2017 Update: We still stand by this advice on dating at the office – links have also been updated. You may also want to check out our more recent discussion on dating at work.
We’ve talked about dating a wee bit on here, but something we’ve never talked about is dating at the office. (Disclosure: This author has no experience with it personally). Still, it happens frequently — a study by the American Management Association found that two-thirds of managers and executives say it’s okay to date someone at the office, and 30% have done so. We’ve certainly known (and respected) folks who dated people at the office — in fact, a lot of those people wound up marrying that co-worker. So what are the rules for dating a co-worker with dignity?
(Pictured: Linda Lee Johnson Claddagh Ring, available at Barney’s for $3200. Update 2017: It’s sold out, sadly, but you can always get a great claddagh ring at Etsy (affiliate link).)
We thought we’d throw some suggestions for the single ladies amongst us — readers, please chime in.
What to Know About Dating at the Office
- Do not view your office as a dating pool. It doesn’t matter how big the company is, or how many floors or offices it has — word will get around, and it will hurt you professionally. There should be a chance for the relationship to be a fairly serious one — do not just “date” a co-worker for a “distraction.” If you happen to really like someone you work with, let your feelings develop naturally, and let the relationship progress naturally. (We might also advise that if you’ve already dated someone at the office and it ended, then you should be very, very careful about dating anyone else at the office, lest you be seen as someone who does view the office as a dating pool.)
- Know the office policy on dating before anything happens. Knowing when and if you’re obligated to have a conversation with your superior will probably influence your thoughts on the relationship.
- Discretion is the name of the game. Keep your thoughts about the crush/burgeoning relationship to yourself, or only discuss with friends who have no connection to the office. When you start dating, don’t visit each others’ offices that frequently. Don’t go to a bar or restaurant near the office. Keep the cutesy talk outside the office. Avoid leaving the office at the same time (or, cringe, arriving at the same time).
- Keep it in your pants (to put it crudely). Two rules that we strongly caution against breaking: 1) no public hook-ups — your first kiss should not happen at a work party, no matter how much you’ve been drinking. 2) There is no place in your office that is private or secluded enough to count as a romantic rendezvous spot — not your office, not the coat closet. Don’t do it.
- Only appear in public when it’s pretty serious. To us, this would mean living together, engaged, or pregnant — but hey, we’re old-fashioned.
Readers, what are your thoughts on dating at the office? Have you ever dated anyone at the office?
Picture below via Stencil.
I’d love to see a poll of C readers (anonymous, of course)… would you ever, have you ever, do you currently, would you never be caught dead… etc.
I, personally, have, but am not currently. I think that each and every point C made above is accurate. However, I do think there can be execptions to the last one – when you appear in public. If you’re serious, neither of you has kids and neither of you is divorced [or “recently” (2 years?) seen with someone else] then the timeline shortens, in my opinion. But with any of the above factors, I think the public appearance needs to be careful. And, if it is serious, you guys will likely agree on the appropriateness of your actions. You both work in the same environment and both (should) have a handle on the way it might be perceived. Talk it over. When you agree that it is right, it likely will be.
I dated an another associate at my firm for about 6 months. There was no office policy against it (lots of high ranking partners have married people that they met here). This associate and I were having a lot of fun together, we kept it discrete (secret, for the most part), and I really didn’t see the harm.
Of course, that was before he got drunk at the office holiday party and revealed some pretty personal details of our relationship to several other coworkers.
So I think that my advice is to be careful that the person your dating is as concerned about the impact it could have on your job as he is about the impact that it could have on his. And don’t date assholes.
The other problem is that this was now almost 4 years ago, and I still literally see this guy (in the elevator, etc) at least twice a week, where I am forced to be civil to him even though I’d just as soon claw his eyes out.
