Office affairs: love in the cubicles

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Office affairs: love in the cubicles

As a young girl, I dreamed of someday having a campus romance, just like in the soap operas from the 1980s. Alas, my parents sent me to a girls’ high school, and then a women’s university. Later, I figured I could have a company romance instead, but I have had the bad luck of working at firms predominantly staffed by women.
My frustration has only deepened my curiosity about the thrills of a secret office romance. It seems that despite the increasing number of channels to find love ― the Internet, professional dating agencies and so on ― one of the most tried and true ways to meet someone is by working together. The close proximity allows you to really know them.
Readers of the JoongAng Ilbo have indulged me by writing in to share their experiences of real-life office romance.
Moon Jeong-guk, 29, met his girlfriend two years ago at a two-week training program held by their employer, Outback Steakhouse. Mr. Moon drooled over his target for the whole program, but couldn’t express himself before it ended.
But they were destined to meet again, he said. Despite having returned to their respective Outback restaurants, one day at headquarters they bumped into each other. The two decided to keep in touch and later became a couple.
“We had to keep our relationship secret at first, because we didn't want to face the sour eyes of our co-workers. Also, we worried that one of us might have to leave the company if we broke up,” said Mr. Moon.
But before long, the couple had to disclose the relationship when another female co-worker tried to seduce the handsome Mr. Moon. Despite protesting that he already had a girlfriend, she wouldn’t give up. When he finally said who it was, the news spread like wildfire.
In retrospect, Mr. Moon doesn’t think it was necessary to hide the office relationship.
“There is no secret in the world anyhow,” said Mr. Moon. “People shouldn’t feel so uncomfortable under the gaze of curious co-workers,” he continued, “In fact, our colleagues encourage us when we have a hard time.”
On the other hand, An Ji-hwan (not his real name), 30, keeps it on the down low, which only increases his affection for his partner. “She sat right next to me in the office, but even this was too far away for me to declare my desire,” he said. The company is just too conservative. “Office couples are intentionally appointed to different departments ― the further away, the better ― to prevent them from meeting at work,” Mr. An said.
Late last year, he got a golden opportunity when the two were chosen to travel to another city on official business. When he confessed his feelings, she was surprised at first, but quickly agreed to his proposal so long as they kept it a tight secret.
It’s been nine months so far, and they live by strict rules: 1. Meet far away from the office. 2. Use text messages, and never the office phone. 3. Wear sunglasses ― as long as it’s sunny.
Despite such clandestine maneuvers, their relationship was nearly discovered once.
Leaving a movie theater, they encountered a workmate. To slide out of the bind, they pretended that they had also just met “by chance” ― a random threesome, as it were.
Another day, the couple came upon one colleague who was sucking down beers at a cafe in Shinchon. Mr. An had to drink with his workmate until he became completely drunk, was forced to pay the bill, and begged his colleague to shut up.
“The secret romance made our love stronger, so recently we decided to marry in November, which is earlier than we originally planned,” said Mr. An. “We are going to announce the wedding in the company paper.”
Ko Gyeong-sin, 34, married her workmate after a one-year secret office relationship. “Until we sent out the wedding invitations, nobody knew. They thought we were joking at first.”
Ms. Ko said that despite being happy, it isn’t always good to work at the same company.
“It’s hard to draw the line between public and private matters,” said Ms. Ko. “At home, we kept talking about our job, so we actually had to introduce a penalty system ― a fine of 10,000 won ($9.75) if one starts talking shop.”
But the system didn't work well because their common interest was the job after all.
Kang Si-hyun, 28, who married her colleague in January, echoed the difficulty of dividing work and love. Their company is more open-minded company, so it was unnecessary to keep the relationship a secret. “We wanted to be together as long as possible, so we didn’t actively make closer relationships with other colleagues.”
However, Ms. Kang said that it was good to work with her husband. “You never know what kind of person your husband is unless you work together. He could be nasty or incompetent, even though he's a perfectly good man in his private life,” she said.
Ms. Kang met her now husband in September 2003 at Nexon, a game developer. Although he is five years younger than her, she was attracted to his confidence and clear managing skills. “I actually thought he was more mature than me in some aspects,” Ms. Kang added.
“Single women should check out the men in their offices. They can find Mr. Right sitting in the next cubicle. Their destiny can change depending on how they build their everyday image.”

by Park Sung-ha
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