Married to the job

Staff parties can sow the seeds for budding romances – not just seedy affairs on the side. Alison Bezzina meets three couples from different walks of life to see how their office dos were the fertile territory for relationships to blossom, sometimes into full-blown marriage, showing it may be a good idea to mix work with pleasure.

Victoria Spiteri, 39, and Gilberto Arredondo, 41, both work in telecoms and have been together for four years. They relate how it was the office staff party that finally clinched the deal after the chase.

We ended up hiding a bit here and there, to steal a few kisses. My colleagues had wagers on us and the losers lost big

Victoria recalls that the first time she saw Gilberto, she was working away in her office. “I saw this handsome guy walking towards the coffee machine just outside my door. I thought he was a visitor and didn’t give it a second thought, but then I started to see him more regularly.

“Later, I realised there was another coffee machine outside his office and he didn’t have to walk all the way down to mine to get his fix.”

“I had seen Victoria in the hallways,” says Gilberto. “I had taken notice, of course, and had mentioned it to a few of the guys. I was new to Malta at the time and was still enjoying the country as a single man. The hallway, however, became an interesting area, and after a while, I figured out where her office was and that became a convenient place to have accidental conversations.

“Eventually, the CEO called for a staff announcement meeting after work. We had champagne and chatter and the usual long speeches and I could see Victoria the entire time. Pretending not to notice her was the hardest thing.

“After our little exchange there, it took some time for me to figure out how to go about it, but I started finding ways to make contact – Facebook, MSN chat, internal PABX. Victoria wouldn’t give in, but I kept telling myself not to give up. The smile didn’t match the ‘no’.

“It was the office staff party that clinched the deal though,” Victoria continues. “Since Gilberto had just moved to Malta, he did not know the Maltese roads that well, so I offered him to follow me to the party.”

“We had already exchanged quite a few words in the past week or so,” recalls Gilberto. “And now, we were around a pool, with booze flowing and fire dancers all over the place. It was just another perfect opportunity. We ended up hiding a bit here and there to steal a few kisses. My colleagues had wagers on us and the losers lost big.”

“From there, we started taking long lunches, and coffees after work,” continues Victoria. “And soon enough, our relationship took off and we never looked back. We tried to keep it discreet for a while, and during another staff party later on in the year, we even pretended not to be together; it was weird and not much fun, so eventually, we stopped caring about what everyone or anyone might think and just got on with it.

“It turned out to be a good decision because no one had a problem with it. No one really cared since we were still very professional at work.

“Initially, Gilberto was only meant to stay in Malta for a year, so I had prepared myself for something temporary,” Victoria adds. “I was fine with this because I had had so many serious relationships before that I just wanted to enjoy this one while it lasted. Little did I know that a series of events would lead him to stay in Malta.”

“I too had no preconceptions,” adds Gilberto. “No plan, and no expectations, and that was what made it even more interesting.”

“And we still have no real plans,” Victoria goes on. “I mean we are happy together and we live day by day; we do not work together anymore but it would be fine if we did. We share a lot and ask each other’s opinion. We value each other a lot.”

“Of course we have issues,” Gilberto intervenes. “And I’m pretty sure I cause most of them,” he adds with a smile. “I know I’m not an easy person to deal with, but over time it gets smoother.

“I do not regret a single moment, even had the relationship not lasted,” Victoria concludes.

Neither does Gilberto have any regrets. “Even if you work together, if you think it’s more likely to succeed than fail, go for it,” he advises.

But he also warns that “if it’s your long-term job, you better think twice about the side effects of a bad ending”.

Faye Bonnici, 26, and Andrew Bugeja, 29, met over five years ago and have been together since. Faye recounts how it all blossomed at the “much-awaited” staff party.

At the end of the party, Andrew walked me towards my car, but we left separately

I had just started working at Miller, while Andrew had already been working there for about three years. When we were introduced, and he approached to shake my hand, I immediately thought: ‘Oh! Crap!’

A few weeks later, we both attended the much-awaited office party. When I turned up, Andrew was already there. He was wandering around, chatting to colleagues, but soon enough, he approached the marketing team with whom I was mingling and casually joined us. 

A few drinks later and the CEO’s speech over, everybody moved to the luring, elevated dance floor, but for a reason that we both forgot, Andrew and I stayed put and kept dancing next to the entrance. Finally, I made the first move, and when the CEO walked past us to leave, he patted Andrew on the back. At the end of the party, Andrew walked me towards my car, but we left separately. 

Since I had only just recently joined the company and still wanted to make a good impression I was worried that hooking up with a colleague would spoil my chances. However, our colleagues never asked about what had happened at the party, though at the time, we were sure they had seen us. In fact, the first day of work after the party, my manager indirectly let me know that she knew what was going on, but we assumed the rest of our colleagues thought it was a one-time party thing, so much so that after some time, one of my work mates even suggested setting Andrew up with a friend of hers. When I stared back in dismay and told her that I was seeing him, her jaw dropped in utter surprise, and she started calling everyone, breaking the news to them with the excitement of a child on Christmas morning.

Although I always hoped that the relationship would last, in the beginning I wasn’t sure. In fact, I kind of played hide and seek with Andrew because I thought he was the fling type.

Since then, we’ve both left Miller and moved to Re/Max together. This time, we’re not in the same office, nor do we belong to the same department, and though it’s good fun to share so much of our lives, we avoid talking about work and projects. 

Although we don’t have any concrete plans for the future, one thing is for sure: once we move in together, he’s doing the cooking!

Marthese Ellul, 38, and Kenneth Ellul, 42, have been married for 19 years. Marthese says their same jobs meant their first encounter happened at the annual hairdressers’ party.

At first we tried to keep it hidden from our colleagues, but... eventually, we had to come clean. We got quite a few mixed reactions

All in all we’ve been together 21 years. It was Christmas time when we met – a time when salon owners and their staff meet up at an annual hairdressers’ party. I was still a junior at the time so I went with my employer and other colleagues.

After drinking and dancing for hours, all the time in deadly heels, my feet were killing me and I was ready to just drop dead. In the meantime, Ken had been sitting on a stool by the bar, and one of my friends, who knew him, asked if we could borrow his seat. True to his nature, he offered his lap as an alternative even though, up until this point, I had only known him by sight.

After the party, we remained friends and met for coffee on several occasions. He asked me what I was up to every evening, but I was only 17 at the time, and had a great circle of friends with whom I met every night in Balzan. Ken, who at the time was already 21, preferred Paceville and could stay out much longer than my curfew permitted. One night, however, we bumped into each other in Paceville and since we were both alone, we hung out together. At the end, he gave me a lift home and he invited me on his boat the next day. It all took off from there.

At first we tried to keep it hidden from our colleagues, but we all worked in the same sector, so eventually, we had to come clean. We got quite a few mixed reactions. Funnily enough, the boys weren’t sure it was a good idea, and the girls were curious and wanted to know details.

I was a first-year hairdressing student at the time and had three years more to go. Ken, on the other hand, had already established himself, so after a year, I moved to work in his salon. We got married the following year, and I went on to complete my studies.

Today, I still work in the same salon, but Ken has moved into property development and design, so we don’t see each other as much as we used to during working hours. Now more than ever, we make sure to plan things that we both enjoy. In our case, we both love travelling and changing homes so, despite all the headaches that come with it, from time to time we do that; it gives us a sense of starting over. It’s absolutely essential that you make time for each other that has nothing to do with work. Allow space for leisure; it’s something all relationships need.


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