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Romance in the work place

Alia Fawad

Is an office romance doomed to be a failure? Here's some expert advice on why some relationships we think of as bringing comfort may actually be adding to our stress levels.

It never occurred to Najla* that one day she would be looking for a job only to avoid being in Wahid's* presence. A month into her new job in Jordan, Najla was instantly attracted to the charms of her new colleague, “he was extremely good-looking and we were attracted to each other. However, although I never had an office relationship before, I was wary of the problems it could cause.” she said.

For a few months she stood firm and even refused offers of going out for a coffee with Wahid. A few months later after suffering a family bereavement and in her vulnerable state, she found Wahid to be the only person who offered her support and sympathy. “Looking back now, I am certain it was my vulnerability at that time, which led me to see him outside office hours. It made a change from other colleagues, who seemed embarrassed and tongue-tied at my grief,” she added.

Wahid's friendship and kindness helped Najla recover from her sadness. Their friendship grew stronger each day. At work their productivity heightened when they worked as a team. On a personal level, Wahid talked about marriage and children and their future together. But despite their clandestine relationship they soon became an ‘item' among their colleagues which made Najla very uncomfortable at work. Colleagues would comment on how well they got along with underlying messages of ‘we know what's going on'.

Things would have turned out smoothly if Najla hadn't discovered a dark side to Wahid's personality - his jealousy. “A tiny bit of jealousy is flattering, but his was becoming intolerable. If I didn't see him for one day, I would be bombarded with phone calls and SMS messages, demanding to know who I was with. I was becoming like a drug to him. He had to have his fix...” said Najla.

Her parents became increasingly concerned. Najla had shut herself from her social circle and avoided going out with friends. Foreseeing a relationship disaster Najla wanted to break off the relationship with Wajid without jeopardising their friendship. “I was torn between grateful loyalty from his initial kindness and basic common sense. I knew this relationship had to end,” she said.

Finally Najla broke the news to Wahid the day before he left for his month long holiday to Lebanon. “Instead of accepting my decision, he desperately tried to hold on to me. He used moral blackmail, telling me that I had destroyed his life, and threatened to ‘take pills' if I didn't change my mind. I was shocked and guilt-ridden, blaming myself for the situation, but still I held firm,” Najla said. Everything changed after that for both Najla and Wahid. The job she enjoyed became a burden, colleagues around her sensed her pessimistic attitude and distanced themselves from her. Long hours at work became intolerable when they were forced to be together in front of colleagues.

On the other hand, Wahid continued his attempts to persuade Najla to give their relationship a second chance. It was his obsessions that made Najla decide that it was time for her to leave her job, which she enjoyed so much, and to look for another one. In one instance she had to sacrifice all that she had achieved professionally for a relationship that had gone sour.

Office romance, as the experts warn, is a danger zone - whether the relationship between the couple works out or not. If the relationship turns out to be successful it ends up creating a great deal of distraction for others. Not only that the stress of having an office relationship is much greater then compared to having a relationship outside the working atmosphere. The fact that most office relationships are kept discreet adds to emotional stress. Productivity at work is affected and the tension of an ongoing relationship at workplace has a ripple effect among co-workers.

The chances of being lured into a romantic relationship is high among co-workers with more and more single, young men and women joining the workforce today. Long working hours, compatibility at work and like-mindedness all aid in harnessing a romantic relationship at work place. The downside of a relationship, which takes off at workplace, begins when the lustre and excitement of a new relationship wears out and real life issues threatens a couple's relationship. The professional atmosphere can also turn intolerable when a couple decides to end their relationship. Dealing with hurt and rejection while being in the same environment can lead to severe stress and depression making it especially more traumatic for a woman. Emotional stress and loss of respect among colleagues results in low self-esteem and despair. Therefore, some serious thinking is required before jumping head over heels in love at work.

The downside of falling in love at work
If a romantic relationship at workplace works out well, the couple is happy to continue working in the same environment. But office romances also have their drawbacks because no matter how well the relationship is going, the situation itself is a recipe for disaster:

Your work performance may be affected by your desire to spend more time together. You may end up wasting time in long lunches, clock-watching or personal small talk with that special someone.

It is inadvisable to have relations with your peers. Work rivalry may come in between the two of you, while linking hands across ranks will generate unkind gossip.

The office grapevine may be malicious and both parties could end up losing respect of colleagues.

In Workplace relationships can have negative affects on others. And generally office productivity can be affected beyond the couple involved.

A boss and subordinate relationship is a certain no, no. Immediate reaction from others is discrimination, favour or prejudice in treatment. It can make working life horrible and resentful.

Think long and hard on the negative consequences. Be prepared for the worst. You may lose your relationship, job and career in just one stroke of bad luck.

It was love at first sight
In rare cases there are instances when a colleague ends up becoming a life partner. Following are two stories of couples who survived relationship obstacles and are leading prosperous lives today. Batul and Ahsan Shami met at work. The trouble was that she was his boss.

Batul works as an editor of the leading fashion magazine in Pakistan, Visage. Ahsan is an innovative and creative graphic designer and when Batul saw some of his work, she invited him to join the Visage team. So Ahsan started to work for her and soon they had designs on each other. But their relationship didn't follow the rosy path of romance.

Several issues came up which started affecting their personal relationship. Ahsan would often turn up at work in casual clothes. On the other hand, Batul was in the business of fashion. Looks, appearances and her office was often a hang-out for all the ‘It' models, designers and media moghuls of the industry. Ahsan could not understand the pressure on him to fit the mould. They shared the same office but not the same work ethics.

