Dating a Coworker
April 24, 2008 5:05 PM   Subscribe

I've come to the realization that I'm head-over-heels crazy about a co-worker.

A little background: I'm 23, male, recently out of school, and this is my first "professional" job. Over the past few months, I've begun to have strong feelings for a girl at work.

To be honest, I'm awful at the whole dating thing. Terrible. So what would be a tough situation for me anyway is made even tougher by the fact that we work together. And she isn't "Susie from Accounting" - we work on the same team, sit in the same cluster of cubes, report to the same person, and have the same title.

I want to date this girl, but I don't even know where to begin, or if I should begin in the first place. I'm concerned that asking her out would be taken as inappropriate or misunderstood as a friendship gesture (we're pretty close at work, but have never hung out outside of work); I worry that if we were to actually date that it'd be against the rules (it's a gossipy place, she's the only single woman my age, and people would put 2 and 2 together if I asked about the policy).

Judging by the way she acts, I think my feelings are at least somewhat reciprocated, but again, I'm terrible at this. I could just as easily be wrong.

So basically, my question is this: is there a way for me to jump this hurdle while minimizing the risk of her being offended or misunderstanding my intentions?
posted by downing street memo to Human Relations (53 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Trust me on this - dont. Just... don't. The potential drama is very large, even if she likes you back and everything goes well.
posted by restless_nomad at 5:12 PM on April 24, 2008 [3 favorites]

...or if I should begin [to date her] in the first place.

there's your problem right there. i'm inclined to say this is a horrible, horrible path down which to tread.

however, to answer your question about minimizing risk -- i would say try to meet up at a happy-hour, without other co-workers, where you might be able to figure out if the feelings are indeed mutual. heck, even if that doesn't work out, a happy hour never hurts.
posted by garfy3 at 5:13 PM on April 24, 2008

is there a way for me to jump this hurdle while minimizing the risk of her being offended or misunderstanding my intentions?

"Hey, you want to go get a drink after work?"
posted by dersins at 5:13 PM on April 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

Ask her if she'd like to go for a drink after work on Friday evening. Her response should be a pretty good way to judge her level of interest.
posted by gnutron at 5:13 PM on April 24, 2008

Coworker relationships are almost always bad, eventually. Decide in advance whether you'd prefer the girl or the job, then act accordingly.
posted by rokusan at 5:29 PM on April 24, 2008 [3 favorites]

Don't. As someone who has been there, done that, got the tshirt, and is still working with the person, you can trust me. My job calls for intimate interactions with this person, exposed to each other often for hours at a time, and every moment can be excruciatingly awkward.

If it doesn't work out, plan on dire consequences. Ever feel paranoid that people at work might talk about you? Well, I hope you can deal with that feeling, because it will multiply exponentially with an office relationship.

My advice is to try and nurture other feelings towards her, that of a more professional nature.
posted by pedmands at 5:44 PM on April 24, 2008

For some additional perspectives/anecdotes on dating and work, check previous threads here and here and here. Here's a thread where dating at work went wrong...
posted by nkknkk at 5:58 PM on April 24, 2008

It sort of depends what kind of person you are. I, personally, have no issues with working with those who have previously had their faces planted in my kitty garden, but I hear that sort of things makes others uncomfortable when things don't work out.

But yeah, ask her out for a drink.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:02 PM on April 24, 2008 [4 favorites]

When I was 23, I had a crush on my boss. So I asked him out for coffee. He said "sure, we can go out as friends" which crushed me a bit, but then I figured I could use more friends. So we ended up going out for dinner, and 12 years later we're still together, happily married with a yours-mine-and-ours set of 4 kids.

