Okay so I’m going to head up this article with a quick confession of one of my personal flaws.
I have this bad habit of falling in love with people I really shouldn’t.
People who I have absolutely no business falling in love with. Either the best friend or the stranger on public transport that caught you when the carriage shuddered backwards. Or the dog walker that smiled as you slipped down a muddy path with a dog that simply wouldn’t quit. (Are you sensing my perchance for damsel in distress dynamics emerging as a pattern here?).
Point being, my heart is absolutely not an entity that I am capable of keeping on a leash. Not least of all when a cute co-worker appears at my new job with a twinkle in their eye and confidence to boot. The thing is, workplace crushes are relatively common simply because of logistics and a narrow pool of alternatives.
If you picture an old man’s pub in a small suburban town near London on the last shift on a Tuesday night, the other species around you are elderly gentlemen, dogs and empty beer glasses. You can see how someone in the ballpark of your age group and standards in a partner would immediately appeal.
Indeed, there’s the boredom aspect.
What is your heart to do during an 8 hour shift other than pine hopelessly or attach itself to something more interesting than the pint of bitter you’ve served for weeks to all the regulars? The answer: develop a crush. Against all logic, reason and sense. We cringe at ourselves as we grow more attached, and almost, against our will, feel guilt or shame at the inappropriate feelings. Elsewhere, in any other climate than professional working environments, it would be fair game, but there’s so many awkward interactions or consequences that could result from a poorly executed date.
What if it goes horribly wrong and you still have shifts together afterwards? 8 hours is a long time to try to ignore each other in a deserted pub. I know, I’ve tried it. Indeed, what if it goes right – for a bit – but then goes wrong. That’s even worse, because you will associate your place of work with desire and then with sadness. What’s that they say about church and state and never the two shall meet? We don’t love that journey for us. Not one bit.
And of course, inevitably, the more we know we shouldn’t like someone, the more we do.
Humans always want what they can’t have because the desirability in then achieving it is all the more satisfying. However, that said there are reasons why the co-worker is so desirable. For one thing, you’re all each other has in the way of social conversation for the length of a shift, and you either bond in the belts of fire during an intensely busy shift, or you chat for hours on end without even trying. Simply because you are both being paid to be there. More still, you have something in common and a starting point of conversation, with a scenario more accessible and less awkward than a first date, but without the established base of friendship and ‘friendzone’ awkwardness of its’ own. Arguably, the perfect balance between the two to efficiently spend time together in a cost-effective manner.
You can also establish in-jokes and humour is always more easily flowing in shifts because you are both ready to be amused and distracted from work. Additionally, when you are both required to be publically polite and charming, you see the polished, synergetic version of each other along with the nonsense you talk when you’re in the break room and can switch it all off. Again, the perfect balance of social interaction.
You’re also likely wearing smart, clean and professional clothes without being super dressed up to the nines or seeing each other in town in joggers for the first time. Equally, you also see each other at the more scattered end of a shift moment, when you’re both tired and ready to go home, slightly more bedraggled, but still happy to talk to each other because of the principle of the matter having made it that far.
However, there are some shortcomings to workplace crushes…
As I outlined earlier, as much as you are presented with the opportunities to like each other and thrive and connect on your shifts, you are restricted by them. It can be hard to make the first move or know what is real or what is just workplace customer-driven banter. Whether they just want to be distracted from work or whether they are actually interested in what you’re saying. More still, the move from just seeing each other in shifts to seeing each other out of work can be even more difficult to negotiate. Who makes the first move to Facebook friend each other? Or send the first meme?
Because the relationship is so focused in one place and for one function, it can be difficult to know where to proceed from there because of the constant reminders of where you started. In addition, and more seriously, there are often workplace protocols strictly and explicitly warning against inter-office relationships. It’s one thing to have a crush on a guy you see twice a week at your part time gig at the bar, but it’s quite another to want a relationship with the woman who is your senior in a nine to five. Different kettle of fish, unfortunately.
And there is the true paradox of workplace crushes.
How much of it is the sheer boredom and willingness to desire what we can’t have? How much of it is genuine? It’s hard to guess, but maybe for now it’s best to keep the workplace crushes where they belong. In the workplace and in your dreams.
The heart is unruly and cannot be tamed, and nor does it tend to learn from workplace crushes. But if you remind yourself that office lighting makes everyone look like an avenging angel if you’ve just come out of a three hour meeting, then that can re-contextualize your lust.
Basically, when you clock out at five, you should clock out of the crush too. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but your heart will hurt you worse than that if you let it do what it wants.