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#MeToo movement puts big damper on inner-office romance: James Miller

Posted 8/7/19

True story: I met my wife at work.

Our courtship started when we were putting in long hours at a conservative nonprofit. The office environment was lax and loose despite the expectations, which …

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#MeToo movement puts big damper on inner-office romance: James Miller

Posted

True story: I met my wife at work.

Our courtship started when we were putting in long hours at a conservative nonprofit. The office environment was lax and loose despite the expectations, which were demanding. The pace, as it is everywhere political, was frenetic. Leaving before 8 p.m. was seen as insufficiently committed to the cause.

Romance blooms in such charged climes, where intimacy and anxiety churn relentlessly, enlivening emotional dendrites. We kept our relationship sub rosa at first, but then, after a few weeks, threw caution to the wind and announced it, like typical millennials, with a sprezzatura-esque social-media message. Not that it mattered; the rumor of our courting bruited around the office for months. After the reveal, all our colleagues happily yelped, “I knew it!” Human resources representatives never confronted us. The bosses didn’t address it. We were let be.

As recent as five years ago, our love story was not uncommon. Particularly in Washington, D.C., where ours took place, workplace dalliances are almost a hypergamous trope; the portly but powerful chief of staff wooing the lowly lank secretary by virtue of his salary and moderately sized apartment. (For the record, and my reputation, our relationship was coeval in age and position. We both occupied the same rank within the company hierarchy.)

Now, the office affair is becoming a thing of the past, a hidebound tradition from a less innocent time. And the #MeToo movement is to thank.

Ella Whelan reports in the magazine spiked that only one in 10 American couples meet at work. That’s nearly half the number of those who found love by the water cooler two decades ago. The drop is alarming not because millennials, who are now at prime marrying age, are failing to find spouses, but because it’s a knock-on effect of the heightened sensitivity that’s corrupting office rapport.

“One consequence of #MeToo has been to problematise everyday interactions between men and women, particularly in the workplace,” Whelan writes. A reported 60 percent of men in supervisory positions are uncomfortable with overseeing women. It gets worse when it comes to having one-on-one meetings with female subordinates.

As for business travel, men are even more dubitative about joining a female colleague on a jaunt to a far-flung junket for fear of misconstrued intentions. Is asking a female coworker out for a drink after an hours-long seminar a come-on? Is dinner after 10 p.m. appropriate? Will any of it matter if said colleague gets the wrong idea and goes tattling to HR? Is the prospect of a pull devil, pull baker duel of subjective interpretation worth it?

That men think about these things doesn’t mean they’re all Don Draper, ready to make with anyone within the female taxonomy. Even so, #MeToo proponents reprove this consideration. In their parochial view of gender relations, the mere entertaining of the idea that a woman could fabricate a sexual harassment claim is committing a dialectical crime on behalf of the patriarchy. Believe all women becomes damn all men.

This is no longer just a conservative critique of #MeToo. In The New Yorker, journalist Jane Meyer, who helped spearhead a harassment allegation against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, took back her strident, unquestioning support for women alleging sexual malfeasance. In a cynical rehabilitation effort on behalf of disgraced Sen. Al Franken, Meyer notes “‘Believe Women’ has become a credo of the #MeToo movement.” But, following Franken’s forced resignation after his groping and slobbery snogging of Leeann Tweeden while they were on a U.S.O. tour together, along with half a dozen other allegations of impropriety, even Democrats are coming around on the blind-belief approach to harassment.

Meyer quotes one big Democratic Party donor who regretted putting Franken through a modern-day auto-da-fé: “I hope women learn from this. You can’t rush to judgment. You ruin people’s lives.” Other Democratic senators regretted the pile on as well, including Tom Udall of New Mexico and Jeff Merkley of Oregon.

The change of heart is welcome, if only it means liberals stop searching for Haven Montanas in every unventilated office supply closet. The damage, however, may already be done. Online dating has taken up where office flirtation left off. Nearly half of today’s couples meet through the de-personalized portal of smartphone apps that gauge compatibility with finger swiping on blurry photos.

Theodore Dalrymple describes our cultural prevarication on sexual relations as an “incessant pendulum swing, between the most lascivious licentiousness on the one hand, and the most vengeful censorious puritanism on the other.”

No doubt women faced unwelcome advances from male colleagues. The pushback, while well intentioned, has created an unsightly unintended consequence: grown men cowering in fear over so much as complimenting a female coworker’s blouse.

What’s needed is a less militant, more discriminating #MeToo movement. Countless rom-coms, sitcoms and Harlequin romance novels about the tribulations of office love are at stake. Not to mention marriages like mine, which serendipitously formed across catty-corner cubicles.

James E. Miller, a native of Middletown, lives in northern Virginia with his wife and daughter. He is the author of the novel “To Win And To Lose.”