So it can happen, but start simple, with an innocuous invite for coffee and take it from there.
posted by Biblio at 6:02 PM on April 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Alcohol is the key...
posted by chromatist at 6:24 PM on April 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

How easily could you get another job? Is this the type of job that is really as good as any other you could get? (I feel like right out of college most jobs you get are more or less the same unless you are one of the lucky few.) I'd ask her out, but be prepared to get another job if you end up dating. I would preemptively quit rather than wait to be found out (however, not all workplaces have rules against this sort of thing especially if neither of you have power over the other, read your company's handbook if you have one. Previous jobs I had made it explicitly clear what and with who was ok. At one you could even date your boss and didn't even have to ask for a transfer to another dept. unless you got married.)
posted by whoaali at 6:31 PM on April 24, 2008

don't be scared. you only live once.
posted by Espoo2 at 6:41 PM on April 24, 2008 [4 favorites]

Thankfully, by the time I was 23, I had been married for three years. I never personally had to deal with this, but as a manager, I have often had to deal with the potential or real workplace romance, and for people directly under me, I strongly advise them to look for entertainment elsewhere.

Why? Because most relationships do not end in marriage. Most relationships do not end well. At 23, most relationships between people who are admitting to be "awful at the whole dating thing" have at least one person in them that is awful at the whole dating thing. In this case, that's you.

Let's say new girl and you have a great time. For a while, your relationship is a distraction at work, for both of you and for your co-workers, who now have to consider you a couple instead of two people. What if there is a conflict? Her boss is an asshole to her. Are you going to be an asshole to him? What about when you break up? Statistics being what they are, you almost certainly will. Will it be a kind, adult, undamaging breakup or will it be one sided? Hint: think latter. What then? How is that going to affect your work?

My advice to my employees was always... one of you needs to be prepared to quit. Work is a place you can meet, but not mate. I'd apply HUGE pressure if I saw something happening, because I really did not want to see a repeat of the police coming in to my business to deliver a relief-from-abuse order to one of my employees in one end of the building that pertained to an employee in the other end.

Think this through carefully, and do something unusual for a 23 year old... defer gratification in the interest of reason.
posted by FauxScot at 6:45 PM on April 24, 2008

I was in the same situation, and we went out with other coworkers once. That once began a still-going 6+month relationship. I was nervous about making work awkward too, but it all worked out. Also, I was 23 at the beginning, and she was 1 month shy of 23. Is this a permanent job? I was figuring on mine being semi-temporary, so I would have less awkward time if things didn't work out. Now though, we both wish we'd have said something earlier. Though, you don't want to float through the rest of your life with a "what if..."
posted by senseigmg at 6:51 PM on April 24, 2008

Short answer: the job complicates everything, in ways you may not have considered yet. This CAN go horribly wrong. I could tell you stories. (Not mine, thankfully. My own illicit steps across that line thankfully turned out mostly okay.) But I've known people who've gotten in very deep shit this way. FauxScot's scenario is not that extreme. But then, if we didn't do anything that could blow up in our faces, what would ever get done?

But, let's consider this from a different angle. Mind you, I don't know you from Adam, so I'm not making judgments, just musing. But you say this is your first post-college job, and that this girl is pretty much the only relationship candidate in the office. So you've gone from whatever your college life was, and mine at least was pretty socially varied, to a life where you spend most of your time in this one particular setting, and there's only one girl there. Do you suppose you've kind of fixated on her because she's pretty much the one girl you can see from where you are?

One way to test that is indeed the change jobs scenario. If you fall in love with the one single girl your age at the new job, then you'll have learned something about how your brain works. If not, then you've still learned something, while also clearing away all the office romance underbrush.

Of course changing jobs may not be as easy and desirable as we make it sound. But if you're going to proceed where you are, be very very careful. If nothing else consider that one reason this girl is giving off signals you're seeing as "at least partially reciprocating" may simply be because you have to work together and that goes better if people are nice to each other.
posted by Naberius at 7:07 PM on April 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you don't want to ask her directly for a drink after work, set up a group happy hour where other people go too.
posted by Pants! at 7:10 PM on April 24, 2008

I was in a similar situation at a similar age. I worked with an absolutely amazing woman, truly one in a million. Despite indications of mutual interest, I never asked her out because I thought it was a bad idea to date coworkers and she'd stated the same. Some time later, she started dating and later married a different coworker. D'oh!

