"I feel incredibly lucky to be at the right time and place to find someone as wonderful as Elle," says Nick Okano of his wife. "The office just happened to be that place."
“Don’t date someone you work with.” It’s a good rule of thumb. Workplace romances can be exciting, but also distracting, unprofessional and, in the case of a breakup, downright uncomfortable. So why do so many of us do it?
Because, as the following three couples tell it, sometimes an office romance can go very, very right. In honor of Valentine’s Day, we bring you tales of workplace love in Seattle with happy endings — and advice on how to make it work.
Elle & Nick
Nick Okano and Elle Horn may be the most “Seattle” couple in all of Seattle.
Both have worked at Nordstrom’s corporate headquarters for years — in finance, but in different departments. Their first “date” was a happy hour at Frolik, the rooftop bar on the Motif hotel, which longtime locals will know as the old Red Lion. Their second date was at Tom Douglas’ Palace Kitchen. Last month, they got married — in a conference room at their office.
“We’re saving for a house and didn’t want to do a big shebang wedding,” says Horn, 33. “Because we did meet at work, fell in love at work and love working [at Nordstrom], we thought, maybe we can use one of their conference rooms?”
The couple let the cat out of the bag with managers and co-workers when things got serious, several months into the relationship. Horn describes their colleagues as “super happy, and really thrilled for us.” In fact, Horn’s director, Frank Perez, officiated the ceremony.
The couple never used company email to communicate, favoring LinkedIn mail or their personal accounts. And even though they now work in different buildings, it’s a cinch for the West Seattle couple to coordinate transportation.
“I feel incredibly lucky to be at the right time and place to find someone as wonderful as Elle,” says Okano, 36. “The office just happened to be that place.”
Trey & Ian
The first time Trey and Ian Winter met, they were at a shuttle stop. Ian offered his future wife an apple — “a beautiful Fuji,” he says — but she turned him down.
“I was pretty shy,” says Trey, 24. “And I thought he was really weird, because who offers fruit to a stranger?”
Their second meeting was on the job. Trey was new at Seattle Children’s Hospital, working in the catering department, and she was lost. Ian, a receiving clerk, asked if he could help. That led to their first date, at Denny’s. And it just went from there.
The couple got engaged a month and a half after their first date, and both were open about their relationship. For the most part, the couple says their co-workers were very supportive.
“I was a little surprised, because I thought they might have something to say about it,” says Trey, who now works as a family services coordinator. “But then I found out that we’re one of many couples at Children’s.”
Since the hospital is so large, and Ian and Trey work in different departments, it’s easy to go all day without seeing each other. And both agree that’s a good thing.
“If you’re always right next to each other, that would be the most opportune time for home issues to creep into work life — not to mention, make your co-workers uncomfortable,” says Ian, 38.
Gregg & Rachel
On the other hand, Gregg and Rachel Richter, of Everett, were right next to each other at work. The couple met nearly 16 years ago, on Rachel’s second day of work at Starbucks in Seattle. Gregg helped train Rachel for her role on the help desk, where both assisted employees with their computer issues.
They worked the Friday swing shift together, which was a slower time. While waiting for calls to come in, they would play Hearts and talk about their lives. A friendship developed and eventually, they started dating. Rachel says that their relationship didn’t affect their work at all: “If anything, it made coming to work more fun.”
However, Gregg points out the times when things weren’t going so well, like when the couple “took at break” for a year or so. “Neither of us could stand being tethered to a desk [via headset] only a few feet away from each other,” he remembers.
Still, Gregg and Rachel remained professional, which is the main advice they give to others in the same boat. That includes setting boundaries, showing respect for co-workers and being upfront about your relationship with your employer.
Eventually, Gregg and Rachel moved on to other departments at Starbucks, which Gregg believes is a big factor in the relationship growing to where it is now: “Happily married, with three incredible kids,” he says.