How to Handle the Office Romance

It's rarely a good idea to mix pleasure with your business. Here's why.
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Editor's note: If you have a pressing business-etiquette question for Miss Conduct, please send her an email.

In case you ignored Miss Conduct's advice

last week about office attractions and have indulged in that most forbidden of summer fruit, this week's column addresses the etiquette of office romance.

Power Plays

Office romance is an oxymoron -- and not just because this contradiction in terms usually makes you look stupid.

As a stalwart fool for love, Miss Conduct hates to be a killjoy (it's just too much responsibility), but all there is at the office is competition. Bring your heart into that arena and someone is going to take competitive advantage of it.

Your beloved might take advantage of your affection, your rivals might take advantage of your distraction -- and your boss might take advantage of your mistake by underpaying you, assigning you the crummy tasks, killing you with faint praise or otherwise thwarting your goals.

It happens all the time -- and not just to corporate spies but to everyone from politicians to yoga instructors. There's an old saying in Hollywood that "it's called show business for a reason -- it sure ain't show friend," and now that we're all globally connected, this wisdom holds in every field.

Heaven forbid one of the dewy-eyed darlings should be the director of something -- human nature and office politics being what they are, the rest of your working group will suffer when two of you get in a clinch.

Just as in Army movies, the espirt de corps takes a dive when any one member of the tribe's tug on another's affections increases. Whether any real preference is shown in making assignments, distributing tasks or sacrificing weekend hours, remember, it's not about reality -- it's about perception.

Furthermore, you must never discount the idea that you could be seduced into the merest appearance of impropriety in an effort to undermine your status at the company.

If that makes you cringe, Miss Conduct can mention that of course your beloved Juliet would never do something like this (yeah, right), but is it at all possible that Juliet's best friend in accounting might let a telling detail slip to your boss if she's angry she wasn't included in your opera plans?

Or could your Romeo's business rival want to run the project you just took over?

Once they've got the goods on your secret romance, there is no limit to the ways you can be used.

Don't fall for it, and don't let your beloved fall for it, either. Even if the relationship doesn't start out as a power play, all is fair in love and war -- and office romance is both.

It's No Secret

You're not fooling anybody.

Your body language has changed, the way you greet each other has changed (and by the way, prim handshakes and cooled "hellos" are a dead giveaway) -- even before a distant attraction has closed the gap.

Indeed, at the beginning of an office romance, the principals are often the last to know that they're an item. You might still be daydreaming about asking for a date when the office betting pool has odds that you already took the plunge.

Remember the team that was working so closely on your big project? The same people who know exactly how you like your deskbound dinner hamburgers (no onion, pickles on the side) also know the full repertoire of your facial expressions.

They know your "tells," and they don't just make jokes about them at the lunchtime poker games. Or so Miss Conduct has read -- in your colleagues' "private" emails and blogs all over the Internet.

A Work-Around

Miss Conduct is not such a priss that she doesn't recognize that the office is perhaps the one place where you can count on meeting smart, highly charged people with shared interests. Romance -- or its gritty cousin -- is bound to rear its lovely head here.

And yes, there is an etiquette to finding love in the marketplace, but it's just as full of risk as the old method of chancing it and hoping no one will notice.

The plan? As soon as you begin to approach one another, stop and approach your boss instead. Tell him or her that you would like to transfer to another department, and why.

Once you've been transferred or have found some other remedy -- perhaps even a new place of employment, if company policy or your boss makes it clear that an office romance is not a possibility -- you can ask your heart's delight to spend some time with you outside the office.

The heat is on this summer -- as it is whenever attractive people work closely together. But just keep your cool and you shouldn't get burned. At least, that's Miss Conduct's story, and she's sticking to it.

Read more of Miss Conduct's best advice at

AskMissConduct.com. Her amanuensis, Lisa Moricoli Latham, is a freelance writer in Los Angeles, and has contibuted to The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and Salon.com.