Think of it this way: if it doesn't work out, things may be a little awkward and painful for a while. But you'll get over it. If you never even try, however, you might regret it for a long time.

So ask her.

posted by brain at 7:15 PM on April 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hey, I have no doubt at all that part of my attraction to her is because of the fact that 1) we're both single and 2) we spend 9+ hours a day together. I'm under absolutely no delusions on that point.

But I've thought about it, and I'm just not sure it matters. No matter how I met her, or why I'm attracted to her, I see something I like and I want to see if there's more there.

As far as my job - I like it a lot, but I can't imagine staying any longer than 2-3 years - it seems like that's the typical shelf life for junior staff in my industry. I'm about 6 months in now.

Thanks for the advice, everyone else, and please keep the perspectives coming. I know this is a minefield, and I'm basically going in blind (I've looked through all the HR docs, and nothing on office dating), so whatever happens I'll be sure to tread softly.
posted by downing street memo at 7:21 PM on April 24, 2008

"Grab a chance and you'll never be sorry for a might-have-been" - Cmdr John Walker, RN
posted by lungtaworld at 7:23 PM on April 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's a disaster in the making. Senseigmg makes a good point about "what if..." but IT'S A DISASTER IN THE MAKING.

For now just be there for her, as a person she can talk to, confide in, turn to for support. If it's meant to be it'll happen whether you try for it or not, then you/her have/has to quit.
posted by oblio_one at 7:29 PM on April 24, 2008

I was told at my college internship, "You shouldn't get your meat and your taters at the same store." I watched all the other interns break that rule, then get burned, and all the higher-ups just shook their heads and...recommended me for real jobs down the line, not them.
posted by notsnot at 7:33 PM on April 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm all for living your life the way you feel you want to live it. Better to crash and burn than to never fly. Plan on going slowly, being responsible and keeping things on the QT and communicating to her along the way, and if she seems like she's going to bug out, back out slowly and carefully. But jesus, all the naysayers. Where are people supposed to meet people? It's not like every workplace romance ends in misery. And you can have a pretty darn miserable situation that doesn't involve the workplace.

Anyway, go for it, with care and respect and limited expectations.
posted by sully75 at 7:57 PM on April 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

No. No. No. There's nothing wrong with going out with a co-worker if you're both sane, reasonable adults. Unfortunately, there's no garuntee that both of you are sane and reasonable. If one person is not, then the other person is stuck in an office with a pissed off crazy person. I'm basing this answer on one of the worst experiences of my last decade.
posted by rdr at 8:03 PM on April 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you have a hard time with rejection or if she seems like someone who would have a hard time, think twice. Otherwise, try to be her friend outside of work and ease into things. If she wants to go there, she won't resist. If you get to your first kiss, you may want to talk about the fact that you may not like each other in a week and how to handle it in your tiny office if that does happen.
posted by Foam Pants at 8:08 PM on April 24, 2008

You're young. I vote for do it. This is how I met my wife.
posted by mattbucher at 8:09 PM on April 24, 2008

Never dip your pen in company ink!
posted by pedmands at 8:14 PM on April 24, 2008

2-3 years is a looong time to work with your crazy ex-girlfriend. I believe the slightly unpleasant euphemism I have heard on this matter is "Don't dip your pen in the company ink." Why not wait until after one of the two of you has moved to another job?
posted by Rock Steady at 8:15 PM on April 24, 2008

Preview sucks!
posted by Rock Steady at 8:15 PM on April 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I say do it to, but the rule of thumb here is to conduct yourself like the military -- make sure you have a good exit strategy and can cover any retreat.

If this escalates to a romance, chances are good that one of you has to go.
posted by Deep Dish at 8:18 PM on April 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Don't unless you want to be able to say "don't do it" to some 23yo when you're older.

Go actively looking for women outside of work, find one, have a romantic relationship with this person, and have a non-romantic relationship with the co-worker.
posted by porpoise at 8:22 PM on April 24, 2008

What's the worst thing that can happen? You have to quit your job because things don't work out? So fucking what? Better to lose a good job than pass on a good woman.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:25 PM on April 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Dude, you're 23. Fuck the job, seriously. You can quit if you're going to marry her, become her boss, or she's going to become yours. People who say you can't maintain a civil, professional relationship with people post breakup piss me off. Seriously, get over yourselves.

