But intra-office sex isn't considered taboo anymore. In the early nineties, against the backdrop of the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings, many companies instituted strict no-socializing policies. Now some firms actually offer what amounts to tacit support for fledgling relationships, by asking entangled employees to sign what's called a "consensual social relationship contract." "You can't prevent people from getting infatuated with coworkers," says Stephen Tedesco, a partner at Littler Mendelson, the law firm that developed the contract. "This is a way to say, 'Whatever's going on is your business, but these are the ground rules for how you conduct it in the workplace.'"
Indeed, part of the appeal of the new in-your-face office affair is its location. Having a girlfriend sitting next to you throughout the day is far hotter than having a picture of your wife on your desk. "If you have a girlfriend outside the office, no one gets to see her," says Brad Karsh, a former recruiting director for Leo Burnett in Chicago and the president of JobBound, which helps college students prepare for their first jobs. "But the girl in the office is there in the flesh."
Women can benefit from office affairs too. Janet (not her real name), a 35-year-old editor in New York, dated two coworkersone of whom was her superiorwhile at the same job. "I became known as the office slut," she says.
Another coworker asked her out, and after she turned him down repeatedly, he said, "Come on, you've fucked everyone else in the office."
But instead of reporting him to HR, she used the slut tag to her advantage. "Freakishly, it may have helped my career," she says. "There was all of this curiosity about me and all of these idiots thinking they had a chance."
The new openness, however, can't protect you from the built-in peril that accompanies getting involved with a coworker: If things go wrong, there's nowhere to hide. After Dave, a 33-year-old medical-supply salesman in New York, ended a six-month relationship with a fellow sales rep, he would see her lurking around the hallways of the hospital they worked in, waiting for him.
"She would just stand there and fucking stare at me," he says. "It was so uncomfortable. People would know that there was something odd going on between us."
She also hounded him with phone calls and text messages. Finally, Dave had had enough. He texted her, "You're a psycho girl. Stop calling me."
Kevin also had a former office fling transform into a stalker. She once buzzed his apartment at 3 A.M. and, when he wouldn't let her in, shouted at him from the street.
"After that I promised myself that I would never hook up with anyone at work again," he says. "I was worried she was going to come by my office and scream at me."
She never did, but Kevin found that his employer knew how friendly he was with comely new hires anyway. When he and a top executive were stuck at the airport in Atlanta, the boss said to him, after a few beers at Chili's Too, "So which girl are you hooking up with at the office now?"