scorecardMy husband and I started dating at work. It never negatively impacted our professional lives.
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My husband and I started dating at work. It never negatively impacted our professional lives.

Melissa Petro   

My husband and I started dating at work. It never negatively impacted our professional lives.
Careers4 min read
  • Kimberly Gallina met her husband, Jim, at a school in Queens where she was a student teacher.
  • They prioritized maintaining professional boundaries at work while nurturing their relationship.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Kimberly Gallina, a 35-year-old high school teacher in Peekskill, New York. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

I was student teaching sixth-grade English in Jamaica, Queens when I met Jim. He was a first-year teacher, too.

Before teaching eighth-grade biology, Jim worked in the restaurant industry for 10 years, at a tire shop, on a boat, and even a short stint as a flight attendant. I loved Jim's positivity. He had a nice laugh.

I was offered a permanent job for the following year, and on my first day, I went in early to set up my classroom. Jim's classroom was right next to mine.

He helped me set up my Smartboard and hang bulletin board paper, and I helped him with the borders on his. I felt a connection, a butterfly-type feeling, but couldn't tell if he felt the same.

I couldn't tell if Jim liked me as a coworker, or something more

As the year went on, Jim and I would greet our students at our classroom door every morning and chat afterward. Our conversations turned from complaining, work-life balance, and lesson plans to Jim asking me what I was doing on the weekends.

I still felt like he was being friendly in a platonic way. Then I had to take a sick day, and he called me on the phone to see if I was OK. I realized then that he thought of me as more than just a coworker.

He started calling me on the phone often to tell me things other people would typically just text. About three months into the school year, Jim asked me out. I was so nervous that I slept at my friend's house the night before, and she helped me get ready for the date.

Jim and I went to lunch and rode bikes on the Long Beach boardwalk. Lunch turned into dinner. He took me grocery shopping for shrimp taco ingredients. We went back to his apartment, and he cooked for me. Dinner led to dessert, and we went out for cake. We were an item from then on.

I knew I was interested in pursuing the relationship, but I was hesitant to make it official because I was a new teacher and didn't want any judgment from coworkers and my principal.

It wasn't long before the students caught on

After our first date, Jim left me little treats on my desk — a fruit leather from Trader Joe's, dark chocolate, or seltzer (all my favorite things). I got so mad at first, thinking people would catch on. We kept our private life at home and, at school, we kept it strictly professional.

Even though there were no policies against coworkers dating — and there was even another couple at our school, and I knew my principal was OK with them — I was terrified of people knowing. I didn't want to jeopardize my job. Jim was less afraid of people finding out, but I wanted to be certain that he was "the one" before we went public.

I remember the first student who caught on. Every day during his lunch, Jim would pop into my classroom and ask for a spoon for his yogurt. One day one of my students looked at me with side eye and said "Miss, you know he doesn't need a spoon, right?" I blushed because I knew he was correct.

By the spring, people started to figure it out and we decided to tell our administration before they found out on their own. When we finally told them, our principal joked that she was a matchmaker.

Our relationship never negatively affected our jobs — if anything, it made us better teachers. Jim doesn't struggle with overthinking or anxiety as much as I do, but I was so afraid to mess up or seem unprofessional that I worked harder.

It was important to us to keep work-life separate

When we first moved in together, we rented an apartment by the beach an hour away from our school. We made a rule that we could only talk about school during our commute.

Teaching can be all-consuming — you can work until midnight and never be done — and Jim and I wanted our home and work lives to be separate. When we got home from work, we'd go for a walk on the beach to reset.

At school, we hardly talked about personal things. We would sometimes eat lunch together if something important came up.

Working with my partner was wonderful — but it couldn't last forever

We lived together for two years before Jim proposed in Montauk during spring break. The following year, we got married, and a year after that, we got pregnant with our first child.

I worked a pregnancy announcement into my lesson plan, an inference activity: I wore a shirt that said "This will be the best year yet" with arrows pointing to my belly. I asked students to make an inference based on clues from the shirt.

I found a new teaching job at a school closer to home. During my interview, I mentioned that Jim was also looking for a job and they needed a science teacher, so they hired us both. We worked together for another two years.

When the pandemic hit, we had twins, and I realized pretty quickly that when it came to childcare, having two teachers as parents of three kids was untenable.

Jim left teaching and took a more flexible job working for my dad's auto engineering distribution company. Now he's less stressed, and I'm happy to have a more carefree husband.

I miss commuting with him, though. With three kids, those few hours in the car together were our time.

Teachers sometimes refer to dating each other as being 'recreationally responsible' because we have the same time off to have fun, travel, and live life together. It really is the best experience.