Sun, 06 Feb 2000

Close proximity in office leads many to hives of flirtation

By William Furney

JAKARTA (JP): Quick. Out with the lippy, on with the rouge and spray down that piece of flyaway hair.

The boss is on his way and her aim is to be noticed, not in her capacity as an employee, but as a sensual woman.

For she is a secretary and dreams of a liaison with her boss as she types without reading the words, files nails that don't need filing and answers phones in her efficient but robotic manner.

He greets her, mentions she is looking well (she blushes) and wonders if his wife would find out if he were to take his secretary out for dinner and perhaps a little something afterward.

And so, unavoidably, it begins.

Ever since there have been attractive, nubile young women and older men working in close proximity to each other, there have been dalliances between them. She, the fountain of alluring feminine youth he thinks he has the right to drink from after years of success and fathering children. He, the ladder on which she wants to climb.

Serve it up on a plate and he'll come asking for seconds.

Look no further than the most famous affair last century. President Bill and intern Monica. He, her boss; she, his assistant. Not exactly his secretary, but she performed tasks equivalent and saw him often enough for the affair to take root.

What is interesting to note is that the more important the man or woman involved in the affair, the less likely they are to pay any attention to rationale. That goes out the window as lust takes over, and in some cases develops into lasting feelings of love.

Humans, of course, are social animals and as we spend more time than ever in a work environment, thoughts are bound to turn to matters carnal over the course of long, drawn-out days. Who has not fancied a colleague at the office? For offices are veritable hives of flirtation.

According to Oprah psychobabbler, Dr. Luann Linquist, 70 percent of married men and 50 percent of married women have an affair sometime in their marriage. Some are one-night stands, she says, but a growing number of people are becoming involved in intimate relationships that last for a long time, some even for years.

Young women are easily captivated by the charms of older, wiser, wealthier and more powerful men. Those men, in turn, are dazzled by youthful glamour and slim, firm bodies. This combination, therefore, is a powerful force which binds them together.

Lolita, 23, not her real name, has been having an affair with her boss for almost a year and a half. A secretary at a medium- sized financial firm in Jakarta, she said the affair began when both she and her boss (who is in his fifties) were working late and often were the only people in the office.

"One night," she said, "just as I was finishing up typing a report, he came to my desk and invited me to his office for a drink. I had been staying back late all month as I had to get through my workload and he thanked me for it. One thing led to another and we ended up on his office desk."

She said she didn't feel particularly guilty about carrying on the affair as she had never met his wife and their 12-year-old son.

"I don't really feel bad about it ... well sometimes a little. But we like each other very much although I don't see any future (in it)."

Father of Psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud says people are little more than the sum of their collective sexual urges, where, as surely as the sun rises and sets each day, we, like other animals, are driven by an overpowering need to propagate our own species. It is to deny our existence to think otherwise. We break with so-called normal societal behavioral patterns in our endeavors to multiply. There is no good in denying this as we are bound by the hormones that race through our veins. It all comes down to sex, and how much we can get of it.

Office rumors fly quicker than the proverbial bush fire and, as such, it is common for clandestine affairs between secretaries and their superiors to be known to the lowliest employee in the firm. And as wealthy bosses are oft to shower their paid mistresses with luxury gifts and even luxury pads in town, feelings of resentment toward said secretary can reach boiling point when she is offered raise after raise and is given more authority in the firm and often multiple promotions.

A couple of years ago, a foreign secretary I knew at a multinational company in Jakarta was in this situation after falling for her boss. To the chagrin of others, she was deluged with all manner of gifts and risen from her lowly position of secretary to personal assistant to the boss. Suddenly she was queen of the office and doors opened up for her as never before. However, as a queen, she was despised.

Often the two took long, leisurely lunches -- sometimes lasting up to three hours. This disrupted the work environment as others were frequently left to take over the workload.

When her boss left the firm, the country and her, she was quickly demoted by those left and suffered such aggravation she eventually left.

But in our complicated world we cover up what is natural, telling ourselves that we are no cave people. We are educated, freethinking, sophisticated beings, and, even though we are highly interested in sex, we choose not to believe our basic urges determine how we act out our lives. Affairs between bosses and their secretaries are no different to any other type of affair, such as those between photographers and models, movie producers and starlets. They are two people wanting to get it together, sometimes for ulterior motives or a symbiotic development in their lives. But, more often that not, they do it for love.

There are many layers to peel off before we get to what we knew we wanted all along.