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(The Root) —

"I have a serious crush on a co-worker. I'm not sure if he has a girlfriend. Any advice on how I can begin to drop hints so that it's not overwhelming but I can get an idea if he's interested and available?" —G.B.

My usual approach to dating is "no risk, no reward," and I encourage women to be proactive about making it known that they are friendly, interested and available to date. One of the ways to do so would be to chat up the guy you're checking for, and if the conversation goes well, casually suggest a hangout session — maybe lunch some day? If he's remotely interested, he will follow up. During the meal, to get the information you want, you can ask him, "Are you in a relationship?"

If he's tied up in a situation, keep things strictly professional and about business going forward. (Being the other woman in general is bad enough. At the office, it's career suicide.) If he's single, you'll know by the way he follows up after lunch whether he's interested. If he calls and/or asks to hang out again: He is. If he gives you the silent treatment or just the bare minimum of conversation: He's not.

Can't read him? Err on the side of caution and drop it. If he is interested at the level you want, he'll make it obvious, at least after hours.  

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I've given you what you want, but now I also have to be a responsible killjoy and tell you to be careful what you ask for. Despite the prevalence of office hookups — 47 percent of people said they had observed a workplace romance, according to a study by employee-benefits provider Workplace Options — I'm no fan of them, and I'd actually discourage you from pursuing one.

That's not a popular opinion these days, since the same study found that 84 percent of employees ages 18 to 29 had no qualms about dating a co-worker. And many supporters of office hookups point to the fruitful marriage of President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, one of the most idolized relationships in the nation, which started in the workplace.

Still, I have to caution you. I haven't forgotten an interaction between my dad and his co-worker. They were discussing some ongoing drama between two dating colleagues and the friend crassly responded, "You don't [crap] where you eat." What he meant in his less than pleasant way is that you don't make a mess in a place that is essential to your well-being, like at the job, where the check pays for your food, shelter and other essentials.

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Several years ago, I was in situation similar to yours. I was the new girl at the office, and there was a guy who was well-read, charming, witty and dressed as if he had a stylist. Of course, I was interested.

One day I saw the office manager looking extremely tense. As we were talking, I caught a glimpse from his window of four of my co-workers arguing on a street corner: one man, three women.

That suave guy I was so interested in? That was him. He was in relationships with all three women, literally one lady in each corner of the office. Somehow they had figured out what he was up to and staged an impromptu confrontation in a conference room. The stressed manager had caught wind of the situation and broke it up shortly before I'd encountered him. He had instructed everyone involved to "take it outside!"

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While I was looking out that window, suddenly one of the women threw a cup of water on the playboy, soaking his pristine suit. I heard a bunch of gasps and looked up to see the whole back row of the office watching the scene, too. That incident — and all the juicy rumors surrounding it — supplied the leading office gossip from that day until I switched jobs months later.

A "boys will be boys" attitude allowed the guy to get off pretty much unscathed. The women were viewed as irresponsible, naive and "emotional." I heard he was promoted eventually. Those women languished at the same tier until they left.

I hope by now you have a deeper understanding of what you could be walking into. If you're still going to pursue your interest, hope for the best, and be over-prepared for the worst.

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Good luck!

Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor to The Root, a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. She answers your dating and relationship questions on The Root each week. Feel free to ask anything at askdemetria@theroot.com.

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