Office pal ponders turning up the heat

May 3, 2012 

Dear Wayne and Wanda,

I have a crush on a co-worker. He's my best friend at the office. We've started texting when we aren't working, sometimes about work but sometimes just about life and stuff. I really like this guy. I want to say something but don't want to screw up our friendship. I know if he doesn't feel the same, it could mess things up at work. But i think he feels the same and I don't want to miss out on what could be a good thing. What are the rules when it comes to workplace dating?

Wanda says,

Ah, you've got yourself a Work Spouse! It's a term I first came across in the occasionally helpful pages of Cosmo a couple years back. As Wikipedia describes it, a "Work Spouse" is a co-worker, usually of the opposite sex, with whom one shares long hours, secrets, loyalties, honesty and openness -- and, just maybe, some crazy-good chemistry. Work Spouses are good for a sympathetic ear and workday brain breaks. I'm not sure how I'd cope without mine. Plus, he has super dreamy eyes.

But I digress. Work Spouse relationships cross into the danger zone when one or both of you is already otherwise romantically committed. In that case you need to honestly answer all sorts of uncomfortable questions, such as whether your close bond is too close, or whether there's any substance to the occasional flirtatious quip or lingering eye contact.

Happily for you, it sounds like you and your WS are both unattached. Most companies have policies on workplace romance, typically established to protect against sexual harassment. If you move forward, review youroffice code of conduct first and make sure you aren't breaking any rules.

Now, the million-dollar question: Can you turn your Work Spouse into a Real Boyfriend? Depends. Just know, once you even try, the special bond you have will be forever altered one way or another. You could lose him altogether, and make things weird and awkward. Or you could end up in a pretty special relationship, though still mired in negotiating the land mines of workplace romance.

Either way it requires a leap of faith and a shared commitment to translating a fairly contained relationship into one that functions on multiple levels in the real world. That's easier said than done. Good luck.

Wayne says,

Land mines? More like dirty bombs tucked in every corner of your office, waiting to destroy your personal and professional lives. A tad dramatic, perhaps, but I want you to clearly understand the worst-case scenario of a workplace romance: a broken heart and a derailed career. No big deal, right?

Sure, it could go better than that. You might persuade your crush to go on a date without making him feel totally awkward or harassed. Your romance might even get past the eyes and ears of everyone in the office for a week before they're all talking about it. Heck, you guys might even get married someday -- only half of those fail! I wasn't able to find any stats on Work Spouses who become Work Exes. ...

But what about Ted and Louise? They met at work 15 years ago, have three kids and are still going strong.

You know what else is still going strong? The saying, "Don't mix business with pleasure." Ted and Louise are relics from wildly different business and romantic eras. Today, your dating pool extends well beyond your 9-to-5; it's easier than ever to meet hundreds of people using online dating. And today, dating a co-worker means checking in with Human Resources -- it's like being on parole before committing a crime.

Work is a place to build your career, a place to get a paycheck, and even a place to escape the drama of your personal life for a few hours. Work isn't a place to get your date on, unless you're willing to work somewhere else if/when the love connection doesn't work out.


• Wanda is a wise person who has loved, lost and been to therapy. Wayne is a wise guy who has no use for therapy. Send them your questions and thoughts at wanda@adn.com.

Office pal ponders turning up the heat

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