Let's just say that the stars align and everything is perfect and you fall in love with her and make lots of babies. Isn't that more important to your lifelong happiness than your first ratrace job?

You don't have to tell anyone, you don't have to make a big deal about it. Ask her to join you for lunch one day. A couple days later ask her early in the week for a drink after work.

Or, do silly nice things for her. Leave some hot chocolate on her desk one day. Bring in a little flower you picked on the way to work, but not just for her---any girl you're friendly with at work. Hold the door for her. Tell her a funny story, ask if she has siblings, talk about What You Really Want To Do (in life.) Be chill. Send her an IM about something you can see down the hall that she can't. Pull a prank on someone together. It'll happen or it won't.
posted by TomMelee at 8:27 PM on April 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

People date their coworkers all the time. I work in an office with 50 or so people, and three sets of couples have met on the job and have gotten married (of course, they were always between different departments... but still! They did work together). I say go for it. You're young and could switch jobs without much pain; she's not your boss and you aren't hers... I don't see the downside.
posted by chowflap at 8:33 PM on April 24, 2008

I met this smoking hot chic at work, I was told to stay far and away from combining co-workers and romance. That was 14 years ago. We've been married for 12... YMMV.
posted by bkeene12 at 8:38 PM on April 24, 2008

I dipped like crazy in the company ink and it was never a problem. I didn't marry any of the guys, but the guy I married had enough weird connections to my past already to make up for that.

Go for it, what the hell.
posted by padraigin at 8:44 PM on April 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yes, it could be a disaster. Yes, it could be awkward - but this is your life we're talking about. You can always get another job. Go for it and enjoy. Ask her out for a drink after work. Don't make it a group thing and don't be wishy-washy. Be obvious about your interest without being icky. If she doesn't go for it. Drop it immediately and you should be fine (she might come around later).
posted by The Light Fantastic at 8:57 PM on April 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

what's more important to you? her or the job? there's your answer.
posted by randomstriker at 9:32 PM on April 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

I dated a coworker, and it went just about as bad as these things can possibly go. An absolute horror story - it dragged on for months, and in the end, he completely broke my heart. We still work together, in a very small, intimate environment, and we don't speak, and I'm not sure we ever will again beyond the absolutely necessary. During the ordeal, none of our coworkers knew what was going on (even those he considers very close friends), but there were rumors and cockeyed smirks, and the stress of maintaining the fiction was almost as great as the stress of the dysfunctional relationship itself. The day after it ended, he called in sick, and I came in but my boss made me go home because I was a total mess. Unsurprisingly, these events only inspired more rumors and cockeyed glances, until I ended up taking a few coworkers aside to explain the situation because I was so sick of the charade. Our reputations definitely suffered. Many, many times, I seriously contemplated leaving - and this is my dream job, and I have no savings, and I would basically have been fucked. Man, it sucked, and still sucks. At the beginning, we were pretty crazy about each other, and we said, "They say 'don't shit where you eat,' but I think we're going to be the exception." We weren't.

That said...hell, I'd do it again. Because if it had worked out, it would all have been worth the gamble. It would have been wonderful. Just make sure you can handle the worst-case scenario, because it's likely to be even worse than that.
posted by granted at 10:13 PM on April 24, 2008 [4 favorites]

Do it. If it's a mistake, then you'll get to see what the fuss is about and you'll learn a lesson.
posted by P.o.B. at 10:39 PM on April 24, 2008

I met my wife at work. The guy who was the best man at our wedding met his wife at his work. One of my groomsmen, who was a co-worker of mine at the same company where I met my wife, met his wife at the same job.

I'm usually not a fan of anecdotal examples like this, but I just wanted to counteract the hysteria and trite mantras being spewed forth by many in this thread. Despite the insistence to the contrary by several responders, it is entirely possible to date someone you work with while not completely and totally sabotaging your future career path.

