Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The ins and outs of dating at work

I just returned from a long weekend trip to celebrate my fifth wedding anniversary. My husband and I are both architects, and we met at work. We met on my very first day in the office (he had been there for three months), and we hit it off instantly. That was nearly ten years ago; we're still together and still happy together, but it wasn't a walk in the park. We dated, married, worked together, and lived together for six and a half years before my husband decided he wanted a change and went to work at another firm. During that six and a half years, there was a lot of figuring out how to make work and personal life happen in a way that ensured sanity and professionalism at work and no one poisoning anyone else's dinner at home.

Some firms expressly forbid dating a coworker, but I find those policies to be obnoxious, presuming, and unrealistic. First of all, how am I supposed to know who I'm going to get along with and be most attracted to? Second of all, if you've ever been in architecture school, you know that this is a rather in-fraternizing college major--by the time you all graduated, I bet at least half of your architecture class had dated one another at some point. That carries over to our profession as well. At least half of my friends who are architects married another architect, and another quarter to third married someone in a related field--engineer, contractor, plumber or other construction tradesman, landscape architect, or interior designer. It's just how this profession is, and acting like you're not going to meet someone good enough to date at work is unrealistic.

Whether or not your office has this "no office dating" policy, the first rule of office dating is to keep it very quiet. Don't flirt with and talk to each other constantly unless it's actually about business, and if you go to lunch or out for a midafternoon Starbucks run, avoid any kind of intimate contact (holding hands or looping arms together or brushing the other person's cheek or hair). If you really like this person, you'll get to see them outside of work and you can do all the hand-holding and snoodling you want at that time. Don't tell anyone about it (for a long while anyway), and don't be putting up pictures and whatnot of this person at your desk either. When my husband left our office, we had been married for nearly two years, and some people didn't even realize we were dating. They never saw us hanging all over each other, and when we arrived at work in the same car, most folks thought we just lived in the same neighborhood and carpooled.

The reason for the first rule (keep it quiet) is because of the second rule of office dating: make sure you can handle the possibility of this not working out. There are at least four couples I can think of who ended up married after meeting at my office (and then dating), but I can also think of at least four others that didn't pan out. Some of them did very well with continuing to get along, and others got a little messy and became grist for the gossip mill. You don't need rumors and innuendo floating around about you and another person, and you don't need to have either of your jobs jeopardized because you start having spats about how a dimension plan should be laid out, all because you each thought the other was selfish and unable to commit.

The rest of the rules for office dating are a lot like the rules for dating in general. Clear communication and respect for each other does a world of good, especially if you end up having to work together on a project. My husband and I did end up on a couple of projects together, and we realized that it was a terrible, horrible thing; I found his communication skills to be severely lacking and rude, while he felt that I took his critiques of my work too personally. We finally approached our project managers and asked not to work together again, and after another attempt to put us on the same team, the message was finally received loud and clear. This experience caused us to have some serious conversations (and we still have them from time to time) regarding what is respectful and clear communication and what is just being rude and insulting. While my husband has helped me understand and see how not all "rude" communication is personal, I have hopefully helped him see that his has to temper how he talks to others as he moves up the ranks in his office--no one will listen to him if the medium is coarse, even if the message is completely correct and called for. (I'm still working on this....)

I love the fact that my life partner not only understands the work I do, but he also knows some of the people I work with and can provide insight into their behavior (i.e. "Don't worry, he acted like that towards me; he's a jerk to everyone."). But in order to make it work, we had to decide up front how this was going to work and how we would prevent problems that would cost us respect and/or our jobs. Ultimately, it's been one of the best gifts I've ever received from architecture: someone who loves me just as I am and can join me in heckling bad terrazzo trim details in a building while we wait for an elevator.

In some upcoming posts, we'll talk about socializing at work in general and avoiding the gossip mill. In the meantime, if you have a question you'd like to have answered or a topic you'd like to see covered in a future post, please post it in the comments or send me an email from the sidebar. Thanks!

1 comment:

  1. I consider my self immensely lucky to have found your blog today. :)

    A thoroughly insightful blog that gives me an idea of How-to-be and How-not-to-be for & about my future internship days which are fast approaching.

    Thank you and looking forward to your blog-posts.