The Only Black Guy in the Office

Office Relationships Are Too Damn Messy

Getting dragged into my co-workers’ dating drama is confirmation that workplace romance isn’t worth the trouble

Illustration: Richard A. Chance

My roommate and I were in the middle of rewatching the last few episodes of Insecure, vexed at just how badly Lawrence fumbled the ball with Issa and Condola, when she hit me with a question straight outta left field. “Bro,” she asked, “how are you even managing?” I had no choice but to laugh; I’ve been pretty much Skip Baeless throughout this seemingly endless national lockdown.

My roomie, though, is one of the lucky-ish ones. She had a partner to claim before lockdown started, and even though they had to thug out three months of cuddle-free courtship before caving into home visits, they still managed to fan some flames through FaceTime dates. As for the rest of us single folk — aside from the ones who figured fuck a quarantine, I have needs — the scene is pretty bleak.

Folks are getting creative these days, sprucing up their dating app profiles to score even a crumb of pillow talk and maybe a relationship to follow. Before social distancing was even a thing, I’d tried my hand at all of them short of Christian Mingle — I had a few close calls on Tinder thanks to idle swiping — so, at this point, I know when it’s time to throw in the towel.

Things are always fun and dandy until they’re not — and then that shit inevitably spills into the workday, making things incredibly awkward for innocent bystander colleagues.

“What? No cuties at the office to distract you?” my roomie pried. I knew it was just jokes, but I still scoffed at the thought. Never in a million years would I be caught canoodling with a co-worker. I’ve never been the type to have work boos — I make it my personal business to keep those two worlds totally separate. As flattering as it may be, I know better than to humor cats from the office barking up my tree. (This Black man has zero time for any “misconstrued” comments or potential HR flags.)

Besides, I’ve sat front row to the worst of them. I’ve seen a work fling go so far south that someone gets transferred to a different office. Things are always fun and dandy until they’re not — and then that shit inevitably spills into the workday, making things incredibly awkward for innocent bystander colleagues. It can play out as a quick huff, the sucking of teeth in passing, a cold shoulder that’d make Gucci Mane go “brr!” Bickering on the walk back from lunch turns into snapping on another co-worker during the team meeting. Mixing productivity and pleasure is simply bad for business.

Just the prospect of crossing the streams always reminds me of the time I had to (gently) check a co-worker at one of my old retail jobs. We were opening a shift together; I walked into the breakroom to find him sulking on the couch, his red eyes and swollen eyelids revealing that he’d been shedding some thug tears. I’m trying to drink my coffee and start the day and he wants to queue up the sad boy playlist (Drake, Brent Faiyaz, Bryson Tiller — you know the vibes). I had to tell him to go and take a couple hours off to get himself together because there’s no way we could be productive with all his snot and teary-eyed heaving. Luckily it was a slow morning, so we could just start the day over when he came back. I want to be sensitive to people’s moods and emotions, but folks can get so caught up in their feelings that they don’t realize their impact on the working environment.

And look, I know that not every office entanglement is condemned to end in ruin. Every now and then — once it gets funneled through the appropriate approval channels — things go swimmingly. At my current job, there’s a married couple in my department that has been working together for years, have a lovely family together, and seem like they’ve got a system worked out. So it’s certainly doable, but that doesn’t mean I want to do it. Plus, my hands are full having to play part-time counselor, anyway.

I’m noticing that being a Black person in these workspaces means that somehow we’re just The Person that all of these non-Black folks want to rant and vent their problems to, which is weird. It’s like, Oh, you’re Black. Great. By default, you’ll listen. You’re going through stuff. You’ll definitely relate to me and probably offer a “different” perspective.

No lie, within a couple of days of meeting some of my co-workers, I already know what’s going on in their personal lives. The only thing they know about me is that I DJ on the side; that’s all we’ve ever gotten around to talking about because they really think I’m Iyanla, here to fix their lives. (While in reality, I’m troubleshooting my own damn life.) Must’ve missed that in my job description.

I’m trying to have my lunch and chill, and someone will invite themselves to my table, invading my bubble of temporary tranquility, then unload the mess they’ve been holding in all morning in front of my kale salad. And I don’t think the salad appreciates it. I definitely don’t appreciate it. The best part is, after they’re done shit-talking their soon-to-be-ex-bae from accounts payable, they’ll thank me before scurrying off to their desk because they have to get back to work. Well, would you look at that; I have to get back to work, too, because this 30-minute break you monopolized is over now. Here’s my Cash App for your therapy payment, and a Seamless receipt for this unsolicited session.

So yeah, I’ll pass on the risky work-boo pursuits for now and wait for Big ‘Rona to kindly exit stage left so I can get back to bars, networking events, house functions, and other traditions that let me keep flirting face-to-face — and off the clock.

Do you know him? Is it you? The trials and tribulations of a Black man navigating corporate life.

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