if you’re thinking of asking a coworker on a date…

If you’re thinking about asking out a coworker – particularly with Valentine’s Day approaching – the most important thing you can know is this: It’s essential to proceed with caution because mixing work and romance has the potential to get awkward quickly.

Frankly, if you really want to play it safe, you’re better off leaving work out of your dating life altogether. But the reality these days is that plenty of people do date and even ultimately marry coworkers. In many ways, that’s not surprising. After all, we spend an enormous amount of time at work, and where else are you in such ongoing proximity to the same people over and over? When you work closely with people, it’s human nature that you might end up romantically interested in one of them.

But asking out a coworker can be tricky. Here are seven rules to abide by when you’re navigating romantic interest in a colleague.

1. Do not ask out a colleague more than once. If you ask out a coworker and you’re turned down, you must stop there and respect the no. You get one shot, and one shot only. Otherwise you’re getting into harassment territory – and creep territory too.

2. If you get turned down, you must deal with it gracefully. That means no sulking or avoiding the person, and definitely no snapping at the person or penalizing him or her in any way for saying no. If you aren’t confident in your ability to continue relating professionally and pleasantly to someone who rejected you, then you really shouldn’t ask the person out at all. That is a clear sign that you aren’t ready for workplace dating!

3. If you’re interested in getting to know someone better, consider doing it in a group setting first. Rounding up a group of coworkers for a happy hour or Friday lunch and inviting your crush gives you a low-stakes way to get better acquainted and to get a better read on whether the person seems receptive to more contact.

4. Don’t be a stalker. If it’s taking you a while to work up the courage to ask someone out (which is fine!), resist any urge to do things like constantly find reasons to pass the person’s desk, stare inappropriately, keep tabs on the person through a shared calendar, or otherwise do things that are likely to creep out your colleague while is or she is just trying to work.

5. Never, ever ask out someone who’s in your chain of command, in either direction. Your employer probably has a policy prohibiting this, but even if it doesn’t, dating in your chain of command is a bad, bad idea. At best, it will create the appearance of bias and special treatment, and at worst it opens the door to abuses of power and even charges of harassment down the road. Even if nothing goes wrong, it will be terrible for your reputation.

6. Be aware of the risks if your crush says yes to a date. If you end up romantically involved with a coworker, make sure that you’re prepared for the downsides. For example, if you start spending a lot of time together outside of work, you may find it difficult to get away from your job and avoid talking about colleagues and work issues. It might also stymie your ambitions at your company, since you won’t be able to accept any promotion that would have you managing someone you’re romantically involved with. And if things end badly, you’ll still have to see the person every day, which can make a break-up particularly hard. (These risks are especially pronounced if you work in a small office, where it can be particularly hard to get away from each other and where your relationship will probably be more visible to coworkers, so use extra caution if you do.)

7. Be choosy. You don’t want to get a reputation as someone who sees the office as a hunting ground for dates, which means that you probably shouldn’t use work for casual hook-ups. When you get involved with a coworker, the risk of something going wrong and affecting you professionally is high enough that it’s really only worth pursuing if you’re interested in something more than a short-term fling. Otherwise, you’re better off sparing everyone the potential hassle.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 164 comments… read them below }

  1. Retail HR Guy*

    Also be wary of any large power discrepancy, even if you are outside each others’ chain of command. The CFO may not technically oversee the mailroom clerk, but the CFO can likely exert a lot of power nevertheless.

    1. NonProfit Nancy*

      Yeah I think the ask-er has an obligation to really think through the power imbalance and see if the ask-er could reasonably think their job might be affected. Maybe you’re not their boss – but are you friendly with their boss, does your role affect the assignments they could get, are you up for a promotion that might make them beholden to you? As the ask-er it’s easy to downplay these, but it could be on their mind in a terrible way.

    2. dawbs*

      the ‘go to hell’ rule.

      If the person couldn’t tell you ‘go to hell’ without facing consequences, then you can’t ask them out.
      Which is why you can’t ask the waitress or the mailclerk.
      But you can ask out the person you take smoke breaks with daily or the guy in the next cube when you’re not on the clock.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        I dated a labmate in grad school. (Something something something pipette joke) I asked the department grad coordinator if there were any power imbalance issues I should be aware of. She said, “no, no, you guys don’t have any power to abuse.”


  2. FDCA In Canada*

    I really love the picture in the US News article. Like maybe the answer to “how to ask out a coworker” would be “hand them a piece of paper with a glittery heart stamped on it like work has become a bizarre episode of The Bachelor.” Who knew?

