OK, so you know that dating a coworker is potentially treacherous territory. But what about dating someone your coworker has a past with? It’s a little more complicated, right? The risks involved in both scenarios are actually pretty similar: You may struggle to keep work and play separate, and you may have some awkward elevator encounters after things end. Still, when it comes to dating someone your coworker dated, it’s a big ol’ gray area. So, is someone a co-worker dated definitely off-limits?
Naturally, you don’t want to rock the boat at work. At the same time, there are no explicit rules around whether it’s cool to date your coworker’s former flame. Ultimately, how you handle this situation comes down to couple different factors — most importantly, the nature of your relationship with your coworker, as well as the nature of your coworker’s relationship with the person you’re interested in pursuing and how it ended.
First of all, is your coworker a close friend? Do you spend time together outside of work? Do you confide in each other about things, whether that means venting about your boss or sharing hilarious tales from your Tinder adventures? The level of your friendship should definitely factor when you’re assessing whether dating their ex is OK.
“If you're not actually invested in that friendship, then maybe it's not a dealbreaker,” Pricilla Martinez, online life coach at Blush, tells Elite Daily. “Put yourself it that person's position. What do you know about them that can help you determine their reaction to this? How would you feel if others in your workplace find out?”
If you're dealing with a workplace bestie, you’ll want to give careful consideration to how things ended between them. The main question to ask yourself is: Does your coworker seem over this person? If you value your friendship with your coworker and it seems like they’re still processing their feelings, you may want to give them some time to heal before hanging out with their former boo.
“If they felt betrayed or broken by the person they dated, they might be off limits,” says Chris Armstrong, relationship coach and founder of Maze Of Love. “This could be because that the person cheated on them, ghosted them, etc.”
Martinez adds that you should genuinely consider whether your involvement with your coworker’s ex could cause problems that spill over into your work, causing any kind of negative impact.
“The rule of thumb should be to keep things clean and drama-free,” she explains. “You don't want your personal life to impact your professional goals. The absolute last thing you want is for your supervisor to catch wind of any love triangles that make you seem messy or immature. Even if it's not based on reality, professionally, perception is everything.”
Martinez suggests evaluating how much potential this budding relationship has in determining whether it’s worth the risk.
“To proceed, you need to know that you are willing to be with this person for the long haul,” she explains. “If it's a momentary fling, then it's probably best to avoid the unnecessary drama.”
There’s also obviously a big difference between dating someone your coworker hooked up with twice and dating someone they had a year-long relationship with. In the latter scenario, their heart was likely far more invested — and that may make it more difficult for them to accept you dating someone from their past. But as long as your coworker doesn’t still feel deeply betrayed by the person you’re pursuing, Armstrong says that it should be OK for you to date them.
“Two consenting adults went into a dating situation and came out of it,” he explains. “A co-worker getting into a dating situation with the same person is, without other context, fine.”
Truthfully, the only way to know whether your coworker is cool with you dating their previous bae is to talk to them about it directly.
"If you feel strongly about dating this person, at least be upfront about it with your colleague before dating — not after," says April Masini, relationship and etiquette expert. "Don’t give your co-worker any reason to feel you betrayed them or went behind their back. That could ruin your relationship with them."
Keep in mind, however, that you are not running it by them — you’re simply giving them the courtesy of letting your intentions be known before they find out from someone else.
“The wrong thing to do would be to ask your coworker for permission to date,” adds Armstrong. “First and foremost, trust your gut. Why are you not sure? Is it because of something ferocious 'went down' in their relationship? If this is what's spooking you, stay away. If the relationship wasn't controversial or it didn't end in a bad way and you're simply worried about whether the co-worker will be okay with it, don't ask — use presumptive communication.”
Armstrong suggests saying something along the lines of, "Hey, I'm really interested in getting to know Mark. I know you and he dated for a bit so I just wanted to make sure you knew. Is there anything I should know?"
So, is someone your coworker dated off-limits? The general consensus between experts is that no, they're probably not — but you should still proceed with caution. If your work friend had a messy past with this person and still feel hurt by their actions, they may have a hard time putting that aside at the office. There are no definitive rules that dictate whether a coworker’s ex is off limits — it ultimately comes down to factors surrounding your coworker’s previous relationship, your friendship with them, and the nature of this new relationship you’re pursuing. If your coworker is a true friend, you may want to show respect for your bond by breaking the news to them yourself. Who knows? Once any minor awkwardness passes, they could actually be genuinely happy for you and their previous bae.