Dating at work

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They say that even animals know not to shit where they eat; or in less vulgar words, that you shouldn't date out of the office pool. I'm not one to learn lessons the easy way; so I tried it. Twice. In all honesty, when you are a work-a-holic, or just a modern person that works a lot, how are you going to meet people? Especially when you are a consultant that switches jobs every few years. In both cases, I left the job before I left the girlfriend, so it was fine while I worked there. But in one of the cases, when we broke-up she went a little nutso stalker for a while... and it certainly would have been awkward/unpleasant if we had both worked at the same place. So I learned that lesson, without ever having to learn that lesson the hard(er) way.


Baxter wasn't the first place I'd dipped into the employment-dating pool. My first time was at Pertec. There was this hotty that worked the nightshift in Q.A. I'd see her as she was coming in, and I was going home. While I was confident up until I hit my teens; acne hit me pretty hard (physically as well as emotionally) as well as the other teenaged angst, and I clammed up and became much more introverted. It took a while to climb out of that hole. It took years to learn that you just needed to know who you are, what you are, and be confident in that. Some of the first discoveries of that were with Colleen.

I decided that I wanted to get to know her, and needed to take some risk. And she had entered my environment; the workplace. It wasn't like trying to hit on girls in school or flirt with them in public; I knew how to work, and knew I had a reputation around the office as way wiser and more capable than my years. So I had confidence. I also had a lot of time to kill at Pertec, due to the way my job duties were laid out.

I'd written many utilities and a few games. One game was Yatzee, and it was very popular with the late night crowd. (I had some monitoring and logging utilities). So I wrote in a bunch of high score capabilities; and you had to enter your name. If the name was "Coleen", then it said, "Hey cutey, I can let you cheat for your phone#". And it did. If she put in her phone number, she could use 6 dice (instead of 5), or roll as many times as she wanted, and so on; most of them were features anyways, I'd just added a back door for her.

If there is a nerdier way to ask someone out, I'm not sure what it is. But what do you want for 19? It worked. I was scanning the computer, and I not only got a hit (and a phone #), but I found a file embedded on the drive "for-dave" or some such. (Ahhh, the days before email). It had a bunch of stuff, and we went out for quite a few months.

Humility: I'd already been pretty control of my ego; Martial Arts and all that; but got some lessons there. She was a triathlon runner, I was a swimmer, Martial Artist, and played Racquetball. Working out was important to us; so I took her to a club and taught her Racquetball. I was easy on her, but did run her around a whole lot just to teach her aim and strategy; and because I just liked to see her run. In the end, she'd worked out real hard and I'd barely broken a sweat. So afterwards she says to me, "Let's go for a little swim".

In the past, when she'd go on runs, I went with her once for the first couple miles, and let her run the next 10 on her own. After that, I'd just get a bike and ride along side her. She said, "I like that about you; for a guy, you don't have to win, be ahead, or even keep up to be OK with yourself". A little emasculating, but I got the point of what she was trying to say. I forgot all that when we hit the pool, or maybe I hadn't. Hey, I was a swimmer (Water Polo), and still did about 100-150 laps fairly regularly. I was never a runner, so there was no issues there; but the water was my land. She said, "light workout today; just 200 laps" and dived in.

I was thinking light is more like 50-100 laps, but fine. I got into stroke, and kept falling behind. I was fast enough, but she was definitely doing more like a 50 lap pace than any 200 lap pace; so I sped up and kept up. I kept thinking, "she just had a pretty bad workout, she can't keep this pace up for 200 laps" - this is known as denial. After 100 laps I was feeling it; hard. Normally you go into a peaceful zone - my zone was a little more intense than that. Something like, "Oh God, just let me survive this experience and I'll never ever ask you for another thing again; but I'm going to keep up if it kills me... please don't kill me. I'll start going to church, whatever it takes". Bargaining.