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I’m ashamed to admit that that was the second thing I noticed (after the heart-card).

  3. misplacedmidwesterner*

    A good friend of mine married a coworker. They were both super discreet (and engineers working in an office of mostly male engineers who were fairly obtuse). HR new and about two other coworkers. About a month before their wedding when they were reviewing plans at a team meeting and calendars and they both had the same three weeks off for wedding/honeymoon did the rest of the office figure it out. Once they got engaged they weren’t trying to keep it a secret, it just rather amused my friend to see how long before someone figured it out.

    1. Not Karen*

      We have a couple that met and got married while working here. Rumor has it that one of their bosses’ didn’t even know they were dating until they (the boss) received the wedding invitation.

      1. Ama*

        My brother and sister-in-law work in different divisions on the same campus of their employer. They met, married, and had two kids while working there (who attended the employer’s on site daycare when they were young enough), and they *still* have colleagues who don’t realize they are together.

        1. SpaceySteph*

          My husband and I work in different divisions of the same company (we met in a company co-ed softball league, not on the job). I changed my last name and have never made any secret of it. But I worked with someone who used to work with my husband who didn’t realize until about a year in when he saw us carpooling. And then he said to me “I saw you guys walking in today and that’s when I realized… Stephanie [Last Name], [Husband] [Last Name]…. OHHHHH!”

          My job is full of in-dating though, across orgs and even within them. They hire almost exclusively 20-something new college grads, so its pretty much an extension of the college meet market environment.

        2. Dan*

          I guess that doesn’t surprise me. My campus has about 3500 people in it, and about 700 work in my division. I know of a handful, but this place is so siloed (plus we all have offices) so it’s real easy to not know much about other peoples’ business.

          I have an ex-girlfriend who works in the same division as I do, and I’m not even sure she knows I work here. (She started 5 years before I did.)

          1. Snorks*

            You know where she works, she doesn’t know you are there.
            Sounds like someone broke the ‘No Stalking’ rule :)

            But I know what you mean, I worked in a 300 person company and 5 years in I was still meeting people who had been there longer than me.

      2. Me*

        According to someone at Exjob, that wasn’t uncommon there either. Though pickings were pretty slim, I did have interest in one person. I waited to ask him to coffee until he had moved to another location, though–he said yes, but when I checked back to see when he wanted to go, he hemmed and hawed, so I dropped it. I was glad I waited because it would have been tres awkward to keep running into him after that. :P

        I never met anyone else there I would think about dating. It only cemented my resolve to get out of here–if I couldn’t find anyone compatible at one of the nerdiest (work)places in town, then there is no one.

    2. Roman Holiday*

      My (amazing) boss and her husband have been married and worked in the same office (completely different divisions) for around 20 years now. If you didn’t see them arriving and leaving together, you would have no idea they were a couple. I’ve seen multiple colleagues taken by surprise, “What?! Lucinda and Darrel are married?!” With so many horror stories going around, it’s always nice seeing them as an example of things working out well.

    3. MJ (Aotearoa/New Zealand)*

      I’ve told this story on AAM before, but…

      My husband and I used to work together; he was hired just after we got engaged. And while we weren’t making out on the desks or anything, we didn’t actively hide it either — we came and left together, and he’d quite often go out and grab lunch and drop it off at my desk when I was too flat-out to get away. It wasn’t a secret, and I was under the impression that the whole team (40-50 people) were well aware we were together…

      Until it came time for us to get married, and I sent the “yay I’m off to get hitched, back on x date, here’s all the contact points for who’s handling different things while I’m away” email out to the team, and one of our colleagues — who’d sat next to my husband for at least six months — turned to him and said, “Wow, isn’t it weird that you and MJ are both getting married at the same time?”

      His response: “Really not as weird as you’d think!”

      1. Artemesia*

        Reminds me of the reporter who was criticized buy a watchdog group for having too close a relationship with a politician. She had been seen dining with him and traveling with him. They were married.

    4. pomme de terre*

      I didn’t realize a pair of co-workers were dating until after they moved in together. I knew they socialized outside of work, I knew they were both moving on the same weekend, and I knew they were both moving to the same neighborhood. I did not put it together that they were moving in together. They’ve been married for 5+ years now.

