Updated: May 2
We are frequently fed the idea that to have a balanced, fulfilling life, your work life, and personal life must be kept separate. We are told countless times that dating in the workplace is a no-go. But we know that relationships come in all shapes and sizes and sometimes bend the rules. So, what if you find yourself developing feelings for your coworker? It makes sense that you would meet a compatible partner at your work, as you share common interests and already have something to bond over. While you know you have a duty to your job, you sometimes can’t help yourself from falling in love.
Dating in the workplace is an intricate waterway to navigate, but when done thoughtfully, it can be incredibly rewarding. And while there are plenty of reasons why a relationship in the workplace could fail, there are just as many reasons your relationship could play out beautifully. The first time Taly Matiteyahu, founder and CEO of Blink, dated someone at work, they kept the relationship a secret. While they worked in separate departments, they were able to make private time for each other during the workday. But they constantly tried to avoid seeing each other in the office, and they were always on high alert to avoid running into colleagues while together in public. “[The relationship] came to feel like a burden in many ways,” Matiteyahu recalls, and it ultimately came to an end.
But the second time she dated a coworker, the relationship played out much differently. Unlike before, they didn’t try to conceal their relationship from their coworkers. Their openness about their relationship gave it the chance to flourish and ultimately deepened their connection—to the point where she and her partner are still together and thriving ten years later.
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Matiteyahu says that after her first experience dating a coworker, she would have argued that dating in the workplace isn’t worth it. But after developing such a stable and long-standing relationship with someone who was—at one point—just another coworker, she would say it’s worth it. “Dating a colleague can be stressful sometimes, but if it’s the right person, it’s worth it,” she says.
But while that new coworker might just be your happily-ever-after, it’s essential to not let yourself prioritize the relationship above your job duties. When your workplace also becomes an opportunity to see your partner, the line between your work life and personal life becomes murky, and it’s up to you and your boo to reinforce that boundary. “Establish some ground rules for how you will behave at work and make it very clear from the start how you see this relationship working,” suggests relationship expert Tatyana Dyachenko. If you and your partner are not on the same page about how you should function at work, your relationship is that much more likely to bleed into your job responsibilities and blow up in your face.
Dyanchenko recommends taking the relationship slowly while bearing in mind what is at stake if everything goes wrong. “What would happen if the relationship went sour and you broke up? Could you continue working together? It could lead to some uncomfortable situations and do you want to jeopardize your work for that?” She suggests taking all of the potential consequences into consideration before diving headfirst into something that could end in one or both of you losing your job.
Co-founder and CEO of Ideapod, Justin Brown, says that in his personal experience, dating a coworker was thrilling. “We enjoyed seeing each other daily and our passion for our work was something we shared. It was also amazing to be able to support each other through bad days,” Brown recalls. But he also admits that dating at work comes with its fair share of risks. Many companies have policies against dating coworkers. If that’s the case, there’s an element of secrecy that must be maintained for the relationship to survive. While this may be exciting at first, the stakes are high. The last thing you want is to sacrifice your job for a fling. And a relationship that is built around stealth and deception lacks the room to breathe, grow, and fully blossom.
However, Relationship and Communication expert Chloe Ballatore points out another reason to date at work. “The great part about getting to know someone at work is that you have all this exposure to the person without the stress of dating. You get to know the person before you decide to go on an actual date.” Ballatore met her husband at work and they’ve been together for 22 years. But while her story is one of the luckier ones, she acknowledges that there were potential downsides she had to weigh before deciding to pursue a romantic relationship with her coworker.
Ballatore recognizes that just as it is with any relationship, there is a chance that you and your partner could break up. If that were to happen, would you be able to handle the uncomfortable work setting? Ballatore notes that many women value their relationships over their careers. If you fall into that category, then it could be worth it to pursue a workplace relationship. But if you are someone who chases her career more frequently than she chases men, it probably wouldn’t be worth it to risk your career growth for a relationship that may or may not pan out. “Or you might decide to put very clear boundaries around work and your social life to keep both things separate,” Ballatore recommends.
Ultimately, there is no clear-cut answer on whether you should or shouldn’t date at work, and there is no one-size-fits-all guide to tell you how to handle either scenario. Work and relationships are complex to navigate on their own. When they start to become intertwined, it becomes even more difficult to perform well at your job while developing a meaningful relationship. But just as no two relationships are the same, one work relationship between two individuals might blow up horribly, while another between two completely different coworkers might end in a lifelong marriage. Love and relationships are nearly always a gamble. You can never know for sure how a relationship will play out until you jump in and let it run its course. While you can never have complete certainty about the future, you can weigh the potential outcomes and consequences to make a logical decision about what feels right for you.
It’s essential to always follow your gut and trust what feels right. If pursuing a relationship at work means you have to sneak around and feel guilty about what you’re doing, it probably isn’t worth sacrificing your job performance over. But if you feel confident that your coworker is someone you could spend your life with, don’t deny your feelings. You may not always be able to have your cake and eat it too, but when the relationship is meant to be, you can build a lifelong partnership while still crushing your job responsibilities. After all, it won’t be your job that tucks you into bed at night and takes care of you when you’re sick. If your coworker is the one who ends up occupying that special place in your heart, then it’s worth it ten times over.