He might be Mr. Right, but in order to find out, you have to be prepared for him to be Mr. So Very Bad For Your Career.
anon - chi
Ugh. That sounds awful. :-(
let it gooo
I met my soon-to-be husband at the office (where we were both attorneys). We kept things under wraps (except as to a close mutual co-worker friend) for 3 months and only “came out” because we were tired of co-workers trying to set us up with other people. My primary reason for not wanting to tell anyone was that the women in my office are particularly gossip-y and I didn’t want everyone talking about it (no, I’m not that self-important, they really will gossip about anything). Waiting awhile took the edge off of the news. I know that people still talked about it, but it was less interesting because the relationship, at that point, wasn’t really “new”.
A warning to law students and new attorneys: I was a summer associate at a mid-size firm last summer. Two of the other summer associates had a thing going that they didn’t hide very well (I don’t know exactly what was going on, but at the very least, they were flirtacious, visited each others’ offices frequently, and occasionally rode together to events). Neither of them got offers. I don’t know if that’s the reason, but I think it’s a pretty interesting coincidence. I think it looks pretty immature and unprofessional when two adults can’t keep their feelings under a lid for 10 weeks.
As the previous commenter who it (luckily – seriously, I realize how lucky I am that it didn’t blow up in my face) worked out for, I completely agree that a summer associate-ship is NO PLACE to take the gamble. You either won’t get the offer, or you’ll forever be known as that slut from the summer program.
My office is small and close knit enough that I suspect people would be kind of hurt and offended if you waited until you were engaged or living together to go public. Three months sounds about right to me for this office though I wouldn’t want to generalize that.
Its not elegant, but as a general rule, don’t “isht where you eat”! Yes, there are exceptions, but it seems this could end badly for everyone involved more frequently than not….
agree! and it’s usually worse for the woman involved… not fair, but usually true.
One of my cousins is getting married in several weeks. She is marrying a former coworker, who didn’t ask her out until a few days after she’d moved to a new job. Some people just don’t think it’s appropriate to date someone you work with (including these two), so keep that in mind!
I work with two people who are dating and show up / leave together nearly every day. I find it a little offputting, so I agree with the advice to stagger departure/arrival most days, even if you’re coming from / going to the same place!
Also, beware the supervisor/subordinate relationship! If you want to date a partner, or a paralegal, it could be very risky to keep things under wraps. You likely should disclose this privately to the firm administrator so that he or she can make sure that you are not supervising the paralegal, or receiving reviews from the partner.
Or even worse, summer associate/anyone at firm. Don’t do it!
One of our Summer Associates started dating our IT guy. She was new to the firm, but, WE all knew that he was constantly hitting on secretary’s, etc. So weird.
Haha, this is timely as far as I’m concerned. My boyfriend very recently found out that his two best buds at the office (both of whom he works very closely with) have been secretly dating for a few months. For the most part it doesn’t bother him now that he’s over the shock of finding out but occasionally he comes home and says “Man A was in a really bad mood today and normally I would have joked about it to B but now that they’re dating I feel like I can’t say things like that to them anymore!”
I do think the name of the game is to be discreet and pay attention if you ever hear stories about former employees who dated. Try to find out why they’re no longer there. It may have nothing to do with the fact that they dated but you probably want to make sure…
I’ve always thought the prohibition on office dating was a little overblown. You take a group of men and women – usually of similar intelligence, talents, interests, etc.; put them in an office 9+ hours a day, send them out of town together, to after-work social events together – what do people think is going to happen? I think in many ways it’s only natural that single people of similar ages with similar life experiences start dating. The only time I’ve ever had a problem with “workplace romances” is in one of the following scenarios:
1. Too much PDA/footsie/flirting in the office.
2. One or more of the parties is married, and not to the person they’re dating. This absolutely will brand you as the office slut, faster than just about anything else. And despite pains taken to be “discreet,” the news will get out – nothing gets the gossip mill going like news of a married person having an affair.
3. A messy breakup gets dragged into the office. You know – bad coworker breakups that seem to go on interminably, with people avoiding each other in the hallway, sniping at each other in meetings, and crying in the bathrooms. I think anyone dating in the office really needs to be ready to be mature and reserved about the breakup, no matter how vile it is behind-the-scenes.