  4. Emee*

    Fitting that Alison would post this today. In my current job, there were no rules against colleagues dating, though if a manager got involved with a non-manager the relationship had to be disclosed to HR, who would keep it confidential, but still wanted to know. My company was just bought by another company and the process of merging them has begun. The taking over company has a rule against employees being in relatiobships. As a result, one half of two couples who have been married for 13+ years (all in separate departments and peers, not management) were fired from their jobs. The ripple effect of this was the other half of the couple quitting on the spot and the company scrambling to find replacements for two specialized, technical positions that will take months to hire and get up to speed. One of them was on my team and without her we are so far behind. I’m sure other relationships have been affected also but these are the two I know about.

    1. Jane*

      That is crazy! I can understand not allowing a boss to date someone she is supervising, but people in totally separate departments who are peers – makes no sense. As much as I understand the sentiment behind it (wouldn’t things be so much simpler if co-workers never dated?) it just seems silly to me, especially when there is an existing situation like in your case. Just seems like poor management.

      Unrelated note – I am marrying a former co-worker this year (I left and went to work for a different Company for reasons having nothing to do with the relationship) and two of my co-workers at current job are getting married soon. I still agree that it’s not ideal to date a coworker (and I’ve been burned before when dating a classmate in grad school, so I was probably especially against it before I started dating my fiance) but when you work crazy hours, it’s also not at all surprising and sometimes it works out.

    2. AnonCPA*

      This is crazy but for different reasons than Jane listed. Basically on the same day one spouse lost their job and their income – the other voluntarily gave up the family’s only remaining source of income? Two families made that decision? I understand this is not a good policy and you want to support your partner but you probably also want to …you know… feed them.

      1. animaniactoo*

        If I had the savings for it and was a valuable employee, in demand, knew what the market looked like and that my shot of getting another position quickly was pretty good? I can see doing this.

      2. Myrin*

        We have no basis of knowing whether the not-fired employee was “the family’s only remaining source of income” (I know plenty of families where several generations work or who live in an arrangement that has more than two people contributing to a household); additionally, there are people who can afford to quit a job on the spot, be it because they’re wealthy, have a strong safety net, or are very sought-after (as it appears the coworkers here are). Lastly, it probably wasn’t an as spur-of-the-moment decision as this short internet comment makes it seem. Let’s not judge people for a situation we have basically no idea about at all.

        1. Emee*

          I don’t know the details of their private lives but when the two of them were notified that their other half had been let go, they handed in their ID badges and computer password and left, within 10 minutes or less of finding out. I don’t presume to know their circumstances but it seemed spur of the moment to everyone who witnessed it.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        Sometimes you just reach your breaking point, it’s the last straw and out the door you go.

        Sometimes couples see the writing on the wall and they talk through how they might handle it ahead of time. So when the firing does happen, the fired spouse is not surprised when the remaining spouse quits.

        In this case here, with two people just quitting like that I am thinking other factors were going on also. It is rather unusual, perhaps something else was going on that added motivation to walk out.

    3. animaniactoo*

      You would think they at least grandfathered the relationships or gave people a choice about who was going to leave and time to find something new. That is some serious shoot-yourself-in-the-foot stuff right there.

      1. Emee*

        I don’t know enough about the positions of the people who worked in other departments. They may have been specialized but I’m not sure. The ones in my department and my team definitely are. I don’t know about gender because one man and one woman were let go, and the company was going to keep a woman and a man.

    4. Emee*

      I agree the company shot themselves in the foot. We’re probably not going to get a government contract we had a chance at because of the two open positions, and things will be behind for months. All four of them worked here before they got married (so over 15 years at least) and they have worked here the entire relationship and marriage and there has never been an issue. There are probably other people in relationships who aren’t married who will also get fired too.

      1. Jaydee*

        Wow. So people aren’t even being given an option of ending the relationship or deciding which of them will stop working there? There isn’t any sort of advance notice? That is brutal.

        1. Audiophile*

          Would you end a relationship for a job?

          I might consider it, if it was really early, like a few weeks/months in. If it wasn’t very serious and. I didn’t see any future.

          If we’re talking a more serious relationship, several years in, I think I’d leave the job.

          1. Mirax*

            If I was already married and the company offered that I could keep my job by divorcing, I don’t think I’d be able to keep myself from laughing all the way out the door.

    5. cncx*

      yup. something similar happened in a company i worked at. we had three couples on staff. all was above board. two people from two of the couples left for other reasons, and the powers that be decided no more relationships on staff. this caused one half of the remaining couple to quit, and her department was up a creek without her because of her technical skills and institutional knowledge.

      i am all for no relationship policies but it seems stupid to suddenly implement one when they were tolerated for literally a decade.

