#MeToo has ruined the office romance

Only one in 10 couples now meet at work. How depressing.

Ella Whelan
Topics Feminism UK USA

For most people, work life can be long and boring. The prospect of bumping into your crush at the coffee machine can sometimes be the only thing that gets you through the day. Some of the world’s most famous couples met at work. Brad Pitt left his wife while working on a film with Angelina Jolie. Barack Obama managed to win the affections of Michelle, his mentor at a law firm. Ricky Gervais’ hit TV series The Office captivated millions with its long and tense office romance between salesman Tim and receptionist Dawn. Forget bumping into your soulmate at a bar, many of us are more interested in finding our partners in the stationery cupboard.

But a recent survey shows that our love affair with office romances might be coming to an end. Data published in The Sunday Times, collected by Stanford University in California, shows that just one in 10 Americans now meets their partner at work – half the proportion that did in the mid-1990s. While the number of couples meeting at work is going down, the number meeting online or through dating apps is increasing. Between 1995 and 2017, the proportion of American couples meeting ‘through or as co-workers’ fell from 19 to 11 per cent. In contrast, the proportion of couples meeting online rose from two to 39 per cent. British academics have found similar trends in the UK.

There’s nothing wrong with meeting a partner through a dating app. But the rise of Tinder and the fall of the office romance speaks to more than just a technological change. While the #MeToo movement was sparked by serious allegations of sexual assault, much of the subsequent discussion has largely focused on unwanted sexual attention. One consequence of #MeToo has been to problematise everyday interactions between men and women, particularly in the workplace. It should be no surprise that in today’s fraught climate fewer people feel comfortable taking a risk with someone they fancy at work.

Companies are responding to the sexual-harassment panic by banning alcohol from office parties and instituting policies on how long and how close personal interactions should be. Bosses who hug their employees are even making headline news. Stanford’s survey data show that office romances reached their peak in the 1980s. At the time, there was a flush of women entering the workplace. No doubt some men of that era were a bit too forthright with their affections. Fast forward to 2017, just after an international panic over sexual harassment, and the number of workplace romances is at an all-time low. Given that most of us spend the majority of our waking lives at work, this is a pretty depressing development.

The truth that no one seems willing to admit is that many heterosexual women, even today, expect men to make the first move in a relationship. Women will drape ourselves over the printer, wear our best dresses to the Christmas party and talk loudly about the imaginary man texting us, all to subtly signal to our target that he should make a move. But in the post-#MeToo office, unless you send a memo to the guy you fancy, signed with your consent at the bottom, it is understandable that he wouldn’t want to make the first move for fear of being hauled before human resources. While most normal guys are able to tell whether a woman likes them or not, the erasure of any ‘grey area’ in workplace interactions means more and more people are feeling nervous about taking the first step. And so they’re turning to Tinder, where you can safely state your preferences and expectations within a word limit.

Many things about the relationships between men and women have improved in the past few decades. There is certainly less sexist behaviour in the workplace, and that it is to be celebrated. However, we also seem to have revived a prudish fear of sex. For women, this is disastrous. The #MeToo movement seeks to change men’s behaviour to ‘protect’ the fairer sex from harassment. But in practice, that has meant subjecting our sexual freedom to initiate romantic endeavours to the scrutiny of neo-Victorian regulations and codes of conduct.

While our working lives dictate when we wake up, what we wear and what we do for eight hours a day, we shouldn’t allow work to dictate who we fall in love with. And there is no prospect of love without the kind of flirtation, spontaneity and danger that is effectively outlawed in today’s workplace.

It’s time to rebel against these attacks on workplace romance. So wear your lowest top to your next board meeting and linger too long by your colleague’s desk. We need to make the workplace a humane environment where sparks can once again fly.

Ella Whelan is a spiked columnist and the author of What Women Want: Fun, Freedom and an End to Feminism.

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Feminism UK USA


Ron Davis

15th October 2019 at 8:06 pm

MGTOW is a real lifesaver today altogether.

