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Love at Work

New love is exciting wherever it sparks, but when it’s three cubicles down and comes with the added taboo of keeping it under wraps, it can feel utterly irresistible. After all, there are few things more exciting than an attractive distraction from the daily mundane. Plus, at-work relationships nearly come to you, face to face for at least 40 hours per week, with a guaranteed no-brainer that you’ll have at least two things—work and the people you work with—in common.

But even when the end result is a long-term, successful relationship, the initial stages of dating at work can have their downsides. Despite violating any legal considerations as well as internal corporate mandates compiled into your company’s employee handbook, workplace romance can upset the social balance and kick up office politics in to high gear, threatening the work quality, reputation, and in some cases, your job. And if the relationship doesn’t work out, add to that having to see your ex on an almost-daily basis, and having to interact with him or her in a professional demeanor in the name of positive productivity and the pursuit of profit.

Just imagine the awkward moments tinged with bitterness against a backdrop of buzz and judgments of the usual office rumor mill, and it might be enough to switch your growing attraction for a coworker to nothing more than a casual fantasy ignited for a few brief moments when he or she walks by. For many, a workplace can be for casual and superficial flirtations, but when push comes to shove, many would never venture down the riskier road less traveled. After all, a corporate culture is not only composed written rules; there are unwritten rules of conduct that, if violated, serve to hurt your social standing with your peers as well. Still, should you decide to cultivate workplace flirtation into a dating and relationship situation, you may want to keep the following points in mind:

There is an Undeniable Impact on work and on Coworkers

Despite the obvious considerations needing to be taken into account that may involve registering your relationship with your Human Resources department to avoid later possible legal hassles (and sadly, they do happen), office romance can make coworkers and managers squirm because, simply put, love detracts from work performance and can get in the way of sound business. When one’s head is filled with special feelings and pervasive thoughts of another that are only amplified by close proximity, productivity suffers. New love may put a spring in to a step, but it also tends to put a normally sound head in to the clouds. It can trump reason and common sense, creating situations of unfair advantage in the workplace that could mar your reputation forever.

Everybody Knows (or Will)

Despite best intentions to pretend it is business as usual, it is fairly easy for coworkers to see through the facades of a couple of corporate lovebirds. Play-acting absolute professionalism is a dead giveaway—stiff and purposely impersonal body language that belies smiling eyes burning with attraction and forced conversation about work to the complete exclusion of any small talk will only make suspecting eyes watch more closely and gossipmongers’ mouths open more frequently.

At the time you may think “So what? I don’t care what people think,” or “People must lead dull lives to fixate on mine,” but keep in mind that people are talking about it with others when you are not around, and group consensus can make amazing things happen in the workplace, both socially and professionally—that’s what office politics is all about. Even when people talk face to face with a coworker they know is dating someone from the office, some fraction of the conversation involves thinking about that person and their coworker partner, and not usually in a good way.

You must Imagine the Worst-Case Scenario

Short of losing your job and experiencing some social friction, most times a workplace-love-gone-bad usually degrades itself into nothing more than an emotional irritation, albeit a large one. When even the most well-intentioned relationship becomes a mere fizzled-out work fling, it can be emotionally harrowing to both the dumper and the dumped. The dumper becomes the “bad guy” or “bad girl” and the dumped become embittered and emotional, maybe even a little vindictive.

The aftermath of a work romance fallout can make going to work an absolute hell since both partners must see the other over and over again. There is also the danger of falling for the office serial dater—every workplace has one, so do your homework and make sure that the man or woman you’re interested in doesn’t have a work-date rap sheet longer than the time span of most relationships he or she keeps. You can typically spot this smooth operator one a mile away from the trail of broken hearts he or she leaves in tow. If you look closely, you can see daggers fired through short glares of those left in his or her wake.

But…It can Work

All of the warnings aside, when office romance is bad, it’s awful, but when it’s good, it can forge unbreakable bonds. Everyone knows someone who met his or her spouse while working for the same company, and these are the success stories representative of what could happen with that special person who catches your eye. Just remember that like the world outside of work, the rules of sound dating apply: compatibility and chemistry are king, so make sure the good relationship basics are there.

It’s a good idea to talk clearly beforehand with your potential partner about the implications of where it could go before things get too serious between you since there are risks involved in the workplace. Put your hormones on hold and consciously decide to take things slowly. New love feels incredible, but just like romances found off duty, it’s smart to pace yourself and take your time to really get to know the other person. Your chances of finding lasting love inside of your company’s walls are about equal to a relationship forged outside of them. However, at the risk of losing your credibility, your heart, and even your job, only you can assess whether that spark in your eye and excitement in your imagination is worth the risk associated with becoming romantically involved with a coworker.