You’d think, in 2019, that the workplace would be a deeply unsexy place to date. After #MeToo, companies unleashed stricter policies targeting office romances—they canceled holiday parties to discourage anyone from getting a little too close, brought in anti-flirting coaches, and required already coupled coworkers to sign “love contracts” so it was clear (and on paper) that those relationships were consensual. (Talk about an awkward threesome: you, your partner, and…HR.) Maybe that’s why people assumed women were thinking twice—or never— about hooking up with a colleague.
Except, we still are. Maybe more so now than ever before.
The proof: Cosmo asked more than 800 women between the ages of 18 and 35 how they view love on the job. Eighty-four percent were totally down to date someone at their company as long as they’re not on the same team. (We are overambitious millennials who spend all our time at work—so yeah, this tracks.) “The #MeToo movement definitely hasn’t changed my thoughts on dating or hooking up in the workplace,” says Chantal, 33, who works in finance. “I don’t think it should be a free-for-all, but it’s only natural to feel attracted to your coworkers.”
In fact, 40 percent of women have hooked up with a coworker post #MeToo, 62 percent are cool with cross-cubicle flirting, and 72 percent have a friend who’s dated someone they worked with. (Slack isn’t all meeting follow-ups.)
Lauren, 29, whose job is in media, says, “I genuinely liked dating someone I worked with. We had the same interests, obviously, and understood each other’s work, so it gave us a lot to talk about.” They also shared similar schedules and a hatred of the crappy free coffee in the break room (so romantic).
What *has* changed is the added pressure to keep inter-office relationships on the DL, given all the new rules. “My boyfriend and I were wary of making moves,” says Chloe, 23, who works in a government office. “So we ended up keeping it a secret. We had to hide behind a tree one time because we saw someone from work.” Eventually, her boyfriend decided it was time to break up—with his job, not with her—so they wouldn’t have to deal.
And despite the push for men and women to keep it completely platonic, looking for love while on the clock might, in some ways, actually be less of a land mine than it was pre-#MeToo. Linda, 26, a service-industry employee, feels that more guys (not all!) are on high alert right now. “Men know not to pull some shit or else they might be outed for exactly who they are,” she says. And women feel especially empowered to choose who they hook up with—or don’t. The large majority of those who took our survey—90 percent!—said they would never date their boss. And we’re no longer afraid to say “hell no” if a sleazy supervisor asks us out for drinks.
Yet companies are still zeroing in on the very thing that we seem to have under control at work: dating. According to career transitioning firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, 51 percent of businesses have formal office-romance protocols, with an increasing number of employers currently working on one.
“A no-dating policy in the workplace cements in people’s minds that this is about sexual desire. But it’s sexual harassment that’s about people abusing their power. It’s not, ‘I asked her out.’ When companies get stuck there, they’re not addressing the real problem,” explains Marianne Cooper, PhD, a sociologist at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University. This also assumes that women don’t know the difference between an unwanted sexual advance from an office mate and a consensual relationship with a coworker. (Please.)
It wouldn’t be fair to leave out the monumental progress the #MeToo movement has had on the workplace (empty desks where all the Harveys used to be) and how it’s prompted companies to implement changes that do benefit women, like Facebook’s “you can ask someone out only once” policy. Women do need—and want—HR to have their backs when it comes to the sexism that didn’t just disappear because of a hashtag. But “telling people they can’t have relationships at work doesn’t get rid of hypermasculine cultures or harassment,” says Cooper, nor does it really deter us from dating. After all, says Olivia, 22, a nurse, “the #MeToo movement gave women the power to say no to a hookup— and to say yes.”
And anyway, these slightly sexist “bans” can also come with a fucked-up side effect: They may further the false narrative that any type of fraternizing with a woman at the office is risky. In 2019, 27 percent of men avoided one-on-one meetings with female colleagues, according to a survey from the University of Houston, which is a really excellent way for women to get left behind at work.
That seems like a punishment— not protection. And definitely not progress.