Office Romances: Are They Ever A Good Idea?

Ah, the holidays: presents, office parties ... and office hookups resulting from too much mistletoe and gin fizzes. But can office romances actually work? Or do they live up to their heartbreaking reputation?

Getting Colder ...

"I never looked twice at John," said Corinne, 32, an office manager from New York. "I was in my own world and he was kind of goofy looking, but about the funniest guy I ever met. One day, something just all of a sudden clicked. And I was like, 'This guy's hysterical!' And then I was head over heels."

In the beginning, John seemed to feel the same. "We both started to come into work early, so we could have some time alone," Corinne remembers. "Everyone knew pretty early on, but it was still nice to spend time together without all these eyes on us. He'd bring flowers and whatnot. It was nice."

Quickly, though, what Corrine thought was the beginning of something important went south. "Literally, after I spent the night with him, it was over. I couldn't believe I had fallen for that. I mean, I knew random office hookups happened, but I didn't think it was happening to me. And not John! I mean, this was not Mr. Suave. One of the reasons I fell for him was that he had this dorky thing going on. But I guess that was his m.o."

And how did it all shake out? Corrine admits, "It was terrible ... at first. But something good happened. I fell for his line once more, and the same thing happened. So after that I realized, 'OK, you're a jerk.' And the anger trumped any sadness or guilt I had felt. And that helped me get on with things much more quickly."

Problems with Office Romance

Can It Ever Work?

Are there any times when office hookups are a good idea? Not really, says psychologist and relationship expert Dr. Michelle. "The higher you go up the corporate ladder, the more I would advise against it," she warns. "In some companies it's against corporate policy, and people might look at it as a bad thing. You really need to consider the impact of dating this person."

It's even worse if you and your intended are not on an even corporate keel. "There's a power dynamic that's sometimes unspoken," says Dr. Michelle. "And then, are you afraid that you might lose your job if you don't date this person? Will people start flying over your head with promotions if you don't?" It leaves the company open to lawsuits, which is one of the reasons many of them prohibit interoffice shenanigans. "Think about the corporate policy—whether you can get away with this or not depends on the culture of your organization," she warns.

Kiss Your Privacy Good-bye

There's also the issue of privacy. As Dr. Michelle puts it, "Are you willing to let your private life play out among your co-workers?" Or as Lara, 29, puts it, "Ugh! It was difficult." Lara began dating a co-worker during holiday time in the office, and as much as they thought they were hiding it, "Everybody knew. I couldn't hide my feelings, good and bad. And after I confided in someone, all bets were off. There was no confiding in this office!"

Surprisingly, Lara's relationship with Kevin worked out, and they were married in 2005. "But life didn't get easier until we both got jobs elsewhere. Because otherwise nobody could separate us personally from professionally. I remember I was upset because my dog died, and suddenly it was, 'Omigod! Did you and Kevin break up?' I had no other identity. It was ridiculous."

So, although some office relationships can work out, it's a slippery slope—something to consider during the holidays. And why are the holidays rife with hookups anyway? "It's not just because people are partying," says Dr. Michelle. "The holidays evoke a lot of emotions, and a lot of need for connecting, spending time with families and significant others. And if you don't have someone, you're kind of looking around for them."

What If It Happens Anyway?

And what if the festive spirit overtakes you and a colleague? Best not to leave things hanging—have a talk. It'll be awkward at first, but save a lot of heartache later. "You don't have to say, 'What's up with us?'" advises Dr. Michelle, "More like, 'Let's see what happens ...' And then you never know. It might grow into something."