Having a crush on a co-worker can be harmless fun — it can even help get you excited to hop out of bed and head into work in the morning. But acting on those feelings, well, that's where it can become more than a little complicated. Once you’ve hooked up with a co-worker, things have the potential to get awkward really quickly. But hey, it happens, and even more frequently than you may realize, as Julie Spira, online dating expert and author of Love in the Age of Trump: How Politics is Polarizing Relationships, tells Elite Daily. “Hooking up with a co-worker is as common as sliding into someone's DMs. If you see them every day, chances are you're spending more time bonding with them than you are if you're going on one date at a time with someone new,” she explains.
If it happens all the time, why can it feel so weird afterward? “It’s awkward because you're changing the context of the relationship,” Diana Dorell, intuitive dating coach and author of The Dating Mirror: Trust Again, Love Again, tells Elite Daily. “All of a sudden, you’re going from relating to them strictly on a work basis to something more intimate, and it becomes awkward when those lines and those boundaries are unclear or blurry or you’re not sure how they feel,” she says. The good news, Dorell shares, is that this is something you can fix after the fact. That process starts with some self-reflection and honesty about what you want from your co-worker — and what you don’t. Once you know that, you can begin to move forward with making things feel a little less cringe in the workplace.
Yep, that’s right, the experts say you have to be honest and direct about your feelings and desires. While that’s very adult, it's not easy. Cherlyn Chong, a dating and breakup recovery coach for professional women, tells Elite Daily it’s worth facing it head-on. “Pretending it never happened just sweeps things under the rug. It can bring up very mixed emotions that build up, and it will be like ignoring the elephant in the room whenever you two have to interact,” she explains. In other words, by not saying something and resolving the issue, it becomes much easier for the awkward dynamic to linger, or even grow.
Dr. Christie Kederian, a licensed marriage and family therapist, agrees that being direct is the best policy. “Address it right away and speak your authentic truth. If it was completely casual for you, express that. If you do have feelings for them, express that. The worst situation that can come from a casual hookup with a co-worker is constant underlying tension and discomfort in your workplace environment,” she tells Elite Daily.
If the awkwardness is stemming from your hope that this situation is more than just a one-time thing, Spira says it's best to be honest about that, too. “If you're interested in a repeat performance, keep the conversation light and let them know you enjoyed your romp, but ask them to keep your little secret to just between the two of you so that you won't get strange looks from other co-workers. This way, you can smile when you see each other without going into clingy or meltdown mode,” she advises.
It's also very possible that your co-worker is hoping for more to come of the connection than you do, a dynamic that can also create some awkward tension. The truth is you won’t know how they feel until you talk to them about what happened. Dr. Kederian says that, for this reason, it's essential to be sensitive in how you broach the subject. “You may think it was mutually casual, but they have deeper feelings for you and, by expressing that you don’t, it may be offensive. Be empathetic and honest when talking about it and rip the awkwardness off like a band-aid!” she says.
Whatever path you decide you want to pursue, whether that's a continued liaison or a one-and-done hookup, Dorell says to be sure to communicate that clearly and, in the case of the latter, respectfully. “If you’re rejecting them, you want to just be really kind about it. Just say, ‘this was a one-time thing and I really appreciate you, but I’m not really not interested in a relationship right now. I hope we can still work together,'" she suggests. The key then, adds Dorrell, is to be consistent in your behavior. “Maintain the energy of what you say you want. If it’s to have a clean and clear work environment, then maintain that," she says.
Talking things out with a co-worker should resolve most of the awkwardness. In some cases, however, your co-worker might not be able to be chill about the situation. In that case, Chong says the best you can do is to just focus on yourself and what you need to feel comfortable. “Give yourself your own closure about what happened, so that you can resolve any feelings on your own. Then, treat this person as you would before, just with a little more distance since you now know that this isn't someone who sees eye to eye with you,” she advises.
The truth is, co-worker hookups are a thing that happens sometimes, and if things get awkward after the fact you can chalk the experience up as a lesson learned. That lesson is to be conscious about hooking up with colleagues in the future, says Dorell. “Anytime you hook up with a co-worker, you want to be clear that even if nothing happens after the hook-up, you’re going to be OK going to work. Answering that question first before you choose to hook up is important. Am I going to be able to face myself in the morning and do the best job possible?" she says. "At the end of the day, if you’re in the heat of the moment and it happens, forgive yourself, move on, and be clear with them,” she concludes. Before you know it, you’ll have a new crush and it’ll be water under the bridge.
Cherlyn Chong, a dating and breakup recovery coach for professional women
Dr. Christie Kederian, a licensed marriage and family therapist
Julie Spira, online dating expert and author of Love in the Age of Trump: How Politics is Polarizing Relationships