    1. Princess Buttercup*

      I wish my sister would learn this lesson…or um, not let everyone at work dip their pens in her ink? :-/

  5. Odyssea*

    Be upfront about it so they can give you an answer. Don’t come and hang around their desk when they’re trying to work and make weird small talk (and ignore all of the cues to please stop talking and leave). If you’re wondering why they aren’t taking the hint, that usually means it’s a no.

    Also, don’t bring them flowers on Mother’s Day and tell them “This is for your Mother, because she did an amazing job raising you.” You don’t know me or my mother, creeper.

    1. Allison*

      “Be upfront about it so they can give you an answer.”

      This, so much this! Either ask me out or don’t, but if you start hanging around me all the time, hoping to make me fall in love with you without actually making a move, I will generally figure out that’s what you’re trying to do, and find ways to avoid you. I can’t explain how I can tell, but I can tell.

    2. Sherry*

      That would make me SO UNCOMFORTABLE!

      What do you do? Refuse the flowers? Tell your manager? Tell your coworker you don’t want gifts? Ugh.

    3. INTP*

      Agree, and I’ll tack on to ask them in an unambiguous way that makes it clear that it’s a romantic date and gives them an easy out. I understand the impulse to make yourself less vulnerable by asking in a way that you can play off as a platonic friendship thing when you’re rejected, but in a workplace situation you are putting the other person in a potentially very awkward situation and you owe it to them to minimize their potential discomfort even if it increases your own.

      Plus I’m sure many other women can confirm that it’s not exactly uncommon for men to ask you in this way and then insult you for being conceited enough to think it’s a date when you reject them, so this method of asking can leave women feeling like they don’t have a socially safe way to say “no.” (I’m being gender specific here because my dating experience is gender specific – maybe this happens in other permutations, I just don’t want to speak to what I haven’t experienced.)

    4. HRChick*

      I had a coworker who used to meow at me! He eventually did ask me out. Guess that was a mating call of some kind??

      1. Creag an Tuire*

        You mean you didn’t get the hint when he started leaving freshly-killed rodents on your desk at lunchtime?


  6. Anon for this one*

    Discretion! And don’t date someone who you HAVE to see every day. Trust me, it gets awkward walking by that desk every day – multiple times a day – when it doesn’t end well.

    1. KarenT*

      Seconding discretion! I did once date a co-worker, though it would probably be more accurate to say we were having an affair. (I was single and he was in the middle of a very messy divorce, but it upped the need for discretion in a way that made everything a clandestine encounter. And the relationship was much more sexual than romantic. Sorry if that’s TMI!). We kept it completely secret at first, but after a while a couple of our friends knew. We stopped seeing each other years ago, but actually still work together. Once in a while we’ll joke about the past, but it was legitimately awkward for a couple of years after we ended things! It did help that there wasn’t much of a power imbalance. It’s sort of one of those funny things, because I have zero regrets but would caution anyone else from going down the same road. I guess it’s because I see all the ways this could have easily gone horridly awry!

    2. MillersSpring*

      And if the date doesn’t turn into a relationship (or the relationship ends after two dates or two years), don’t weird out. Keep the working relationship professional and cordial without any creepiness or drama.

    3. tink*

      I’ve worked at the same company (and eventually same department) as my mother before, and that was stressful/hard enough to leave work at work for me, so I’ve flat told my partner before that I don’t care if it sounds like my ideal job situation, I don’t want to work at the same place as him unless it’s a really large company and we’ve got minimal interaction. Nothing against him, I just like to be able to shut off work and it’s really hard to do that if you’re working in close quarters with someone you also live with… and it makes it even harder to find conversation, sometimes.

  7. Rainforest Queen*

    Ugh. After having a bad experience with two married managers at my previous company, I have so many reservations against dating in the workplace.

    In my experience, the woman manager tended to be a very emotional person. She would often vent to her husband about one of her employees she was having a problem with (and everyone knew it!), because her husband would then turn around to the employee(s) that offended his wife, and send an instant message, or an email along the lines of “why did you piss of my wife?”, or “why would you say/do x, y and z to my wife?” They were in the same level of management, but managed different employees. The husband was hearing completely one-sided stories from his wife, but thought it was okay to intervene with the wife and her employees’ relationships. It was so inappropriate!