After 175 laps, I got out of the pool, and threw up. Then I showered, and threw up. Then later, in the parking lot, I threw up. This is known as reality and acceptance. Then I went home and crashed and was sore for days. I was not very social with her for a few hours, to say the least. She'd smirked the first time I'd gotten sick, but was saying sympathetic things; "you shouldn't workout when you have the flu", and so on. Bitch. Still, I couldn't help feeling like she did that to me, not only to teach me humility, but to get back at me for running her around too hard in Racquetball. I learned never, ever, date a triathlon runner; or any woman who's in better shape then you are. OK. Maybe not; but I was reminded again to know my own limitations and judge others abilities with a little less ego.

I learned quite a bit from the experience; how to be confident, how not to, what happens if a person gets to know a façade (instead of the real you), and the difference between selling who you are and so on. I had these different roles; work me, home me, me with the guys, me with my girl, and so on. She never really got to know me, because I hadn't found myself yet. She ended it, because while I was flipping between introvert and extrovert; she had thought she was getting a confident extrovert - and I wasn't there yet. I still had some maturing to do, as did she. However, she had been emancipated at 16 and had a tough life, and at 19 was a lot more mature (by force) than I was. But when breaking up she was saying, "you're just quiet and shy" and so on. I was thinking, that after 6 months, I'd never let her know who I really was.

If you can't know someone after 6 months of dating, then how the hell can you know who (or what) you're asking out in the first place? By the time we broke-up, we had both stopped working at Pertec, so there was no awkwardness. I wasn't overly emotional type (very cool and reasoned), but I hadn't reasoned out yet that while I could take it, others might not; I learned that later. Fortunately, this wasn't a bad break-up; she wanted to fade away and pursue other interests (meaning someone a tad more bold or more like the real me that had yet to come out to play). I understood.


All in all, my first experience with office romance hadn't been too bad. And where else was I going to pick up chicks? I'd had a few girlfriends since then, but nothing serious. A few years later, there was this hot little Asian number I'd had my eye on at Baxter (Jaclyn); and I was between relationships. I'd seen her around and we'd talked and been friendly, but I was getting interested. I just flat out went for it.

One day, I picked up some roses, and brought them to her at work. She worked in a back lab; doing QA. (What is it about QA?) So I was going to go back to the nice quiet lab and give her the roses and tell her I'd like to go out with her some time. I wasn't even going to use my usual guy-lines like, "Here I emasculated some plants in effigy" or "Sacrificing plant genitals is symbolic". Hey, I was learning technique; slowly.

When I got back to her lab, they were having some shindig or chat-fest. There were about 10 people around. I was white with terror; this was not discrete. But I had already stepped in and had some roses; people had looked up, and it was too late to stop now. Everyone watched as I walked up handed her the roses, said something about how I'd really like to go out with her some time, and then basically ran like hell.

I didn't physically run, but she was still blushing and in the moment, and a bit speechless. Guys can often get to the moment, and get over it, quicker. I just sort of waved, and said, "talk to you again some time" and got out. Thinking, oh yeah - like that little act of subtlety wasn't going to get around the office. I'd just got out the door when she caught up to me and we talked, she thanked me, and we set a date. This was all the more impressive for me, because it was right during the height of my agoraphobia. But things worked out well enough. I did take a little bit of ribbing for my prince charming act; at least from the guys. That totally self-deprecating act seemed to work well in many of the women's eyes around the place. I didn't have the heart to tell them that was a lot more self-deprecating than I'd ever intended. But I learned chicks like romance; guys dread it.

Jaclyn and I went out for years; three and a half actually. Fortunately, we'd both left Baxter long before the breakup. Which was good. When we did breakup it went bad, really bad.

The relationship was complex; her family wasn't going to accept a round-eye, and her family was important to her, and so on. Plus she had plenty of "issues" of her own. And while it wasn't a horribly bad relationship, it was a little of one of those up and down things. In the end, we were not exclusive; but still seeing each other. Things were fine until that ended. I'd met Melissa, and was breaking it off with Jaclyn. Have you ever seen Glen Close and Fatal Instinct?

