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You’re 25 years old and driving cross-country to start your new career with a large East Coast firm. You’ve never even been east of the Mississippi longer than a week at a time, and everyone you know from growing up, from college, from law school, will now be 3,000 miles away. You also know that your new firm is going to expect long hours in the office. Late nights. Weekends. You wonder whether you’ll have time for any social life for the first few years. Or ever. Then you remember that you don’t even know anyone with whom you’d socialize anyway. Bars and clubs were never your scene, and you never thought that a blind date was anything other than a disaster waiting to happen. Was this move the right decision? Your palms start to sweat against the steering wheel as you wonder how you’re ever going to find that wife to bring home to the parents. And you’re sweating because you know the cardinal rule: “Don’t mix business with pleasure.” You also know the rule by more colorful epithets, and you’ve never questioned it before. Until now. Where else are you likely to meet a mate, since you foresee the majority of your waking hours, at least those in the remaining prime of your youth, consumed at the office? You start thinking back on the wonderful days of college and law school, already taking on a sepia-toned hue of nostalgia, and wondering how you could have failed to realize that those years might have been your last best chance to find someone with whom to spend the rest of your life. Worst of all, you know that it’s among your very colleagues that you will be most likely to find the traits you find attractive. The intelligence. The inquisitiveness. The ability to give you back as good an argument as you can give. And of course, the second salary wouldn’t be bad either. But is that worth risking your own salary over? Knowing that the temptations will be great, you cannot help but repeat the word “restraint” to yourself over and over again. You might think your legal assistant is very attractive, and in college you certainly made a habit of asking out attractive women. But you know that’s out of the question now. Restraint. You might work side by side night after night preparing for a closing with another attorney, but this job isn’t going to be “L.A. Law,” and you know you’re not going to start dancing on the conference room table among littered pizza boxes and documents, then suddenly embrace. Restraint. You watched summer associates from branch offices converge for firmwide events last year, and afterward make drunken passes at each other. By the end of the summer, those tales had taken on the status of firm legend. It will be hard enough to become known in a large firm for the good things you will do, yet it will only take one ridiculous gaffe like that to forever taint your reputation. Restraint. So it’s going to be tough, but you know it’s absolutely necessary. You don’t want the aftermath of a personal relationship to interfere with the working relationship. You don’t want the embarrassment of a publicized entanglement. You don’t want the lawsuit that comes from harassing someone that will be working for you. And most of all, you want to keep your job. You pledge that it will be your new mantra: restraint. But what if…? What if you do meet that one attorney at the firm’s welcome reception for first years, and find yourself chatting with her more than necessary for mere cocktail party small talk? You’re not going to get lightheaded from the wine and ask her out. Restraint. But what if the next day you wake up remembering her smile, and decide to look her up in the directory, just to find out a bit more about her, and where she sits? You’re not going to run down there and start flirting. Restraint. But what if a few weeks pass, and you’ve enjoyed the few times you’ve run into each other in the pantry, each talking about, not simply complaining about, the work you’ve been doing in your separate departments? You’re not going to ask to be put on an assignment with her. Restraint. But what if circumstances have provided enough opportunities over the following months, that you’ve already learned about the kind of movie that makes her cry, and she’s read the first chapter of that novel you hope to finish someday? You’re not going to ask her to fly to Paris for the weekend with you. Restraint. But what if it reaches the point where your gut clenches whenever you see her? The point where when you’re talking to her, you don’t find yourself jumping in to finish her sentences, even though you could, because you want to hear her voice? The point where you begin to think that maybe this is that girl you might bring home to the parents? Would it be all right at that point to finally ask her out to dinner? You’ve practiced restraint at every step. You’ve turned off every reflex and flirtation that you honed throughout years of practice at school. But you find you cannot turn off your emotions around this one person, and you suddenly remember that there’s always an exception to every rule. Now with your heart in your throat, as you turn into your new apartment building’s parking lot, you think to yourself that maybe at that point, it would be all right. The next night, at a welcome reception, you find yourself talking with Rory, a young corporate associate, who then introduces you to a real estate associate named Lynne. It turns out they were just married to each other over the summer. You wonder if they’ll both stay with the firm. But then maybe that’s no longer the most important thing for them anymore. Charles R. Sheard is an associate at the New York office of Greenberg Traurig.

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