Dating in the pandemic is a nightmare filled with endless screen time, awkward Zoom dates, and trite conversations.
But if you’re fortunate enough to be working from home, a solution might be lurking in Slack: a coworker crush.
Topics of conversation are baked right in, and there’s less risk of doing some you might regret (hello, holiday parties) when you’re stuck behind a screen.
A pandemic work crush is the perfect romantic fantasy: feelings for a real person without the hard work of putting yourself out there.
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There’s a problem with online dating in the pandemic: It’s not very fun.
For those of us fortunate enough to be stuck at home in front of TVs and laptops, logging on to our other screen to chat up strangers is, for many, a drag. All the things that can make dating apps burnout-inducing to begin with — endless matches, trite openers, bios riddled with “The Office” references — are magnified.
Coming up with an answer to “Hey, what’s new?” when your days bleed together can be a Herculean task. And getting excited to go on dates in bars and movie theaters feels like a sad relic of the past.
But those who still have remote jobs may have a secret savior lurking in their company Zoom chats: a coworker crush.
Already a fun work distraction in the non-pandemic world, virtual communication with a colleague can be just the break you need from panicking about the hellish state of things. Plus, with fewer things to look forward to, new developments in a work flirtation can fill the void of going on vacation or seeing friends indoors.
Easy topics of conversation are already baked in
Ben*, 27, who’s gotten to know his coworker more and more through texting and Slack during the pandemic, says it’s been a lot more organic and fun compared to dating apps, where he found it hard to “be interested in someone based on a few photos and [their] wittiest responses.” His coworker crush “cuts through any surface conversations,” which works well, because he’s not very good at small talk.
Similarly, Dana, 37, an entrepreneur in the pet industry, connected with someone in the same niche field via LinkedIn to help him book guests for his podcast. The sparks flew when she found out that he, like her, is into Burning Man — as well as art, Reiki, and travel.
She often feels that men on dating apps “don’t really supply a lot of information, so it’s more based on looks and locality,” but with him, the growing list of commonalities — including their unique jobs — keeps their weekly calls mutually flirty.
There’s less risk involved with clicking with a colleague during a pandemic
Communicating primarily through Zoom reduces the odds of hooking up after too many holiday party drinks, and having to awkwardly avoid eye contact in the kitchen on Monday.
It also takes the pressure off making a real, high-stakes move. While Ben’s crush “absolutely makes the day less monotonous,” he also said he doesn’t have high expectations right now, and is just enjoying their conversations. (Things did, however, recently progress to a non-work Zoom call. Sexy!)
Being limited to virtual interactions makes it that much easier to follow the usual dating-your-coworker advice to take things slow — especially as people might feel even more compelled to just go for it.
“Yes, it’s 2020 and it may be more tempting than ever to throw caution to the wind, but it’s better to take a step back and reassess how this could play out,” psychologist and sex expert Antonia Hall told Insider. “If you do decide to feel out your work crush, approach them in friendship mode. Smile, be friendly and approachable and ask them about something unobtrusively personal.”
It also helps you broach the idea without making anyone feel uncomfortable, giving you the option to pull away quickly if you sense your feelings aren’t reciprocated — or if you feel like things are moving too fast.
A friendship between Carlos, 25, and a coworker bloomed after chats about relationships and family. Things progressed to longer after-work video calls — all while said coworker’s boyfriend was away to be closer to family.
“Although a fantasy, things [got] a little too real” when the coworker asked Carlos to move in together as roommates. But because of the pandemic, it was easier for him to decline. They stopped talking for a few weeks and now speak less due to “a mutual understanding that the things [they] were talking about were not the most appropriate,” he said.
Waiting has hidden perks, too: Dana may not meet her crush until December, when he might visit her during her work conference in New Orleans (pending safe travel). While the wait is long and very uncertain, she sees one good thing: it gives them more time to keep getting to know each other virtually. (There’s also something to be said for the tension and build-up of a longer-term crush.)
Perhaps the biggest benefit of the pandemic work crush is that it’s the perfect romantic fantasy
For Jenny, 24, who went through a breakup before she began sheltering in place, her work-adjacent crush on a peer in her career field and writing group has been more of a “crush of convenience.”
It’s feelings for a real person without the work of putting yourself out there.
“I think the crush first arose because he was one of the only men I was regularly speaking to at the beginning of the pandemic — and that was in a mostly professional, if informal, capacity,” she said. “He’s definitely cute, intelligent, funny, a hard worker and all, but it is not like he’s done anything specific that’s charming.” She said it can be a nice distraction, and that she “could do way worse than fantasizing about making out with a cute guy.”
The excitement exists even with short-lived crushes. Early on in the pandemic, Kat, 30, had a corporate Zoom meeting for her former retail job where “the guy leading it was adorable and so articulate.” One Instagram search later, she found photos of him and his boyfriend. But the two-hour infatuation helped her focus on the meeting more.
Staring at cute strangers in bookstores while briefly imagining your wedding and subsequent golden retriever-filled home together isn’t a reality, so people have to look to the next best thing. And romantic feelings, however light, fleeting, or even unreciprocated, are needed more than ever right now.
“Having a crush can provide the body with physiological benefits, like the release of feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which could lift your spirits and improve your mood,” Antonia Hall said. “Crushes also act as a psychological motivator that may have you upping your self-care game,” making it a little easier to get up in the morning.
If nothing else, pandemic work crushes can provide a heart-shaped gateway to learning more about ourselves
Jenny credits hers with helping to “untether her identity” from her ex. And Ben, who started doing Zoom calls with different friends — or on occasion, a crush — every morning, believes the pandemic changed how he views relationships overall.
“One thing [it’s] done is made me more open and have lower expectations,” he said. “I used to need everything to be ‘right’ in my life before I could date — job, hours, apartment. Now, I just like talking to people. If they’re open to something more, great, let’s explore that. If not, no hard feelings, let’s be friends.”
Having the space to casually check in on each other, potentially develop feelings over time, and look forward to finally meeting in person is the kind of slow-burn plot that fuels the best rom-coms. (Hello, “You’ve Got Mail.”) You have to admit: It’s pretty romantic.
*Names have been changed upon request to protect workplace privacy.
Julia Pugachevsky is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. Previously, she was a sex and relationships editor at Cosmopolitan and a love and relationships editor at BuzzFeed. Her work has also appeared in VICE, Forge, and the New Yorker.
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