Because they’re there.
The most common reason romantic love happens with coworkers is simply because they’re there.
We spend a lot of time at work — often more total time with our coworkers than our family members. That’s just the reality of the modern workplace.
We’re built to attract and be attracted to others. It’s in our DNA. One could make a silent film anywhere in the world of two people flirting, and even with no soundtrack a human audience would instantly know what was going on. People love to flirt. It’s nothing to feel bad about. It’s also natural for flirting to lead to feelings of romantic love. We’re built to fall in love . That too is in our DNA.
Romantic love in the workplace may be OK in some cases if you’re both single. But for most women who already have partners, it’s a bad idea to let flirting develop into a full-blown romance.
There’s something about romantic love that begs for exclusivity. Feeling divided between two partners, or having one’s lover be divided between you and someone else, is usually very painful. And generally not worth the trouble. What started as a welcome diversion from a boring workday can turn into an emotional nightmare.
And some people in the workplace are definitely not worth falling in love with. There are men who spend much time and energy to acquire power, then use it to attract and manipulate women. A woman may feel excited and privileged if a man she perceives as powerful has noticed her and made her feel special. Everyone wants to feel special.
A sex and couples therapist’s view
We psychotherapists are experts in the area of infidelity. We are the ones who help pick up the pieces when a workplace romance becomes a source of misery. So we’ve seen the harmful effects over and over. Furthermore, since much of our days are spent speaking about very intimate things one-on-one with intelligent, desirable people in the privacy of our offices, we have to be alert to make sure it doesn’t happen to us. Romantic and/or sexual involvement between a therapist and patient is strictly forbidden. In those unfortunate situations when it has happened, it generally means the therapist has failed to maintain the integrity of the treatment relationship.
Practical guidelines for avoiding infidelity in the workplace
1. Know that you’re not immune. Yes, it could happen to you. You’re human.
2. Recognize when harmless flirting may be developing into love. Are you beginning to feel unhappy when he’s not around? Is your work suffering because of daydreaming about him? Are you spending more time getting dressed in the morning, selecting just the right outfit to please him?
3. When this happens, don’t add fuel to the fire. Don’t do things together that couples do. Don’t go for long walks together. Don’t have meals together, if you can help it. And if business requires that you share a meal on the road with him, by all means avoid restaurants that are designed to get you in the mood for love. You know which ones I’m talking about.
4. Take care of yourself. Talk about it with someone sensible. A friend, or a therapist. Don’t suffer alone. And don’t assume you’re the only one who’s gone through this.
5. Take care of your current love relationships. Falling in love with a coworker is a sure sign that there’s trouble at home. But you knew that already. Don’t wait until you have an affair to realize that a problem at home with your spouse or partner is serious and needs attention.
© Stephen Snyder, MD 2010
New York City