It’s February, and you know Valentine’s Day is around the corner because as soon as January got rolling, all that red and pink candy started popping up everywhere. It’s cold outside, the holiday of love is nearly upon us, so it would be understandable if you were suddenly in the mood to look at your co-workers just a little differently. Hmm ... which one might have the potential to keep you warm and ring more than your office extension?

Career experts tell us that it's quite common for people to end up dating their colleagues, even if it’s prohibited by their employers. We spend so much time at work, it often becomes our best bet for finding a mate. Plus, you spend so much time working toward a common goal that a certain amount of bonding is inevitable.

But before you decide to find your valentine by the copier—gaining the fringe benefit of a carpool partner—by starting an office romance, there are a few things you should know.

An Office Romance Is Almost Certainly a Bad Idea

Just about anyone will tell you that starting an office romance is a bad idea. It’s the kind of thing that can discredit you and really hurt your career—especially if it’s prohibited or your supervisor feels like you’re not doing your job. You may even get fired. While you’re in the relationship (no matter how well you behave), your co-workers may feel you are slacking at work, or getting special treatment. And when the relationship ends, you run the risk of a bitter ex sabotaging your work life.

Your employer doesn’t want you embroiled in an interoffice romance because the company can lose money through reduced productivity and morale—on the part of everyone, not just you and your partner. They run the risk of a harassment suit if one of you ends up angry and looking to retaliate. The whole thing is very risky and makes everyone uncomfortable, so if it can be avoided, it should—even if that means you send yourself Valentine's Day flowers this year.

Ways to Avoid the Office Romance

You know it’s a bad idea, but sometimes it's really hard to keep those office-romance sparks from sparking. In that case, there are a few things you can do. First of all, avoid socializing with your co-workers outside of work. Socialize with them at events sponsored by your company, and leave it at that. It may make you seem a bit standoffish, but that’s better than getting caught in the mess of an office affair.

Stay professional at work. If you aren’t flirting and gossiping and getting involved in people’s personal lives, you aren’t likely to end up personally involved in someone’s life. Get a life outside of work. Office romances tend to start because people only see other people at work. If you feel like you have more in common with the people you work with, try going to networking events and meeting people who do what you do, just not in your office. Open yourself up to romance outside the workplace, and then there won’t be anything to avoid while you're at work.

If It Happens, Start It Right

That being said, statistics show that office romances are an inevitability of our modern work lives. Your employer probably put effort into choosing employees based on culture fit, so of course you get along. So, if you find yourself drawn to someone you work with, don’t feel guilty. But do have a plan.

First of all, check your company’s policy and be prepared for your boss to act accordingly. Then, don’t go public with your relationship until you’re sure it is headed for the long term. Of course, if it isn’t something you think will go the distance, you shouldn’t start it up at all. In fact, try to keep the relationship in the friend zone for as long as possible. And definitely wait twice as long to sleep with the person as you would normally wait with a potential mate.

Next, discuss which one of you would be willing to leave the job if the relationship starts to cause problems with your employer or co-workers. You have to plan for the worst. When it’s time to tell – and you should definitely tell, even if it’s prohibited by your employer—make sure you tell your bosses or supervisors at the same time. You don’t want your boss to hear it through the grapevine after your partner has told her boss. You have to reassure them that you will keep your relationship at work professional and you will not let it affect your work or the work of those around you. It’s possible your employer will have you sign a waiver or contract saying the relationship is consensual, in order to avoid legal ramifications down the road.

And whatever you do, no matter how you feel, do not get involved with someone you report to or who reports to you. This will be disastrous. If that person is “the one,” one of you needs to find somewhere else to work before you start anything.

How to Behave During Your Office Romance

So you’ve decided a love connection is impossible to avoid. You’ve told your bosses and disclosed the relationship to H.R. You can choose to tell your co-workers, or just let them figure it out over time. Leave a company event together or tell the biggest gossiper in the group and the work is done. Then you must reassure your co-workers that the relationship will be left out of the office and your work will remain the same.

Again, stay professional at work. Don’t exchange glances at meetings or play footsie under the table. Don’t make big romantic gestures—even on Valentine’s Day—of flowers or candy or love notes on the bulletin board. Don’t discuss (or argue over) personal issues at work. Don’t talk to everyone about your relationship. Just keep it private. If your partner tells you things about work in confidence, keep them a secret. And, for the sake of your relationship and your work, don’t talk about work in bed. Last, don’t use your work email to have any relationship conversations, naughty or otherwise. Your work email is not yours, and it’s not private.

How to End the Romance and Keep Your Job

Everything’s great on Valentine’s Day, but as many romances do, it’s most likely that your office love affair will come to an end. And you have to be ready for it, or your office job could also come to an end. First of all, if you feel things starting to fizzle out, act early to end the relationship. Don’t wait until it has to end because you’re both bitter and tired or one of you feels neglected and abandoned. Hoping your partner will just get the hint and stop coming around isn’t going to help anything end well.

Break up on a Friday in a neutral place, in person. Have a very clear conversation about the end of the relationship outside of work, giving the person some time and space before having to see you at work again. Set boundaries and discuss how life at work is going to go now that you’re no longer a couple. Then, once it’s over, it’s over. You can’t be tempted into going back for seconds. Breakup sex is confusing enough with someone who doesn’t work with you, it’s even messier with someone who does.

Morale is a big issue for all of your co-workers after your relationship ends, not just for you and your partner. Don’t discuss the breakup at work. Consider keeping it a secret and then discuss when and how to share the information. Always work to preserve your ex’s dignity; don't badmouth her. You have to see each other daily, and civility is the only way to stay sane. You kept your relationship out of the office, and now you have to keep the end of your relationship out of the office. Finally, don’t start talking about a new flame at work. It’s unprofessional, and it will only hurt your ex and make everyone uncomfortable.