It’s been over a month since Kristen and I officially became a couple (i.e., boyfriend-girlfriend). Just looking back at how it happened is an interesting story.

Kristen and I met at as employees at Lands’ End. She started working there in June 2005, and I began the following August. The following month, she passed the Wisconsin Bar Exam so she could practice law in the state (she graduated from Notre Dame Law School in Indiana). But she was still making retail wages. Around that time, I was given permission to hire two limited-term employees for the livestock premises registration program at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP, my full-time employer). I suggested to Kristen that she apply, not thinking of anything other than hiring her because she had very good customer service skills and knew the computer systems at Lands’ End (they use a legacy mainframe system that’s slightly less user-friendly than DATCP’s licensing system). After interviewing nearly a dozen candidates, a coworker and I agreed that Kristen was one of our top candidates. She accepted the position and started working for DATCP as an limited-term employee (LTE) in October.

Kristen and I continued to work together at both Lands’ End and at DATCP on a professional level. At Lands’ End, I started asking people that closed on Saturday nights if they wanted to join me for a drink after work. One other coworker, Mike, and I went out a couple of times (no other takers). One night, Mike couldn’t make it, but after sitting at the bar and having a beer, Kristen showed up with her brother David (they share an apartment in Madison). We hung out and had a good chat. Kristen started coming out more regularly after that. By the end of November, Mike had quit working at Lands’ End, so it became just Kristen, one or two other coworkers, and me.

In December, one of the associate managers put in her two-weeks notice. Her last evening was December 31. Since it was New Year’s Eve, the store closed early. I asked if anyone wanted to go out for Erin’s last night, and I had no takers (Kristen did not work that evening). So it was Erin and me. We had dinner and a nice discussion, but we both decided to call it an early evening.

The following Tuesday when I worked at Lands’ End, I mentioned that only Erin and I went out. I felt a little sorry for her because I was the only one that took her out. Then I asked, “so what was that?” Kristen responded that it was a date. I argued that it couldn’t be because we hadn’t thought of it that way. But Kristen explained that because there we assume that certain expectations exist… actually, I still don’t follow her reasoning about it. So, Kristen convinced me that it was a date. The following Saturday, Kristen and I went out after work. I brought the subject up again and asked if we were on a date, but we both agreed that we weren’t dating because she worked for me and that there could be ethical consequences.

But it’s amazing how things may not always be what they seem. Every time I asked people to go out on Saturday night, Kristen always came out. One night, she suggested that we see Brokeback Mountain with another coworker (which, by the way, I thought was a good movie). Saturday night became our night out, and others were welcome to join us. But every time I asked, Kristen was willing to join. Others at Lands’ End saw a pattern, but Kristen and I continued to explain that our professional relationship precluded us from pursuing something more personal. And yet, our discussions every Saturday night were a little more personal (albeit not romantic).

Around the middle to end of February, we started realizing that we may actually like each other beyond coworkers or friends.

On March 2, we had a meeting at DATCP, and I invited both of my LTEs to join and listen to the Dr. John Clifford, Deputy Administrator of the US Department of Agriculture – Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service – Veterinary Services. Kristen said she would be able to stop in when Dr. Clifford was scheduled to start; Ashley (the other LTE) was unable to attend due to class. By this time, I realized that I had feelings for Kristen; after all, I was attracted to her, I knew that she and I had a lot in common, we shared the same humor, and she and I could really hold a conversation with each other. But when she came into the room, I felt a rush of emotion that made me realize how I really feel about her. I thought to myself, “Holy crap, I’m in love with Kristen!”

Of course, I perceived this as a problem. Kristen works for me at DATCP, even though she is only here for a limited time. But I couldn’t resist how I felt about her. That Friday, I bought a new cell phone (I was having issues with US Cellular, so I switched to Verizon), and I stopped at Lands’ End to show it off. Kristen was working that evening, and at one point, she asked another coworker to have me talk to her while she was on break. When I talked to Kristen, she merely asked about the new phone. I felt something else was going on, but I was afraid to talk about it (I’m pretty shy about such things, and there is the whole work issue). Kristen and I agreed to go out again after closing at Lands’ End, and we both started sharing some flirtations. It became obvious that we started feeling more to our professional and friendly relationship, but I still felt uncertain about how she really felt. The next evening, Saturday, we went out again, this time with one of our fellow coworkers Lourdes. Kristen sat next to me in a booth, and she started leaning on me. It was obvious to Lourdes that we felt something more about each other (I called Lourdes afterwards to explain how I felt). Of course, we ended up closing the bar, and Lourdes drove Kristen home.

I picked up Kristen the next day and brought her to work. After work, we picked up her car, and she invited me to her place to watch the academy awards with her and her brother, which I accepted. At one point, David left to run an errand, leaving Kristen and me alone to talk. I told her that I really liked her in a romantic way, and she responded in kind. But we both felt that we couldn’t really be together because of our working relationship. But we continued to sit and hold hands (it was really sweet), and it seemed that we both felt more than before.

As the week wore on, we both continued to work as if things were business as usual. But when we had a chance, we shared glances. But that Thursday evening, we planned on joining some colleagues for Karaoke. Kristen and I agreed to get dinner and do a little window shopping before going to join the others. I couldn’t stand the thought of no longer being without her; I just felt it was no longer appropriate to hide it. So I spoke to my administrator Sue about how we felt about each other. She said that she it was great and that she was excited for us; that took me by utter surprise.

That evening, I picked up Kristen to get something to eat and to look at furniture (she was looking for a new mattress). I told her what Sue had told me. Kristen was pretty happy to hear it, and I was happy to report it. We looked at mattresses at one store, had dinner at the local Olive Garden, and looked at mattresses at another store. But we never made it to karaoke because of the weather (it was pretty foggy that evening). Instead of karaoke, we chose to hang out at Barnes and Noble and enjoy each others’ company. This included climbing a big snow bank outside, buying tea in the little Starbucks, and sitting on a couple of chairs and just talking and holding hands. Afterwards, I drove her home; that night, I asked her if it would be okay to state that we were officially dating, and she gave me the okay. That was March 9, which we’ve since marked as our first date anniversary.

Kristen Kristen

Brian and Kristen Brian and Kristen