So You Dated Your Coworker & Broke Up — This Is How To Stay Chill In The Office

by Annie Foskett

I fully admit that I love whining about having never met anyone at work for dating purposes. I work remotely a lot, and also own a video production company that entirely comprised of women. As a straight woman, my only opportunity to meet a man "in the office," has been on set for a shoot, which only lasts a day or so. Once, I worked on a movie in Atlanta for a month, but the only eligible man on set was 21 to my 27. (I passed.) However, when I hear stories of friends dated a coworker and broke up, I feel entirely grateful for my situation.

The workplace is an incredibly natural place to meet someone you're interested in romantically. You're seeing the same people every day, you're engaged in the same industry and sometimes even projects, and you're likely to have quite a few things in common, you know, since you ended up at the same company.

But if you've stopped dating a coworker, things can get very sticky. I need to unfollow men I'm even just "seeing" if the end of the situationship gets messy or if my feelings are unresolved. Breaking up with a serious partner and then having to see them at work everyday feels like a nightmare, no matter how mature and collected each party of a (prior) couple is. Not to mention the logistics and complications that can arise when a breakup, affects the actual technicalities of your job — especially if you happened to break up with a superior.

This is why I spoke to both a therapist and an HR specialist in my research for this article. When you have to see an ex in the workplace, there are certain rules you have to follow for both your heart and career's well being.

I first spoke to clinical psychologist and host of “The Kurre and Klapow Show,” Joshua Klapow, Ph.D. about how to handle the emotional side of things when you have to face an ex at work. "First, have realistic expectations," shares Dr. Klapow. "In many situations working together right after a break-up will be awkward and stressful. It’s not going to be fun." Once you face this reality, make a plan, he adds. Having a tool to manage the stress is important. "This may mean taking frequent breaks to collect yourself, [or] engaging with other coworkers to not be as isolated," says Dr. Klapow.

"However, do not use total avoidance as your way of dealing with the situation," he adds. "You may be able to not engage with [your ex] as much as when you were together, but if your daily plans becomes figuring out how to avoid this person at all costs, you will run yourself into the ground and you will not be an effective contributor at work."

When it comes to the emotions that come up around a breakup at work, try to be aware of them, because they're inevitably going to come up. "You are entitled to feel hurt, mad, sad, or whatever emotions you are feeling towards the person," says Dr. Klapow. He adds that while you should absolutely be feeling those feelings, unfortunately, you just have to continue to remind yourself you're at work. The feelings are normal and you should be having them, but you have to keep the fact that acting out of those emotions could affect your work.

"If you are feeling frustrated or angry at work ask yourself why?" explains Dr. Klapow. "And take time to take a break and recalibrate so that you don’t let your personal emotions significantly impact your work related relations." Again, the goal is to minimize the impact a stressful time in your life has on your actual work.

I also spoke to an HR specialist for Bustle Digital Group, Elite Daily's parent company, who reminded me that every company is different when it comes to office romances. "Depending on your work culture, HR department policies and practices, and your own maturity level, there are some instances where office romances come and go without any issue at all." Phew! She recommends looking up the specific practices at your employer. Did you have to sign a form when you got involved with your partner? Talk to HR about the best course of action for your particular situation.

"Being upfront about areas that could potentially be troublesome — like needing to be moved off of specific projects, or transitioning work to a colleague — is important," she explains. "If you've been open and honest about your relationship, asking for space should not be an issue at all for an understanding HR department." There may even be an opportunity to restructure your role if necessary. If you were dating a superior and no longer feel comfortable in your role, talk to HR. There may be policies in place to protect you.

"We know that no one can control who they fall for," the HR specialist adds. "Be sure to exercise good judgment and protect yourself, and your heart!" The best things you can do are to read up on company policies, keep it professional, and talk to your HR professional. Taking care of your heart and your career is tricky, but you've got this. One step at a time.

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