Joel Merzetti

29th August 2019 at 5:26 am

Sad commentary on the times. Making a first move used to be simple and easy, including the requisite charm, often learned in high school and perfected by grad school.
The um, ‘human’ relations part of this that seems to go by the wayside is a disturbing development.
It prompts me to suspect that perhaps we haven’t caught up yet with our post-modern attitudes about sexual correctness. Which is a correctness that appears to defy logic much of the time.
Adult situations used to be just that – adult. Now apparently naughty nannies hide behind every copier and cooler. Primed to scorn, scowl and scold.
But really – it’s risk management writ large. Can’t be surprised anymore.
The lonelier that people get, the harder it is to solve. Strange irony in that.

gregory roberts

18th August 2019 at 12:50 pm

I don’t think the anti-flirting attitude in the workplace (and in general) is going anywhere now. It’s too entrenched. There are STILL millions of people who claim that Aziz Ansari deserved the shit he got for bad, awkward sex with a consenting woman who reported her own regret as a #metoo moment.

The only way this is going to reverse now is if more women become open to making an overt “first move”, i.e. asking the guy she likes out on a date, instead of waiting to be asked.

Mark Houghton

17th August 2019 at 12:17 pm

Don’t shit where you eat.

Rod Conrad

2nd August 2019 at 5:27 pm

You are right .. all that sexism from ugly guys at work needs to come back ..
Come on girls .. sit on the photocopier with no knickers
Put it out for the lads at the office party
Come on accept that we like a bit on the side now and then


7th August 2019 at 10:15 am

sexism? Chatting up colleagues? You seem to be one of those neo-warriors that see only black and white, thinking that every guy is a stalker.

You chat girls up, they tell you where to go (most likely politely) and if you don;t get the message then they tell you in much more obvious fashion.

I’m not the most handsome fella but I enjoyed my young days in the office, had a couple of relationships with colleagues…………..but then that was the 90s before social media or dating apps took over and people actually did chat each other up.

Ironically meeting my wife of 14 years and mother of my 3 children when I worked with her in 2004!!! But then neither of us do social media, so maybe we went the old fashioned route of a bit of cheeky office fun for nosatlgia’s sake.

Rod Conrad

12th August 2019 at 8:24 pm

You have a fine sense of humour Andy and I’m sure you are a handsome guy (aren’t us guys a tad too modest ?) . Im am totally sexist I assure you, had more flings at work than the highland games. I met all my wives in a “work” context and my bits on the side. What’s wrong with copping a feel now and again ? they love it really . And jokes about tits ? it’s all getting far too PC for my liking.
We need to relax and get girls to admit that without a bit of banter at work they feel ignored. Most of them are gagging for it .. nudge nudge wink wink Andy

James Hillier

30th July 2019 at 1:41 pm

“Women will drape ourselves over the printer, wear our best dresses to the Christmas party and talk loudly about the imaginary man texting us, all to subtly signal to our target that he should make a move.”

And Brendan still refuses to take the hint?

Tommy Peters

30th July 2019 at 1:17 am

Folks, Ella’s conclusion (It’s time to rebel against these attacks on workplace romance) read with the arms-length handshake image has drawn judgments as well as conversations. Most are on point but the underlying message in the Weinstein wake is that real women are impressed rather scarred, when men are drawn to them and the feeling is mutual; and MeToo has unwittingly morphed into a confession competition infantilising, rather empowering women.

As an aside, folks, consider both genders on the same side with an ideologue, a socialist engineer and master of disinformation, who famously said ‘To counter the opposition, run it yourself.’

Timeline:- April 2016, Vaxxed (a documentary that claims a link between vaccination and autism) is pulled from the Tribeca Film Festival, ironically by the filmmakers themselves.

May 2016, De Niro tells IndieWire “Harvey Weinstein and I are working on doing a (vaccines) documentary, but I don’t want to talk much about it, because when I do, something happens.”

October 2017, The New York Times publishes a story of sexual harassment against Weinstein; and his ‘victims’ come forward.

December 2017, MeToo goes viral.

