The dilemma A colleague I have had my eye on in the office was recently promoted, meaning we are now equals in the company. Along with working remotely at the moment, this has made me wonder if now the right time is to ask her out (so far as we can date anyone right now), away from the glare of our small company. I have always ruled it out but when I date other girls, she is always in the back of my mind, which has led me to think I need to give it a go. When I became suddenly ill last year, it was her I thought of in my hospital bed as I wondered what I would regret, even though I was in a relationship with someone else. I do feel worried though, as I’m very inexperienced for someone my age. I was thinking of asking if she wants to go for a lockdown walk first, and seeing what happens after a few walks and messages. Can you give me some advice on workplace relationships, particularly in the circumstances?
Mariella replies Strange circumstances indeed. First, may I congratulate you on waiting until you were of equal stature in the workplace before making your move? How very evolved and modern. In other ways you’re an old-fashioned guy. As your dilemma aptly demonstrates, these are challenging times for the singleton, the ranks of whom will have swelled considerably with anyone not already hooked or bubbled-up nearly one long year ago likely to still be on their own. If you didn’t have a partner last March it is more than likely you’re stuck with, at best, a virtual one at this point.
There’s been endless talk about the challenges facing the old, the young and the self-employed but far less so for the love-starved, for whom a year of near-perpetual social isolation has seen them robbed of any real-world forum for romantic rendezvous.
Lockdown certainly has the effect of concentrating the mind and, with our imaginations free to roam where our bodies cannot, many have been surprised to see where their mind’s eye has taken them. Old amours are a big favourite for fantasies but also those in your social circle for whom you may not have realised your candle burned bright. Some of these wanderings through romantic possibility are simply flights of fantasy, but yours appears to be better tethered to reality than most.
If this is a woman you think about as much as you describe, then it would seem careless not to try to pursue the possibility that attraction could be mutual. In these days when our fates pivot on a cough in the wrong direction, trepidation in pursuing potential affairs of the heart seems out of place. We should be feeling emboldened rather than chastened by the pandemic. A brush with mortality and the reality, for many, of seismic life changes means sweating the small stuff should be much less of a concern. If you accept that unreciprocated feelings are the worst case scenario, there is little to lose.
And there’s an upside to everything – even social distancing. My goddaughter, in the throes of teenage romance, was visibly moved when she received a letter recently from her boyfriend. It may not go down in history as an epic of epistolary wooing but the fact he’d put pen to paper, stuck it in an envelope and bothered to post it seemed to her an epic act of Romeo and Juliet standards. Opportunities for physical engagement may currently be all but obliterated but this could also be of benefit. In a society where sex has now become a precursor to a relationship – available with strangers via a multitude of apps, or to view in all manner of manifestations online and tangibly in most bars or nightclubs – if you choose to go looking, how refreshing it is to be forced into more imaginative ways to kickstart a relationship.
Lockdown has presented welcome opportunities for those who don’t necessarily desire full physical immersion as the starting-gun for a relationship and who lean more toward the age-old but undervalued tradition of getting to know each other before your first coupling! Old-fashioned courtship is back on the mating map. It’s hard to imagine an era when a courtship could take years, occur solely on paper, and marriages might be forged on the basis of a few accompanied strolls round the garden. For the majority of us, a year ago the idea of asking a potential romantic interest out on a stroll as an opening gambit would have confirmed you as a creature of strange tastes.
There’s a reason why 19th-century romances from the likes of Jane Austen continue to provide the narrative blueprint for 21st-century romantic comedies. Where’s the storyline in a meet, couple-up, hang-out, split-up story? What we crave is the slow buildup, the endless setbacks, the high-points and lows of a will-we, won’t-we make it?
My advice is to act on your instincts, invite her for a walk and find out if the relationship has legs! Follow it up with a note, a love token, or a posy left on her doorstep and prove that old-fashioned romance may have been dormant but it’s certainly not dead.