The season of office Christmas parties is upon us, where alcohol greases the wheel of excuses for doing something silly with that cute co-worker you’ve been fantasising about for months. Office romance – Christmas party-related or not – is more popular than ever. There’s nothing inherently wrong with dating someone you work with. In fact, I read some polls recently where anything between 16%-31% of those questioned said they married the person they dated at work. This is in spite of the fact that we now have laws in place that define what constitutes sexual harassment in the work place and actively protect people from it. What the threat of a sexual harassment lawsuit does is give people (both men and women) a reason to stop and think before approaching someone at work – is this person likely to be interested in me? Am I being appropriate? Can this person give me real consent?
Although guys are usually the culprits, these apply just the same to women. I’ve heard some nasty stories about women overstepping this line, with men being far more lenient about this than a woman would be (probably for fear of being laughed at). Gender and sexual preference don’t come into this. Everyone deserves respect and being able to enjoy a safe, stress-free workplace. The key to being able to express interest in someone you work with without being branded a creep is mutuality and respect.
Here are some tips for not screwing this up.
1. Weigh the risks
I won’t lie to you. When I was younger i used to be the queen of office drama, always at the centre of whatever ill-advised office romance was going. But one of the happiest moments of my life came when I was working at an office and realised I was pretty much the only employee there not involved in some sort of bizarre love triangle, regrettable Christmas party shag or sad little crush. When it comes to offices and other workplaces where there’s a very clear line between “work” and “life”, I have made a decision to never date anyone from work and it was the best decision I’ve ever made. I qualify this, because I’ve also worked (and work) in the events and entertainment industry, festivals, etc. where the lines are far blurrier and my rules are distinctively different there. It doesn’t matter where you work, though. The first you should always be asking yourself when you’re about to cross the line between colleague and potential date is: “Is the potential worst case scenario here worth the risk when compared with the potential best case scenario?”
What’s the best case scenario here? Is this person someone you’re in love with and think you could actually date or are they someone you fancy and want to have sex with? Is it worth the hassle or are you better off keeping it in your pants this time and finding a shag on an online dating site or Tinder instead?
Is the worst case scenario being slapped with a sexual harassment lawsuit and losing your job? Good. Then let that fear be your guide when approaching your colleague, or when deciding whether or not it’s worth approaching them in the first place. Let it guide you in your choice of words and actions, in the way you respond to rejection and, most importantly, when calculating how likely they are to be susceptible to any potential advances from you. Always remember that unless you are a prostitute or a pornographer, your co-workers don’t come to work to get laid but to earn a living. Let’s keep things pleasant and safe for everyone, including you.
Here’s a point system you can use to measure risk. Add a risk point for each of the following statements if they apply to your situation:
- I am this person’s boss
- I am married / attached
- I am a man (people are more likely to complain about men)
- The other person is married / attached
- We work in a small company with fewer than 50 employees
- We work in a small company with fewer than 20 employees
- My job means I spend a significant part of my work day in close physical proximity to this person
- My job means I spend a significant part of my work day working directly with this person
- I’m unsure of the person’s sexual orientation (and if you know this person’s sexual orientation doesn’t include your sex, please feel free to add two points here just for fun)
- I’m gay (sorry, but you know some people are going to be total shits about being hit on by a gay person)
- I am incredibly drunk right now
- This person is incredibly drunk right now
Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula of how many of these you need to tick before you go over to the dangerous side. Each one of these can mean your attempt at hitting on someone could blow up in your face in a nasty way, especially 1, 10 and 11. 12 can also be a major risk factor, although people in the UK, for example, are less likely to kick up a fuss about inability to give legal consent when drunk than those in say, the US (because booze is what keeps the UK population growing, after all). Still doesn’t mean you should molest someone who’s passed out drunk, though. That’s legally rape.
5 and 6 are perhaps the most harmless ones, as they just mean there’s increased risk of things getting uncomfortable if the whole thing backfires. The rest? You’re in a minefield. Tread carefully.