4. A subordinate dating their boss. I have never seen a situation where this did not result in a lot of backbiting, gossip, and vicious rumors about someone “sleeping their way to the top” – and the rumor can persist for years, and years, and years – usually much longer than the relationship. As with dating a married coworker, there’s no way to wash off this taint once it’s on you. Forevermore, people will think you got ahead by doing your best work on the couch in your boss’ office. Or, if you’re the boss, your partner will be painted with this brush. It’s not a good idea, any way you look at it.
Oh – and I totally agree with “keep it in your pants.” I once worked with two people (one single, one very proudly and noisily engaged to a non-coworker) who would sneak off to the supply closet for rendezvous, thinking they were being sly. Everyone knew they were in there, and exactly what they were doing, thanks to an air duct that went straight from the closet to the women’s bathroom. It’s never, ever as safe as you think it is, especially with the increased use of security cameras in offices these days.
I think most people are pretty sensible about office dating. I have seen some extremely messy situations in my time – but all of them involved one of the above scenarios. Two single people, not in any kind of reporting relationship to each other, who are smart and discreet about the situation – I’m not sure why that would be a problem for anyone.
The previous posters have a lot of valid points. I agree that it can be sticky, and can leave a bad taste in people’s mouths, if you are immature or indiscreet about the relationship. On the other hand, I met my DH at work. We were on the same team and dated for several months before getting engaged. Aside from riding to work together, we didn’t act “couple-y” at work. No one seemed bothered by it.
However, prior to meeting DH I did briefly date a coworker. I thought it was a secret but found out way later it was not. Not a great experience. But, like PP said, don’t date a-holes and that should solve a lot of problems.
Texas Law Chick
Having worked at a large law firm in Texas for many years, I unfortunately think that this answer is different for men than it is for women. It was assumed that I was having a relationship with a co-worker (I was not) and I had to have meetings with a senior partner about it and I do feel like the perception hampered my career. My co-worker I was suspected of having the relationship with did not have the same meetings or the same experiences I did as a result. As a woman in a male dominated firm and practice, I felt that I always had to be much more above reproach than the men I worked with.
Now, having spent so many years on my career, and being single, I view my career as a very valuable asset and I will not date anyone at the office for fear of jeopardizing that asset. But then again, I also keep my personal friendships outside of the office as well. The law is just too gossipy of a field.
Hear, Hear! =)
I met my husband at work – so I definitely have personal experience with this one! We started dating about one year after I worked there – only one mutual friend, because the three of us would hang out basically every weekend together. In fact, our mutual coworker’s girlfriend is the one who kind of got us together!
We kept our relationship a complete secret for 1 year! Dating was not against the rules – we were at the same level, but we just didn’t want it to affect anyone’s impressions of ourselves or our work. We were SO careful. We never drove together to work functions, or left together. I remember one night leaving a post-work function happy hour – where we drove separately to a meeting location then drove the rest of the way to his apartment together! We hardly spoke to each other in the office, definitely never flirted!
Once we were ready to move in together, and when I was ready to move onto different job we stopped going out of our way to hide it. It was probably ‘public knowledge’ for about 3 weeks before I left.
Now we’re married!
I would also caution any 1Ls or potential law out there against dating in your law school class, especially if it is rather small. I was warned against this, yet ignored the advice and have paid for it dearly. This is especially hard when you attend a small law school in a small town (which I do) and are single! But things can get messy pretty quickly and gossip is crazy in law school!
I think law school is just like middle school regardless. Several of my friends and I merely had close friendships with people of the opposite sex and had rumors spread that we were engaged to those friends. I wasn’t about to stop associating with men just because I was a single female, nor were my other friends.
I think the issue is that some people just aren’t comfortable having friends of the opposite sex and place their expectations onto others. I tend to get along better with men, so it’s been an ongoing problem for me for quite sometime.
