Years ago, I had a summer job on a small cruise ship. One day, one of my male coworkers hit on me in a semi-respectful manner. I didn't feel threatened; I just felt like he was interested and expressed that. I politely declined, citing the fact that we worked together.
The next day, the company's "HR department" (which consisted of our male boss's wife, who was a lawyer) came and talked to both me and him--separately.
I doubt our boss requested she do so. Instead, I believe that behind closed doors, he mentioned overseeing this exchange to his wife, and she said, "Do not mess around with this. A sexual harassment suit could sink our company."
The fact is, dating at work is a risk. It's an emotional risk to you, and it's also a risk to the company. Yet it happens all the time. Constantly. There's no way for human beings to work around one another and attraction to not happen.
Interestingly, research shows that if you start dating someone at work, you're fairly likely to go the distance with that person.
According to one survey conducted by CareerBuilder, 38 percent of people have dated a coworker at some point.
Another survey found that 14 percent of couples who met at work ended up getting married. This outpaced the number of those who got married after being introduced by friends (11 percent).
In fact, on the list of the top five places people met where the relationship led to marriage, "at work" was at the top:
- Through work
- Through a friend
- They were already a friend
- In college
This particular study looked at over 2,000 adults, some of whom talked about the bond created from the sheer amount of time they had spent with their coworker.
As a spokesperson for the survey put it, "We spend so much time at work that it's inevitable you will form close friendships that may go on to become a relationship down the line."
There's also something to be said for the strength of connection you have when you truly understand what your partner's work life is like. Even if one or both of you leaves that specific job, you both know the industry. You "get" each other in a deep way that's hard to replicate outside that world (especially if you're in a demanding profession).
"You might not think where you meet can affect how long a relationship lasts," said the spokesperson, "but it seems those who meet through work can expect more longevity than most."
Still, not everyone is enthused by the idea. Ann Friedman pulled no punches when she opined in the title of her piece on the subject: "Why a Woman should Never Date Her Co-workers." A standout quote: "To a certain extent, dating someone in your field is tethering your professional reputation to theirs, with results that aren't always positive."
Yet there's significant precedent. Melinda and Bill Gates met as colleagues at Microsoft, when they were seated next to one another at a press event. About their first encounter, Melinda had this to say: "He was funnier than I expected him to be."
Barack and Michelle Obama also met at work. They were both at the law firm Sidley Austin LLP, where Michelle was assigned to be Barack's mentor. "Because I went to Harvard and he went to Harvard, and the firm thought, 'Oh, we'll hook these two people up,'" said Michelle.
She was not keen on going on a date with him at first. "Barack, about a month in, asked me out, and I thought, 'No way. This is completely tacky,'" she told ABC News. But she eventually acquiesced. Their first date? Lunch at the Art Institute of Chicago, followed by a nice walk by a fountain, then going to a movie--Spike Lee's "Do The Right Thing."
It's also possible that the reason so many work-based relationships end up working is that both individuals have already decided it's worth the risk. In other words, each person likes the other enough to overcome the hurdle of starting something up with someone at work (which everyone knows is inherently riskly for a number of reasons).
And like other things in life, sometimes the risk is very much worth the reward.