I’ve had some great work husbands in my relatively short career, but they can be hard to find. I’m lucky to have a partner who also loves what he does, but when we come home at the end of the day, our work stories are like oil and water. I’d love to regale him with stories of the report I can’t get quite right because of a pesky outer join, but I’m afraid he’d be asleep before I even explained the project. The GQ author gets this: “Telling your real wife that story, or explaining why so much annoyance is embedded in a tiny moment in a meeting, requires such a tremendous amount of back story and preamble and small-beans exposition, it's futile.”
Work spouses are quick with snarky blackberry comments during meetings, and share inside jokes about failed projects or those quirky, but entertaining, students or faculty. One work husband escaped his office on the excuse my floor had the better tea selection, but those tea breaks allowed us to re-hash a meeting from earlier in the day and share insights we were not comfortable sharing around the conference table with a wider audience.
In institutions where coworkers are wary of each other, sussing out who can be a confidant can be as intimidating as being the new kid in school. Once, I picked out a work buddy because we lived in the same neighborhood and I liked her hairstyle. Besides compatibility, there is the hierarchy issue. Faculty/staff, union/non-union, some friendships are harder to forge, which does not mean they are any less rewarding.
Penelope Trunk recently wrote about finding a work spouse. I don’t agree with all of her points, but I do agree a work spouse needs to be someone nearby. I’ve got a few candidates, but none are within a few blocks of my office. I tend to find work husbands in the IT department. They often have more men than women, unlike most departments at the university, and they already have access to everyone’s data, so I know I can trust them to be confidential. An added bonus is I can pick up anecdotal information about new browsers or applications.
When I mentioned this post to my real-life partner, he bristled at the word "husband." Why husband and not friend? He’s right - good work colleagues who are also close friends are another meaningful relationship. Regardless of the pop culture term, work buddies are an integral part of office culture, even in the hallowed halls of higher education.
Do you have an office spouse?
New Haven, Connecticut in the USA
Heather Alderfer is an Associate Registrar at the Yale Law School and a founding member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.