A lingering look across the office, a nudge when you’re waiting for the lift or a sneaky kick under the table when everyone’s typing quietly. We all remember the heady excitement of the office romance; which gave us a reason to iron our dress in the morning, or made us dread the day after the Christmas party.
But those days feel long gone. For many of us, we only enjoyed them for the first year or two of our careers, before the office, sadly, turned into a place where you go to work. Now a study has proved the office romance’s days could be numbered as the number of couples meeting at work hits a 60-year low.
According to researchers at Stanford University, only one in 10 new couples met in the workplace in 2017, half the amount of the mid-1990s. The study points out that in 1995, 19% of couples said they met ‘through or as co-workers’, but two decades on, this fell to 11%. The findings are based on straight Americans, but British academics say trends could be similar here.
I'm sure it's fair to say we all mourn the death of the office romance: they let us build a connection with someone over months, instead of swiping them away after a comment that doesn’t land. They meant we could observe our crush from afar before deciding if we liked them or not, and meant we could gleefully interrogate other colleagues about them before agreeing to go to their house.
Online dating and workplace anti-harassment policies have been cited as a reason for this fall. Dating apps are clearly one of the main factors – why meet IRL if you can filter a version of yourself and carefully construct every reply? But, as with anything of this nature, many have been quick to blame the #MeToo movement, as if the brave testimonies of victims mean no one is allowed to ask a colleague out for a drink any more.
But it's clumsy to conflate flirting with sexual harassment or abuse. No one is running to HR when they get a compliment on their haircut. It's when the compliments keep coming thick and fast, after it's been made clear the person isn't interested, that we start to have a problem.
The reality is that #MeToo made us realise how many people were abusing the power and hierarchy that comes with an office environment and just how many men (because it is mainly men) have been crossing the line.
A friend of mine at a City law firm kept calling in sick after her boss repeatedly tried to go home with her. She’d had enough when he got out of the taxi at her house after work drinks and tried to force his way inside, so she reported him at work. Luckily, it was taken seriously and following an investigation he was dismissed from the company earlier this year.
Another friend has been moved onto a different account at her PR firm while her boss is investigated for slapping her bottom and pulling her onto his lap after she explicitly told him she wasn’t interested.
The fact these cases are being taken more seriously today is testament to how #MeToo brought about the right kind of change in HR departments, but shows it didn’t put an end to creeps lurking in the boardroom.
I’m sure we all agree it’s a shame the office romance is over. But if we want to revive it, we need to trust that IRL-relationships can end well at work. Don’t take the easy way out and blame the #MeToo movement because you don’t dare ask your colleague out. The real blame should lie with those who crossed the line.