Fans of The Office, The Proposal, and Jerry Maguire know on-screen office romances can be downright steamy, adorably quirky, and a long-time coming (don’t @ me—these are irrefutably the best film and television examples). But when it comes to shooting your shot in a real-life office setting, telling your colleague you’re feeling them and then promptly diving into their mouth tongue-first isn’t the best idea... especially since you’re going to see them every day, whether or not things work out the way you fantasised at your desk.
Subtlety is key when water cooler conversations turn flirtatious, says Jane Greer, PhD, a relationship expert and author of What About Me?.
Here’s how to handle crushing on a coworker:
1. Check in on company policy.
Dust off that employee handbook and learn whether or not relationships between employees are even allowed, Greer says.
"It’s totally fine to have a crush on a coworker, but it’s all about how you handle it," she explains. Before you offer up your heart and soul, know whether doing so could put your career in jeopardy. If it can, you might want to try some dating apps instead.
2. If you choose to proceed in secrecy, know the risks.
"Sometimes you can’t help if you fall in love with somebody," says Greer. "The problem with that is everybody feels the energy, and people will know." Resentful colleagues might threaten to expose you, the stress of keeping your relationship under wraps might cause strain, and if a superior finds out, you might get knocked off the promotion track, or worse, get fired.
So, instead of violating company policy, take stock of your options. If you want to act on your feelings that badly, consider moving to a different department, or switching to another company entirely before betting your job stability on a crush.
But hey, if love conquers job, Greer says, do you. Just remember, you've been warned.
3. If coworker relationships are allowed, turn up the flirtation—but keep it cool.
"Show them behaviourally that they’re on your mind," says Greer. You might ask them what kind of coffee they enjoy and later bring them a cup, strike up brief conversations about upcoming local events, or ask them about their latest work project, so you can establish a rapport.
Basically, you want to be thoughtful, but super subtle in your flirting—call it micro-flirting, if you will. "You don’t want to engage in anything that is overt or seductive or that can be misinterpreted as sexual harassment," says Greer. Whatever you say needs to be suitable for the workplace.
And once your coworker feels comfortable around you, and maybe even initiates conversation, you can move on to the next step.
4. Take it outside.
While you can (internally) thank your boss for inadvertently playing matchmaker, limit the budding romance to outside office doors. Hopefully, through the thoughtful gestures, Greer says, your crush might warm up to the idea of getting to know you after hours.
To keep the pressure off, invite them to something casual. Greer suggests asking them to join you for a post-work cup of coffee or drink. "Depending on their response, that gives you an idea of whether they’re even remotely interested in getting to know you better, or not," she explains.
5. If they’re into it, go for it.
While a date with your office crush is super exciting, remember you’re going to be face-to-face with them—at work—in a less than 24 hours. You’ve established your workplace camaraderie, sure, but your romantic chemistry is still up in the air.
Greer wants you to "let your hair down," but keep in mind that, unlike a blind date or casual hookup, the two of you are now straddling two environments—work and personal life—that you’ll need to engage in. If things work out according to your fantasies, eventually navigating between the two will feel like second nature since you’ll have established ground rules on how to engage in the office. But for now, tread lightly.
6. If they're not, bow out.
As it turns out, not all crushes are reciprocated (who knew? Jk, I did).
If your crush doesn’t want to go out for drinks, or if they agree and after aren't interested in doing it again, don’t push it, says Greer. Doing so would "put you in a potentially vulnerable position and put the other person in an extremely uncomfortable one." What you might see as trying to "talk it out" might make make your crush uneasy and could even motivate them to alert a supervisor about your behaviour.
Instead, "continue being friendly and demonstrating thoughtfulness, but tone it [waaayy] down," says Greer. She also recommends giving your crush some space.
And in that time apart, take care of yourself. "Limit your encounters so that you’re not putting yourself in position of feeling rejected or disappointed by their lack of interest," says Greer. Soon enough, your crush will go back to being just another person at your office.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US