All the long hours you clock in at work, you believe, has something to do with your inactive love life—you have no time to go out and mingle, and the few free times and precious weekends you have seem to be too short to look for your Mr. Maybe.
“For many who work long hours and are dedicated to their careers, the opportunities to meet people of the opposite sex outside the office are few,” confirms Letitia Baldridge, author of New Manners For New Times: A Complete Guide To Etiquette. Stephanie Losee, co-author of the Office Mate: The Employee Handbook For Finding And Managing Romance On The Job, adds: “Once upon a time, it was easy to meet a potential date. In school, they were everywhere. Everywhere. But now, you’re out in the real world and you are wondering what happened to all of them.”
Losee dares you to face the facts: You spend the majority of your waking hours at the office. And according to surveys, more than 40 percent of employees log in more than 50 hours a week. Thus, it’s no surprise that a number of corporate ladies are willing to welcome the idea and experience the thrill of an office romance.
“Working in proximity to someone of the opposite sex is a situation that makes the job environment fertile for romantic possibilities,” explains Baldridge. “The work environment provides a great hunting ground for a marriage partner—in fact, the only ‘hunting ground’ for many people today.” Psychologist Mona Ackerman affirms this: “When people work with each other, they begin to feel like a family. In fact, they may even feel closer than a family. They speak the same language, they have the same interest and, inevitably, they spend more time with each other than they do with their own family.” It’s no wonder that it’s easy to see the guy in the next cubicle, your lunchmate, or your suave boss in that light.
However, it’s not all fairy tales from here. Experts believe that not only has the office evolved into a breeding ground of potential spouses, it has also become a hotbed of extramarital affairs, flings, and casual sex. Peggy Vaughan, author of The Monogamy Myth, attributes this to the fast-paced, nine-to-sawa working conditions and our proximity to each other, among other things. “The new working situation means that women often spend more time with their coworkers than with their friends or family,” says Vaughan. “More and more women are traveling in conjunction with their jobs. This additional opportunity for close relationships to develop outside the normal work environment simply expands the opportunities to build close relationships with men at work.”
Take the case of Linda, 27, accountant, who found herself in a sexual tryst with her department head right around the time she was having problems with her own boyfriend. “He was 10 years older than me and married,” Linda shares. “At that point, I was going through a painful breakup with my boyfriend of almost four years, and C. and I leaned on each other for support. What we had was really nice. After a few months, he invited me to his house. That’s when things went from nice to hot. We ended up in bed.”
Fresh graduate Kate, 21, entered the call center industry for this specific reason: to get a boyfriend. She snagged a boy all right, only that he was married with a young child. “I didn’t like the situation one bit, but I couldn’t help it. J. and I were always together, from our yosi breaks to our inuman every morning after the shift,” recalls Kate. “He’s also my team leader, so even in our meetings, we’re inseparable.”
These office affairs sound incredibly exciting—think quickies in the stockroom (and the thrill of not getting caught), round-the-clock PDA, and mushy Post-its—but Vaughan assures they’re both recipes for disaster. “While the risks associated with office romances (between two single people) may be diminished by being discreet and relating in a professional way at work, office affairs (where at least one of the partners is married) carry far more risks,” Vaughan warns. “And these risks are much greater for women than for men.”
The serious repercussions range from being labeled as a whore to earning the ire of your lover’s legal partner and family, from losing your focus to losing your job. Baldridge expresses her concern: “[An office affair] is injurious to the careers of both parties, because everyone in the office is speculating, gossiping, fantasizing, and spreading rumors about them every time one of them comes into sight. That counts down on total office productivity.”
Note that the risks are higher when you’re involved with the boss, like Kate and Linda. Vaughan says, “This is the most volatile situation of all—but one that is still very prevalent.”
Kristin Bowl, spokesperson of the Society for Human Resource Management, adds: “Not only does this raise the potential for a sexual harassment claim, at the very least it may decrease morale in the department and raise suspicions by coworkers of preferential treatment.” The sad fact, according to these experts, is that the boss-lover, who has built his name and reputation for years, can abandon you at the drop of a hat. And “when the affair with her boss ends, her job is likely to end as well,” Vaughan says.
When Janice Reals Ellig, author of Driving The Career Highway: 20 Road Signs You Can’t Afford To Miss, proclaims that “sex is alive and well in the corporate workplace,” she means every word of it. Sex is not an activity exclusive to office couples or those who indulge in extramarital affairs—it’s prevalent in the workplace, particularly in industries that require long hours, operate on graveyard shifts, and encourage frequent bonding activities within the team. It has been reported that employees of these companies are more prone to flings and casual sex.
A study conducted by the University of the Philippines Population Institute reveals that there are call center workers who allegedly engage in casual sex. “Fuck buddies or FUBU...is a phenomenon that involves consensual sexual intercourse among workers done at fire exit areas or in dark lounges,” states the report.
And this phenomenon is scarier than what we imagined, since it imposes a serious threat to health and society. In the same study, there is a dramatic increase in the number of “call center workers who have contracted diseases through non-romantic but regular sexual engagements.”
On the other hand, the sex between Linda and her boss, and Kate and her team leader presented a different—although not any less complicated—problem. Vaughan explains: “When two unmarried people at work are having an affair, they have plenty of choices of time and place for sex without resorting to using the office setting. But the furtive nature of an affair involving at least one married person presents a different dilemma—often resulting in stolen moments of passion in the office.”
The once-in-love Linda eventually ended her affair with C.; so did Kate. Linda had to move to another job, while Kate tried to stay in the company with J., albeit with great difficulty. “I was in love for the most part. Too in love, in fact, that I just overlooked the fact that it was practically impossible to separate the personal and the professional if your boyfriend is, well, your boss,” Kate admits.
Vaughan asserts that the reason women jump into office affairs is “simply that she ignores or denies the risks. When caught up in the emotional ‘high’ of the relationship, she focuses only on the pleasure and excitement involved, not on the potential consequences.” They forget or choose to ignore the commitment (or lack thereof) issues, the possibility of a face-off with their lovers’ wives, and the dangers of unsafe, no-strings-attached sex.
Most girls caught up in office affairs secretly dream of happy endings. “But what if it’s love?” they ask. We don’t discount the possibilities of the boss giving up his prestigious job to be with you, of flings turning into full-blown relationships, of going from casual to steady. But until then, exercise caution. Weigh the professional risks with the personal rewards, and ask yourself if it’s worth it.
If what you and your office beau have is the real thing, here’s how to deal.
Do: Keep an office romance discreet.
DON’T: Hold hands, kiss, or fax each other love notes while at the office.
Do: Act professionally, and sustain a high level of productivity.
DON’T: Make telephone calls to each other at the office.
Do: Keep your affair under wraps until you have committed to a long-term relationship.
DON’T: Arrive or leave with your lover, or sit next to him or her at meetings.
Do: Ask for a transfer if love is interfering with your work.
DON’T: Discuss with your boss what happened on your date.
Do: Make sure that your office romance does not create an unbusiness-like atmosphere.
DON’T: Get involved with someone who is married or known as the office flirt.
Do: Realize that an affair at work could prevent you from getting promoted.
DON’T: Ask for another date if you know the relationship will never be serious.
This story originally appeared in Cosmopolitan magazine, October 2010.
* Minor edits have been made by Cosmo.ph editors