Me and the Man Beneath the Rocket

Adventures in Office Romance (on the QT)

Approximately a year ago, I wrote a well-thought-out, carefully polished essay on the subject of dating a co-worker.

The entirety of it had been pulled directly from my ass. I can’t even remember the last time I was simultaneously employed and in a relationship. One destroyed my energy and the other never paid enough. (It’s a Catholic website. You figure out which is which.)

I came to Florida’s Kennedy Space Center for a job. Cast over my shoulder into the Ohio River back in Cincinnati was a marriage-bent relationship that was ended by the potential groom with an email. I wanted that beaten away by the ocean, the vastness of the Atlantic purging my heart, the salt water returning me to a self-contained amoeba state. There was to be astronauts and surfer boys and tiki bars. Orange juice. Perhaps, if the tides so dictated, I would whip up the occasional key lime pie. There was no room on the Space Coast for me, the mighty rockets, and a relationship.

This is where Chris comes in. When I met Chris he was standing (and I’m the first person aware of how horribly like a Meg Ryan movie this sounds) beneath a Titan II rocket, with plenty of room for me in the shade there. I became his co-worker within a month; within two months, we were dating.

My first words as our first kiss ended: “I’m not sure this is a good idea.” I’ve seen office couples and I’ve seen destruction. My wonderful, perfect, moved-one-thousand-miles-to-take-it job was now up against my wonderful, perfect, moved-one-thousand-miles-to-meet-him boyfriend.

We decided to keep things a secret. It wasn’t easy. The workforce is small and gossipy. I have no self-control; he has nice calves; and our work uniform involves shorts.

It was awful. It was fun. We shared a secret from our co-workers, one that drew us closer. And I had a brand-new relationship, one I was bubbling to talk about with my friends�who just happened to be my co-workers.

Nobody understands the people you work with like another co-worker, and when the new job and new family made me want to scream, there was Chris with a sympathetic eye-roll. I now had a built-in answer board for all the questions I was afraid to ask anybody else for fear of appearing bitchy, suspicious, prejudiced, impatient or, worst of all, stupid (“Does the scary man who works in payroll say �ching ching’ when he hands over everybody’s paycheck, or is that purely for my benefit?”)

But it wasn’t always peaches and roses. I was able to see my boyfriend every day, but on the other hand� I saw my boyfriend every day. In the morning, I came in, and there he was. Didn’t I move to Florida to find my own space?

I’m a happy, huggy sort of tortured soul, and I like a lot of hand-holding and hi-honey’s. That was outr� when we were on the clock, and�stupid as this sounds�I had to fight off a stinging when he would see me across the room and not make kissy faces in my general direction. My boyfriend was at my side, but I was prohibited from treating him as my boyfriend. The roles in my life were now blending (“colliding worlds” as they say on Seinfeld.) You can contain your emotions, but you can’t turn them off. I wasn’t prepared to have Work Mary Beth and Girlfriend Mary Beth in the same room at the same time.

How did we work through the issues? Fate, God, and financial aid worked them through for us: Chris received a scholarship to an out-of-state university. He started class last week. The burdens of an at-work relationship fell away, instantly replaced by those of a long-distance relationship. Pick your romance poison.

There was one compensation: I was at last permitted to talk to my friends at work about my new fella. On Chris’s last day at work I finally dropped the bomb, watching Mary’s face to see how she registered the fallout:

“Oh that?” she said, waving her hand in the air. “We knew you two were a couple before he even asked you out.”