Whenever I meet a young married couple, I ask them how they met. I look for anecdotal data to get a feel for how engaged or married couples in their 20s get together. It’s common for them to report that they met at work. I’m always a bit surprised when I hear this – whenever the subject comes up here at HUS, someone inevitably jumps in immediately to warn, “Don’t shit where you eat!”
No doubt most young people in work environments have some reservations about dating a coworker, but apparently many go ahead and risk it, according to a 2021 study of marriage:
There is no data for the U.S. that breaks out work from school, but a large study of European countries found that people met their partners in the following ways:
Place of work: 20.2%
Bar, pub or club: 18.8%
Introduced by friend: 15.7%
House party / social: 9.3%
Public space: 5.3%
Known since child: 4.6%
Large social event: 4.2%
Introduced by family: 3.8%
Hobby / volunteer group: 3.8%
Sports team: 1.6%
Many young professionals work long hours, leaving little time available for socializing with friends. It makes sense that finding someone attractive at work is bound to happen – familiarity breeds attraction, and people often choose spouses with similar interests. In light of the recent finding that many young women feel ashamed of prioritizing relationships over career, dating someone from one’s professional network may be less intimidating than looking for love in other places.
Clearly, singles should at least consider potential opportunities in the workplace, even though office romance can be tricky. There is the dreaded spectre of sexual harassment claims, which can be made at any time for practically any reason:
But even when mutual attraction occurs, relationships don’t always last, and extricating oneself from an office romance can obviously be complicated. In How to (Legally) Hit on Your Co-Worker, Leslie Kwoh at the WSJ addresses the increasing prevalence of dating between colleagues:
“The workplace isn’t a nine-to-five place anymore,” she says. “Romance among peers is not as much of a no-no as it used to be,” says Margaret Fiester, an operations manager at the Society for Human Resource Management.
But there are still legal considerations when Cupid’s arrow strikes at work, as The Journal reportedearlier this week, and there are more than a few career ramifications, too.
Kwoh provides four guidelines for navigating office romance that are well worth heeding:
1. Never date the boss.
While work romance is becoming less taboo, relationships between supervisors and their employees are still strictly off-limits.
2. Get to know your company’s policy.
Some companies forbid “fraternizing” of any kind at work. Others require that couples alert the HR department or sign a “love contract” when they decide to enter into a relationship, releasing the company of any liability should hearts break.
3. Don’t be a flirt.
Simply asking a co-worker out isn’t illegal, but proceed with utmost caution. Telling a co-worker that you think he or she is hot could well be interpreted as sexual harassment (not to mention cheesy — Ed.). Try asking your crush out to lunch with a group of other colleagues, for example, before proceeding to one-on-one activities.
4. Have an exit plan.
One company got served with a lawsuit four years after an office couple called it quits. The male employee was promoted to become his ex-girlfriend’s direct supervisor, and she claimed he was treating her unfairly.
Clearly, many happily married couples meet at work. Dating successfully at the office can be risky, but then so can lots of other kinds of work relationships. I’ve had female bosses who have treated me worse than any spurned lover would have. I once saw a piece of advice re exploring attraction with a colleague that I thought seemed very sensible:
No touching for four months. Build a friendship, spend time together informally with other colleagues, and begin to include one another in general social plans. Only after getting to know one another and feeling comfortable that your intentions are mutual should you proceed to taking the relationship into the romantic or physical.
In my experience, workplace crushes usually develop slowly anyway, because people tend to be quite careful about them.
In any case, the number of people meeting and marrying from work is large. It deserves a place in your portfolio of strategies.