"Ours is a Strictly Professional Relationship." Does it sound like a Suspiciously Specific Denial? Very well might be.
These characters feel attracted to each other, but they don't want to pursue anything because they already have a professional relationship, and going down the path might complicate things. They can be business partners or colleagues, or there might be ethical issues involved. For instance doctor/patient or teacher/student relationships are prohibited or frowned upon.
The characters might try really hard not to start the love affair. There's probably a Will They or Won't They? element between the two characters. There are often countless instances of She's Not My Girlfriend or Everyone Can See It. The depth of their relationship is often comparable to Heterosexual Life-Partners and Platonic Life-Partners with strong and sincere bonds.
It's typical for more than one protagonist to work toward a goal or a mission, especially in detective stories. Adding a tickle of romance, not full-on groping in the copy room, is an ideal device to humanize characters that would otherwise be perceived as too cold in their ways. It's common to happen with partners in law enforcement because mutual trust is vital in their profession. Their one-on-one time on the job, they get to know each other very well, which especially sets them up to develop feelings for each other and they don't have the option of avoiding each other.
However, as the story develops and the plot thickens, the characters may reconsider their decision. Their desire gets really strong, and it may happen that Romance Ensues and your characters perhaps decide to have a Relationship Upgrade and they start an Office Romance. Romantic feelings and deep love often develop from trust and friendship.
Compare and often overlaps with Being Personal Isn't Professional. Also related to Just Friends, in which the characters decide that things are best kept platonic, though the writers may still tease the audience with the possibility of them becoming 'something more'. Contrast Mistaken for Romance.
Also compare with No Hugging, No Kissing. However, Strictly Professional Relationship is from the characters' perspective, not from the author's point of view.
Examples from media:
- Patlabor has two examples:
- Captain Gotoh nurses unrequited feelings for Captain Nagumo, who strictly maintains a working-class relationship between them.
- In the OVA series, Officers Noa and Asuma are only partners. But near the end of the Mobile Police/New Files continuity, they show signs of possibly becoming "more than friends"note .
- Batou and Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, although Everyone Can See It. The other members of Section 9 rib him for it in stand-alone complex (specifically, his overreaction to her apparently dying in the previous episode).
- In Fullmetal Alchemist, Roy Mustang and his direct subordinate Riza Hawkeye claim to have a Strictly Professional Relationship. Of course, Everyone Can See It. However, they knew each other long before either one joined the military, which has an anti-fraternization law. It's heavily implied that they'd like to have more than a professional relationship; Word of God has stated they would be married if they weren't military. As it is, sometimes they do slip a bit, but because of their commitment to making drastic changes to the country, they can't.
- Ghost Talkers Daydream: Kadotake has a one-sided crush on Misaki and knows it's not gonna change because she mainly sees him as a business contact from the Livelihood Preservation Group.
- Rune Soldier Louie averts and parodies the harem genre by having Louie join a travelling party of beautiful women, but makes it clear that there's no romantic feelings between them. To them, he's a means to an end since their group needs a magician, even if he's a lousy one. And Louie never develops any interest in any of them, either.
- Shimoneta: Ayame's feelings toward Tanukichi varies between the manga and anime adaptation. In the former, the attraction is one-sided from his end, as Ayame only thinks of him as a fellow SOX member and a friend, at best. The anime differs by giving them a moment of Ship Tease near the end of its 11th episode, but the series still ends with them only as friends.
- In the Totally Spies! fanfic Black and White, Sam does this in a platonic fashion with Alex, declaring them coworkers and nothing more, after her racist older brother convinces her Alex would be better off if she broke off their friendship. Alex is devastated and Clover is furious; Sam feels terrible but doesn't change her mind until Alex gets kidnapped by members of the Ku Klux Klan.
- In If You Believe, Tom is a first-time writer and Susan is an editor of his novel. They both feel attracted to each other but Susan tries to persuade herself that she doesn't want him romantically because of their friendly yet professional relationship. However, she's also afraid of commitment because her ex-husband was emotionally abusive.
- In A Few Good Men, LT Kaffee and LCDR Galloway clearly seem attracted to each other, but focus more on solving the case at hand than pursuing a relationship. Once the trial ends, they both go their separate ways.
- Ciaphas Cain mentions that at the end of his first assignment working with Colonel Kasteen, they exchanged a look that could have led to more than just friends, but neither pursues it because they don't want to deteriorate their working relationship. Besides, he prefers blondes. And more to the point, Amberley Vail would kill him.
- Invoked by Philip in The Americans. Philip is pretending to be an FBI Internal Affairs investigator and has convinced an FBI secretary to help him investigate the counter-intelligence division. The secretary is clearly attracted to him and he makes a big show of convincing her that he reciprocates her feelings. Until his investigation is concluded, they have to maintain a strictly professional relationship. However, Philip is actually a Soviet spy and has no romantic feelings for the secretary whatsoever.
- Bones: Dr. Temperance "Bones" Brennan, a brilliant scientist working in a medical-legal lab, and her partner FBI Agent Booth, though everyone can see that they should be together. People actually ask them why they aren't having sex. Changes as they eventually do get married.
- Castle: This is one of the roadblocks to the relationship of Detective Kate Beckett from New York Police Department and Rick Castle, a writer who is allowed to tag along in her investigations in order to gain inspiration for his new novels. They get together romantically in season 5, and eventually get married.