I don’t know – I think law school is different. First, it’s still school, and everyone is so busy and wrapped in doing their own thing that no one really cares. I dated a guy my second year of law school, broke up, got back together, and was engaged by my last semester and I don’t think anyone batted an eye.
I did a masters at a very very small law school. The sort of town with one bar, “the bar” and it was like musical chairs except with relationships. I really tried to stay out of the dating scene, which hampered my social life, but also kept me out of the majority of the drama. SO not worth it.
Also, please don’t jump to the conclusion that coworkers that arrive to work together or leave together are sleeping together. At my old job I frequently carpooled with a male coworker who lived near me and the rumour mill was all over that one. At my current job, I gave a male coworker a ride when his car was in the shop. I haven’t heard anything about it yet but after my last experience it made me nervous. I wouldn’t normally let rumors bother me much but with the old job I was engaged at the time so everyone thought it was a big scandel.
Didn’t Michelle and Barack meet at a law firm? And wasn’t she senior to him?
He was a summer associate and she was an associate I believe. Exception to every rule, I guess.
But he didn’t join the firm after the summer program! If a Barack was in the summer associate class at my firm, I’d probably break all the rules too.
And I don’t think they dated while he was a summer – he asked her out, and she told him “No, it would be inappropriate”.
There will alllways be office romances, and they will alllways be contentious. If you’re going to go there, just make sure the relationship is rewarding enough to be worth the trouble.
Umm, not that these aren’t valid concerns, but . . . if I didn’t date men in my law school class, or men I work with, or men I know professionally, I would be committing myself to a life of solitude.
A girl has to find a date somewhere. sigh.
See, that’s what I’ve always thought. If you have a high-powered career, and work a lot of hours, it would be really hard to meet people outside the office – when do you have time? And how would you meet people that understand the craziness of your schedule, and why it’s worth it? I have seen a lot of relationships implode over this very issue.
I agree somewhat – I think at some point you have to be open to dating people you are around… and if that is always work-contacts, then so be it. But, you just have to be careful! Date people that might be work related contacts, but not necessarily at your firm, or in a division where you might work with them often.
I do have a friend who works in Physical Therapy at a smaller office – and she just started Match.com and has gone a few good dates! So, if you actually have the time to go on dates… there are other options! :)
I’m not sure that most men “understand” the crazy schedule. Most of the men I know in Biglaw marry women who don’t have similar schedules. It’s really helpful to have one person in a couple who has time to focus on arranging creature comforts, making social and vacation plans, etc. The key is to find someone who values their career, alone time or friend time and isn’t dependent on his s.o., which may or may not be someone who’s a lawyer.
Most people I know seem to meet people online or through friends, not at work, once they are actually working.
I am dating a coworker who is significantly older than I am, and although a few people were amazed at the age difference, it hasn’t caused any problems for me. However, he will be leaving the firm in the next 2-5 years and since I am a pretty new attorney I assume I will be too. We do occasionally kiss good morning or when parting in the hallway, but only after checking that “the coast is clear” and it’s a peck, not a full on make-out session, which we would never do in the office.
I dunno, I always thought I would be pretty strict about not dating a coworker, but it’s turning out to be the best thing ever. He has more experience in work-related matters so I am learning a lot from him, when I have client meetings or something comes up he completely understands and vice versa, and we get to “steal” a lot of time together when traveling to far-off events (i.e. a 3-4 hour car ride when everyone carpools anyway).
Another work-romance-to-marriage (engaged) success story here. :) We worked together before I went back to school. We were very slow and cautious about even beginning a relationship, then were secretive for a few months, before “going public” by being each other’s dates to the office x-mas party. We already knew the company was fine with it (and we were pretty low-level employes); we just didn’t want to be the subjects of gossip in case things didn’t work out. There were a few other couples who didn’t work out, and it was kind of known that there was tension between the exes.
Ok, so I’ve been in a top-secret relationship with a co-worker that doesn’t break any company rules for 2+ years now. We’re not planning on moving in, getting married, or having babies any time soon….but I’m starting to feel like I’m deceiving my other coworkers who think I’m single.
