Keeping your romantic and professional lives separate is a major necessity in today's corporate world. Ask any advice columnist; consult any self-help book. After all, when you're trying to exude a certain level of competence and professionalism, smooching by the photocopier won't help your case one bit.
Plus, there are plenty of other places to meet people, right? Take the bar scene -- most of us love the aura of mystery dim lights, pulsing music and beer breath add to a first impression. Or through friends -- or friends of friends of friends. Awkward blind dates set up by acquaintances can be fun. Umm, the laundromat...?
Is an office romance really that bad an idea?
Okay, it's hard to be 'out there' when you spend most of your time at your desk and the new guy in accounting keeps making meaningful eye contact. Would it really be such a bad idea to go for it? Workplace love can work, but it can also go spectacularly wrong. If you want to go there, make it easier on yourself and heed the advice of women who've been in your uncomfortable, but necessary with a pantsuit, stilettos.
Keep it quiet
A few years ago, I decided to go for it. Working as a waitress, I had always been vocal in my choice not to date coworkers. The last thing I wanted to worry about during a busy lunch hour was my love life. So when my friendship with one of the sous-chefs gradually became something more, we wisely chose to keep it to ourselves. Keeping our new relationship a secret actually brought us closer, since we had to strategize arrivals and departures, as well as avoiding the urge to break out into simultaneous goofy smiles.
Page 1 of 3 - Learn more advice about keeping an office romance on page 2.
During the get-to-know-you phase, keep your lips zipped (that means no secret meetings in the supply closet either) for the sake of your relationship. If you confess to your office-mates, they'll be watching – and commenting – on every interaction.
Check your employee handbook
When you come out as a couple, people will treat you differently and a lot of people will view your relationship as a threat. Be smart about it. Before someone else can, confess all to your boss. And if your new kissing-partner is your boss, or you are his, make sure you are well-versed in your company's policy on issues of the heart – you might well be in trouble for your out-of-office canoodling.
When promotions and anniversaries and breakups and firings become tangled together, be very sure that nothing that can be considered inappropriate takes place during work hours. Victoria learned this lesson the hard way when she realized her flirtations with the boss had disguised the fact that she was being denied a well-deserved promotion.
"I'd stay at the office until eight or nine at night, doing the mountains of work he'd assigned to me," she says. "When I'd complain or ask for an assistant, he'd switch gears to flirt mode, and I'd be distracted – again."
Realizing that her crush wasn't going away – and neither was her workload – Victoria switched departments, was quickly promoted and decided not to date her former boss.
Page 2 of 3 - Learn how to give each other some space on page 3.
There's a lot more to consider than compatibility in an office affair. When you're sizing up a co-employee's romantic potential, ask yourself if you're ready to face the consequences and complications.
Give each other space
Starting a relationship with someone you work with allows you to skip a lot of the get-to-know-you phase – you already know each other and like what you know. But once the relationship is established, the proximity that was a bonus may turn into a problem.
Set ground rules that will allow you to keep the relationship from turning into an extension of the office. Examples include no lunch dates or no talking about work over dinner. Make sure you spend time apart, hanging out with friends, doing what you did before love blossomed.
That way, the time you spend together outside work is still special. Some couples can happily work and play together, others desire space.
Figure out what you need and how to get it. When I knew my relationship with the chef was going to be serious, I quit my job to give us space to make it work. Waitressing was a stopgap for me; cooking was his career. You may not need to take a drastic step, but love and paperwork aren't always a perfect match. You can have both, but be prepared to do some juggling.