2. Establish a baseline
There are lots of guides online that tell guys how to figure out if a woman is into them. Unfortunately, many of them don’t really work when this person is your manager or a colleague. For example, a sign that a woman is not interested in you is if you approach her in a public place and she answers curtly and then ignores you. It’s kinda harder to do that when the person’s a colleague and you’re talking about work-related things. So spend some time watching how the person you’re into acts around other people in the office. Do they laugh at everyone’s jokes? Do they smile at everyone? Are they interested in everyone’s stories? Do they become super chatty and flirty when they’re drunk? If that’s the case, then you can’t use those signs to judge whether or not they’re into you.
Also, in case that needs to be said – don’t follow anyone around all day in an obviously stalkery way. That in itself can get you in plenty of trouble.
3. Don’t make assumptions
Don’t let your prejudices fool you into thinking a certain person is going to act in a particular way or be into particular things. Your hot colleague could be a polyamorous naturist who frequents fetish clubs, but that still doesn’t mean they’re going to be any more amenable to your crotch shots than a married, religious colleague would be. Hell, they could be moonlighting as a stripper or a porn star but that still doesn’t mean they’re going to be interested in you. What people do outside of work is no reason to assume they’ll want to be your sex toy. Treat every colleague with the same amount of respect or you may get a nasty surprise.
Also, understand that women will often relax around a man who poses no threat to them and some are naturally flirty. If either of you is married, a woman may see this as an invisible barrier that means you will not pursue, so she is free to be herself without having to view everything she says and does in the light of whether or not it would signal that she’s interested. She could be relaxed and open around you exactly because she thinks there’s no chance you’ll ever do anything. Just see how comfortable women often are around gay guys.
4. Don’t be a creep about it
As mentioned above, you’re in a minefield. Be extremely gentle and careful when approaching anyone, especially if the above risk factors apply. Don’t ask for a date straight away, don’t make any inappropriate comments about a person’s appearance or talk about sexual matters with them. Watch your body language, too. You don’t want to physically corner a woman and then ask her out or encroach on her personal space. Also, unless you do work in an industry where the baseline for physical contact involves hugging colleagues and friends as a greeting, avoid any physical contact always. No slipping in a hug to see how she responds, no putting your arm around her shoulders or on her lower back or knee, no brushing up against her to see if she likes it, nothing. Keep your hands and body well away and use your words (carefully!).
5. Leading with sex is always wrong
If you’re that desperate for a shag, there’s an app for that. Keep your porn-inspired workplace sex fantasies locked away in the back of your mind where they belong. One sure way to get the boot is sending surprise dick pics, vagina pics or sexual messages to a workmate, so don’t piss on your own doorstep. Unless you can treat this with the same amount of care as you would when, say, diffusing a bomb, you’re opening yourself up to a world of hurt.
If you’re truly interested in this person – ask them out for a drink or a coffee or something else that’s not sleazy or creepy. Establish some rapport and see whether that person is actually into you even if all you want is sex. But again, if all you want is meaningless sex, there are better people to do it with than someone you’re going to see every day afterwards. Online dating is a thing. As are bars.
6. Understand that no means no
Once a person has said no to you, it becomes harassment to continue to hassle them for dates, attention or sex. Depending on the situation, some people may be afraid of rejecting you outright (like if you’re they’re boss), but that doesn’t mean you should take it as a sign they’re interested. Watch out for nervous giggles, uncomfortable laughs and avoidance tactics. Unless you get enthusiastic consent, assume it’s a no.
7. If you can’t handle rejection then you are the problem
What will you do if you hit on someone and they are not interested? Can you be sure it won’t be you who turns the working atmosphere into something unpleasant? Can you step away from something like this, pretend it never happened, and treat that person in the same way without appearing to be expecting anything or misreading the signs? Cause if you can’t, you’d better not go there. When someone says no, it’s no forever, as far as you’re concerned. In the unlikely case they change their mind, it’s on them to come to you.
8. Deal with the consequences gracefully
Understand that this is a risk you’ve chosen to take. Even if you can do this, fail and act as if it’s never happened, there’s no guarantee the other person could. If you choose to ignore risk factors and approach someone, you can’t control how they’ll respond, nor do you have the right to resent them for it. Once you’ve hit on someone, that person might feel like they have to be really careful around you all the time so as to not give you the wrong signal. You may move on from them very quickly, but they might treat you this way forever, or for a very long time. Shitty, but yeah, it often happens. All you can do is deal with the consequences by creating a safe space for them to be in and hope that they step into it and get over it.