I knew Jaclyn was a tad egocentric and the princess; "look at me" stuff. But I didn't realize how bad that could get. We were breaking up for real, and she puts her face in her hands and starts crying. "There, there", as I go to put my arms around her and console her, she sucker punches me; pretty good as I was a black belt by then and pretty fast. But she'd studied a little too, and caught me unawares. She was getting ready to catch me with the other punch when I slapped her (defense mechanism), and then as she was ready to go into full kill mode (fight or flight had turned to rage). I blocked her next punch, and had stunned her a little with the slap, wrapped up her arms and pinned them. She was going to start kicking (you can read body intent), so I sort of just scissored her legs and sat (with her legs pinned under her. Then I had to hold her hair because she was trying to bite me. I was thinking, where's the delicate little flower I once knew? People sure can react strange when they are pissed off or hurt; it is not the slightest bit predictable.

After a while she was cooling down. Or so I thought. But she refused to leave my house, and so on. It was getting bad; but she was mostly avoiding the physical confrontation stuff (which was good). But she wouldn't leave. I had to physically pick her up and drag her from my Condo. I was leaving, and was NOT going to leave her there to trash my place while I was gone. I'd gotten my key back - an event in and of itself. So then she started following me around in her car, and I had to ditch her. Gads, where is this going to end?

When I got home later, she was still there, stalking me. I went to my parents and crashed there. She did the calling thing, and so on. It got fairly ugly for a while. Fortunately, her fit didn't last very long; a few days or a week maybe. I think she both realized what she was doing, and came to; plus I returned one call and threatened to let her family or community in on our little secrets and so on - and she wizened up. Plus she had school over an hour away, and I so I was just too inconvenient to stalk anyways. Fortunately, sanity prevailed; but for a while there, it felt like it could have gone either way.

Many months later we sort of made amends, and became distant friends; mainly I helped her with a few more things for her school. (She was an Electrical Engineer that became a Dentist; and I helped her with quite a few projects for both). My wife (the person I'd broken up with Jaclyn over to start dating), never really liked Jaclyn; can't imagine why. Just the whole estrogen thing; Jaclyn did manipulate people with her looks and little girly "do for me" stuff, and Melissa just hated that - and the whole feminine threat thing. But there was no threat; after such a near psychotic break, the last thing I wanted was to get involved again. Just the occasional, here I'll print this out, show you how this works, or help you write a thesis or post-grad specialization application, and stuff that didn't take too much time or effort but still helped Jaclyn out. We drifted apart naturally anyways; and weren't close or anything after that.



There were some good times, and fun things to dating someone at work. A quickie in the lab or broom closet, being able to see each other and take little breaks during the day; seeing your partner working and interacting with other people. But there's some drawbacks too; "give me some space", "God, not you again", and so on. Relationships seem to work better when both people are bringing outside activities and experiences home, making us more diverse and balanced, and sometimes keeping those segments of our lives apart and having some of our own space.

While my experiences were relatively mild compared to some, I remember thinking a lot during that rough breakup, "Man, it sure can turn ugly quick". I kept thinking, I can only imagine what it would be like if I still worked at Baxter with her. So while it never got bad at work, for me, I learned to at least consider the concept a lot more because of that. I also got to see others go through more first hand pain or office romance turned ugly; very ugly. Things like fights that were known through the office, fights that were brought into the office, or breakups that got really ugly - even spontaneous screaming matches that got both people in trouble or fired. Fights always devolve to where the lowest person wants them to go. Some relationships can drive people to want to go really low, really quickly; and work can eliminate ones chances for escape, or magnify the crisis.

That isn't to say that I wouldn't date at work; I'd just be very, VERY, cautious about it. Of course marriage has put a damper on my dating anyways; the right partner will do that. So I'm only talking hypothetically, as in "if I did date", which I don't. But I learned just a bit about how little we actually know about others, or how badly they can react, and about how you won't know for sure until it is too late. Hell, Colleen never really got to know me in 6 months of dating, so how can you truly know someone before you've gone out? Dating in the office is a total game of Russian roulette; you probably won't lose, but if you do, it sure can get messy. So for many, the office and romance will not mix well at all.

Written 2003.05.27