternoon (neither of us worked at the dealership). I honestly can't imagine a year of flirting before dating someone from a small office. But other people really benefit from warming up as friends first, so fishing from their existing social network provides their best chance to find love.

So even though it is totally foreign to me, I would suggest you ask this guy out just so you can discuss what is happening here. Otherwise you might soon pay the price of having a failed office romance (gossip, irritated coworkers/supervisors, etc.) without even having had the chance to see what would have developed.
posted by 99percentfake at 12:43 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Briefly: no. Not worth it. Stay friendly but professional at work.
posted by anonnymoose at 12:47 PM on September 17, 2012

I would say that the fact that this has never worked out for you and your friends are avoiding the topic makes me think that you have a tendency to overestimate how much someone might like you and/or crush on the wrong people. That makes me lean towards no.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:49 PM on September 17, 2012

I'd say get to know him better - if he's a good guy and worth getting involved with, then you don't need to act right away from a position of "I am so crushing right now" it would better happen later from a "we are good friends and let's explore this more" My boyfriend of 10 years and I got together in a small office, but we had been close friends hanging out every weekend for about half a year before that. By the time we started dating, we already knew and trusted each other really well.

Also, if you do date him, try to keep is secret from your co-workers until you are really sure that it's a good, stable relationship. that helps keep drama down to a mimimum
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:21 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

On behalf of the rest of the people in the office, please don't! It can get awkward enough in a large office, but in a little 12-person office? Oh heavens, NO! Sure, it might turn out to be the romance of the century, but whether it turned out great or gawd-awful, it WILL affect everyone else's work lives.

I've gotten stuck in the middle of this kind of office romance a couple times; at best it's merely awkward, at worst it really does adversely affect the job of everyone around you --- I've seen two people in the same department who had a hard breakup that was so bad they weren't even talking to each other, so they kept dragging the rest of us into their fights: 'please tell him I need x' and 'tell her I said z'..... even before the breakup, when they were still all lovey-dovey? A lot of favoritism, whether with the work schedule ('Beloved will be asking for that particular day off, so you can't have it') or job assignments. And it's no better when the people involved are NOT in the same department: it's just more subtle, though it's still a pain in the butt for everyone else.

This is why a lot of places forbid people with close ties from working with each other.
posted by easily confused at 2:30 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, see, sometimes work can be really boring and sometimes crushes can make things less boring, but they're mostly never anything more than that and they will mostly make things really awkward for everyone when the ensuing drama occurs because real life is not like an episode of the Office.

I would vote for no.
posted by heyjude at 5:08 PM on September 17, 2012

Are either of you planning to leave within 2 months? Otherwise, no. Office crushes are awesome b/c they give you something to smile about when you're stuck in excel spreadsheets for hours. Enjoy the crush.

You also really need to check the employee manual.
posted by manicure12 at 11:40 PM on September 17, 2012

I've done it, but I'm aware that I like to live dangerously. If you have to ask, you probably don't have the ovaries for it.
posted by thelastcamel at 10:46 AM on September 18, 2012

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