Breaking Up In The Workplace
Sam broke up with his girlfriend on good terms. She even sent him a posting for a job at her internet marketing company. Sam (who's name is changed, because his job's at stake) got the position, and their relationship soon reignited. But then it turned sour again, and four months after their second breakup, his ex began dating another guy at the same company -- the CEO's younger brother.
"I didn't feel spurned," Sam says. "It was just kind of weird that this other guy -- he is what I was. I still felt some irrational feelings of ownership over her."
Breaking up is frequently miserable. One sways between expunging every remnant of the ex-lover from your life, and stalking the Facebook profiles of anyone who posts on their photos. But it's made all the more complicated when that ex is sitting a few cubicles over, when his name appears hourly in your inbox, when you find yourselves in the same elevator, when you're competing for the same promotion.
AOL Jobs asked a few of the country's top dating coaches how best to approach and cope with the not uncommon, but commonly terrible, experience of breaking up in the workplace. Their first piece of advice:
Don't Date To Begin With
A lot of people end up hooking up with their colleagues, because, well, they're there everyday. "When we're working so many hours, you're having a lot of exposure to those people," says Lisa Clampitt, the president and owner of the matchmaking club VIP Life, who's been a matchmaker and dating coach for 12 years. "And sometimes it makes you psyched about being with someone, seeing them competent, and good at their jobs -- it makes them sexy."
But that extra reason to get up in the morning, that brief daily flirtation, that exchange to play back in your head at night -- they don't necessarily translate into a healthy, functioning relationship.
"Most relationships don't last," says Amber Kelleher-Andrews, the CEO of matchmaking company Kelleher International, which has interviewed over 40,000 couples. "A lot of people think, 'Yeah, I want to spend every second with him. I'm in love with them.' But a lot of guys jump into it, and have the bachelor's pad, and she moves in, and he can't get away from her."
Basically, you have to ask yourself, in the words of Nancy Slotnick, the founder of the Facebook matchmaking app Matchmaker Cafe: "Is it worth the risk, or is this just a cheesy affair?"
You Did, And Now It Sucks
"You don't feel well," says Kelleher-Andrews. "Take a sick day. Or two."
"Emotional pain counts as being sick," agrees Slotnick.
Or in the words of Clampitt: "Emotional sickness is at least as bad as a cold."
You're Back At Work, And It Sucks
You're back at the office, and watching him give a presentation and chuckle in that deeply offensive way he always does at the end of every sentence. You want to tear out the projector cord and cause him bodily harm and then curl up into the fetal position. But then your boss decides that the two of you would make a super team for a new and very important project.
"You just have to grin and bear it," says Clampitt. "You made the decision to create a personal relationship in your work environment. And you can't impose that on your work."
This is especially important for women, she adds. "Women who are pegged as emotional and clingy, they've got to hold their own in a work environment. It's really, really important to maintain your competency."
"Why would you want to give them the satisfaction of being promoted before you do?" adds Nancy Slotnick. "It's punishing yourself."
Don't Seek Revenge, Unless You Do It Professionally
But while it's totally inappropriate to bring petty, personal issues into the workplace, there are mature and acceptable ways to seek revenge.
"What you could do, if you want to play hardball, is to try and get him off the project for legitimate business reasons," says Slotnick. "That would be the empowered move. All's fair in love and war, and you don't have to be the victim."
"If you were jilted because they were sleeping with 30 other girls," she explains, "chances are that he might be telling his boss that he's doing a bunch of work, when he's not really."
Simply ask your boss, she advises, if your ex has handed in the reports he was supposed to, or finished up the assignment. Bringing all your ex's terrible professional deficiencies to the attention of your supervisor is good for the company, and good for your ego.
But ultimately, only time, inner calm, and watching a documentary about someone with a way worse life than you can really make the hurt go away. "Eventually, it gets less painful," says Lisa. "Go into autopilot and focus and focus. Some days will be good, and some days will be bad."
Do It Anyway
Despite these grim warnings, all the dating coaches we spoke to emphasized that you should never pass up the chance for a real, lasting connection, just because he or she clocks in at the same place.
"I think sometimes people are afraid to test the waters, because they think it will be frowned upon," says Slotnick. "So they don't, unless they're really drunk at the holiday party."
But we should go for it when we're drunk or sober anytime of the year. "I think love's a priority in our lives, way over career," says Clampitt. "You just have to be smart about it, not choosing a fling over a career, but choosing a love over a career."
Even Sam, who watched his coworker ex get more and more serious with the CEO's brother -- they've now been living together for two years -- doesn't veto the idea of workplace dating. "I'd never categorically advise against it," he says. "I just think it raises the bar for how seriously you need to think about it."
Over a cigarette or two, the two co-workers even talked out their issues. "He's a very nice guy," he says. "A little annoying sometimes, but a legitimately nice guy."
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Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.
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