It started innocently enough.
A few flirty instant messages, followed by the occasional lunch hour spent browsing a nearby record store together. Before we knew it, we were making plans after work to go see a show by a band we both liked. And that night, my coworker kissed me.
It was exciting and terrifying all at once, and I vividly remember the next day holding back a fierce bout of those embarrassing girly giggles as we both sat in our boss' office for a meeting. We dated for six months, keeping our relationship a secret from our fellow coworkers, before we decided to out ourselves at my going away party on my last day. Seems we had done a good job sneaking around and maintaining our composure around each other because no one knew -- or if they did, they at least acted surprised. And every single one of those coworkers, including the boss who unwittingly played matchmaker, was a guest at our wedding in 2010.
Happy ending aside, it turns out that my story about daring to date a coworker is not unique. A recent survey found that 84 percent of millennials said they would be open to dating a coworker, with 40 percent admitting to being open to dating a supervisor -- more than any other age group surveyed.
Surprisingly, experts say you should go for it with that cute coworker. The key, they say, is discretion. Here's how to handle dating a co-worker, no matter if it ends in a carton of ice cream or the two of you tying the knot.
Getting Down to Business
For starters, know that dating a coworker isn't off-limits. Considering you spend between eight to 12 hours at work (sometimes more) where else are you going to meet people?
"You don't have to avoid it, but you have to be smart about it," says Chris Brya, who along with Miguel Almaraz co-authored the book, WTF Are Men Thinking? "You have to be professional about this in the workplace and not be too vocal about it, because if it works out, great, but if it doesn't, things could go horribly wrong, which is why both people need to be on the same page about what that means and how they act with each other at work."
Miguel offers another piece of inter-office love advice: "Think about it from a worst-case scenario," he says. "What is the worst possible outcome for this, and based on that, are you willing to deal with those consequences in the workplace? Because if you're not, then you really need to assess whether or not it's worth moving forward with that relationship."
It's not a pessimistic point of view, he adds, but a realistic one. "It's a difficult piece of advice, but you have to really be rational because the hardest part is being rational when emotions are so heavily involved." (Consider how my husband always says the reason it took him over a month to make a move was because he was afraid of rejection -- which would be made worse by the fact he would have to see me almost every day afterward.)
More important, remember that all this discretion applies outside the workplace, too. "Think about it: Linkedin can connect to your Twitter feed, so if someone is talking about a relationship online, it goes beyond the workplace, so really minimizing what you talk about and what you admit to is key," says Chris.
When You Have to Delete That File
And so what if things go south? Well, this is where that aforementioned discretion comes in handy.
"You broke up -- thank goodness you didn't tell anybody!" says Sherrie Schneider, co-author of The Rules relationship advice series. Now, you simply "Go to work, do a good job," she says. "Don't walk by his desk anymore, pretend he doesn't exist."
Seem extreme? Not really, Sherrie says. "You're a creature unlike any other and you value yourself enough where if someone else doesn't value you -- for a day, a minute, for a fraction of a second -- then you're done," she says. "If you have to call in sick for a day and pretend you have the flu, that's fine, but you gotta move on."
Regardless of the outcome of any risk you take in dating a coworker, Sherrie emphasizes remembering why you're in the workplace in the first place: "You're really there to work," she says, "and you're really there to do a good job."
And if you happen to meet your soul mate while doing a good job, consider it a bonus.
For more stories on women's issues and career advice, go to Levo League.