Rules for a Successful Office Romance

Current orthodoxy on office romances is: don't do it. There are all kinds of reasons why this is good advice. But I disagree. I met my husband Michael at work, fell madly in love, married him - and then changed jobs. Although he died very young, I'm glad I did what I did and there is no job on earth for which I would have sacrificed our love.

If that all sounds a bit too gushy for a business website, don't worry. I'll get practical. If, like me, you are lucky enough to meet your love at work and you don't want to sacrifice either romance or career, what should you do?

The Rules of Relationship Management

  1. Recognize that if this is hard for you, at least you get some reward. It is also hard for your coworkers - and they get nothing. So have some compassion.
  2. Try, as far as you're able, to work on separate projects, in different departments. Spend as little time as you can actually working together. Michael and I were both radio producers and did different shows. It helped.
  3. If you must be in meetings together, treat each other like colleagues and no more. Don't sit together, don't exchange looks and don't use any kind of private language.
  4. If your partner's work is being discussed in any way - if budgets are being set, output criticized, organizational changes being made - excuse yourself from any personnel decision. Do this well before it makes anyone uncomfortable.
  5. Accept that people will gossip about your relationship. You can't stop it. Just don't help them by giving them anything meaningful to discuss.
  6. Unless or until your relationship is permanent and official, remember that if you break up, everyone will know and have an opinion. Unless you're an outrageous extrovert, this will be painful. How you've managed steps 1-5 above will determine whether it is uncomfortable, excruciating or the end of your career. Remember: if you can negotiate all of this, world peace should be a cinch.
  7. Don't bother with any of this if you aren't serious about the relationship.
Rules of Domestic Management
If you think life's hard at work, it isn't exactly straightforward when you leave the office. This takes thinking about too:
  1. Be yourself: not half a couple. Most people make lots of friends at work and go out together at the end of the day or the week. The two of you can do that too. But it's still, in a way, work. So make sure to keep your identity too. Make it clear to friends and colleagues that you're still an individual. (This will do wonders for your relationship too.)
  2. Find friends and activities that do not involve work. Life can get pretty boring when you do everything - work and life - together.
  3. Try not to talk about work at home. Surem it's difficult - we all talk about work at home - but when you are working with the same people, socializing with the same people and then talking about the same people all day, it gets really dull. Find something else to discuss or watch TV and talk about that. It was for this reason, primarily, that I left radio. I needed something different to bring to the dinner table!
One Inviolable Golden Rule
All of this is pliable, depending on where you work and what you do.

But there is only one absolute rule: never ever become your partner's boss.
That won't work. It creates all kinds of legal and political quagmires and you cannot win. If you want to be a boss - go somewhere else.

Full disclosure: Five years after Michael died, I married a scientist and we've now been married 20 years. We have never worked together.

Further Reading:

Is Power Going to Your Head?
Do Your People Tell You the Truth?
Tiger Mothers Aren't Great Leaders
Photo courtesy of flickr user Valerie Everett C.C.2.0