Monday 25 June 2018

How not to have an office romance

Business couple kissing in office
Business couple kissing in office

Hannah Betts,

O tempora! O mores! Staff at that bastion of political significance that is Ipswich Borough Council have been told to 'fess up to “close personal relationships” with colleagues for fear they may give rise to a conflict of interest.

 What is more, their grey-suited overlords are demanding that not-so close, entirely impersonal relations be similarly disclosed, be they the briefest of stationery cupboard assignations.

The council justified this new code on the grounds that it makes it easier to “monitor compliance”, which sounds promisingly S&M until one realises they were probably referring to the apportioning of cleaning contracts. Anyone in doubt as to whether their interaction amounts to a “relationship” is invited to “discuss this with their line manager”, presumably while enjoying a post-coital cigarette.

Wage slaves of Britain, is nothing sacred? What, after all, is the point of submitting to the ignominy of office existence if the carrot of sex is not dangled? For what, pray, was email invented if not for breathless, 17-hour exchanges of the hot and heavy sort? What is the point of the internet if not for a little light character investigation of a potential erotic target?

As for office parties, are SWAT teams from accounts ready to keep a tally of inadvertent incidents that the perpetrators themselves cannot be expected to remember? What is the British workforce if not a gaggle of shiftless loafers, the pill of whose commuting is sugared by the sniff of sex? Well might lawyers take time out from mutual heavy petting to raise the spectre of a breach of human rights. As one former office Romeo, now blissful colleague co-habitee, remarks: “It’s communism, plain and simple, one step short of the boiler suits and Big Brother of 1984.”

For, from the small seed of office dalliance, many mighty romantic oaks have flourished: Brad and Ange; Esther and Des; Barack and Michelle; Bill and Monica; Bill and everyone else.

We spend 70 per cent of our woebegone lives imprisoned in our work cells. According to a CareerBuilder survey of more than 4,000 workers, 17 per cent of respondents had dated a co-worker at least twice, with 30 per cent of these liaisons leading to marriage; a figure that – on anecdotal evidence – surely marks a use of the word “dating” that excludes many a case of drinks, dinner and hurried sexual intercourse.

So how should office paramours proceed? Number one: keep quiet. Loose talk costs lives, or, at least, mutual dignity. I pride myself on the fact that, when I once indulged in office ardour, the paper’s top investigative reporter scornfully said: “As if” to my beloved as he gazed after me, when we had already been holding hands for four years and were about to move in together.

As Mad Men’s serial office Romeo Don Draper showed, erotic subterfuge needs to become your Mastermind specialist subject. Deflect! Lie! Invent exotic new sexualities! Just don’t hold hands over the photocopier. Your colleagues may live for gossip, but sickening PDAs (public displays of affection) charm no one. The office husband/wife – that is, the platonic pal whom you confide eye-rollingly in and who waits while you pick your Pret – can serve as a decoy. People really are extremely stupid. (NB never join their ranks by being stupid enough to sleep with said office husband/wife. This way madness lies. Besides, the very words “husband/wife” should be enough to dispel any eroticism.)

Two: grow up. You live by the sword, you die by the sword. Relationships, by their very nature, end; office relationships still more so. One minute that girl with the winning fringe/smile combo is your every waking dream; the next, she is yet another reason why Monday mornings fill you with ennui. Both parties are required to behave like adults. The pain of your heart breaking should be as nothing to your pride in being the cooler of the two. Fake your lack of human feeling – flaunt it!

Three: show (some) restraint. By all means partake in the joy of the office fling, but don’t become that person, that is, the adolescent-type individual who lives for nothing else. This specimen is the very opposite of attractive: tedious, pitiable, with a teenage taste for drama. Besides, it marks a strategy that is ultimately self-defeating in the flirtation stakes – there have to be some stakes in the way of hope, longing and sexual tension, after all.

Four: leave. If you are engaged in love action of the more concerted sort – particularly where matters may, at long last, have emerged – one of you should sling your hook. Decorum and sanity demand it, everyone else’s, not least. Finally, remember: where flirtation makes the world go round, sexual harassment is illegal. To discern the difference, one need only boast a brain.

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