How—And When—To Spill Your Office Romance

5 steps for clueing in those nosy coworkers.

By Lisa Lombardi

hen Yin Chang, now 34, a public relations executive in New York City, first met Michael D’Arcy, 35, at work, she thought: “Nice guy, completely not my type.” But as the two became friends over the next few months, he grew on her. “When he finally threw down the gauntlet and admitted he had romantic feelings for me,” she recalls, “I thought: ‘We have fun together, so why not go for it?’” Still, the couple hoped to be discreet and avoid the office
It’s a sticky dilemma—and one more and more couples have to face.
fishbowl—at least until their relationship was established. But just two months in, they hit a hurdle: Yin was assigned to supervise him on a big project. Facing a potential conflict, they agonized over what to do: Should they reveal their secret relationship?

It’s a sticky dilemma—and one more and more couples have to face. With an estimated 20 million of us dating co-workers, deciding when and how to reveal an office romance is becoming as common a work challenge as figuring out how to clear a paper jam. The good news: There is a way to navigate this tricky terrain with your pride and rep intact. To help you figure out when, to whom, and how much to divulge, check out this reassuring five-step primer.

#1. Break out the rule book.
Before you admit to dipping your pen in company ink, dust off your employee handbook and make sure your revelation isn’t going to jeopardize your job. Chances are it won’t, says Pamela Holland, co-author of Help! Was That a Career Limiting Move? “Not that many companies actually have policies,” she says. (One study found that only 11 percent ban employees from dating co-workers they don’t supervise.) “Logistically, you can’t legislate the heart.”

#2. Wait out the one-minute relationships.
So you grabbed a drink with that cute new account manager? Keep it quiet—at least for now. “It’s not necessary or wise to announce every date you have,” says Sue Morem, author of How to Gain the Professional Edge. Not posting your date list allows you to get to know a new prospect in private; it also protects your busy colleagues from having to hear the recap on every glass of Chardonnay you knock back with a co-worker. As a rule of thumb, if he hasn’t met your parents, he doesn’t have to “meet” your officemates.

#3. Control the spin.
If months have passed and it’s clear you’re a couple, break the news yourself. Here’s why: “Office relationships get discovered,” says Morem. “You’ll face less scrutiny when you are the one revealing your relationship than if you are ‘found out’ and have to defend yourself.” Just ask Brenda Bredhal. The River Falls, WI, woman found herself the subject of wild rumors
Share the news in as neutral and low-key a way as possible.
when she started a clandestine relationship with a co-worker. “Tony had a picture of his sister and her kids on his desk, so some people assumed he was married,” says Bredhal. “When we were seen together at the movies, word spread that I was breaking up his marriage.” Brenda made sure the rumors were squashed, and the couple eventually got married.

#4. Clue in the big cheese first.
The reason: Office relationships get discovered (hey, we can’t say it enough). “If you don’t fill her in, it leaves her exposed,” says Holland. “Her superior may say, ‘Hey, did you know…’ and it’s embarrassing for a manager to not know what’s going on with her own staff.” Share the news in as neutral and low-key a way as possible. When you’re in a one-on-one setting, say something like, “By the way, I just wanted you to be aware that Will and I have started to see each other outside of work. I enjoy his company and wanted to be upfront about it.”

#5. Don’t call a press conference.
Next, you may want to spill your secret to a few key co-workers—ones you work closely with, who have probably already noticed that something’s up. Keep details to an absolute minimum, though, says Morem. Basically: “We’re dating, we’re happy right now, end of story.” And if you’re pressed for cute details in the break room? Don’t go there. Once your work pals know he calls you “Wonder Woman” and lets you pluck his uni-brow, they’ll never be able to look either of you in the eye again.

Back to Yin and Michael’s saga: They didn’t divulge much, but they did tell their supervisors that they were dating. “Our bosses said they were surprised,” Yin says, “but only because they had heard a rumor that I was dating someone else in the office. And it certainly was a big relief to be able to have the news out in the open and not worry anymore about who knew what.”

Lisa Lombardi is a New York-based writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Redbook, Child, Marie Claire, and Cosmopolitan.
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