    Also (before I started at the company), the wife was an entry-level employee, and the husband was a senior manager. Word on the street was that once the two started dating, the wife was promoted several levels within a very short period of time. She may have been a good enough employee to justify the promotion, but it was still an obvious conflict of interest.

    1. Rainforest Queen*

      I should clarify – this was a large, successful accounting firm. I think dating is more acceptable in a less formal setting (restaurant, grocery store, etc.), as long as one partner is not managing the other.

      1. Ama*

        Huh. I’m surprised that was allowed. My father’s accounting firm allows dating, but not married couples, since it would be much easier for two people with tied financial interests to evade the checks they have in place against fraud. Were they not both accountants?

        And yes, they did have a couple employees get engaged — at which point they were given a six month cushion to decide which one of them would be leaving and find another job.

      1. Rainforest Queen*

        I agree with you – just sharing my experience! I do believe this could be totally fine in other peoples’ workplaces.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      The folks you’ve worked with sound wildly unprofessional. I think it’s more a signal of their limited skills than a sign that dating at work is always bad.

  8. Spreadsheets and Books*

    I married a coworker.

    We met working at a crap restaurant right after college, and worked together there for 6 months or so. I didn’t see an issue with it at the time because a) it was a horrible place and leaving in case of a relationship implosion wouldn’t have been a big deal to me, and b) he found out he was moving 12 hours away to go to med school shortly before we made things official, so if it failed, he was on the way out, anyhow.

    Long story short, I moved with him, went to grad school myself, and here we are.

    1. Malibu Stacey*

      I think restaurants might be the exception to the rule – it seems to be really, really common to hook up with your coworkers.

      1. VintageLydia*

        It’s the exception but by god it SHOULDN’T be if the stories my friends tell me are to be believed (I lasted a whole month in food service, but two of my closest friends have been working in and out of that industry for 16 years. Including very nice/upscale restaurants.)

  9. Colorado*

    First thing is when I clicked on the US News link, I got some crazy (crazy!) porn page saying my computer has a virus (my work computer, gulp!).
    Anyway, came here to say I met my husband at work 18 years ago, we’ve been married for 12 :D

    1. fposte*

      Sounds like there might be some malware on your computer–redirects are pretty common with that.

      (And I’m in academics–we have multiple married couples in our department alone; probably 90% of them are married to somebody at the university somewhere.)

      1. A*

        AAM has redirected me to sketchy sites, including one the other day that told me I had a virus. It only ever happens when I’m here, so I think it’s the site and not my phone.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Oh — but I should ad, they’re adamant that anything porn-ish is not coming through them, and that that is the sign of malware or a virus on your device. They say that in every instance they’ve had of reports of redirects that contain or lead to any sort of pornography, it has been found that the visitor had some sort of malware or virus on their computer or browser that leads them there. The redirect code writers want to send people to where they’ll stay– which is why redirects to the App Store are so prevalent. Sending people to porn sites doesn’t do the redirect writers any favors, since the average person is much less likely to stay on something that surprising/shocking. So you might try a Malwarebytes scan (or equivalent) and make sure your computer and browsers are clean.

            But if you’re sure it’s not on your end, please send me all the information you can surrounding it (what post you were on, time, location, local IP address, what the site or company was that you ended up on (if you happen to remember), etc., and then I can go to them with that info.

            1. Uzumaki Naruto*

              Thank you for the explanation! I’ve been getting the redirects on my iPhone to the App Store, and it’s helpful to understanding what’s going on.

            2. Dan*

              My work computer is quite clean; I can confirm that after daily visits to this site, I’ve not had any NSFW redirects (or redirects at all.)

        1. Dittoed*

          I had an issue with my iPhone that was only with this site. I no longer look at this site on my iPhone, which is really depressing b/c it was my morning bath go-to.

          I had the genius bar people look at the phone. No viruses or other issues.

          And ONLY this site.

          1. Audiophile*

            I’ve had a few redirects, mostly on my work computer which I know had a virus and malware (they got hit by a ransomware attack). I did get a redirect last week on my phone which had never happened before.

            Downloaded an app and it hasn’t happened since.

              1. Audiophile*

                Lookout Security, there’s an iOS and Android version.

                Anytime I’ve had a redirect, it’s always happened in Chrome. I don’t know if anyone else has been redirected while using a different browser.

      2. Andie Elizabeth*

        OT but – I think it might be coming from some of Alison’s ads, I get those redirects every so often. @Colorado, if you happened to note what page it redirects to, or if it happens again, there’s a link where you can report it to Alison above the comment box, and her ad network can look into it, if it’s a problem on their end.