At the same time, their personal relationship was progressing very well. The final crunch came when Ahsan popped the question. For the first time she found herself in a situation seemingly out of her control. On the other hand, Ahsan had his own qualms. Friends would pull his leg about ‘marrying the boss' and he would laugh it off but it did make him uneasy at times. But his conviction that this was the woman who made his life complete was so strong that he believed they would work it all out when the time came. There was also the additional concern that both belonged to different religious sects but since both are from liberal thinking families, it never really became an issue.

Batul decided to have faith in herself and her man. She dismissed advice about how she should marry someone more financially able and she would not be able to respect a man who earned less than her and so on. She was convinced he would make it if he had her love and support. They married four years ago and have a beautiful baby girl.

Ahsan started free-lancing as a graphic designer because admittedly working together was not helping their early married days. Being together during the day and then bringing all the baggage with them at home was not allowing them their own space as a couple. As Batul says; “it was a wise decision.” In their case, they now are able to share more of their work by talking about it rather than being in it together.

A recipe for disaster
“He started showering me with compliments, and claimed that he had noticed me from the first day I stepped into the officeÉIn my vulnerable state, I suppose I would have believed anything,” says Nadia*.

Greg* and I had been working together for six months. It all started one evening, after office hours. He was moaning about his ex-girlfriend, with whom he had broken up the day before. He was an American journalist in Cairo.

That particular evening, we were both putting in overtime at the office. He started by telling me how demanding she was, how possessive she was, and how he was no longer willing to deal with her tantrums. Then he thanked me for listening to him. Truth be told, I was a little lonely in my expat existence. Having recently moved to Egypt, I did not have many friends. Whether it was due to my need for companionship or affection, I found myself drawn to him.

It was not difficult. He started showering me with compliments, and claimed that he had noticed me from the first day I stepped into the office…

In my vulnerable state, I suppose I would have believed anything. The days that followed in the office were awkward. None of our colleagues suspected a thing. It was our little secret, which, granted, made it all the more fun.

But two weeks later, the liaison came to a screeching halt. Greg did not call me that weekend. At the office, he was curt, and a little frosty for a few days. And then one evening, he called me on my mobile phone to say it was over.

“You're a terrific person, but I just came out of a stifling relationship and I don't want to get into another one… It was great when there were no strings attached, but the truth is, I'm getting a little scared. Things are getting too serious for me,” he said.

As if to add insult to injury, he added: “ I hope this won't affect your attitude towards me at the office…” It did affect my attitude towards him in the office, in spite of my efforts to mask my feelings. Every time he came to address me in his oh-so-professional manner, I felt like throwing my stapler at him.

He and his girlfriend reconciled their differences shortly afterwards. It dawned on me that what we had was simply a brief interlude for him. It was not long before I left my job for a better position at another newspaper. And he, too, moved on. We still talk from time to time. The wound has healed, and while I have forgiven him, I have not forgotten the lessons of that episode.

It was love at first sight
Maria and Rehan Baig's relationship flourished while working together.

Maria and Rehan didn't quite meet at an office or through work but their relationship flourished while they were working in the same field in Dubai. They met at university in Montreal, Canada at the library! Maria's parents are Algerian and Lebanese and Rehan is Pakistani and while there were some cultural differences between them, their attraction and commonalities became compelling reasons to become a couple during this time. Maria's returned to Jordan when she completed her studies.

Neither were happy being away from each other and maintaining a long distance relationship was no easy task. Rehan admits he pursued Maria consistently but this was turning out to be a friendship more than a relationship. Both felt something had to give way if they wanted to develop this further. Rehan remembers that the decision they made was one “only fools would do.” He decided to give it his best shot and meet at middle ground. Dubai was the perfect choice.

When they moved to Dubai, they worked in the same discipline of advertising and PR. It was while they were working that they realised they had made the perfect decision and they were married in 1997. So in many ways the environment they shared encouraged them to take the plunge.

Maria and Rehan live happily in the UAE and as a couple entertain at home a lot with an eclectic mix of friends and both are atheletic people so they enjoy the outdoors.

The Expert's View
According to Dr Raymond Clinical and Forensic Psychologist: “A romantic relationship that is triggered in professional setting is a false indication of romance. A relationship that was previously based on mutual trust and respect turns into a romantic one is not bound to last very long. A romantic relationship occurs when one partner is at his or her most vulnerable stage they tend to be more drawn to any false indication of a romantic liaison.

“In an office environment there are times when appreciation is misinterpreted as love or romance. If there is a lack of encouragement and fulfillment on personal front then the chances of falling for someone who fulfills that need at work is greater. An average person finds themselves approachable in a professional setting where you spend most of your time.

“The negative implications of an office romance is that it creates conflict of interest. The natural process in a relationship that a normal couple go through is hampered and interferes with professional commitment. It can also interfere with the roles at work place and can create discomfort for the couple and for others around. Without notice there is a sudden change in body language during the relationship or even after a break up. It is bio-psychological that women in any setting wish to be protected and guided and men like to be the provider and guide as well and this is often translated at workplace. Vulnerable men and women are likely to succumb to the seduction of the workplace. Office romance is one of the occupational hazards that should be consciously avoided.

“Even at best when office romance remains at a honeymoon phase it is inevitable that it will reach the reality stage soon and that is when things start becoming difficult to deal with. Stress levels escalate and depression becomes difficult to deal with if there is a breakup. In most cases the breakup of a relationship also in turn leads to loss of a job.

“It is noted that 60 per cent of men are more prone to starting an office romance then women. Having said that women suffer emotional damage more so then men when the relationship has ended and are less capable to carry on working in the same environment after the break up.

“Office romance starts under a wrong pretext therefore, stress of betrayal and deception are more heightened when a couple at work break up. It becomes difficult to separate work and romance when the two are inextricably linked.”

*The names have been changed to conceal identities.
Courtesy: Arabian Woman

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