Not Lucky in Love

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about dating a coworker:

I’m a young college student who isn’t very lucky when it comes to love. I got over my fears and ask out my co-worker. I have very strong feelings for her and decided to take the gamble of dating a co-worker. I sat down at the restaurant on my day off and she was my waitress. I gave her my contact information, a generous tip that I plan on never mentioning to her and asked her out to a local musical. She smiled and said ‘maybe’ since that’s the week of her mom’s birthday.

My other co-worker apparently also likes her. I’ve told him I like her, but he just hits on her. I politely asked him to let me see how the one date goes. I emphasized that our friendship was important to me and I did not want things to get bad. He lies and tells me he has been on multiple dates with her and activities like that. I blocked him on Snap Chat as I cannot be friends with someone who doesn’t value our friendship, despite taking the friendship route myself.

Co-Worker C is already worried about me and I’m scared the situation is going to blow up. I don’t want anyone fired, any tension or hostility. I’m anxious for work Thursday as someone is going to ask me what’s wrong and I don’t know what to say. Any advice as to how to handle this workplace issue is greatly appreciated. Signed–Not Lucky

Dear Not Lucky:

Sorry about your distress. As you should know our site is focused on making workplace communication effective and is not one to uncomplicate conflict between coworkers’ dating another coworker. Therefore, this brief note is not intended to resolve that. I am confused by your implied question of how to prevent a “blow up” that might result in “someone fired”. Nor is it clear what you mean by “Co-Worker C is already worried about me.” Do you mean a verbal or physical altercation could occur between you and your coworker? In short, you want work to run smoothly. You and this coworker have voiced your rival interest in a particular woman and this hostility evolved to you blocking him on Snapchat. Apparently you worry that hostility between you and this coworker is visible to others and you conclude with, “I’m anxious for work Thursday as someone is going to ask me what’s wrong and I don’t know what to say.”  

This account adds up to two lessons: 1. Don’t communicate with coworkers about personal non-work topics and in particular don’t talk about them on your cell phone. 2. Don’t allow non-work topics such as dating coworkers to disrupt working with coworkers.  

If you are asked what’s wrong, is it not best to avoid explanation about the whole matter? How? By not answering and turning away to do what you are hired to do. If your coworker verbally or physically expresses hostility here again, it probably is best to say little more than “The past is past. Let’s just do what we are hired to do.” Only if he makes a scene, should you bring the matter to your supervisor. A time-out talk with this coworker you say as lying probably will not resolve his hostility. Avoidance of personal matters for a morning or day or two should result in cooperation. If not, you might need to inquire about transfer to working with a different work group. Civility and commitment to good performance generally results in collaboration. Does this make sense from someone at a distance from your stressful situation? Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, and that is what you and your employer want. –William Gorden

Second Opinion: 

Dr. Gorden and I often add to the response of the other and I will do so in this case. I completely agree with his thoughts in general, I just want to add a bit of advice from a female perspective. Even though it has been a week since you wrote to us, I expect the situation is still a problem. If you have resolved it, my thoughts may help in the future.

In your message to us you said you decided to “take the gamble” of dating a co-worker. The rest of your message shows why trying to develop and maintain a romantic relationship with a coworker is always a gamble. If the attraction is returned, there is a risk of letting the relationship interfere with work—and problems when the relationship breaks up. If the attraction isn’t returned to the same degree, there is awkwardness on both sides. Further, as you have discovered, contentious situations with rivals can lead to conflict and even dangerous confrontations. The workplace romantic gamble rarely produces winners and can reinforce feelings of being unlucky in love.

It sounds as though one of your coworkers knows how to “push your buttons” by talking to you about the girl in which you are interested. It also sounds as though other employees have been dragged into the situation, either by you or the other person or both of you. Dr. Gorden was certainly correct to remind you not to talk about your personal situation to coworkers, unless it is necessary for them to know as part of their work. It’s uncomfortable and distracting.

Now, consider how the girl feels about this. You’ve let her know you’re interested in her personally by asking her to a local musical. She said maybe, which gives you one more chance to let her know you’d like to date her. When you ask her if she has decided whether she can attend or not, you can gauge her interest by listening for words of encouragement or polite discouragement. She may not want to date someone from work, she may have a relationship with someone away from work, she may be more interested in your coworker, she may not like being the subject of competition between you two, or she may not feel any chemistry with you and doesn’t want to lead you on.

Any young woman who wants to go on a date but says no or maybe because of a prior commitment or because she doesn’t want to go to the suggested activity, will say something to ensure she gets asked out again. If she’s not interested at all, she’ll come up with a reason for saying no to the date and she won’t leave the door open for going out another time.

If you want to test it, just ask, “The musical is just for those dates, but is there something you’d like to do in the next couple of weeks?” If she wants a date with you, she may not know exactly what she’d like to do, but she will let you know she’d like to go somewhere with you. If she doesn’t want to date you she’ll say she’s going to be busy or she’ll think about it or she can’t think of anything. Sometimes women don’t want to hurt a man’s feelings, but end up doing so when they keep giving him hope that they might say yes one of these days. If she doesn’t seem enthused about spending time with you away from work, make it easy on both of you by taking that as a “no”.

That brings us back to the conflict with a coworker. No wonder there is conflict! It’s unfair to everyone involved to demand that your coworker not let the girl know he’s interested in her personally, just because you are also interested. Do you expect that if she goes out with you once, she has to date only you after that? Why can’t she go out with your coworker on Saturday and you on Sunday, while she dates someone else in the middle of the week? If you have something special to offer, she’ll inevitably spend more time with you. If she finds there is a special chemistry with someone else, she’ll spend more time with them. It’s her life and time away from work, she should be able to spend it as she wants.

You can bet that if you start dating this young woman and you meet another girl who you connect with even more strongly and she returns the feelings, you’ll move on. The fact is that we don’t own people or their feelings and we can’t put a fence around them with a No Trespassing sign. A wedding ring attempts to do that—but not always successfully. It certainly makes no sense for young people who are trying to learn who or what provides them with the things they need in a relationship.

You are concerned that there might be a blow-up at work. That is completely preventable and it seems you are the one who can prevent it. The number one way to do it is to focus on what you were hired to do and go beyond that when you can. Romance is important, but it doesn’t pay the bills or put money in savings. Don’t do anything to jeopardize your job or the jobs of others. I like Dr. Gorden’s advice to make a bland response if you are asked about it. Don’t keep this going as a subject of conversation.

You will make everyone more comfortable if you take a step back from a position of competition for someone who isn’t yours in the first place. Think of how immature and desperate that appears! Use this as a time to decide how you want to be perceived by others—now and in the future. What kind of employee do you want to be? If you become a manager, how do you want people to feel about your role in relation to them? How do you want people to respond when you walk their way or start to talk to them? How do you want this girl to think about you? How do you want your coworkers to think of you?

I hope you will take control of your emotions and ego and take them out of your work life. You be the one who acts like a confident man and leave the jealous teenager attitude to others. Be a top-notch employee, so you can get a great reference when you seek other work in the future. You will find that the more you put your focus on self-improvement and helping your team and your employer be more effective, the luckier you will get in every way.

Best wishes to you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe
Denver, CO