        1. fposte*

          Oh, wow; fortunately I haven’t experienced that. The only time it happened to me was when I got malware off of the New York Times ad stream.

  10. Government Worker*

    What about dating and relationships within a small industry? I have two friends, married to each other, who work for different organizations in the same industry that sometimes collaborated. They were assigned to meet with each other by their organizations at least once, though I don’t know how they handled it. Given how many people meet their spouses in college/grad school, it’s not that unusual for a couple to move in similar professional circles. Also see couples like Elaine Chao and Mitch McConnell (US Secretary of Transportation and Senate Majority Leader, respectively – oddly enough not the first time the two people occupying those positions have been married).

    This is especially likely to come up with government and nonprofit work, where there’s a lot of inter-agency cooperation, cross-cutting committees, and the like. What are the rules when it’s not two people at the same company?

    1. MegaMoose, Esq*

      A lot of industry policy this would depend on whether your state human right’s act protects employees from discrimination based on marital status (it is not covered under federal law). My quick googling says that 20 states DO have these protections, which generally means the employer must demonstrate that the spouse’s status interferes with a bona fide employment qualification – generally nepotism laws are explicitly or judicially exempted. This would make it difficult to have restrictions based on your spouse being in the same industry, though not impossible. In the majority of states without such protections, however, an employer could absolutely fire you for relationships with a coworker or someone in the same industry, or basically anything that doesn’t run afoul of some other law (i.e. no firing people for interracial relationships or requiring only women to be single).

    2. Damn it, Hardison!*

      Hmm, that can be tricky too! My husband and I were in closely related professions and worked for the same large University but at different schools so it wasn’t an issue. I then moved to the corporate world and he got a job in the department I used to work for. So I get to hear about my former colleagues on a daily basis. It would have been weird if we both worked in the department at the same time, but there was already another married couple in the department so it wasn’t new territory.

  11. memboard*

    One reason to date at the office you missed is that it is likely that work attracts people with similar likes and personality as you. Similar personality would explain why both chose similar careers.

    I’ve worked with people dating/married and it’s worked out so far. (but I’ll easily believe that it can go horribly wrong)

    1. Just another girl in engineering*

      There are a lot of married couples where I work, for just this reason. A lot of young people with similar interests.

  12. Koko*

    A big corollary to #1 is that a lack of response or a polite excuse (like, “Ooh, I’m actually pretty busy these days…” with no alternate date/plans proposed) counts as rejection. You don’t keep asking someone out just because they have been politely avoiding responding to your invitation or making up polite excuses.

    1. NonProfit Nancy*

      Yes! Although I suspect most people WOULD know this if they thought about it at all – but it bears repeating: treat any demure response as a polite no. If the person meant “yes” but was being cute or whatever, they’ll come back to correct it – but if they don’t say an enthusiastic “yes” when you ask, and make specific plans – back off and don’t bring it up again!

    2. Allison*

      It kinda stinks that people have to do that sometimes, but I agree. Anything like “I’m too busy” with no effort to make time for you usually means disinterest.

      1. NonProfit Nancy*

        The reason is that if they say a straightforward “no thanks,” the other person might take it really badly. So they say, “I’m just so busy” as a way to let the other person save face and be let down easy. Unfortunately, determined people will keep asking if they didn’t say NO GET AWAY FROM ME clearly enough.

        1. all aboard the anon train*

          This. There’s a guy in my department who likes to have one-on-one lunches with teammates and no one wants to do them. If you say, “I’m really busy right now” he’ll hound you until you’re free, and if you say “no thanks” he takes it as a personal insult and gets really worked up about it. It’s the worst.

          1. Koko*

            Yep, which is why people are especially likely to use those polite non-refusal refusals in the workplace. It’s too big of a risk to run that you might poison a work relationship that you need to remain functional by offending the person who asked you out.

  13. Cambridge Comma*

    I met my fiancée at work several years ago. (Our song is ‘We found love in a hopeless place’.) By coincidence, I left the job for something better a few months later, but I’d advise any couple with the option (i.e. there are enough other places to work in the vicinity that nobody needs to compromise) to do the same. It cut out the awkwardness at the continuous talking about work in the evening, and meant that we aren’t reliant on the same employer — imagine you both get laid off together. We do miss having lunch together, though, but it would have been weird at that workplace to do that every day anyway.

