Yup, I’ve had a work spouse. I thought of him as my work boyfriend, though, because I wasn’t married at the time and didn’t want my work relationship to be of a higher status than my real-life relationship. Thus are the mental acrobatics one must perform when in a work relationship.
You probably already know what work spouses or boy/girlfriends are all about, but they involve someone at work (of whatever gender you’re attracted to) with whom you have a really close but platonic relationship. The “platonic” part is important because it’s what distinguishes the work-spouse relationship from an actual affair.
I think the main reason this situation exists is the forced intimacy of the 9-to-5 work environment. Work is one of the most common places that people meet their closest friends and their eventual spouses, so perhaps it’s only natural that this strange friendship-relationship hybrid could also form in the workplace.
Also, anyone with a thick, solid line between their work and personal lives has probably experienced the strange compartmentalization that goes on with living what’s essentially two different lives. No matter how close you are with your significant other or close friends, if they don’t work with you, they’re missing out on a huge component of your life. Have you ever tried to explain something significant that happened at work to one of your non-work friends? They’re either bored to tears or don’t really understand what you’re talking about.
That’s where my work spouse came in. As I functioned within the office as a person mostly separate from my “regular life,” I seemed to settle easily into a work relationship. It has the same perks as a real-life relationship: companionship, support, flirting, attention, humor”¦ the list goes on.
My work spouse and I had a short but intense time together. He was a nerd, which is my type, but while he barely registered at first except as “new guy,” he quickly grew on me. We were on the same team at the office, and our work-related e-mails soon devolved into rapid-fire jokes and getting-to-know-you threads.
It wasn’t long before he was texting me from his commute saying he’d be late, or asking if I wanted him to pick me up a coffee. (I’d write back scolding him for texting while driving.) We started using the first person plural. “What are we doing for lunch?” “Are we going to that happy hour tonight?” We’d write notes to each other during meetings, or wordlessly communicate by exchanging glances across the conference room table. We’d go on coffee runs and take the long way back, finding other explanations for why we were doing so: he wanted to have time for a cigarette; our supervisor was driving us crazy; it was just so nice outside.
I started to recognize what we were doing, but I didn’t really want to stop. Occasionally, to make things less weird, I’d pull in my closest female work friend, to make it seem like we were a little gang of three. It worked for what mattered most to me: lowering the previously raised eyebrows of some of my coworkers. After all, both my work spouse and I had significant others. I was stuck in this weird moral gray area, because I didn’t want to be in a real relationship with him, but I wanted very much for the work relationship to keep going.
Then one day he asked me if I wanted to get a drink after work, just the two of us. He looked very serious and a little nervous. I knew we were going to have a Big Talk, I just didn’t know what kind. Was he going to say we needed to back off? Was he going to confess his love? Was he moving away? And which of those did I want?
It was the last one. He’d taken a job in a different city and was going to leave in less than a month. I felt a strong combination of devastation and relief. I also couldn’t argue with his decision; one of the reasons we’d become so close was that our office was pretty hectic, crazy, and volatile, and our mutual support and gallows humor helped us deal with it. As we talked about it over beers, I tried to be as supportive as possible. He told me he wanted me to get out of that office.
As usual, he dropped me off at the public transit stop after drinks. As usual, I pulled out my phone a few minutes later to start texting him. I stopped, staring at my phone. What was I going to write, anyway? And what was the point: he was leaving. I should have put my phone away, but I didn’t. I just texted him once: I’m going to miss you.
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