George Costanza called it the Worlds Collide theory. In a nutshell, it means that a man must keep his personal life (i.e., friends) separate from his relationship side (i.e., girlfriend). Should the two worlds come into contact with each other (by means of his girlfriend becoming friends with his friends), both worlds blow up.
(Or as George said, "If Relationship George walks through that door, he will kill Independent George! A George divided against itself, cannot stand!")
I personally practice this same theory when it comes to personal life/professional life divisions. For right or wrong, I have never been comfortable hanging out with co-workers and my significant other at the same time. First, my co-workers and I have an awful lot of in-jokes that are born of hours and hours spent together during stressful situations. I always feel like my husband would be bored or feel left out. Also, I don't think it's particularly advantageous for me for my co-workers or my boss to bear witness to any relationship dynamics I have with my husband, whether they're affectionate or problematic. Can I really maintain professional dignity if my husband refers to be as pookums? (And, no, to his credit and physical safety, he doesn't actually refer to me that way.)
I don't think you have to have multiple personality disorder to want to maintain one image in one environment and a different one in another. It's like when a guy's mom trots out all of his embarrassing baby pictures to show his latest love interest, basically maiming his strides in the romance department.
Here's an example of worlds colliding in a problematic way: Years ago, I worked for a guy who would inexplicably listen to his voice mail at a volume so loud people in the next building were getting his medical updates. One day, I could hear his wife just reaming him about leaving a box of cereal opened on the table at home. Her tone was so sarcastic and I was so embarrassed for him I wanted to run into his office and fling myself over the speaker to muffle it out.
Even though I bore no ill will toward him going forward for being criminally negligent with his Corn Flakes, which in his household seemed to be a jailable offense, I found that I was thereafter a little uncomfortable around him-mostly because he knew I knew about the call.
Of course, that's an extreme case. But I do think that blending the personal and professional can be wrought with risk. What are your thoughts?
Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.