Thursday, December 9, 2010

"I hooked up with a co-worker."

For many of you, this is the worst possible line uttered in an office party's aftermath.

It carries even greater ramifications than "I wore something inappropriate" or "I drank too much."

(Although now that I think about it, those lines kind of go hand-in-hand with hooking up.)

Consult almost any office holiday party survival guide and you'll find advice about initiating a romantic relationship with a co-worker. The wisdom generally boils down to three words: DON'T DO IT.

I usually stay away from blogging about office relationships because, well, I'm in one. But amid the season's emphasis on social office gatherings, I have to weigh in.

Obviously, avoid drunken hookups with someone you wouldn't be attracted to if alcohol wasn't in the equation. Also, stay away from hooking up with someone who supervises you in an office setting.

That said, hanging out with a co-worker socially can often reveal that the guy known for stinking up the lunchroom's microwave is actually kind of cool. Before you know it, you're ready to defy conventional wisdom and dip your pen in company ink. 'Tis the season, right?

Well, kind of. Before you take the plunge, consider these tips -- courtesy of someone who's sustained an office romance for almost four years. (That's me.)

People will talk. This is one of the most intimidating things about entering an office romance, and for good reason. The chatter doesn't stop after you settle into your relationship. Your co-workers will likely analyze all your interactions, so be prepared for questions like, "You didn't go to lunch together today. Are you fighting?"

There's more pressure. Ever since the early stages of my relationship, I've been mindful of the way a breakup would affect our office as whole. There are basic post-breakup factors to consider, like a reluctance to invite us to the same parties or have us work on projects together.

You will talk about work. You know that whole idea of going home and forgetting about the office? It rarely happens when you're dating a co-worker.

On the day you're most intent on abandoning office concerns, it's likely your partner will want to discuss his/her professional future. It's easy to have these discussions when you're dating somebody in a different profession. But when you share a workplace, the after-hours discussions can be uniquely draining.

Office relationships can be awesome. Despite the cautionary tales, dating a co-worker doesn't have to be a disaster. People rarely note the advantages, like having a sounding board who understands your professional concerns or having a guaranteed lunch date every day of the year.

But there are challenges, which is why relationship experts often direct your match-making efforts elsewhere.

Nonetheless, if I had obeyed all the relationship manuals four years ago, I'd be nowhere near as happy as I am today.