It is brutal to imply the powers-that-be were seeking a mule to ride on and MeToo ended up being (for want of a better term) that donkey, but you get the sense, given the quid pro quo doctrine is an established norm in the industry, Weinstein was singled out because he may have pushed more than just a syringe with his intended expose.

farkennel smith

26th July 2019 at 11:18 pm

Any man who responds to the last paragraph has rocks in his head or is pathetically ignorant to the danger he puts himself in.Just stay single,go to Asia for regular “refreshment” holidays and leave the misandrist feminists to die out from lack of intimate contact with the dreaded patriarchy.

Gary Mag

26th July 2019 at 2:34 pm

Dear Ella, “We need to make the workplace a humane environment where sparks can once again fly.” You’ve got to be kidding! What a limp-wristed, self-righteous, passive-aggressive statement of a fake longing to return to the good old days. Your written words hint of a desire to have a “fair” playing field in the realm of office romance; while, I suspect, your heart has absolutely no intention of relinquishing the delicious power to be able to ruin a man’s life on a whim. If you truly wanted “fair,” if you truly wanted “humane,” you would fight for it. You would use this space to shout down the insanity of women’s self-induced syndrome of estrogen dominance. You would use this space to organize movements against feminism and for men, and sound like you mean business. Do men a favor . . . . the next time you write about the evils of feminism, mean it, or just admit how much you secretly love the power. You can at least be honest, right?

pancho molleja

26th July 2019 at 9:22 am

Hi Ella, before writing a column with these suggestions, perhaps it would be helpful to peruse this man’s USA website, and the events that caused him to start it. redonkulas dot com. Yesterday here in Spain, I ate lunch with a 42 year old man, father of 3 sons aged 12, 9 and 5; she’s medical doctor, she wanted didn’t want a divorce after 2 years of cheating, the day after he filed, she accused him of sexual abuse against her and the 3 sons. Result? The sons have had ZERO contact with their father since 2016 (no visits, no telephone, no birthday cards, nothing, multiple school expulsions and social problems) (but he pays child support). He was judged guilty, is appealing a 6 year prison term, the judge admits there is no proof, but golly gee, it is a woman and they never lie and must protected. You could ask your female friends if they are enjoying the present climate, if they are hopeful for a future with human heterosexual company, and if they perceive any dangers in their passive acceptance of “feminism”.

Claire D

25th July 2019 at 4:51 pm

I have wondered if Feminism is’nt actually being orchestrated, metaphorically, by nature as a brake on the population now there’s no war (hopefully), or epidemic diseases. Feminist women are perhaps less likely to reproduce and will therefore eventually die out.
In today’s political climate I’m not sure that Ella’s advice in the last paragraph is safe for a man to respond to, unless he is willing to risk his reputation, job and possibly career, which is very sad.

In Negative

26th July 2019 at 9:58 am

“In today’s political climate I’m not sure that Ella’s advice in the last paragraph is safe for a man to respond to, unless he is willing to risk his reputation, job and possibly career, which is very sad”

Still though, it’s always nice to be given the opportunity to sizzle and crack under the weight of your own hopeless desire. In many ways, the sensations of a hopeless desire are more interesting than the realised desire. I vote ‘Yes’ to Ella’s motion 😉


Here’s the other side of that equation:

Claire D

27th July 2019 at 8:07 am

Fair enough, I don’t blame you, life’s not worth living otherwise.
Maternal caution was paramount in my comment.

Sizzle and crackle away .

Claire D

27th July 2019 at 8:11 am

Oh crack, not crackle.

Mark Bretherton

25th July 2019 at 3:11 pm

‘While most guys can tell if a woman likes them or not..’ Nope. What most guys need in order tell if a woman likes them these days:

Pru C

25th July 2019 at 4:23 pm

I do wonder if there is something at play that involves the number of stories of boyfriends and husbands disfiguring or killing the women they supposedly love and a similar inability in women to judge what’s threatening and what’s not. Could do with a similar meme Mark which shows a big sign saying ‘killer’ on it over some fellas head. Fear is a powerful thing to try ignoring at whatever level it operate at. I’m not saying there are more crimes committed like those I identify, but there sure is more coverage and access than ever.

