Love blooms at the office, Part 1

February 20, 2008, 8:43 PM UTC

You’re wondering why, if you understand this headline correctly, this post didn’t run last week, on everyone’s favorite love-to-hate holiday, the feast of St. Valentine. Well, not to worry; it’s not you, it’s me.

So in advance of, and by way of explanation for, the office romance tips that are coming your way in a day or so, a true story:

It’s Valentine’s Day. I’ve decided, in my infinite and oversensitive wisdom, not to acknowledge the event with the office romance post I’ve been planning for weeks. Better to wait for spring, or some other equally innocuous time, than add to the Valentine’s noise that, at least anecdotally, seems to make so many people — from the kindergartner who gets the fewest cartoon Valentines in her cubby to the single, successful twentysomething with no Valentine’s date — feel so incredibly bad.

I’m on the subway, on my way home. Sheryl Crow’s “My Favorite Mistake” comes on my iPod, and as I watch the teenaged couple snuggling against the doors — she’s cradling her flowers and he’s got a big red Mylar heart balloon tied to his backpack — another young duo catches my eye. They’re chatting like they know each other, but what seemed at first glance to be a V-Day date quickly takes on another quality. She’s prattling on, laughing and gesticulating, clearly telling some serious story, and though the furrow in his brow says he’s listening, the look in his eyes is something else altogether. The smile is just spilling out of them, and he’s so nervous, he can’t keep still, scuffing his loafers every few seconds and compulsively trying to stuff his heavily gloved hands into the slim pockets of his overcoat.

He’s smitten.

Not wanting to jinx him with my cynical music (and yes, wanting to eavesdrop a bit), I pause Sheryl. “I couldn’t believe he said that,” she’s saying, “but I guess it went all right, for my first presentation.” He mumbles something only vaguely coherent about his first day and their less than likable boss, and she giggles. “Well, I’m glad it’s not just me,” she says, but they don’t touch.

And everything, from her sensible little red leather ballet flats to her pretty daytime pea coat, says long day at the office, not hot night on the town. These are, as they say, work friends. But he so wishes they were more.

And as I watch them leave the train together, I realize, I hope they are, too. Because it isn’t every day a guy looks at a girl that way. And it isn’t every girl that feels free to just be who she is around any member of the opposite sex, let alone one who might be interested. That really could be love.

So when the doorman at the hotel on our corner steps chivalrously out of the way for me, and calls “Happy Valentine’s Day!” as I walk by, I smile. Maybe there’s something about this holiday that — especially in a city like New York, where we so often ignore if not antagonize each other — brings out the very sweetest side of people. It isn’t religious, it isn’t about family, and sure, it’s commercial, but hey, this is America. What isn’t?

And maybe someday, when those two are telling their grandchildren how they fell in love, she’ll say it was Valentine’s Day, and there was something heady in the air. But he’ll know it started well before that, in the office where he first noticed her endearing insecurity and became her friend. A tad optimistic? Of course. But impossible? Far from it.

So obviously, I revised my V-Day position, and for all the people who’ve been too busy being down on love to see it blossoming in their very own offices, on Valentine’s Day and every day, we’ve brought in the experts — Stephanie Losee and Helaine Olen, authors of Office Mate: The Employee Handbook for Finding — and Managing — Romance on the Job. Next post, we’ll get their advice on starting your own office romance (and more importantly, steering clear of any drama). And in the meantime, ponder these “Famous ‘Dates’ in Office Mate History,” courtesy of our authors, and find out just what you might be missing.

  • 1669 The eventual Marquise de Maintenon, then called Mme. Scarron, was appointed governess to French King Louis XIV’s illegitimate children. The secrecy shrouding their eventual affair and marriage was so successful that historians not only still debate if the couple’s liaison began in 1673, 1678, or 1680, but also what year they finally married and what, if any, influence the Marquise had in French political life. This amount of secrecy is remarkable given the way they lived: French royalty was considered so exalted, the King could not even go to the bathroom with complete privacy.
  • 1762-1796 Reign of Russia’s Catherine the Great. The empress appoints many of her lovers to official government positions, including longtime partner Grigory Potemkin. His attempts to impress her by supposedly erecting hollow facades of villages on the lands that his military campaign had won give the world the term “Potemkin Village.”
  • 1990 Husband and wife New York Times reporters Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn share a Pulitzer Prize for their joint coverage of China’s Tiananmen Square democracy movement. They are the first married couple to win a Pulitzer for journalism.

Have your own favorite date or Valentine’s story? As always, we’d love to hear them…