Any advice about breaking the news? I feel like I missed the 3-months it’s long enough to be serious but not so long it feels like a betrayal mark, and now I don’t know what to do.
I think if it’s been more than a year it’s fine to be public. And I wouldn’t break the news, per se. Just stop being so secretive. Once they’ve seen you hold hands as you walk to your car or sneak a kiss at happy hour, they’ll figure it out.
I am another office-romance success story, but after practicing employment law and conducting sexual harassment prevention training for the last few years, I am sort of appalled with myself.
In my defense, I knew he was The One when he walked in to interview me for the job. Sounds cheesy, but it’s the truth. He was the senior associate in our litigation group and I was a junior associate. Neither of us was married or otherwise attached, but we worked together for a year before he asked me out. When he did, he told me that a partner in the firm had told him it would be highly risky to date me, but that he had thought about it at length and he thought it was worth the risk. I still get choked up thinking about him saying that to me.
We went public a few months later, when it was review time and he wisely decided it wouldn’t be a good idea for him to participate in my review. After that, I was no longer allowed to work with him, which was OK. We got married, kept our jobs and both made partner eventually, then left the firm at different times for different opportunities. Were happily married with three kids now.
All I can advise is to think hard if it’s worth the risk (and all I advise when I’m actually on the job is don’t do it). At least half and probably two-thirds of the sexual harassment cases I have handled as an attorney stem from workplace romances – everything from one-night-stands to full-blown extramarital affairs – gone bad.
Agree with most posts above but we had a situation in our office where the superior-subordinate had an affair and they didn’t admit it, despite the fact that he’d be reviewing her perf. and also ranking her in her peer group. You can see why it was a disaster waiting to happen – unlike housecounsel’s case.
So please “come out” before you’re exposed!
I married my boss. Okay, he wasn’t technically my boss, but my real boss was back in the states (we worked overseas), and he was the closest thing that I had to a boss.
However, this was pre-law school, and it was clear that the job was the sort of thing you do short-term before moving on to grad school. My position wasn’t intended to be long-term. That said, I was (and am!) crazy about him, and I can’t swear I wouldn’t have gone for it anyway.
I am another success story, but I know I am the exception, not the rule.
I met my husband on the 1st day of work at the Organization I was working with, and it was love at first sight for both of us. He proposed after 1 month, and 4 months after that we got married. We have been married for over 4 years and have 18 month old boy-girl twins. We are working in a different country now and are still crazy about each other.
He was in IT, I was in Legal, so it wouldn’t have been too uncomfortable if things had gone bad.
That being said, it wasn’t easy. Almost no one knew we were dating until 2 months before we got married, and they found out just because we stopped being so careful . But the speed at which everything happened transformed us into the favorite gossip and people with bad previous experiences started almost betting on how long we were going to last. People I wouldn’t know would approach me and ask “are you sure???? marriage is a big commitment. You know you don’t NEED to marry, right?” And of course, people were also assuming that we got married because I got pregnant (as if I needed to do that anyway! I was 29 at the time!) It was very, very uncomfortable. It was worth it because he was the man of my life, otherwise it definitely wouldn’t have been. I have seen many office romances gone awry and it does damage women’s careers more than it does damage men’s. Sad but true.
Just thought I’d share some success stories, although their not mine. At my DH’s workplace (engineering, approx 200 employees) there have been three younger co-worker couples who started dating and ended up getting married, two of them just this year. How crazy is that? It’s like the love boat over there. There are not a lot of women there so I guess they have their pick!
At a law firm, I think it matters if the person is or isn’t in your practice group as well. My law firm, like most, is divided up into a lot of relatively smaller practice groups and if you date someone within your group and it goes badly, there are a lot of ways it could go wrong. But if you date someone in a completely unrelated group, its easier to keep it quiet until you are ready for it to come out and, if things don’t work, you won’t have to see that guy at a million lunch meetings or work closely with him on something.