images (2)Office romances often lead to long-lasting relationships, which isn’t surprising since you spend most of your waking hours with your co-workers. A new survey from CareerBuilder found that three in ten office romances ended in marriage. And 39 percent of people admitted making a cubicle mate their actual mate at some point in their career. Are you in that 39 percent, or considering joining it?

While it may feel right to lead with your heart, there are six important questions you should answer before you proceed, as both your job and reputation could be at stake.

Are the Feelings Mutual?

You might be attracted to them, but are they really attracted to you too? Are you takinga little harmless flirting for attraction and the desire to date? This is important because if the other person is expressing real interest in you too, then you know it’s a mutual, serious attraction. But if the attraction is one-sided, you’re not getting the green light to pursue them romantically.

images (3)Do You Have More to Lose Professionally?

I’m all for gender equality in the workplace, but a lot of companies haven’t received that memo. The reality for women is that they get chastised more for office romances than men do, according to surveys. Women are more likely to hurt their chances for career advancement and their reputations could suffer greater than the men they have office relationships with.

Is an Office Romance Against Company Policy?

Many companies frown upon coworkers dating. It doesn’t matter if it’s a supervisor and a direct report, or two people on the same level—it can be a human resources nightmare, and you could lose your job over it. Check with your company’s HR department before you pursue a romance with a coworker. Even if you keep things professional during work hours, you’re could still be taking a huge risk. And if you’re crushing on your boss, know it’s pretty difficult to be in a romantic relationship with someone who calls the shots at work, knows how much you make, and has the power to fire you.

Is There a Moral Issue?

If one or both of you are married or in a long-term, committed relationship, you could ruin your professional reputations if your relationship is discovered. And ladies, you’ll do the most damage to your professional reputations. Think about all that collateral damage and what kind of drama could ensue at work if your partner catches wind of your affair.

BJ0MKC young couple sitting behind computers in office holding handsCan You Keep a Secret?

Of course you can’t—that was a trick question! The truth is, you don’t have to tell anyone about your office romance because people will already know or at least suspect it. You won’t hide it as well as you think.

Do You Have an Exit Strategy?

What are you prepared to do if your office romance fails? Are you prepared for how it could impact your family? Are you prepared for how it could impact your job and career? The consequences of breaking up with a coworker never seem small. Even if you aren’t cheating on a significant other with them, you still have to work with this person every day, and it’s going to be awkward. Consider having an exit strategy, whether it’s moving to another department or being prepared to leave the company.

Make Some Ground Rules

Okay, so you’ve decided to pursue an office relationship despite all the challenges that could arise. What are your next steps? You need to set up some ground rules. How will you act at work? Who will you tell about your relationship? Who won’t you tell? What will you do if the relationship doesn’t last? Make sure you both understand what your relationship is really about. Discuss your expectations.

 images (4)Proximity, Commonality and Perfection

Office romances are convenient. We spend so much of our time at work, it seems only natural to date someone we work with. You also have a lot in common with your coworkers, or so it seems. At least you can commiserate about your job struggles together. And everyone puts their best face forward at work. Whether it’s how they dress or how they behave, you’re seeing a more polished version of who they really are. So if you’re considering pursuing an office relationship, go into it with realistic expectations and do whatever you can to protect yourself and your career. An office romance is not necessarily a fairy tale romance!