We all know that the workplace is a minefield for sexual tension. Where else do you lock up people of the opposite sex for eight hours a day, and tell them to talk with each other but not touch? It is unnatural, and ever since men let women into the workplace, we have been adjusting.
It is totally normal to have a crush on someone at work. And it is totally normal for people to tell you not to act on it. And it is totally normal to throw caution to the wind. According to Helaine Olen, author of the book Office Mate, more than fifty percent of the population is dating someone from work.
So if you're going to do it, here are some best practices for getting the guy:
1. Flirt verbally rather than nonverbally
According to research reported in the Journal of Psychological Science (via Live Science), men are not good at reading nonverbal cues. They mistake a friendly smile as a sexual overture, for example. But researchers found that men also missed nonverbal signs of sexual interest: “When images of gals meant to show allure flashed onto the screen, male students mistook the allure as amicable signals.”
At work, the context of flirting is less defined than a science experiment, which means there will be even more missed cues. On top of that, if your office is full of knowledge workers, who are paid because they do a good job of synthesizing information, the missed cues will probably be even higher.
Why? Because research about Asperger's syndrome tells us how the brain develops its ability to read nonverbal cues. We know that children's brains learn this skill early in life. And we know that kids who seem to think like a young Einstein often have Asperger’s syndrome, where the side of their brain for logic, spatial abilities, and memorizing grows at the expense of the side of the brain for reading nonverbal social cues.
So it seems to me that the cluelessness of men when it comes to reading sexual overtones is actually on a spectrum, and the more extreme their abilities are in the high-IQ side of the brain, the more extreme their inability to read nonverbal sexual cues will be. (And this explains why the conversation about this research on the geek-genius blog Slashdot is so spunky.)
2. If you know he's interested, play hard to get
If you know the guy is interested, make him work to get you. Live Science reports that the male need for the chase is so strong that it even happens in lab mice—given the choice of two girl mice, the boy mouse goes for the girl mouse who is more difficult to conquer.
And we know that both men and women do not take relationships seriously if there's no chase, because, according to Cosmo magazine, only 3% of couples who have sex on first dates end up getting married.
So you are going to have to play hard to get at work if you want more from the guy than just a fling.
(Interesting side note about the chase: Most women intuitively play hard to get, until they find Mr. Right, and then men and women want to have sex—and violate societal sex norms—at the same rate.)
3. Don't make the first move if you are not the same age
Match.com reports that roughly 80% of both sexes are willing to make the first move. But when the man and woman are not in the same age group, men usually make the first move at work.
In a study of long-term relationships between older women and younger men, more than 95% of the men made the first move.
And research from University of Santa Cruz shows an almost institutionalized way for older men to make the first move is to initiate a productive mentoring relationship with a woman and then follow that up with a sexual overture.
So if the guy is your age, buy the book Office Mate, which is a handbook for making passes at co-workers. If the guy is not your age, play hard to get. And either way, remember that the average worker today changes jobs every eighteen months, so if things go bad dating at work, you'll find a new job soon enough anyway.
And in the end, the problem of figuring out if you want to be involved with someone at work might be harder than actually making it happen.