According to good ol' Wikipedia, a "work spouse" refers to a co-worker, usually of the opposite sex, with whom one shares a special relationship, having bonds similar to those of a marriage. A "work spouse" is also referred to as a "work wife" or a "work husband".
The part of that description that raises my brow to Raven Symoné-esque heights is the "bonds similar to those of a marriage" part. In theory - I get it. A 'work wife' or 'work husband' is someone that you form a particular bond with, apart from the ones you have with your other colleagues. You share meals, one on one conversations, inside jokes, lunch/smoke breaks, shady side glances during staff meetings, etc. Fair enough... Seems legit.
At what point though, does the "work spouse" interaction become inappropriate for someone who is, say, part of a married couple, or in a serious committed relationship? Where does that line get drawn, and should we really be encouraging normalization of the "work spouse" relationship?
I happen to work in an environment that is predominantly female, and so the potential for "work spouse" relationships is pretty limited. I have, however, witnessed some interactions between male and female colleagues (both in their respective committed relationships outside of work) that would suggest such an office bond. I'm talking long and deep conversations behind closed office doors, frequent after-work social gatherings, text message exchanges outside of office hours, etc. Now granted, none of these actions imply any sort of sexual connection/feelings or overt flirtation. It's just fascinating to see people become so latched onto a work colleague, especially when they have a significant other(S.O.) in their lives.
Even though I have no general interest in office gossip or relationships, I do sometimes catch myself wondering if the respective partners of these colleagues are aware of these close office bonds, and whether or not said partners would have any reason to take issue with these bonds. I question if it's OK for a committed partner to discuss personal information with colleagues of the opposite sex (or perhaps the same sex, if you belong to the LGBTQ community), to lean on an 'office spouse' for emotional/personal support, to go out for drinks/meals one on one, and to basically behave as a 'couple' at work... minus the PDA and such.
You may recall that in a previous blog post, I discussed the different types of chemistry we can experience as humans. And because of this, I'm inclined to believe that in some instances, a strong office bond of that nature can sometimes arise, and can be harmless. But, as I'm sure we all know, emotional waters can become murky very quickly when we spill our guts out to someone; and what once was a strictly platonic friendship can all of a sudden start feeling like something else. And feelings can lead to actions... and then, all of a sudden: Oops...
This is why, when it comes to inter-office bonding, the following set of unwritten set of rules should probably be in place for people in committed, monogamous relationships:
- No calling or texting each other after work hours, unless it's a work-related emergency OR unless the intent is to invite your colleague and their S.O. to an event.
- After-work/happy hour type gatherings should only occur in uneven numbers (i.e. groups of 3 or 5, or more). The judging glares and drunken belligerence of a squeaky third or fifth wheel could save your marriage!
- Limit non-work discussions to general topics like: the weather, vacation plans, current events, and hobbies (unless your only hobby is sex; if so - forget hobbies!). Avoid relationship-talk altogether, even if you and your S.O. are going through a rough patch. ESPECIALLY when you and your S.O. are going through a rough patch!
- Don't use nicknames or 'pet' names for each other. Terms like "baby", "bae", "hun", "wifey", "sweetie", or "hubby" should not be in your vocab when referring to a work colleague.
- Keep physical contact to a professional or platonic standard. Shoulder rubbing? 'Not so accidental' taps on the butt/lower back? Footsies? Not OK. High-fives? Fist bumps? Thumb wars? The "Kid & Play"? Completely appropriate.
Fortunately (or unfortunately) for me, I tend to limit my personal interactions with co-workers to almost a 'need-to-know' basis. I can only involve myself in but so many people's personal lives in general. So, often, when it comes down to fostering deep connections with my office-mates, my emotional walls tend to remain pretty high, and I'm basically this guy:
It helps when you make statements like that with a genuine smile. Less ass-holey.
Nonetheless, I can see why the whole 'office spouse' concept exists. Nowadays, many of us tend to work in environments that require frequent interaction with colleagues. We often work long, extended hours... so in theory, on the average day, more time is spent with our work colleagues than with our S.O.s. Plus - most of us feel like the bond of a special office friendship makes work not so miserable. That, I get.
I just don't particularly see the need, nor the upside, to latching onto a work partner to the point where you basically become dependent on their presence to get you through life, or through the work day.