It was 2017. I was fresh out of university with a degree in my hand and a whole lot of hope in my heart. Since Lee*, my boyfriend was already working in Paris*, I decided to fly there on a work visa and kickstart my career as well.
One problem – I couldn’t find a job. I spent many bleak months searching for one, and my visa was going to expire.
Lee then offered to put in a recommendation for me at his company. It was a last resort and I felt pretty hesitant about applying, but I decided to try it anyway and got a job as a project research assistant.
I was assigned to the project that Lee was on, which meant we got to work closely with each other. The good thing was that we anticipated this might happen, and hence laid down some ground rules:
- No showing affection at the office
- No bringing problems from home into the workplace
- No need to tell people we are in a relationship
- Have lunch with other colleagues when possible
Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t try to stifle our relationship or avoid each other all the time. We sat next to each other in meetings and spoke about personal things occasionally, but we maintained a healthy distance since we were in a professional setting.
Things went pretty well at the start. Lee was so encouraging. He looked out for me a lot, even though he had quite a bit of work on his plate. He even gave me several insider tips on how to deal with certain colleagues. That helped me settle into work a lot faster.
However, as time passed, I realised that the naturally stressful environment at work was starting to put a strain on our relationship. For example, there were many days where we continued talking about work, long after office hours. It dampened our moods.
And if we quarrelled on some nights, the next day at work would be pretty tough to manage. Things were especially difficult to handle when Lee had to give me negative feedback on my work, as my superior, the day after a fight. In times like those, I got pretty affected and emotional.
Even when our relationship was in a good place, work things could be tough. Sometimes I would see Lee having a bad day at work, and all I would want to do is just go over and give him a hug. While a hug in itself is a small gesture of comfort, not being able to do something simple like that made me feel restrained.
That, coupled with how some colleagues occasionally referred to me as “Lee’s girlfriend”, made me feel insignificant and like I was not my own person.
I think if we continued working together, our relationship would not have been in a good place.
Thankfully, I eventually got transferred to a different department. I found my own clique of colleagues I enjoyed hanging out with, and I felt like I had room to be my own person.
As for Lee, he could focus solely on his work and climbing the career ladder, without having to worry about looking out for me every day or get entangled in emotional situations.
Now, when we return to our apartment every evening, we actually look forward to spending time together. We share our stories about work not because we’re stressed, but because we want to know what’s going on in each other’s lives.
In other words, with a healthier amount of space between us, we were able to build a stronger relationship together.
Fast forward to the present, Lee proposed to me after 5 years of dating and we are getting married next year.
Does this mean I think all office relationships are bad? Not exactly. I’m sure some people could do it if they have no trouble separating their emotions from work. However, if one doesn’t enjoy having boundaries placed on their relationship, like me, I would recommend they avoid an office relationship as much as possible.
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