Ask her out. If she says "No" don't pursue it further and don't treat her any differently than you did before and all should be fine. Chances are in a few years you will neither be working at this same job or dating this girl, so it seems silly to abstain from doing something as benign as asking a woman you are attracted to out to eat all because of some artificial, meaningless rules.
posted by The Gooch at 11:13 PM on April 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

You're thinking about asking this girl out on a date, not thinking about playing Russian roulette. Even if she says no or even if you two date and it ends horribly one is going to die. Well, unless one of you is a really creepy fatal attraction type stalker waiting to happen but I doubt it. :)

Start off by asking her out for coffee. "Hey would you like to grab some coffee later?" If she says yes then cool. If she says no you can always say something like, "Ok well maybe some other time. I'm trying to get a group of coworkers together after work to kind of unwind."

If you do start dating I'd make sure you talk things over with her about your concerns about it impacting your work relationship.

Look at the worst case scenario... You ask her out and she turns you down. Or you ask her out, she says yes, you date...then the relationship goes down in flames. You have to deal with her every single day until one of you switches jobs. You're 23, chances are this is not going to be the job that you'll be at for the rest of your life so does it really matter?

Best case scenario...You ask her out, end up dating, and then live happily ever after.

Life is such an amazing *experience*. Get out there, take some risks, and experience life.
posted by GlowWyrm at 11:40 PM on April 24, 2008

Don't shit where you eat. Sure, people succeed. You probably won't, and it's not a good bet.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 11:49 PM on April 24, 2008

Yes, it is a potential disaster in the making. Yes, the odds are long that it will end well.

So what? Life is supposed to be complicated. In the worst case scenario you learn how to act like a mature adult working next to an "ex". You'll live. In the best case scenario you find Mrs. downing street memo.

Actually the worst case scenario is you fall madly in love, she doesn't return your feelings but strings you along anyway because she does like you as a person and she's just lonely enough to not care about the kind of pain it's going to cause you when you finally realize it's never going to happen, you spiral into a deep depression that lasts months and poisons your relationships for years.

But that can happen with anyone.
posted by Bonzai at 12:16 AM on April 25, 2008

I met my wife at work. We're very happily married, and worked together for a couple of years, before she moved on to another job.

Think you need to weigh up how important the job is to you, as there is a potential that if things went badly wrong one of you would need to move on. As the initiator, it's pretty reasonable to think that person should be you. On the other hand things might work out great. Only you are in the position to weigh risk and reward.
posted by bifter at 2:12 AM on April 25, 2008

I dated a guy I worked with - we were on the same team - and it was public knowledge. When it ended, there were a lot of whispers and some crazy rumors. It wasn't easy, but it was definitely not the hardest thing in the world to deal with.

After that project finished up, I started working on another team, and started dating a guy on that team. Kept everything pretty quiet because the rumor mill from the last breakup was the most annoying part about dating someone from work, and we kept it quiet until we both left the company. We're still together - nearly 4 years later.

I say, you gotta try. Go for lunch together, with other people or alone, or take coffee breaks at the same time - not in a stalker kind of way. Strike up conversations with her about things not work related. Send her a playlist of some of your favorite music, or jokes/links to funny/entertaining things you read on the internet. TomMelee had some good suggestions...

Seriously, give it a shot. If it works out (for a while or longer) make sure you have a discussion about how to handle both how to react to each other (personally) while at work (how to not bring personal fights into the work relationship), as well as how to handle the public information about your relationship (do your coworkers even need to know you're dating?). And if it goes south at some point, just keep your head together and be civil and professional when in the office - as you would do with EVERYONE ELSE you work with.
posted by kirstk at 3:55 AM on April 25, 2008

It's not just that you work with her, it's that "we work on the same team, sit in the same cluster of cubes, report to the same person, and have the same title" If you two start dating, you're going to be seeing each other 24/7 right off the pant. That can put a lot of undo stress on a relationship.

