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If you’re a Black professional working in a major city, you’ve likely heard the phrase, “It’s a small Black world.” Despite the massive population in most metropolitan areas, people of color typically experience six degrees of separation (often much less) between their circle of friends and someone new. Go to any brunch or kickback, and you’re guaranteed to meet a person who knows an individual you’re at least cool with. While the close connections are comforting when it comes to professional networking, they can be bothersome when you try to date, especially if it’s within your industry.

Take actors Letitia Wright and John Boyega for example. The duo, who were classmates at London’s Identity School of Acting, caused a media frenzy when they attended the Met Gala 2018 together, despite declarations they are “just friends.” Fame isn’t the only reason folks are interested. Relationships, whether they are between Hollywood celebrities or the stars of your office, take center stage in the hearts and minds of the masses. Most people can’t resist gossiping—even if it’s just a bit.

Now that doesn’t mean that you have to eliminate a whole sector of people from your dating pool. You can kick it with whoever you want. Just be strategic. Here’s how.

1 Tell the Truth

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If you’re a guy or gal who likes to run game when dating, it’s relatively easy to deceive folks who don’t work in your world. They don’t know the demands of your days or nights, which makes creating fictitious stories about your time painless. That all changes when you’re dating within your industry. This person will have a better understanding of your time and work demands, and also have eyes and ears watching—often unbeknownst to you. Playing with deception here can have a direct impact on your reputation and your livelihood.

2 Kill the Secrets

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While you don’t want to make an announcement that you’re casually dating someone in the business, going out of your way to hide it is equally ridiculous. Kicking it covertly may feel sexy the first few dates, but will quickly become cumbersome. It can also change the way both parties feel about the relationship, transforming a budding connection to jump off status. Besides, the cover-up rarely works. People typically know something is brewing—they just won’t discuss it in front of you.

3 Think HR

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Remember the “Business Ethics” episode of The Office when Meredith shared she was banging a supplier for discounted meat? Find out your company’s policies about dating coworkers and colleagues your brand collaborates with. If you’re dating someone who works within your corporation, consider sharing the info with your HR officer. Why? If things go left, the person may try to sabotage your job performance or accuse you of sexual harassment.

4 Pace Yourself

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Best case scenario: You meet the love of your life at work and go on living out your own version of Black-ish. But what if that doesn’t happen? While you don’t want to keep the fact that you’re dating a secret, broadcasting it isn’t the best way to go either. Overt gestures, such as excessive PDA and gift-giving, can be uncomfortable for your coworkers, sets you up for a lot of questions, and makes it obvious if you two don’t work. Enjoy getting to know each other, but use a bit of discretion in the office.

5 Bring Your A-Game

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When you show up, you might want to show out. Be the best partner you can be. Be a good friend. Lay it down in the bedroom. Show the heck up. Know there’s a highlight reel of your best and worst moments being shared around your circle. What do you want it to showcase?

S. Tia Brown is a journalist and licensed therapist. She’s a big fan of Jodeci and giving practical life tips. 

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