The number-one rule, of course, is you should not be flagrant. A new handbook for workplace dating, Office Mate, is full of practical precautions like asking the person out in the parking lot rather than their cube, and trying happy hours for truly fair playing ground.
Why the caution? According to a Gallup poll, people say they are more offended by someone kissing a co-worker than they are by someone stealing from the office or drinking on the job. And Barnes & Noble is so offended that they won’t even carry Office Mate in stores, even though it is likely that about fifty percent of Barnes & Noble employees have hooked up with a co-worker, and surely they could all use a handbook.
Attitudes toward office mating get more lax as you go down the corporate ladder. Younger people expect to hook-up with coworkers. After all, they are working most of their waking hours, so it’s a natural spot to search for romantic opportunities.
It used to be that women had to preserve what little power they had at the office and couldn’t squander power with bedroom antics. Today, though, women are equals for the most part, and in major cities women earn more than men. This parity leaves a lot of room for negotiating in and out of bed.
And women don’t have time to waste. Most want to get married by the time they are 30 so they probably want to have the right relationship in place by the time they are 28. This means they will probably have to date men they work with in order to meet their timetables. (And if you think playing beat-the-clock is unnatural, think again: Scientists surmise that women are so optimized for the game of beat-the-clock that a first kiss is a woman’s biologically attuned tool for quickly weeding out bad mating material.)
Also consider this: We do best when we have limited choices, which makes the workplace is more appealing than say, Match.com. Karim Kassam studies how we deal with choices, and he found that we are much more satisfied with outcomes when we are picking from four or five things than from many more.
Kassam says we have a “psychological immune system” that helps us to see outcomes as positive. He is at Harvard, so it’s not surprising that he uses the Ivy League as an example: If you get into Harvard but not Princeton, you can say to yourself that Princeton is too much of a country club anyway. But if you get into Harvard but not Princeton, and not Stanford then you can’t say Princeton was too pretentious for me because Stanford is less pretentious than Harvard.
“The more alternatives there are,” says Kassam, “the more psychological maneuvering you have to do to tell yourself that your outcome is the best.”
Apply this to dating. You are much better off choosing from the five people you spend your days with than from the 6000 people available to you online. You might think that you will find someone better online, but in fact, you will have a harder time convincing yourself that it is someone good.
The problem is, workplace romance is a slippery slope, especially because not every hook-up is about establishing a lasting marriage. And some are about disrupting a marriage.
A one-night stand, for example, might improve your health, and, timed right, even make you a better public speaker. But be careful about letting things get too intense, because the human brain in love is like the human brain on cocaine: Totally obsessed.
Helen Fisher is an anthropologist who studies love, and she found that the same part of our mind that looks for more cocaine is the part of the brain that thinks about the person we are in love with. We all know how effective the coke addict is at work; the same can be said of the romantically obsessed.
And, bad news for people who think they will have a quick affair that won’t get messy: the human brain is capable of feeling attached in a long-term way to one person while at the same time in love with another person.
If you are feeling like you want to have a one-time fling, think about forgoing the orgasm. Because Fisher says that, just like the addict who is hooked the first time, you can fall in love from just one orgasm. (Here’s a fun and interesting video of Fisher talking about this topic at TED.)
It’s a different ball game if you travel a lot for work – different ball game as in people play more often.
A Yahoo poll found that most extramarital flings happen while someone is on the road. So it surprised me that only 10% of people on the road take their wedding rings off. But then I was sitting next to a guy on a plane who was wearing a wedding ring, and I told him about that research. He said he thought that women were more likely to hook up with a guy who was wearing a ring, because married men are safer. Then, when the plane landed, he asked me out.