  14. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I wish I could anonymously send this to everyone at OldJob. So many people hooked up at that place.

    1. Lucy Honeychurch*

      Seems a little hypocritical for Amy Santiago to be talking about workplace hookups!
      (Love her, though!)

    2. Nervous Accountant*

      I LOVE B99!!!! I haven’t watched it in a while (yay work!), Jake and Amy are my favorite TV couple!

  15. Bethlam*

    No policy here about dating co-workers, but my HR manager started dating a production worker. When it got serious and they were headed to marriage, they decided that her being in HR and being married to n employee could be problematic, so they decided together that he would get another job (she had the higher salary).

    I also have employees who met here, married, had a child, and subsequently divorced. They work in different departments with very little overlap, but still an awkward moment once in a while. I have been the go-between occasionally, especially when it comes to benefits for the dependent child.

    I have other married employees as well, including a couple who are both losing their jobs due to our reorg and relocation.

    1. Princess Buttercup*

      I worked in an office where a couple were married when both started, had children, the wife had an affair with a manager, husband found out, and they divorced. Both exs continued to work for the same company, in the same office. Upper management was informed about the affair and the participating manager was not fired, but moved to another office. A year or two later, participating manager was promoted and now was the exs grand boss. Subsequently, the ex wife was promoted to the position of ex husband’s boss!! Upper management thought this was a great idea. It wasn’t. The power went to her head immediately. 8 of the 10 people in the office quit, including the ex husband and myself. She fired one. She tried to fire another, but the corporate office over turned that decision and transferred that employee. It was a disaster.

  16. Allison*

    Going on a slight tangent, if you know someone has a crush on someone you work with, and you know your colleague doesn’t return the interest, please leave it alone. Pressuring someone into dating a coworker because “you’d be so cute together!” or “he’s such a nice guy!” or “you need to find yourself a man sometime” is creepy and awkward.

    1. TheSoundkeeper*

      Good advice. But if the target of the crush asks if you know whether your friend is seeing someone, feel free to reply, “No, but she thinks you’re pretty cute!” (18 years married and two kids, worked together for three years before we started dating and seven after) There were several couples at the company and the rule was that you couldn’t date anyone in your managerial line.

  17. Trout 'Waver*

    Should be a rule zero from a previous letter: If you don’t know their name, don’t ask them out.

  18. Ask a Manager* Post author

    While we’re on the topic, do y’all want some kind of Valentine’s Day open thread tomorrow for stories of workplace romance gone awry (yours or others’)? Or even some other Valentine’s-related topic I’m not thinking of?

  19. Freddy May*

    Using a different name for this one…

    I worked at a place where gay relationships, or relationships where at least one partner was transgender were allowed, but hetero, cisgender relationships were not. I’m queer but I wasn’t fully out back then and it made me really uncomfortable. The company used to tout how inclusive and progressive it was (this was in Canada back in the 90s) but no one that I knew agreed with the policy. I was so happy when I got out of there and got another job, where I coincidentally met my husband.

    1. bridget*

      How bizarre! Did the company have any articulable reason for this distinction (other than the potential implication that relationships that are not hetero and cisgender aren’t “real” relationships)? Or was this the only way they could think of to express LGBT support (if so, what a colossal swing and a miss)?

      1. Kelly L.*

        Yeah, that sounds to me like they might have originally had a blanket no-fraternization policy, and then someone was worried they’d get sued for anti-LGBT discrimination, so they threw something in about “LGBT relationships are accepted here” and forgot to change the policy for everybody else too.

    2. Chriama*

      In places where sexual orientation is protected that would be illegal. And that makes no sense. Swinging the pendulum back to the other extreme doesn’t encourage diversity or tolerance.

    3. hbc*

      Ew. There’s just no good way to read the situation. Either someone 1) has misinterpreted the rule that you can’t have restrictions *based* on protected classes and thinks you can’t put any restrictions *on* minorities in protected classes, or 2) thinks non-cis-het relationships are sooo different from “regular” relationships that the rules shouldn’t apply.

    4. AnotherAnon*

      Interestingly, I think that kind of environment would make me feel *less* comfortable to be open about my sexuality. Something about it feels oddly… fetishising, for want of a better word.

  20. Venus Supreme*

    Me, personally, I don’t poop where I eat. I went to a small university and always dated people from other colleges. I would not fathom dating anyone at my organization.

