Dante has been a teacher at Sheffield High for 3 years. He teaches an history class known as the History of the Harlem Renaissance. He is an excellent teacher, and his numbers show it. On every standardized test, the students who take his class score very highly on the literature portion of the standardized exams. In order to ensure that his children meet every benchmark, he marks off for every grammatical error there is. He holds the kids to a very high standard. It is clear that Dante Jackson does not play when it comes to his students. The kids respect him, and they know Mr. Jackson has their best interests at heart. He is even thinking about attending night classes to get his master’s and eventually his doctorate. What can it hurt? After all, he is just 32, so that gives him a lot of time.
But there is one thing missing from his life. You see, Mr. Jackson is lonely. In his early 30s, he fears going into middle age, and eventually old age, without ever having ever loved and been loved in return. He definitely knows what it is like to be in love and get hurt. But in walks LaQuana, 29, a young single science teacher with a very beautiful, melodious voice. Every day they meet after school for a cup of coffee. He watches her mouth for every movement, and every breath–and he listens intently to everything she says. She is also an excellent teacher who really is into science, particularly the weather. Listening to her carry on and on about weather facts–such as the fact that on May 9, 1923, a Wednesday, Detroit, Michigan received 6 inches of snow–sent him into seventh heaven, sending him out on a cloud from which he did not want to come down. All this music playing inside his head, he attempts to keep it from her. After all, they work together, and a relationship between the two of them could lead to nothing but trouble.
Dante, I must say, is very wise. An on- the job romance has the potential for all kinds of hell on earth–the type of torment and trouble I would not wish on my worst enemy. First, you are taking a big gamble. You are taking a big leap of faith that such a union is going to last. Workplace romances have a nasty habit of coming to an end, and failure to negotiate what to do after such a union ends could be both heartbreaking and career-damaging too.
Even if it turns out LaQuana goes all out after him with the force of 200 Amtrak trains during the first few months of the relationship, let’s say that the LaQuana Express decides to slow down a bit, while Dante wants to keep rollin’. Let’s say she runs into a childhood sweetheart. He is tall and handsome, all 6’5 inches of him. She learns he is back in town,and is now a principal at a school. One look into those eyes of his, and one listen to his low-pitched, smooth voice and Dante’s hopes, dreams, and everything, are all history by the Monday morning following that weekend. “Dante,” she says curtly, “We need to talk this afternoon. At Starbucks like we usually do. I have something that I really need to tell you.” The words, “We need to talk” almost mean that a change is on the way, and not for the better. Sure enough, they break up.
The thing is, they must see one another every day after this. He is not ready to let it go and resume a casual working relationship with LaQuana. He will for the sake of keeping his job, for he knows about sexual harassment, and does not want that drama in his life. But at times it becomes unbearable. Being around her will be awkward from then on in, because he still has very strong feelings for her. Just her mere smile that used to get him while they were going out will be a trigger that will send him deep into depression. He has to watch himself around her from then on. The slightest facial expression, or look at her could lead to a sexual harassment complaint against him. And he doesn’t have to even touch her!
This scenario is not too uncommon. That is one of the main reasons that I do not recommend that one gets involved in a workplace romance. It is too iffy, too risky. If it ends, you are not quite the same. Seeing that person every day will be awkward, and in fact, downright hurtful. The jilted party will be forced to walk on eggshells around the person from then on, in constant fear of offending the person at the very appearance of wanting to get back with the jiltor.
Secondly, even under the best case conditions, it is unwise as it leads to other problems. My wife, Tanya (not her real name) and I could NEVER work together. I am wayyyyy too attracted to her to concentrate on my work. In fact, as I am writing this, I can’t stop watching her. Noticing the weird faces she makes with her mouth when she reads. If you have a romance going on, it can affect your job performance to the degree that you can make mistakes on the job that you would not otherwise make if your full concentration were on the task at hand. As Socrates would say, “Know thyself.” Know your limits, and whatever you do, please don’t try to front. You are on the job to do a job. And that job requires your undivided attention. If you are sorting mail, for instance, you need to be able to place all the mail that goes to a specific address in the appropriate truck to go to that particular address. If your mind is on your personal life or feelings at the time–you are likely to make mistakes that could cost you your job.
A third reason for avoiding workplace romances is that they could lead to gossip for years to come. Sure, people should mind their own business, but for some reason or another we all love a good soap opera. Indeed, from the time of Peyton Place to now, soap operas have been–and continue to be–very popular. That tells me something: People are watching for a good storyline, and when they see drama in the workplace, they will pounce on it. It adds a certain zing to their otherwise humdrum lives. It’s almost like when you do not have a life of your own, your interest in someone else’s skyrockets. Me, I don’t want to be involved in office gossip, or office politics.
I know a guy who carried on with his bosslady for a number of years. And after the affair broke off, Old Boy was fired, and when I met him, he was living in a rented storage unit. A very sad story. He admits it was not the wisest move of his personal life. Eventually, he got up on his feet again and got his own place, but it was very heartbreaking that he had to learn that lesson at all.
The best thing to do, then, is to make a contract with yourself: I am on the job to WORK. I am to see my coworkers strictly as coworkers, and keep my private life separate from all of that drama. I am a professional hired to do a job. That is what I am there for. And nothing else.