The 7 Cardinal Rules Of Dating A Coworker

the office

If you're gonna dip your pen in the company inkwell, you MUST do it right.

Sneaking into the unoccupied conference room on your lunch break… leaving dirty Polaroids under each other's keyboards… doing it on your boss's desk while he or she is in the Hamptons.

Dipping your pen in the company inkwell may not be exactly encouraged in the modern workplace, but most of us have dipped at least once. It used to be that love on the clock was for the executive married man and his young female secretary only; these days, fortunately, we all have a shot at dating in the workplace.

So here are the 7 steps to doing it right:

1. We mean it when we say "co-worker."

Sex between a boss and his or her underling involves far too many messy power dynamics which invariably get abused. Not to mention the inevitable resentment such insider trading stirs among the staff members who choose to keep their pants on.

Stick with someone on the same rung of the corporate ladder. Even better if they're in a different department.

2. Before making moony eyes at a co-worker:

Think of the situation in the same way you would if you were about to hit on a bartender at your favorite local bar: Am I prepared to drink elsewhere if it all goes pear-shaped? (Because, given the odds, you'll both move on within a few months.)

Your decision will depend on the happy hour specials or end-of-year bonuses, as well as on the potential of the relationship. Obviously you should risk less for a one-night stand than for a chance at true love, which comes along less often than a charming little watering hole or a decent job offer…

3. If you decide to take the risk, then set some boundaries and come to a few understandings.

For example: What happens outside of work, stays outside of work; there will be no abuse of power, no sexual harassment, and no sexual harassment law suits; there will be no special treatment or undeserved promotions; when you meet up after work, there will be a set deadline at which point all shoptalk must cease, etc.

Of course, you can't predict the erratic behavior of the psychotic co-workers you choose to bed, you can only be responsible for your own good behavior and pray for the best. Again, that is the risk of mixing business with pleasure.

4. When it comes to coitus with a cubicle colleague, the secrecy is undeniably at least half its provocative appeal.

Obviously, there are myriad reasons not to dispatch a company-wide memo after the first interlude: If it ends within two weeks, you do not want everyone else feeling awkward; it is infinitely easier to abscond to the copier room for a quickie if no one suspects your motives; perhaps it is frowned upon by your HR department; perhaps you're new at the company and don't want your reputation marred early on; or maybe you don't want all the office gossips spying on those awkward first few conversations at the water cooler.

The most important reason, of course, is that you don't want to kiss and tell if it would embarrass your new pookums or potentially harm (or at least alter) their professional reputation.

5. While you’re still in secret agent mode:

If you're planning on using the clever enter-the-office-at-different-times ruse, place more than two minutes between entrances.  Co-workers are not as mentally challenged as you might think.

6. That said, don't expect to keep the affair clandestine forever.

At some point (usually after three to six months) you must acknowledge whether it is just the secrecy that is sexy, or if true feelings have developed in one or both parties. If you two have conflicting expectations, breaking up is the only honorable thing to do. If you’re both on the same page, then go for it!

If a serious relationship is budding, no need to hide it. But when the cat is finally out of the proverbial bag, do not, under any circumstances, make out or–worse–call each other by pet names in front of co-workers. They will probably hate you for it and they may well lose their lunch, too.

7. When the office break-up inevitably comes:

Don't even try to score sympathy from your other colleagues during after-work happy hour drinks, unless you're prepared for a big fat "I told you so." And do your best to avoid sobbing out loud in your cubicle, too–public displays of grief after an office romance are even more annoying than the not-so-sneaky making-out-on-the-clock that preceded it.

Agree with your ex to save all "closure" talk for after 5pm, off company property. Take a few personal days if you really can't deal.

And hey, why not update your resume? No need to quit just yet, but it may make the situation feel more bearable if you can convince yourself it doesn't have to be permanent. In the meantime, hide behind an over-sized office plant whenever you see your ex coming.

This article was originally published at Em & Lo. Reprinted with permission from the author.