Workplace Romances Have Positive Aspects That Can Outweigh the Bad
At first, Carol denied it. Then she told herself it would go away. Finally, she was forced to confront reality.
“I’d had an enormous crush on my supervisor for over a year, from the time that he was transferred into my department,” Carol said in a letter to Single Life. “My girlfriends picked up on it and would tease me because I talked about him so much, so I made an effort to quit mentioning him. It just seemed like such a hopeless situation that I didn’t want to admit to myself or to my friends that I liked the guy, whom I’ll call ‘John.’
“But after a while, I noticed that he was flirting with me more and more when we were alone. Even though I liked him, I hoped nothing would develop, because I’m just getting my career going and I didn’t want to jeopardize it. I work for a company, which shall remain nameless, that has given me a lot of opportunity for growth,” wrote the 26-year-old Huntington Beach resident.
“To make a long story short, he asked me out for a drink after work one night, and one thing led to another. We kept our relationship quiet for a while, and we were both stressed out. After about three months, he told his boss that we had ‘just started seeing one another.’ They transferred me into another department that I don’t like as much, but it’s better than sneaking around and worrying about getting caught. I’m looking for another job. John’s and my relationship is going well, which is the most important thing.”
Carol is both the victim and benefactor of a growing phenomenon of modern-day life: the workplace romance.
“The office has become the new singles bar,” said Judy Rosener, assistant dean of the Graduate School of Management at UC Irvine. “It used to be that people met their spouses in college, but now that people are getting married later, that process has been extended into the working arena.”
Rosener observed that the workplace provides a natural setting for people of similar backgrounds and interests to associate. “Ironically, the very qualities that make men and women work well together professionally--common experiences and goals, respect for one another--turn out to be the same things that make people sexually attracted to each other,” she said.
For the most part, Rosener added, sweethearts working together pose few difficulties for either themselves or their employer. “In fact, (workplace romance) might even improve employee attendence,” she said. “Maybe it makes employees want to come to work more.
“Sometimes liaisons at work are viewed as a problem, but I would suggest that they are not a negative,” Rosener said. “The only time they become a problem is when the woman and man have a professional relationship where one is in the position of evaluating the other. Today, however, you move somebody--you don’t fire them anymore. Whom you move depends on seniority and position.”
Carol lost out on both criteria. “I’m still a little upset about that consequence of my relationship,” she said in an interview. “Here I thought I was on the right track at work, and along comes a cute guy and messes it up.
"(Being transferred) puts more pressure on our relationship, in a way. Now if the relationship doesn’t work out, I’ll really feel like the whole thing was a big waste of time,” she said with a laugh.
“On one hand, it’s great having a boyfriend who works in your same field, because what we do is pretty specialized and probably seems like boring conversation to outsiders,” Carol said. “But on the other hand, I’m not sure I’d recommend my particular situation, although you don’t have a lot of control over who you’re attracted to.
Andrea and Steven Berggren managed to make their workplace romance work so well that they now are married.
“After saying ‘don’t get involved’ for over 12 years, I broke my No. 1 rule,” Andrea wrote Single Life. “At the time of our budding romance, I was a firefighter for the California Department of Forestry, stationed at an air attack base. Steven is an aircraft mechanic, and was hired to repair air tankers, which drop fire retardant.
“Both of us had very intense jobs. In the middle of three major fire operations, I turned around and asked him to go out to the movies after all had quieted down.”
“We framed the newspaper ad of that movie and it’s hanging on our wall,” Steven said.
The Garden Grove couple married last Aug. 14--one year after their first date.
“We agreed to keep it from other employees that we were seeing each other,” said Andrea, 29. “It was kind of a game--trying to appear as though we didn’t know each other very well.”
“I’d see her in the morning after having gone out with her the night before, and we’d smile at each other secretively,” recalled Steven, 24. “Our jobs could get pretty boring when there weren’t any fires going on, so our romance made work more exciting.”
An advantage that the Berggrens had over Carol and John was an expiration date stamped on Steven’s work contract. “I was stationed with Andrea only for the summer, so we knew that if our relationship didn’t work out, we wouldn’t have to see each other again,” Steven said.
Not all lovebirds enjoy such a convenient set-up. Some must continue a professional relationship after their romantic relationship has fizzled.
However, Rosener speculated that many co-workers find ways to maintain a friendship even after a terminated affair. “I just wonder--do people have that residue of anger left?” she said. “This is just anecdotal, from people I’ve talked with, but it seems that ending an affair today is not what it used to be. Professional people seem to interact with each other at work without any hard feelings after having had an affair.”
Not surprisingly, both Steven and Andrea recommend the workplace for meeting potential mates. “At work, you see certain qualities in a person that are important in a relationship: commitment, responsibility, whether they take pride in their job,” Andrea said.
“People don’t put on the same kind of front at work that they might on a date,” Steven said. “You can see how they react under any kind of condition, you can see what kind of temper they have.
“It’s hard to meet people outside of work. I guess you can hit the singles bars on weekends, but you don’t meet the quality of person in bars that you do on the job .”
Busy, Busy, Busy
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You thought you were in the throes of a budding relationship. Your dates were fun, your conversations meaningful, your interests compatible. Then, suddenly, he or she disappeared from your life. Did you ever figure out what went wrong? And, men, why do you simply stop calling? Women, why do you turn cool without explanation? Both sexes, how would you prefer to be rejected? How do you prefer to reject--with honesty, white lies or a vanishing act? Let us hear from you on the matter.
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