"You're intensely together on a project, things are going well, and the adrenaline gets pumping," says David R. Eyler. "The chemistry feels right, but you don't want to mess up your personal or professional relationships by having an affair. You recognize that you've got something good here, and you set limits on your behavior."
Can you have a sexy but sexless relationship? Researchers are embracing a new notion that sexual attraction between coworkers may not be bad. It may, in fact, be beneficial.
Eyler and Andrea P. Baridon, authors of three books on men and women in the workplace and senior staff members of the National Center for Higher Education in Washington, propose an unconventional alternative to an illicit affair. Instead of giving in to sexual attraction, you manage it. They call the relationship "More Than Friends, Less Than Lovers" -- the title of a book they published in 1991.
"More Than Friends" is part of a broader trend that Sharon A. Lobel, an associate professor of management at Seattle University, refers to as the "warmed-up workplace." Her survey of 1,700 executives, published by the American Management Association in 1994, found that men and women use sexual synergy to achieve work goals.
Forming a not quite romantic but more than platonic relationship is not a completely effortless undertaking. So Eyler and Baridon put together a five-step plan for making it work:
- Set boundaries. Openly discuss what is and isn't off limits. Make it explicit: you aren't going to get romantically involved.
- Consciously manage your relationship. The relationship should become a series of directed events, not random encounters that might get physical.
- Monitor each other. You'll need to adjust your behavior to keep things cool.
- Communicate openly. Don't hide the relationship from your spouse, lover, or managers. Then again, don't make a big deal out of it -- people might wonder whether it is a hands-off relationship.
- Take breaks from each other. Work together on good days, when you feel you can appreciate each other. You aren't obligated to be there for each other all of the time; that's what spouses are for.
Coordinates: "More Than Friends, Less Than Lovers" (Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., 1991) is out of print. But you can order it for $5.95 from BiblioBytes (201-222-1600). Contact David Eyler at firstname.lastname@example.org
Stephanie Williams (email@example.com) is an assistant editor at "Self" Magazine, where she writes about health and psychology.