Dangerous Liaisons: ‘My Workplace Forbade Dating Co-workers… We Did It Anyway’
"We had a lot of fights due to clashes between work priorities and relationship commitments – it wasn’t an easy balance to strike."
In Dangerous Liaisons, people tell us about their forbidden trysts with all the wrong people.
We clicked right from the moment we met. I was working at an organization that forbade its employees from maintaining anything other than strictly professional relationships with colleagues. He was kind of my manager's senior, too, and was supposed to guide me on a project. That’s when we exchanged numbers. I was in my early 20s, and he was about half-a-decade older than me.
I wasn't attracted to him in a love-at-first-sight way, though. We never hit off as colleagues. But we clicked as friends – our sense of humor matched; we had similar values, similar worldviews, similar political beliefs; we also loved the same food. Our relationship grew through texting on WhatsApp. Initially, it was for work; but soon, we started talking about anything and everything under the sun. I’d be so comfortable every time I met him – almost as if I could be my real myself, and say what I truly felt. What I loved most about him was his laughter, his humility, and the space he gave me to just… be myself. Soon enough, I realized I’m falling for him. We’d also made up cutesy nicknames for each other. But none of us confessed our real feelings for another year.
I got impatient and wondered if he was toying with my emotions. So, one day, I asked him to meet me and popped the question: “Are we more than friends?” He smiled and said yes. That’s when it all began. Turns out, he had feelings for me from day one, but thought I’d never like him back because he was from a small town in the U.P., and I was a Delhi girl. But before I could process my feelings and consider any professional consequences, other factors came up.
My mother would comment, "You talk about him a lot; you know he is shorter than you, right? You’re aware he’s from a different caste, no?" These statements made me defensive. For about a year, I hid my feelings from her. We’d begun a relationship already.
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Meanwhile, we continued to work in the same organization. He had to be even more careful than me because of his seniority. We couldn't let anyone know that we were in touch outside of work-related discussions. We didn’t even dare disclose that we talked more than once weekly. Some of my best friends worked at the same place, and I couldn’t tell them either.
We mostly talked in his car, but that was also tricky because people at work knew his car. We met secretly at places where we knew our colleagues weren’t likely to show up. We were careful never to express any manner of physical affection in public. But in an organization where so many people know you, it's extremely difficult to navigate secrecy. We were often confronted by random people in public who would wonder why we were sitting together. We’d lie about meetings and work-related errands during these confrontations. We realized the safest option for us was to communicate virtually – so, we just went back to chatting on the phone. Eventually, I opened up to my mother about this relationship. He earned well, so she let go of her concerns about his height and his caste. This way, we could meet at my house; unfortunately, it meant my mother was always in the next room.
I was also scared to death about his parents' reactions. I was raised by a single mother who had escaped an abusive marriage. They were of a higher caste and financially better off than my family – all I “owned” was my education. His parents wanted him to marry into a family that matched their caste and class preferences; we had neither. In fact, his mother had cried a lot when she got to know my caste; she comes from a very small village and struggled to understand a world beyond castes and rigid roles for women. But he knew everything about my family and respected my mother a lot. Eventually, his parents came around, too.
Emotionally, though, the secrecy at work was a lot to deal with. We had a lot of fights due to clashes between work priorities and relationship commitments – it wasn’t an easy balance to strike. When he couldn't meet me on my birthdays due to work and couldn’t exactly tell his colleagues why he wanted to leave early, we’d fight. Also, since he remained my senior throughout the time we dated, sometimes he gave me critical feedback in front of others, during work. That made me feel rejected. He was good at keeping the realities of our personal and professional lives separate, but I felt insecure – like I was a “hidden mistress,” of sorts. It was messed up at times, but we managed because we knew we couldn't live without each other.
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I was also worried about being judged – all the time, in fact. I can hardly remember moments when I wasn’t anxious about people’s reactions if they were to find out. “What will my relatives say,” I thought to myself – while worrying if my friends would think I’m stupid or believe I’m a “gold-digger.” At that time, I didn't even know what it meant to have bad mental health. Now, when I remember that period, I realize how deeply affected I was. Navigating the secrecy with my mother, hiding the truth from my friends, not telling him how scared I was about our future… all of it took a heavy toll on me. The constant state of hypervigilance I was in made it worse. We wanted to be able to meet often, go out together, and discuss our relationship with people close to us. But none of that was possible, and our fights revolved around this, too.
By the fifth year of our relationship, we were overwhelmed. We figured we needed allies within the workplace; people had already begun speculating about our affair. So, I finally told three of my closest friends at the organization. Surprisingly, they were really supportive. That’s when I realized it wasn’t just the organization’s stance on dating co-workers that was preventing us from being open about our relationship.
Somewhere, we had our own doubts and prejudices, too, against the other person. I’d never planned to marry before the age of 30, and here I was in a serious relationship with a man four years older than me, of another caste… all at the age of 21. Our relationship continued – and remained largely hidden – till I turned 26.
Then, we got married.
Devrupa Rakshit is an Associate Editor at The Swaddle. She is a lawyer by education, a poet by accident, a painter by shaukh, and autistic by birth. You can find her on Instagram @devruparakshit.