A few nights ago, a friend told me an interesting story. When she'd started her job at a major financial institution, a family friend, who also worked there, pulled her aside to give her some advice about avoiding having an affair.
Many of the people who worked at their firm had affairs, he said. He'd seen it himself. And lots of marriages broke up. His own marriage had stayed strong for thirty years, and he wanted to tell her the five rules he'd always followed to make sure he'd never be tempted.
1. Never take a first step in flirtation, even in jest.
2. Never have more than one drink with people from work. If that.
3. Never confide details from your personal life to people from work, and don't allow them to confide in you.
4. Never allow yourself to have a "special friend" of the opposite sex (sometimes called a "work spouse") to whom you turn for particular support.
5. Unless it's an unmistakably professional context, don't meet alone with a colleague or client of the opposite sex. E.g, when a client calls with tickets for the U.S. Open, don't go in a twosome.
He explained the reasoning behind his advice.
He'd seen the same thing happen over and over. There comes a time in every marriage, he said, when a couple doesn't get along very well. This period might even last several years. Difficult kids, difficult in-laws, difficult schedules, health worries, money worries, and all the rest can create a lot of conflict.
If you have an intimate friend at work, someone who knows you very well, and understands your troubles, and appreciates you properly, and can offer you a sympathetic, conflict-free refuge from your annoying spouse, the temptation to turn to that person is very strong.
Or if you're alone at night with someone, or out drinking - you might give in to a sudden impulse.
Now, some of this advice conflicts with the happiness research. For instance, as Penelope Trunk discussed in a post on Brazeen Careerist, studies show that people who have good friends at work are happier than people who don't, and Tip #3, in particular, would make it hard to have a real friend.
Nevertheless, thinking back to my days working in an office, I think there's some real value to these injunctions. They're worth thinking over, to adapt to each person's particular situation.
My friend has been working at that major financial institution for a couple of years now. "Are a lot of people really having affairs?" I asked. "Oh, yes," she said. She lives by those rules herself -- except #3, sometimes she breaks #3. She's a very friendly person, so she can't really stop herself from having those kind of conversations.
If you'd like to read more about happiness, check out Gretchen's daily blog, The Happiness Project.
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