I recently had an email conversation with a reader about a peculiar situation in which she found herself involved. Keisha* is an early thirtysomething, African-American executive assistant for a human resource manager at an energy company, and has worked there for a little less than three years. She’s a divorced mother of an 8-year-old and works a couple of side jobs to make ends meet. She dates sporadically, and isn’t exactly looking for a serious relationship right now. She does enjoy going out though, and definitely enjoys having adult fun with sexy men (and, occasionally, women).
A few months ago, Keisha went out on an amazing first date with a guy from another department in her company. They’d passed each other in the hallways a few times and had lunch once or twice together; he finally asked her to go to dinner and she agreed. They went out, had a great time, and while she knew she was busy with work and raising her son, she looked forward to hanging out with him again.
The guy, Wesley*, was also into her, it seemed. Keisha told me he began by doing cute things like sending her “thinking about you” emails, and he even sent her flowers to her desk once. She admits that she enjoyed it initially; who doesn’t enjoy attention? They started “hooking up” after work, usually at her house or, less often, at his apartment. The sex was unbelievable, she wrote, and she was quite happy to have that new new in her life.
Everything seemed all good until he brought his fiancée to the company’s winter fundraising gala. Wesley even went so far as to introduce Keisha to his fiancée and acted as if nothing happened between them. Needless to say, Keisha was disappointed, hurt, and felt used.
She did her best to avoid him after the gala until he emailed her trying to “explain.” She wasn’t having any of that, and did her best to disconnect from him. Fast-forward about two months and she’s interviewing for an internal transfer. Of course he was on the hiring board. She didn’t get the job and wrote to me asking if she should talk to the Human Resources manager about her concern that she was discriminated against because of her involvement with him.
I have a rather strong opinion about workplace romances, and that is, avoid getting romantically involved with someone you work with at all costs! I don’t encourage anything that can jeopardize your income or limit your earning potential. I understand, however, that things happen, and some people have found the love of their lives at work.
According to research, the odds of finding a spouse are better at work than dating sites. At least 30-40% of employees have dated someone from work, and of those people, 35-38% went on to marry someone they worked with. We’re not talking about getting married though. This is about getting freak nasty with the nerdy, but well-hung IT guy that others overlook, only you know the real deal. Is it worth it?
Consider the pros and cons of developing a sexual relationship with someone at work. One benefit is that you’re likely to getting involved with someone whom you have things in common with, which usually makes the sex better because you have some connection. Another benefit is that you have regular access to the person, so there’s an increased possibility of sneaking a freak at work, right before or immediately after work. Nothing like morning sex to start the day, right? You can also avoid the awkwardness of who-calls-or-texts-whom-first and just cut to the chase by walking over to a cubicle or knocking on an office door with a knowing wink or “Hey, wanna grab a cup of coffee after work?”
There are downsides to turning your co-worker into a lover, however. Like Keisha, you might find yourself in a situation where you question if a certain outcome that affects your career is a result of your sexual involvement with your co-worker/lover/friend. You might also find yourself subject to being blackmailed or threatened with having a sexual harassment claim filed against you. (Especially if being “exposed” could be detrimental to your career and personal life.) There’s an increased chance of word getting out, and you don’t want to be labeled in any way that could hurt you around the office. We all know that people gossip in closed environments.
Finally, if the sex ends up being wack, you’re basically stuck with the awkwardness of facing this person after you two have hooked up and you’ve been sorely let down. Can you imagine how uncomfortable that would be, having to face the person you faked it with every single day at the office?
Some companies do have policies about intra-office dating and sexual relationships written into their codes of conduct, so it’s important you familiarize yourself with them. While companies can’t prevent you from getting involved with someone you work with, they can set rules on interactions, particularly between supervisors and subordinates. Interestingly enough, a study found that while HR managers generally find no problem with office romances, people who have same-sex relationships are often subject to more negative perceptions and backlash, because of overall negative views about homosexuality in general. It’s unfair, but an unfortunate reality in the workplace, where only 16 states protect members of the LGBTQ community from workplace discrimination.
What should you do? Regardless of your decision, be careful! Jobs are entirely too scarce to take risks that can lead to you losing your job over a few toe-curling orgasms. But I don’t want to dissuade you from finding “The One,” who might be working three offices down the hall. If you’re only looking for a friend with benefits, I recommend you focus more on the “friend” and steer clear of a “co-worker with benefits” situation that might cost you more important benefits. It’s tricky and it’s your call. As always, think it through, communicate boundaries with your potential work boo, and be safe!
*Names have been changed to protect the guilty.
Feminista Jones is a sex-positive Black feminist, social worker and blogger from New York City. She writes about gender, race, politics, mental health and sexuality at FeministaJones.com. Follow her on Twitter at @FeministaJones.