Asian woman and black man talking and laughing while sitting at a conference table

Vicinity Attraction & Work Spouses

Asian woman and black man talking and laughing while sitting at a conference table

Have you ever developed a close relationship with a colleague who you called your “work spouse?” Have you ever thought about allowing (or did allow) that relationship to cross over into something more?

If so, then you have likely experienced what I call “vicinity attraction.”

We spend so much of our waking hours at work. It makes sense that we would develop close working relationships. And sometimes sexual attraction happens when we spend so much time with people we like and respect.

What is Vicinity Attraction?

“Vicinity attraction” happens when a relationship develops as a direct result of the time you spend in proximity with that person. It may not start with a  physical attraction or grow out of an emotional connection, but simply familiarity and the comfort of seeing them every day.

Vicinity attractions CAN develop into emotionally and physically intimate connections, however, and that’s when they turn into affairs.

How Should You Handle Vicinity Attraction?

What should you do if you find yourself in the grip of a vicinity attraction?

First, be honest with yourself about what’s going on. Don’t minimize the feelings, try to ignore them, or outright deny the relationship. Acknowledge that there’s an attraction and make some conscious choices about how to handle it.

People develop attractions to people other than their partners all the time. It doesn’t mean you have to act on every whim or fantasy. If you’re being honest with yourself, you have control over whether or not you choose to be in a situation that might be unethical or harmful.

Second, decide if acting on this connection is actually a wise idea. Even if you’re not in a relationship, are they? Would you be hurting someone else in the process?

Say you’re both single. It may still not be a smart thing to do to get involved. Being in a romantic relationship with someone at work can create all sorts of difficulty. And, depending on your respective roles in your company, there may be a power differential (meaning one of you is the boss of the other), which could be sexual harassment, even if both of you think you’re giving full consent to the interaction.

Third, if you’re still considering allowing this attraction to blossom into something more, talk about it with your work spouse. See if they’re even on the same page. It could be you’re the only one perceiving any deeper potential here. If you find you are alone in these feelings, then deal with any lingering sense of disappointment and move on.

If Everything’s a Go, Talk Some More

If you are both interested in pursuing more intimacy, discuss how it could impact your working relationship. Establish boundaries to help you manage the inevitable conflicts of interest or confusion of what’s personal and what’s business-related. Finally, talk about what could happen if you two decide to break up and how to handle that.

A vicinity attraction can be fun, if kept in the realm of harmless flirtation (depending on your monogamy agreement with your partner at home). Do you agree that it is okay to flirt at work? To have a friendly work-spouse relationship?

Remember that friendships can always develop into healthy, happy marriages. But the key is to be above-board and to talk about all the possible ramifications.

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