Pru C

26th July 2019 at 9:46 pm

Here’s a video I happened across today while sniffing which way the wind is blowing on the Yaniv debacle and whether mens rights to demand servicing from whoever they wish will be enshrined in law anytime soon. From touch my balls to suck it to take it… is only a short hop n skip. I don’t know this woman or her views.. however she explains “making calculations” very well, it’s how women live. Interestingly she also makes the point there’s no signage for ‘bad’ or ‘good’ if you listen closely. I can hold my own and don’t consider myself a scardycat… I think of myself as just sensible. btw the feminism I see today, I don’t recognize it and distance myself from it. As a human being I just feel I should be treated with the same respect as others and not be shut out just because I don’t have any of the afore mentioned anatomical attributes. That’s it, that simple… and reasonable a request, to me.


Linda Payne

25th July 2019 at 1:35 pm

Its not just the workplace, this culture of hysteria has pretty much affected every level of human interaction; construction workers no longer like being whistled at by women and certainly wouldn’t do it themselves, I expect the old fashioned move on a night out is also out of bounds even if the girl is dressed to kill, we need to fight back against all this because it is anti the human condition, what makes life worth living

Rod Conrad

12th August 2019 at 8:27 pm

Wow I would want to swap my life with yours if that’s what makes it worth living ..

Philip Humphrey

25th July 2019 at 11:35 am

I suspect that many worry about an unproveable but non-disproveable accusation being used against them in office politics. Not surprisingly both men and women are shying away from any sort of relationship or invitation to one at work.

Jim Lawrie

27th July 2019 at 1:17 pm

A lot of men I know in IT opt to work from home to avoid women. This has a detrimental effect on learning and passing on of skills. These guys then meet up in each other’s homes to work together. Some women have argued that the men’s homes are to be regarded as the workplace and that they therefore have the right to be there.

The women are acutely aware that this shows them up as doing nothing and lays bare the fact that they are tokens in a quota.

Hana Jinks

25th July 2019 at 10:34 am

I’m beginning to get it. You tell women to be whores so they can get knocked up and make autonomous choices.

What a scam.

Jerry Owen

25th July 2019 at 9:30 am

In my younger days before I had my own business I worked in a mainly female environment and the girls had no problems being forward if they needed / wanted to be. Women do have the female trait ( as with other species ) of making the initial move to attract a desirable male not necessarily through speech but in a more visible way, and yes low cut tops or short skirts is a good example.
Men read these signs ( and yes men can read signs that unfortunately are not there ) , but entrapment is now on the back of the male mind, entrapment that can lose you your job, and reputation. A reputation of being a female predator is for a man one of the worst labels he can have. Personally I would sooner be known as a thief or an embezzler rather than a female predator, for that is the reality for many innocent men now.
I just happened to be travelling with some men in London the other day, I had no idea of their views on anything . We got talking ( as you do ) and we all agreed without a shadow of doubt that feminism is a totally destructive force, a force that is damaging male / female relationships, socialism it had to be noted was a close second , but then who knows what that means these days !

Gareth Hart

25th July 2019 at 9:18 am

Only a matter of time before activists take aim at romantic interactions online. In one way, its already started to happen. The aforementioned Tinder brought in its “menprovement” imitative to remove ‘creeps’ and improve the calibre of the male clientele on the service. The way the dating market is today, with numerous findings suggesting the top 80% of women chase the top 20% of men in terms of socio-economic status (Dr. Jordan B. Peterson in an interview with Camille Paglia suggests its just 15% of young men), the minefield of communication, the spreasing of the misogyny hate crime category as well as activists demanding action against unsolicted pictures and unsolictied messages from unattractive men, I can understand why we have seen a growth in bachelorhood, the Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW) philosophy and incel identitarianism.

Jerry Owen

25th July 2019 at 9:15 am

‘Many of us are more interested in finding our partners in the stationary cupboard’ .. unless your Boris Becker in which case it’s the broom cupboard.

mister wallace

26th July 2019 at 2:47 am

Would that be the cupboard that doesn’t move? And I’m not referring to your broom cupboard comment.

Jerry Owen

26th July 2019 at 9:31 am

No edit facilities unfortunately.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to comment. Log in or Register now.