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The Love Contract

Everyone knows you’re not supposed to date your boss. It makes things messy at the office.

I dated mine once, and can attest that things did get messy at the office. Also in the car. And on the sofa at his place.

We flirted. We kissed. We got naked. Shacked up, got married, had kids. Even now, we continue to grope each other in front of the subordinates, open each other’s mail, and answer our home phone singing, “Aloha! Deano’s Weiner Shanty” — all behavior that is really frowned upon in a corporate setting.

Mr. Boss Man and I were in college when we began canoodling among the cubicles, and our tryst failed to raise a ruckus. Some colleagues offered high-fives; others rolled their eyes and made occasional gagging sounds. Most just dismissed us as indiscreet young idiots.

Today, though, employees who date coworkers may be asked to sign a “love contract” declaring their romantic alliance. Known formally as “consensual relationship agreements,” these documents confirm that both parties willingly entered into the affair, and that either one is free to end it without professional ramifications.

I saw one that read, “The undersigned independently and collectively desire to undertake and pursue a mutually consensual social and/or amorous relationship …”

Whew! Makes me hot just reading it.

Supposedly inspired by former president Bill Clinton’s disastrous dalliances with a certain White House intern, the contracts aim to protect companies from sexual harassment lawsuits in the event of an ugly breakup. Which sounds to me like corporate code for “we need a foolproof way for top execs to continue playing with the hearts and pencil-skirted posteriors of our delicious, er, ambitious new hires. Have Legal get on this …”

“Love contracts” haven’t yet been tested in court, but they’ve been mocked plenty in prime time. The amorous casts of both The Office and Grey’s Anatomy have endured the humiliating and admittedly hilarious process of having to reduce the precious first buds of passion to a page of tedious legal jargon on file with HR.

You can see why bureaucrats would champion such a contract. More than 40 percent of workers confess to having dated a fellow employee, and experts say high divorce rates, later marriages, and a record number of working women will likely lead to more and more office flings. It’s hard to be productive when your lover’s dreamy voice is citing sales statistics just down the hall, and it’s tricky being diplomatic when your pookie bear is one of several associates up for a promotion. Love and lust are workplace distractions, but no-dating policies are notoriously difficult to enforce.

Are “love contracts” really the answer? If corporations could truly make rationally behaving robots out of all their employees simply by having them sign conduct agreements, they really ought to start with a “Don’t Snap at the Receptionist Just Because You’re Hungry” contract or a “Won’t Get Plastered at Lunch No Matter How Awful That Meeting Was” pledge.

Humans — even those in power suits — are ruled by emotions. And emotions are spastically, sprawlingly, spectacularly messy. Emotions shouldn’t be defined in corporate terms, and they can’t be reduced to a legal document with any significance.

But perhaps intra-office affairs aren’t as big a threat as companies fear.

Last month, Costco asked members in various states if they thought workers should sign “love contracts.” Melvin Williams of Duncanville, Texas, said no, arguing that it’s the employees’ responsibility to keep their relationships out of the office.

His personal code? “Never get your honey where you make your money.”

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My columns are collected in three lovely books, which make a SPLENDID gift for wives, friends, book clubs, hostesses, and anyone who likes to laugh!
Keep Your Skirt On
Wife on the Edge
Broad Assumptions
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