Lesbian Workplace Romances? Remember work? Remember offices? Remember going to work in offices (and other places)? It really has been a long year, hasn’t it? Now as some countries take steps back to “normal”, our thoughts can turn to romance beyond the page for a while.
Although online dating is growing in popularity, a lot of people still meet their significant other through work—maybe as much as 30% of us. That’s before you even count the flings, affairs, and other short-lived relationships that might not be admitted to in public. In pre-pandemic times, most of us were spending 40+ hours a week with a certain group of people, which is more than enough time for romance to blossom.
Given that so many of us read to escape real-world responsibilities like work, how is it that authors convince us time and again to return to these worlds, where we see characters dealing with their daily grind on the road to romance?
The appeal of a lesbian workplace romance
We asked Lee Winter, who certainly knows a thing or two about beloved lesbian workplace romances (The Brutal Truth, The Red Files, Breaking Character), why it is that we keep returning to the world of work. Her answer-—as you might expect from someone who creates such memorable characters—is to look at the kind of people we put in our fictional offices, hospitals, or classrooms.
“We’re talking hot bosses. Fantasy figures. Powerful women in chic executive suits, who strut and smirk and snarl and swish hands about with decisive gestures as they demand excellence from nervous, awe-struck staff…well, the ones Hot Boss didn’t just fire.”
These ice queens and other goddess-like women are far less common in our own working lives, so perhaps that’s the first big fantasy element to it all. Not to mention, the buildings tend to be spacious, glossy, and decorated to the nines. The catering is perfect, and the coffee’s always hot.
So maybe it’s work… but not as we know it. Best to focus on the chemistry between your characters, and not the finer points of the accounting system.
How to navigate that power imbalance in a lesbian workplace romance
We live in the #MeToo era, and since long before that campaign had a name and media presence, women have been fighting for their right to work in a safe and welcoming environment. How best, then, to avoid situations in fiction that would require a call to HR in real life?
Firstly, there’s the benefit of being able to portray character motivations and show the reader that there’s consent on both sides. There are also ways to negotiate the flirting and seduction that won’t cost anyone their job or career progress.
For a great example, we can look to books like Roslyn Sinclair’s The X Ingredient, a sizzling-hot office romance that positively flew off the shelves—virtual and otherwise. While tough bosses aren’t always a breeze to work for, readers can relax into a story more when they know that there won’t be unfair or illegal consequences when characters cross that line.
The best way to be sure of that is to build a foundation of respect into the romantic entanglements – let the characters appreciate each other as professionals in their field, not just as eye candy. Where changes can be made to protect the partner with less power in their dynamic, feel free to have the characters suggest them. A quick fix is often a sideways move or promotion, removing the conflict in directly reporting to your boss and your lover.
What makes a lesbian workplace romance?
When someone thinks about a workplace romance, the example that springs to mind might be something like Jim and Pam from The Office. That everyday setting is certainly one way to go, but the wonderful thing about fiction is that your workplaces can be all sorts of interesting and unusual settings.
Take my own debut novel, The Music & The Mirror. The first thoughts that jump to mind might be about the age gap, the melting of an ice queen, or even some debate about if ballet counts as a sport. In all that, it’s easy to overlook that it’s also a lesbian workplace romance. Anna and Victoria meet because they work in the same place every day and come to rely on each other to succeed in their respective ballet careers.
The wlw romance canon really does cover all bases on this one, whether it’s tackling the office politics of academia in Quinn Ivins’ The Love Factor or medical romance set in a hospital written by an actual doctor in the case of Chris Zett’s Irregular Heartbeat, and Heart Failure. There’s even a place to explore the career highs and lows of a freelance assassin, if you like that kind of thing (and so, so many people do) in Lee Winter’s Requiem for Immortals.
The best part?
As long as there’s work, there’s potential for lesbian workplace romance. Thanks, capitalism! They’ll keep appearing, in new and exciting configurations, to satisfy that craving for stories. A. L. Brooks takes the workplace romance to the world of television, for example, in her novel A Heart to Trust.
Don’t forget that if you’re interested in particular tropes or types of romance, all Ylva titles can be searched by tag as well as author or title. If you want to check out the full range of workplace romances, start right here.
Which of these books are among your faves? Tell us what makes them so special.
Which fictional workplace do you wish you could show up to every day?
And which hot boss has you ready and willing to obey every command?
Lola Keeley is a writer and coder. After moving to London to pursue her love of theatre, she later wound up living every five-year-old’s dream of being a train driver on the London Underground. She has since emerged, blinking into the sunlight, to find herself writing books. She now lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, with her wife and four cats. Find her books at the Ylva store!
Great read. The “itchiest” part for me of a workplace romance would generally be the power imbalance, but this article explains very well how that’s navigated in fiction, “portray character motivations and show the reader that there’s consent on both sides.” There is also the necessary suspension of belief in reading any given book, and that’s no different for this trope. I’m a fan, and my suspension of belief goes full throttle with this type of book, willingly 🙂
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