With long hours and the all-consuming nature of the industry, it might seem natural to find your next partner in a desk mate. But in entertainment, everyone seems to know everyone and you can’t risk stepping on toes, so is dating your coworker really a bet worth placing? When can you cross that line from coworker to companion? Before you let that Season 2 finale rerun of The Office empower you to make the move this V-Day, you might want to put the same amount of consideration into it as any other career decision you make.
Of the couples I interviewed, many agreed there is a casual atmosphere in the industry that fosters the blurring of personal and professional. Samantha*, a literary assistant at a creative management company where she supervised her current boyfriend, Roger, goes as far as to call it a commonality, stating, “I think a lot of people in our professional community date people whom they work with – the film industry isn’t so buttoned up and proper.” Similarly, Assistant Film Publicist Rebecca describes the atmosphere surrounding the film festival where she interned with her boyfriend Evan as an environment that encouraged flirting: “We were both just having a good time… our “supervisor” was hooking up with an intern at the same time… [it was] not really a strict work environment.”
Even so, many couples choose to keep their relationships private from coworkers, potentially taking a toll on a fledgling affair. Derek, a photojournalist and editor for a local news station partially regrets keeping his past relationship with a producer secret. Nevertheless, he admits to also benefiting from their decision, arguing, “because we kept it completely hidden I never worried what people thought [when we broke up] because they didn’t know anything to begin with.” Samantha’s boyfriend Roger simplifies, “We kept it to ourselves just to keep things clean and easy.” Whether falling in or out of love, both relationships never had the threat of gaining negative attention from coworkers.
That said, for the relationships that don’t work out, there is even more to be lost than the good opinion of coworkers. Liz, an executive assistant at a production company, regrets the connection she had with a supervisor after she worked for him during an internship. “When it ended badly,” she explains, “I was not only heart-broken, but I knew I’d lost a great career referral and I was scared he’d try to retaliate by impeding my career path.” Liz also admitted a loss of other contacts from her internship, clarifying, “I spent a large portion of time attempting to impress my crush professionally, and when he was no longer a viable contact, I was too embarrassed to reach out to others.” For those who continue to work together, the break-up has additional tortures. While most are able to distance themselves from their exes, Derek still works with his, and must interact with her regularly to maintain appearances: “It bums me out when I see her because I want to know how she is holding up.”
Yet, if you do find a companion in your office who survives the test phase, the benefits you reap are all the more sweet. The low pay and artistic element of this industry demands that any entrant be passionate about their corner of the field, so chances are you choose someone equally passionate about your favorite subjects. Rebecca, whose almost-five-year relationship with kindred film nerd Evan continues to grow, elaborates: “Having one of your major life passions in common is a uniting force that automatically will make your relationship stronger.” Sometimes, even having basic commonalities, like knowing the same coworkers, can enrich the connection. A pragmatist, Samantha is always thankful to “have someone to bitch to about [her] boss” that can fully sympathize from personal experience. For Derek, working with his girlfriend at their time-demanding television station allowed for her patience and understanding when another partner might have been annoyed: “[She] understood my absurd hours, as she had some pretty crazy shifts too.” Plus, all couples agreed their meeting stories were that much more exciting for happening at work.
Despite the frustration of breaking up, Derek has no regrets about his office romance because of one simple qualifier that he and his ex both possessed: “If you are mature enough to act appropriately in given situations, then you should pursue anyone to your heart’s content.” Unlike the start of any other relationship, however, when you work together in the small world of entertainment, it may actually help to think of the worst outcome. How maturely would this person handle a break-up? Would they respect your career? Allow yourself to acknowledge all red flags because, as Rebecca articulates, “you should never risk your job or career over something that could be fleeting.”
*All names in this article have been changed to protect the interviewees’ privacy