Possible office love causes discomfort

I think two of my co-workers are secretly dating. They always seem to leave for lunch at the same time, and it’s making me uncomfortable. What should I do?

— Suspicious Sally

Sally,

Why are they making you uncomfortable? You didn’t give me much information to go on, but my hunch here is that you’re being a bit too sensitive about the situation.

To begin with, you don’t even know that they’re dating. At one of my first jobs out of college, a few new co-workers and I were convinced that two people in our organization, a guy and a girl, were dating. We’d see them pair off at group functions, wander away, and even disappear for a while. After the second or third time my colleagues and I noticed this behavior, we decided that they were romantically involved.

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It turns out he was coming out to her (i.e., telling her he was gay). So my first piece of advice is not to assume you know the status of their relationship.

But I know all of that might be irrelevant, because whatever they’re doing — dating, not dating, going to midday sushi-rolling classes together — they’re making you feel weird.

If you’ve been in Washington for a while, surely you’ve noticed by now that, for various reasons, many people here use their workplaces as social springboards. So I’m inclined to tell you to get used to it. You may not like it — I’ll freely admit that I don’t love it — but unless you want to start an organization combating overly friendly interaction in the workplace, you might just have to recognize it as part of the professional landscape here. (On the off chance that you do want to start that organization, this would be the city in which to do it.)

The one caveat I’ll offer is that if their behavior is affecting your work performance, then you need to take a different course of action. I don’t mean loud giggling  — that’s what earbuds are for these days. But if you think they’re shirking their duties, and the extra load is falling on you, talk to your supervisor about what you see as an unfair imbalance in the workload among the staff. If they’re trying to get you to lie about their romance, say no directly to them (otherwise you’d essentially become a part of their relationship). Or if they’re just being too grabby for the office, say something to them. A simple “Can you guys please stop?” should do the trick.

But otherwise I see no reason for you to be uncomfortable with two colleagues who “leave for lunch at the same time.” If you focus on your own work, their coinciding departures will probably be no less intrusive than the hum of the copy machine. 

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