Dating someone from work – it always follows the same pattern. The moment I detect interest, I home in and fling open my flirting toolbox. Admittedly, I only have a couple of rusty implements rattling around in there, but they have served me well.
The first step in capturing a colleague is to steer the relationship away from the professional – I do this chiefly through talking – bookending meetings with chat about the outside. My approach to this is fairly generic, I like to start with something broad then narrow it down. They call it the ‘funnel effect’ – a technique pioneered by the Stasi. I may begin, for example, by inquiring about their weekend or complimenting them on their attire – after that, who knows where the crazy ride could go?
We then top-and-tail our emails with light hearted bluster (I resist the term ‘banter’, there is something jocular about it, masculine even). The key here, as with any flirtation, is to be funny but not too funny. ‘Charming-funny’ as my colleague Beth once put it – a self-explanatory term and one that I always bear in mind when engaging with our ‘internal customers’. I have often welcomed ladies into the HR office with a wry remark. Not an ideal setting for horseplay, given our internal clientele may be attending a passive-aggressive ‘job chat’ – still, it never hurts to start with a joke. I am aware however that one has to hold back, being too funny can be detrimental. Make a lady smile and you are a charming rake – make her guffaw, and you are dispatched to the Friend-Zone.
Once critical mass is attained, its time for the actual dating to begin.
Charlotte and I met up on a wet Saturday afternoon. It was strange seeing her in her casual array, she had dispensed with her pencil skirt and heels and was wearing a many layered floral outfit. It wasn’t easy to see where the skirt ended and the jacket began – the overall was mildly psychedelic.
“You look nice,” I said, “boho.”
“Isn’t that what they call it? Boho.”
We were standing adjacent to Tottenham Court Road station, a sudden gust blew the drizzle into my face.
“Let’s get out of this, shall we?” Charlotte said.
We headed into the nearest pub, an ill-lit boozer full of dour middle-aged men.
“This is alright,” I said, “it’s got character.”
She didn’t say anything.
We sat in the corner and babbled about how nice we both looked in our off-duty wear. I was wearing a vintage cowboy shirt and cravat. I thought I resembled the young Warren Beatty in the era-defining classic, Shampoo.
I recall how my friend Beth rolled her eyes at this assertion, “more like Quentin Crisp,” she said.
Charlotte was equally brisk: “Warren Beatty, really? I would have said Woody in Toy Story.”
“That’s a good one,” I said, gently loosening my cravat.
We went on to discuss work at some length, it was of course our common ground – nevertheless, I started to feel as though the department-by-department critique was not conducive to romance.
I tried to change the subject by bringing up family, that other conversational comfort zone. As Charlotte recounted the names, occupations and minor transgressions of her extended brood, I found my mind wandering.
I was not a big family person and was struggling to absorb minutia of what sounded like a troubled clan. Charlotte’s brother, a former soldier, had recently emerged from prison where he had been unjustly incarcerated. She took a long drink of her house red.
“I like the way you say emerged,” I said, “sounds ominous, don’t tell me he ‘was sent to prison by a military court for a crime he didn’t commit.'”
“Did he ‘promptly escape to the Los Angeles underground’?”
“Did he what?”
“It’s from the beginning of the A-Team.”
“Yeah, the TV series that is, not the film. Well, it could have been in the film as well, to be honest – I haven’t seen it.”
Charlotte’s eyes narrowed.
“Anyway,” I said, “at least you guys are close.”
She started playing with her phone.
I said, “not like my family, we’re pretty dysfunctional.”
I shrugged and offered a whimsical smile.
“Really?” she said.
Charlotte waited but nothing came forth, so I shrugged again.
She said, “what does that mean?”
“What does what mean?”
She mimicked me, adding a distinctly gallic twist.
“Nothing,” I said, “not a thing.”
Outside, the rain picked up. I glanced at the clock and downed my drink.