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Dating Colleagues 2006-11-20

Posted by clype in Articles of Interest.
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‘Can you mix Business and Sex’ — an article by Sam Jordison


If asked to describe the ideal dating agency, I’d probably come up with something remarkably similar to the average British office. No, please, bear with me.

For a start, work is where you’ll meet many people with whom you’ve already got an awful lot in common. Admittedly, these touching points may be less about shared interests and more about shared boredom and a mutual loathing for the powers that be, but at least they’re good talking points.

Indeed, conversation is generally far easier in an office than at more traditional singles’ meeting places — pubs, coffee shops, nightclubs — as there’s no need for small talk, no pressure to look your best while desperately trying not to fall off a bar stool and, if things start to flag, you’ve always got the excuse of having to go and do some ‘work’.

The best thing of all, however, is that instead of you paying for the privilege of meeting all these prospective partners, you’re the one that gets a wage. See what I mean?

Statistics bear me out, too. A 2006 survey discovered that a whopping 75 per cent of UK workers admitted to having had an office crush; 43 per cent have flirted with a colleague via e-mail; 46 per cent have gone the whole hog with an office romance. So the chances are that every other person in the room with you has been ‘at it’ at some point.

A workplace survey from 2004 revealed that — disturbingly (or thrillingly, depending on your perspective) — a third of respondents had shared some kind of office-based ‘physical intimacy’ with a colleague, the favoured locations being lifts or stairwells.

In the same survey, even more of those questioned admitted to at least having nurtured a fantasy about one of their co-workers. Hardly surprising, really, as the allure of occupational passion is undeniable. Making eyes at someone over the photocopier is far more interesting than running off 250 copies of the annual report on it. And the prospect of brightening up your day with a spot of that ‘physical intimacy’ is sure to take the sting out of early mornings and long commutes.

I must admit, however, that the office does also present unique problems in the field of love. Potential disaster lurks at every desk. If there’s one thing my two recent projects of compiling a book about bad dates and a website about true tales from working life have taught me, it’s that the course of office love never did run smooth.

For a start, there’s the danger that the person you’ve spent so much time mooning over will turn out to be a complete dweeb outside the office. Once the restraints of bureaucratic etiquette have been loosened, who knows what horrors will come to the fore? The man who brightens so many dull meetings with his charisma and interesting comments may actually like nothing better than to talk endlessly about his collection of model Daleks. He could be a prig. Or a drunk. Or a teetotal End-Times-are-coming Christian.

Realising that your date is someone you don’t want to spend any time with is hard enough, but if it’s someone you work with and there’s no escape from seeing them every day, it becomes excruciating. Worse still, you’ll have nothing left to dream about all day if you’re unlucky enough to discover that the object of you’re affections is, in reality, an abject loser. What’s more, the date going badly isn’t even the worst-case scenario. It’s far preferable to what generally happens when things go well.

Don’t imagine for a second that you will be able to conceal your new love from your colleagues, for instance. There is nothing in the world more likely to attract unwanted attention than the body language of two people who have just started getting physical and are desperate to conceal it between the hours of nine and five. Even if you had sex on the canteen tables (NB: don’t even think of it), the state of your relations couldn’t be more apparent to your co-workers — or more irritating. Because if there’s one thing that’s guaranteed, it’s that they are NOT going to enjoy seeing the evidence of your new loved-up state. The last thing anyone wants to look at in the office is two of their colleagues getting all smoochy.

Added to this is the additional embarrassment that your love life stands a good chance of being broadcast all over the e-mail system. For a start, the IT department may be monitoring every message you send — and with special attention if it actually starts to get interesting. Hardly a pleasant thought given the personal habits of most IT people I know.

It’s also worth exercising caution because these things just tend to get out. A favourite example from my book of ‘Bad Dates’, concerns the man whose new amour sent him the message: ‘I still haven’t stopped laughing about your pants…’, much to the delight of everyone else in the office who also accidentally received it. And history abounds with similar examples.

Doubtless a number of readers will be among the millions who received a declaration supposedly from a ‘Claire Swire’ that she’d found providing oral sex for her new partner — allegedly a one ‘Bradley Chait’ — a ‘yum’ experience.

The e-mail showed that the lucky man in question could apparently not resist forwarding the mail to just two colleagues — and they then forwarded it to everyone they knew, until eventually the entire world had read it. Worse than all this potential embarrassment and jealous enmity is the nightmare of breaking up. How difficult must it be not to continue the argument you started over breakfast?

How tortuous must it be to stay polite and professional with the person who has only just chewed up your heart and spat it out?

So great is this problem, in fact, that more and more UK employers are introducing American-style ‘love contracts’ that oblige them to report relationships with other members of staff and absolves the company of any responsibility in the case of break-up fall-out.

Isn’t that romantic? It’s almost enough to make you want to go through all those occupational love-hazards just so that you can stick it to The Man and prove all those anti-love lawyers wrong.

  • And if you did, you’d be in good company. In spite of all the problems that office romance presents, it’s still one of the most effective ways of finding love. To bolster my original office advocacy, a healthy one-third of all happily married couples are said to have met at work — which is far more than any dating agencies I know of have ever managed.


[Picture of Dates Book cover]

Sam Jordison is the author of ‘Bad Dates‘ — See also www.ihatework.wordpress.com

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