That said, you're 23, what the hell, go for it, damn the rules (and there are most certainly rules about this, be they written or unwritten) IF, and this is critically important, you are able to back off if she says no and keep a professional relationship and not mop around like a rejected teenager. Otherwise, back off.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:04 AM on April 25, 2008

I agree with a lot of the advice here on being careful. I'm watching two of my co-workers, who are on again/off again, semi-implode and it's not pretty. I'm friends with both of them and I hate to see them upset. And I hate being in the middle but that's kind here nor there.

That said, though - why not just start hanging out as friends? Maybe you'll find you don't really like her That Way but you do like her as a friend. Maybe you will and you will successfully ask her out. Or maybe she has lots of single friends and one of them is perfect for you.
posted by sutel at 5:24 AM on April 25, 2008

Ok, I work at a boarding school. I dated a coworker, which as these things go, is perhaps the second worst idea ever (only dumber idea is dating a roommate), but it ended ok. We were really good friends, got together, found ourselves in a really emotionally intense relationship, she broke my heart, but we're back towards being friends, and even hanging out again. It helps that I'm changing jobs at the end of the school year.

So, while my experience is slightly unique (the reason for the breakup was atypical, but I don't want to elaborate, as I know a nuclear relative or hers reads MeFi), I'd say go for it. I've found that the time required to really get over someone is proportional to how long you're with someone. You're 23, you probably won't be at that job for a long time, so the aftermath is something you can cope with. (If it's your dream job, I envy you and say forget it.)

That said, hang out with her first, get to know her. Meet with her for drinks after work, have lunch together. Then ask her out. So it's not completely out of the blue. Drop me a line through MeFimail (not sure of the grammar here) if you to talk to someone who was recently in a relatively similar situation.

On preview, sutel's advice in her second paragraph is phrased better than I could ever put it.
posted by Hactar at 6:38 AM on April 25, 2008

To expand on my initial answer:

I'm drama-averse. I don't particularly like having to deal with freaked-out people, being gossiped about, having personal vendettas interfere with work, etc. All of these things become possible when you date someone at work, and the closer you are organizationally, the more likely.

Does it work sometimes? Yes. Hell, in my industry, it's pretty standard to meet-and-marry in the office, and I'd say 75% of those relationships don't cause any greater drama than a higher-than-average amount of nepotism and a certain amount of "well, he sucks, but if we fire him his wife will quit and we NEED her, so let's just stick him where he won't do any major damage."

So, yes, you can take your chances. It might work out, it might get one of you fired, it might get the company slapped with a sexual harassment lawsuit if you're actually THAT bad at relationships. In my personal estimation, the risk-vs-reward equation works out in favor of not messing my nest, but YMMV.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:56 AM on April 25, 2008

Don't shit where you eat. /thread
posted by phritosan at 11:10 AM on April 25, 2008

Make friends with her. Get to know each other better. Wouldn't you want to do that anyway?

Maybe the friendship will eventually morph into something else, maybe it won't. But if it does, having been friends from the start will put both of you in a much better position to sustain a relatively calm and sane working relationship no matter what happens.

Incidentally, I've always hated that "don't shit where you eat" phrase. Who shits on their partners? Or eats their co-workers?
posted by tangerine at 2:25 PM on April 25, 2008

I must have a funny perspective. I read "don't shit where you eat" as "relationships have the value of feces. Therefore, you mustn't involve your livelihood with the previously mentioned fecal matter."

I'm sad that people see the fun of a new relationship as, well, shit.
posted by TomMelee at 9:07 PM on April 25, 2008

Yeah I have to agree I find the whole "don't shit where you eat" thing a little weird. I can understand it I guess in the context of one night stands/random hookups, but most relationships bring with them a risk of complicating your life if they go south. Whether it's mutual friends, living together, etc Any serious relationship requires that you invest something in it. I'm not suggesting you jump into this blind or permanently risk your career, but that's why you need to figure out how strict your job is about this kind of thing and decide accordingly.
posted by whoaali at 1:14 PM on April 26, 2008

« Older Please suggest some great house music mixes.   |   "We're sorry, this video is no longer available."... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.