I’m a 30-year-old guy. It’s always been against my rules to date someone from the workplace, but I let a good friend and co-worker fix me up with a really nice woman who also works for our company. “Sally” and I went on several dates before I learned she’s married. The friend who set us up concealed this, knowing I’d never date a married woman. She justified it later, telling me Sally’s been in a loveless marriage for several years, kicked her husband out recently, and will probably get divorced. I really like Sally and think we could have a great relationship. Should I follow my head and distance myself from her — or could it somehow be OK to follow my heart and pursue a relationship?

— Set Up

There are a lot of fish in the sea. This is fantastic news for any man looking for a flounder or a halibut instead of a girlfriend. While there are, of course, many potential girlfriends on dry land, potential girlfriends who are ethical are sometimes about as easy to come by as barbecued crab legs and lobster bisque at a PETA potluck.

Sure, you can find those who are sort of ethical, or somewhat ethical, or ethical until the cashier gives them back a $50 instead of a $5. But, ethical-ethical? Happy hunting. Truly ethical people are a tiny group — one which does not number among its members the “really nice” married woman you’re trying to shoehorn past your better judgment, or the “friend” who sold you into emotional slavery with all the compassion of a playground drug dealer: “Hey, kid, the first bag is free!”

Now that you’re hooked, you’re tempted to “follow your heart.” Unfortunately, as a tool for reasoning, the heart’s right up there in effectiveness with the soap dish, your hormones, and the Twinkie. Ignorance in dating can be bliss — if your idea of bliss involves being chased around your company’s parking lot by a co-worker’s sobbing, pleading husband. Oh, but Sally has one of those famous loveless marriages. Yeah? Then what, exactly, seems to be keeping her from getting an equally loveless divorce?

Challenging as it must be to think with the head above your shoulders at this point, do try to remind yourself that your rule about dating married women hasn’t changed — even if she’s no longer just some married woman; she’s Sally. Yes, she is — the same Sally who sees no reason marriage should be an impediment to dating, providing she sucks her boyfriends in before they notice the white line on her wedding ring finger. Not exactly a résumé that suggests a bright future in the loving, trusting relationship business.

Rules aren’t meant to be broken; they’re meant to keep you from being broken — or from going broke. Financial ruin can seem like an attractive option when “endless love” with a co-worker becomes simply endless. Sure, you can dump the person — but that doesn’t mean you can stop seeing her; not unless you also leave your job or it leaves you. Add another broken rule to the mix — dating a married co-worker — and you could end up losing your job and your life all in one day! Just a guess, but if you’re looking to get into the “till death do us part” game, a double murder/suicide at the hands of a jealous husband in your company’s reception area probably isn’t what you have in mind.

Between a dock and a hard place

I’ve been with my boyfriend for a blissful year and a half. The Navy’s funding his education, so his post-college obligations involve being on a boat six months at a time for the next four to five years. We agree that’s no way to have a relationship, but there’s still a year until graduation. Should we break up now and save ourselves heartache later on?

— Impending Gloom

Why put off till next year what you could be doing right now, like feeling lonely, depressed and sexually frustrated? It would be great if you could micromanage heartache; maybe even schedule it into your Palm: “noon-1 p.m., Intro To Drama; 1-1:16 p.m., weep uncontrollably.” But affairs of the heart don’t run on the Mafia extortion model — pay today to avoid having your legs broken tomorrow. Sure, you can split up this afternoon and pretend you’re strangers when you pass in the halls, but as an anguish-reduction measure, it leaves much to be desired. The price of having love in your life is the possibility of heartache — now, 10 minutes from now, or when your boyfriend floats away for five years. If you don’t have the guts to have the best time you can while it lasts, break up now and do your best to have the worst time you can; ideally, with somebody too dull, grating, and sexually repellent to miss when he’s gone.