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Can On-The-Job Relationships Work?


Smitten by someone who sits just a few cubicles away from your own? Read this handy guide to the risks and rewards of on-the-clock romance before you make your move!

By T.T. Stern-Enzi

ffice romance is an issue that can divide HR professionals’ opinions right down the middle. Cynical corporate managers see the potential for far more harm than good resulting from these relationships if (or, more likely, when) things go sour. The economic bottom line always outweighs the ephemeral nature of romance.

Questions abound when considering the possibility of introducing intimate relationships into a professional space: Should employers set hard-and-fast policies against workplace romances? How do you
The economic bottom line always outweighs the ephemeral nature of romance.
handle the distinctions between people who are relative equals in their relationship versus the dynamic between supervisors and their employees? And how does sexual harassment factor into these tricky situations? These are thorny and complex concerns, to be sure — but common sense could grant both employers and employees enough wiggle room to navigate the straits between loving hearts and a healthy work environment.

Much like we can’t mandate another person’s values and individual morality, neither can we place strict guidelines and regulations on feelings in the workplace. Sparks are bound to fly between creative and hardworking people, especially if their passion happens to be on full display while they’re on the job. How many of us have longed to find someone with focus and dedication to hire? There’s nothing sexier, in fact, than a committed person giving his/her all to a project. And once those goals are achieved, extra attention from a fellow coworker can provide an additional, yet indirect bonus beyond the paycheck.

Know the risks involved before you start flirting
Many of the inherent risks of dating a coworker can be mitigated based on the scale of a work environment. The larger and more bureaucratic the setting, the more likely companies will be to extinguish any romantic spark amongst their employees. The nature of love and navigating relationships is rooted in the spirit and language of compromise (especially for successful pairings), but the degree of flexibility that’s necessary to achieve such a balance can be lacking in more rigid corporate structures, which can subsequently force would-be couples into hiding, Romeo & Juliet-style.

Those seeking opportunities to mix business with pleasure would be wiser to look for smaller, more independent businesses (i.e., under 25 employees) or jobs in the creative/contract-only industries. Environments like these may actually encourage and promote the freedom to love your work and a fellow employee at the same time without risking your job.

Creative partnerships can generate romance, too
Just be aware, though, that even those of us who work in the creative realm have fantasies about becoming power-player couples in our industry, much like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie or Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner. (Both of these couples met on film sets while portraying romantic partnerships
Sparks are bound to fly between creative and hardworking people.
on-screen that eventually carried over into the real world.) Even stable celeb couples these generate a certain cynicism amongst the fans that eagerly scan headlines while waiting in the grocery checkout lines; after all, we’ve seen more than our fair share of breakups, rebounds, and romantic reboots before.

Need an antidote to those sordid dreams? Then look no further than the story of married musicians Jamie and Michael Leonhart, a couple who initially hooked up in 2003. New York singer/songwriter Jamie (née Obstbaum) loves a wide range of musical styles and genres, and her influences include artists like Tori Amos, The Beatles, Kurt Weill, and Peggy Lee. Her multi-instrumentalist and producer husband, Michael, was born to a pair of musical parents (his father, Jay, is a jazz bassist, while mom Donna is a jazz singer). Besides nurturing their own solo endeavors, the Leonharts frequently team up to showcase their love affair through music. But that’s not all: Michael’s jazz vocalist sister, Carolyn, also married a musician (saxophonist Wayne Escoffery). This example shows that — for these three couples, at leats — the family business certainly is a labor of love that continues to work successfully without wreaking havoc on anyone’s creative output.

How contractors beget marriage contracts
Now let’s cross over into the political realm, which is not particularly known as a field for spawning successful love connections. I’ve always been curious about the bipartisan relationship between Democratic consultant and Clinton loyalist James Carville and his wife, Republican Mary Matalin, who famously worked on the re-election campaign of President George H.W. Bush in 1992. Carville and Matalin married in 1993, and as they’re closing in on 20 years together as husband and wife, the two are seen as a shining (if somewhat vexing) model for civil bipartisanship during America’s currently divisive political environment. It goes without saying that passion helped unite the pair, making them proud parents of two daughters. In fact, the couple has been featured throughout their marriage as loving and committed rivals in the realm of political commentators, and these roles have also been parlayed into more fictionally based settings when either of them has been portrayed in recent films and TV shows. If these two adversarial contract players can figure out how to make their workplace romance work, then there’s no reason that rational people in everyday circumstances can’t develop productive and passionate partnerships of their own.

Love — regardless of whether it occurs within or outside of an office setting — can be hard work. But when the personal and professional aspects of a relationship are properly balanced, it produces a harmonious commitment to the job and a willingness to let love rule over all.


T.T. Stern-Enzi covers film for the Cincinnati CityBeat and Dayton City Paper and also hosts an after-school film and writing club for teens.
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