A Love Letter to My Work Spouse in the Time of Work from Home


A Love Letter to My Work Spouse in the Time of Work from Home

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

In one of the greatest The Office pranks in history, Dundler Mifflin employee and all- round cutie, Jim Halpert (the inimitable John Krasinski) tries tricking his idiosyncratic colleague Dwight Schrute into believing that the former possesses telekinetic powers. Sceptical as always, Dwight refuses to buy into Jim’s claim and instead asks him to prove his mind-control abilities in front of the whole office. He dares Jim to move a coat rack before giving the camera a knowing look, fully aware that he’s put Jim in a spot.

Except, a minute later, Jim succeeds in moving the coat rack located right behind Pam’s desk with just his mind.

Of course, Jim would have been in a spot without the contributions of his “work spouse”, Pam (Jenna Fischer). A few minutes later in the episode, we learn that it was actually Pam who’d helped move the coat rack with her umbrella – and it wasn’t even planned. This was the kind of teamwork that didn’t even need calculated plotting; it worked on the unspoken promise that one would have the other’s back when shit hit the roof.

Apart from being one of the finest couples in the history of modern TV, Jim and Pam are the kind of work spouses who give colleagues across the world #productivitygoals. Throughout the nine seasons of The Office, the duo — whose relationship transcended from being co-workers to husband and wife — have been the other’s punching bag, confidante, best friend, partner-in-crime, and saviour. Jim and Pam’s professional platonic pairing was their oasis in the face of work emergencies, challenges, and downright disasters.

The two share a conditional bond that exists only because of the constraints of office drudgery. The term “office wife” has been around since the 1930s, but its new-age currency in the cultural lexicon can be traced back about 30 years. In a 1987 Atlantic essay, David Owen first used the terms “work marriage”, “work wife”, and “work husband” to denote “close but platonic relationships that can exist between coworkers of the opposite sex”. These are characterised by “a close emotional bond, high levels of disclosure and support, and mutual trust, honesty, loyalty, and respect.” Basically, a work BFF.

Pop culture is rife with examples of the coolest work spouses. There’s the complicated yet endearing work marriage of Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy in 30 Rock that involved her using Jack’s swanky office as her personal problem-solving zone. The surprisingly thoughtful bond between Ron Swanson and Leslie Knope in Parks and Recreation, where his grumpiness balances her infectious energy. And then there is the unforgettable camaraderie between Walter White and Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad.

Having a work spouse meant having a safety net even when you’re comfortably sheltered; sort of like being gifted a colleague with endless benefits.

While most of my beloved TV characters stumbled upon their future work spouses by chance, I met mine during college, a few years before we shared an office roof. Despite being in close proximity during those months, our friendship wore a mask of measured distance. In college, we were close acquaintances at best and it wasn’t until I joined the workplace he called his own, that our friendship got its wings. We had finally found what we’d been missing all this while: common ground.

If you ask me now, I couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment when I knew he was the one. Maybe when he insisted that I stick with an idea that I came close to ditching because it had stopped making sense to me. Or when he covered up what could have been a work mishap without me having to ask him. All I knew was that I had a professional wingman bolstering every move of mine. Because of his constant presence, no situation could arise that I wasn’t suitably equipped to deal with. I easily fit into the new workplace as much because of its placid environment as for my friend’s thoughtful priming.

Within a few months – just after the alienness of a new workplace faded and right before the monotony of a work routine set in – he and I took our friendship to the next level.

Our conversations transitioned from small talk to divulging work secrets, fears, disappointments, and the rare success. Within no time, we developed eye-to-eye communication, and celebrated every new development by exchanging a flurry of urgent texts. As it turned out, there was no shortage of topics for us to opine over, laced with generous helpings of cheerleading and tough love.

Considering the deadline-laden stressful work environments that we have to manoeuver and the ready round-the-clock availability that modern jobs demand of us, I wondered how any of us even survive or excel without these professional fairy godmothers? Who’d be there to calm you down when you overthink the consequences of a cryptic mail or pad up your harebrained ideas? As I learnt, having a work spouse meant having a safety net even when you’re comfortably sheltered; sort of like being gifted a colleague with endless benefits.

A few months ago, shortly after my friend quit, it dawned on me that we’d shared something undefinable; it’s too intimate for us to be “just friends” and too practical for it to be anything more. But most importantly, our shared work woes had manufactured a friendship that might otherwise have never existed.

As his friend, now that he has a new job (and possibly a new work marriage), I can’t be anything but excited for him. But as a jilted work spouse, I wish he’d stuck to the damn “Until 7 pm do us part” promise.