Dating coworkers has been popularly viewed as risky territory, long before the #MeToo movement came into play. The “Don’t dip your pen in company ink” mantra exists for a variety of reasons, many of which settle on the realization that if things go south, those coworkers may end up compromising their career in some capacity.
However, the #MeToo movement has now torn back the curtain on the abuse of power and workplace (or otherwise) sexual harassment, to reveal some pretty ugly and horrifying realizations. If I had to summarize the learnings from this movement, it would be that within our society exists a gross misunderstanding of gender roles and subsequent sexual respect, consent and the (at times) dangerous influence power dynamics. The floodgates have opened to a conversation that has been largely neglected for generations, and it has left a lot of people feeling overwhelmed and unsure of how to navigate moving forward.
There are two popular sides to this conversation, I’ve noticed. First, we have men responding to the volume and varying degrees of allegations that have surfaced, and alluding (more or less) that ‘no man is safe’ in this newly aware society. Then we have women reacting in subdued outrage to such comments, explaining that they have been enduring harassment in varying forms for years and men just didn’t realize they were the perpetuators. They explain that the lack of awareness surrounding this behavior is precisely the problem. Considering this on-going debate, I’m not surprised that the question of etiquette while dating coworkers is now being given more consideration than ever before.
Here is the thing, though: The etiquette for dating coworkers is the same as it always should have been. Dating (successfully) requires mutual consent and desire, effective communication, emotional maturity, an established sense of self, shared understandings and at times, compromise. This isn’t new — this logic has existed at the foundation of any successful relationship (coworkers or otherwise) the entire time.
So why are we just now questioning what constitutes a consensual dating experience and what doesn’t? If this isn’t an education we already have in place, why the hell not? If this movement has shown us anything, it’s that consent and sexual respect (especially within the workplace) has been treated as a grey area for years now, when it should be entirely black and white. I think, now more than ever before, we’ve received a painful reality check indicating that our current system neglects the proper education of healthy sexual scripts and consent.
When it comes to dating a coworker, you should leave no room for misunderstanding(s) as to what is unfolding between both parties. You should establish an open channel of communication and an honest dialogue of needs, expectations and concerns. If you find consent to be a confusing concept, at times, ask those questions. Ignorance is never bliss, in this case. And if there are risks associated with your relationship, as it relates to your subsequent careers or public perceptions, those need to be addressed head on. And if you ever think there is a chance that power dynamics could be affecting your partner’s consent, stop and talk about it. Don’t put yourself in a situation that could be perceived as abuse by ignoring red flags, abusing stature or treating consent as a sliding scale. As a society, we have to be better than this. We have to exercise a more evolved understanding of shared desire and consent, and the complicated dynamics of career-related affairs.
At the end of the day, we all know (or should know) how to communicate, ask important questions and advocate for ourselves and our partners. And if we don’t, we probably shouldn’t be actively dating — especially not our coworkers.