- ZigZagged on Friends with the Rachel and Tag story-line. Rachel is promoted and is supposed to hire an assistant. She chooses Tag despite the fact that he is not very suitable for the job in order to spend time with him. She then frets because she can't date him as she is his superior. She does all she can to prevent him from dating anybody else, such as telling him that all the women he flirts with are gay. She invites him as a friend for their Thanksgiving dinner and blabs that she likes him but tries to take it back and says that it's just physical and doesn't want to pursue this any further. Tag, however, likes her too, obviously, and they start a secret office romance.
- Lovejoy: Lovejoy and Lady Jane, business partners brought together by a love of antiques, teetered on the brink for a long, long, time but never really got there - they just about kept it platonic. Her successor in the role, Charlotte, did succumb, though.
- The cool-to-warm variant occurs on Remington Steele, starring Stephanie Zimbalist and Pierce Brosnan. When Laura Holt puts her detective skills on the market, she gets no takers. Laura then creates the fictional Remington Steele as her "boss". Soon a handsome fellow comes by and announces that he is, in fact, Remington Steele. Laura bristles at the idea at first. However, Steele soon proves intuitive and useful as a partner. A slow thaw pervades subsequent episodes.
- Frasier: Crane and Roz Doyle, who for ten long years failed to see the obvious. Even after they finally got it together, both were scared of destroying their friendship and never repeated the experience.
- Subverted in Golden Boy. It looks like a standard dynamic between partners, but Det. Tony Arroyo and his partner Det. Deb McKenzie are secretly dating from the beginning.
- How I Met Your Mother: Ted tries to win Stella, his dermatologist, and keeps asking her out. She insists that she doesn't reciprocate his feelings, and as a doctor, she can't date her patient.
- The Inspector Lynley Mysteries: Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley and his partner DS Barbara Havers. He's rich, titled, and went to Oxbridge. She's working-class, cranky, and went to Ealing Tech. At the start, she hates him and he's completely frustrated by her. Two seasons in, putting her life and her career on the line for him is nothing short of instinctive. Three seasons in, the only thing capable of keeping him from going in unarmed and unprotected to rescue her from being held hostage at gunpoint is a full tactical assault squad. By the final episode, they're each other's Not Love Interests to the fullest extent of the trope.
- Mr. Boynton and Miss Brooks on Our Miss Brooks. In fact, according to The Movie Grand Finale, when Mr. Boynton and Miss Brooks first met, it is Mr. Boynton's insistence that has the two on a strictly Last-Name Basis. It is noteworthy that Miss Brooks never sees her relationship with Mr. Boynton as strictly professional. Miss Brooks and Mr. Boyton finally marry at the end of The Movie.
- The Stargate franchise uses this multiple times for the current series' primary pairing.
- In Stargate SG-1, O'Neill and Carter have a thing for each other throughout most of the series but since both of them are in the USAF and she's his subordinate, they never act on it. It even becomes a plot point in one episode when there's a Manchurian Agent on the base and everyone has to make testimonies while being hooked up to a machine that shows if the user is hiding something, even unintentionally. O'Neill's testimony regarding a mission where he went against orders to not leave Carter behind triggers a positive response and he comes under suspicion of being the Manchurian Agent until he admits that he indeed hid something from his official report: he went back for her at least partly because "I care for her... a lot more than I'm supposed to." In several alternate universes, the two are in an actual relationship or even married, most of the time due to Carter not being in the military or O'Neill having retired, thus fraternization regs no longer being an issue.
- Stargate Atlantis has Sheppard and Weir, with the excuse that while not military, she's still his superior. On the other hand, she does go the extra mile to get him promoted from her unofficial second-in-command to official one.
- The X-Files: Agents Mulder and Scully. They start out purely professional but their relationship is very strong, with several sweet bonding moments when they assure each other of their trust and loyalty.
- Halo 3: ODST: Captain Dare was once in a relationship with Sergeant Buck, but broke it off because of her work with ONI. She intends to keep things professional when the two are put in the same unit again, but he's openly angry at her and she eventually starts letting her affection show through. Halo media set after ODST shows that they're back in a relationship again.
- Street Fighter Alpha plays the trope straight between Col. Guile and Chun Li, who's an agent for the Chinese branch of Interpol. The series has them conduct a joint investigation of Shadowloo, out of their mutual interest in bringing M. Bison to justice for professional reasons as well as their own personal vendettas against him.
- Suikoden V: Played for laughs during the bathhouse skit between Roog, Cius, Mathias, and Isato. Roog calls them together in an attempt to bond with them, believing they're in the same boat regarding the women each of them servesnote . Except the other guys tell him they have no such feelings toward any of their charges and serve them strictly out of professionalism, or civic duty. Which leaves Roog being the only who does!
- Xenoblade Chronicles X: Gwin joined BLADE because he nursed a crush on Irina, but his feelings are unrequited due to her bad history with men. So she only regards him and Marcus as valued subordinates at best. Which is good enough for Gwin.
- By the end of the Mass Effect series, damn near every member of Shepard's crew wants to get in his/her pants, including the aliens. But since only one love interest can be chosen, it ends up strictly professional with most of them. And if the player so chooses, all of them. It's especially obvious in the third game with Lieutenant James Vega, who is clearly attracted to a female Shepard but is not a romance option and stammers when she flirts with him.
- The Autobiography of Jane Eyre, a Setting Update Vlog Series modernizing Jane Eyre: Young tutor/nanny Jane has feelings for her older employer, E.D. Rochester. There were several electric moments in their interaction. In the episode "Cleaning House", she tries to check her enthusiasm about Mr. Rochester's upcoming return.