    However, not everyone is like me. My parents worked together and have been together 25+ years now. And, people at my current work like to kiss and tell. There’s one major issue where a baby was born from a one-night stand and now the mom is going willy nilly shopping on the company card (yup, she maxed it out a few years back and now she’s working to pay it off), and the dad has the power to fire her. But he won’t. Because he’s scared if he does, she’ll take the baby and run away.


    1. Chriama*

      I’m surprised that no one above the dad hasn’t just fired both of them. This is outright fraud and theft.

  21. K.*

    I’ve never dated anyone I work with. One of my former coworkers met her husband at work (not where we worked) so she was convinced that that was the only way to meet someone. When I told her I don’t like to mix personal and professional, she asked what would happen if I met a guy at work that I was attracted to. I told her I’d cross that bridge when I got to it. I haven’t yet met a man at work for whom I’d consider breaking my rule.

    I did have a relationship with a man that worked in the same industry as I do, but the industry is big enough that it wasn’t an issue (and I didn’t meet him through work, I met him online).

  22. Meet Cute*

    My parents meet at work and it went fine, but it’s a cute story so I want to share:
    They were both sales reps for the same company, covering overlapping territories, so they were in the same office, but on different teams. They met at a mutual friend/coworker’s dinner party. (According to my dad, my mom as dating this guy when they met, she says they were just friends).
    On their first date, my dad asked my mom if she’d drive him to the mechanic to have his car checked and give him a ride home if he needed to leave the car. So she’s waiting in her car, sees him talk to the mechanic, then sees him wave. Dad meant it as a “I’m coming over there wave,” but Mom thinks it’s a “see you later” wave and peels out of the parking lot.
    The next day, he stormed over to her desk and asked why she abandoned him at a gas station.
    They continued to work at the same company for about 5 years until my mom took a few years off as a SAHM; when she went back to work she went to a competitor.
    They’ve been married for 38 years this summer!

  23. MegaMoose, Esq*

    The legal profession is super incestuous, plus I live in a state that bars employment discrimination based on marital status (although anti-nepotism rules are generally okay). Aside from people meeting in law school, it can be one of those all-encompassing professions where you don’t really meet anyone except other lawyers and clients, and dating clients is a tremendous way to get disbarred. My husband actually signed up for an online dating site because he was tired of dating other lawyers. Thankfully he made an exception for me.

  24. JM in England*

    I had one workplace romance early in my career which didn’t end well. Then having to see that person every day thereafter (until I left that job) created an extreme level of awkwardness!!

    It was then that I made it my rule never to date coworkers again………….

  25. JM in England*

    A former coworker’s wife is an investment banker. Her workplace actually forbade any kind of romantic relationship between employees, even saying so in the company handbook. When I asked her why, she said that such relations would increase the risk of embezzlement and other related fraud………

  26. phil*

    I used to work in a small-less than 20 employees-outpost of a very large corporation and dated my “manager” for 3 years without a problem. While she was technically my manager I had another supervisor but it was a small place. We even broke up without a problem.
    But I wouldn’t necessarily do it again. It was a bit of a strain.

  27. ww*

    I’ve never been in a true workplace romance, but have a kinda sorta. When I was in college, I interned at the college magazine. My direct supervisor was the managing editor, (also a student, but hers was a paid position.) After my internship, (which may have been illegally unpaid, now that I think about it,) ended, the editors terminated her and moved me into a paid position handling all of her duties, (at lower pay and with a lesser title.) She and I remained friends though and ended up dating after I too had left the position. It made for an interesting “how we met” story.

  28. Anon 2*

    I would also add, make sure to really think about what it will be like seeing that person every day if everything goes south. Because it sucks.

  29. Artemesia*

    Sometimes you develop a friendship in the workplace and fall in love; so be it. But I think it is very prudent to avoid seeking out dating relationships where you work. There are all sorts of crude sayings that sum it up — but basically getting your love where you get your salary has disastrous pitfalls. If the person doesn’t work closely with you and it works out fine; if you are both sane and don’t have to work closely after a breakup, not fun but workable. But a bad breakup or having to work too closely — misery. Sometimes it happens, but I think seeking out dates in the workplace is just a really bad idea.

  30. Can't wait to retire*

    Met my husband on the job, we’ve been married 35 years. At least 8 other couples found each other at this company. We never had a problem with each other but my boss and my husband were equals in 2 different departments and I could tell when they had a disagreement because my boss would give me a hard time about little things. And when I would ask, ok what are you two fighting about now? He would go into orbit and ask, how can you tell? Old boss is still single…

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