Sixty-five percent of people in the white-collar world have workplace spouses. Jacqueline Olds, professor of psychiatry at Harvard, explains that because we spend so much time in the office, “these relationships can be critical to succeeding in today’s work environment.” CNN published a piece singing the praises of the workplace spouse, as “a wonderful support system among co-workers and makes a more productive worker.”

Like all other life-saving, confidence-bolstering types of relationships, workplace spouse relationships are more common among the more highly paid. This is why I should have a workplace spouse.

Plus, I'm lonely on the farm. The problem with being lonely on the farm is not that I can't find someone to cheat with. I'm a resourceful girl. The problem is that I wouldn't cheat because I'd end up trying to keep it a secret and then I'd tell the farmer and then he'd hate me even more than he probably hates me right now.

It's not that he hates me, actually. It's that he's sick of talking to me. He would like me to be more low maintenance. He does not want to talk and for sure is sick of me crying. So I am trying to stay away from him now.

The last time I announced to Jeanenne that I'm giving the farmer the silent treatment, the farmer walked up to Jeanenne three days later and said to her that he really appreciates how much she does for me, that things are much better at home because of her help.

This is why I know I need a workplace spouse. I need someone who wants to talk to me.

A Captivate Network Office Pulse Survey shows that most workplace spouse relationships are based on talking, not sex. This is particularly good for me because the farmer would like a relationship based on sex, not talking. He won't say that, of course. But that's part of the problem, right?

Also when workplace spouse relationships do cross the line into the sex department, the relationship goes bad. This is a safety net in my mind. Also, it means a workplace spouse relationship that is working can still get very intimate, and there is no chance of it encroaching on the sex department of the marriage.

You might say this is a cry for help. But it's not. I already got my help. So, this is career advice for you: How to get a workplace spouse to fill in the gaps in your marriage.

1. Identify a relationship with a high chance for success.
I started talking about sex with my editor at BNET. This was not hard. I've known him for a long time. He edited me when I wrote at Business 2.0 about ten years ago and then he fired me. I always get along well with men who fire me. Because they remind me of my father.

Also, I had never met him in person, and I always imagined him as kind of a nebbish, but then I met him in San Francisco, and he was actually pretty cute – which is important in a work spouse. Another thing that is important is propinquity — we are more likely to forge a close bond with someone we see a lot: A strike against those who work offsite.

2. Talk about a taboo topic.
Once a girl starts talking about sex, then the boy starts talking about sex. This is a social rule, I think. So Paul—I'll use his name, so what? We're not having sex so I can out him—Paul says, about one of my columns I wrote for him, “Get to the point faster. It’s like having so much foreplay that the sex is ruined.”

And I said, “You must suck in bed.”

This was when I knew he wanted to be my workplace spouse, because he tried to convince me that he does not suck in bed.

3. Blur the normal boundaries between co-workers.
Most workplace spouses are very different than one's real spouse. Paul is very touchy-feely.

For example, I said, “The editing is making my workflow constipated. Just post it without editing. I'm sick of the back and forth.”

He said, “But I thought you liked to be edited. I'm on your team. I'm just trying to make things better.”

So sweet. Really. If the farmer responded to me like that, with sweet, neediness, I would fall over.

Then I tried to reel him in. I tried to mess up some unspoken boundaries.

So I wrote a piece about how no one should care about typos. If you've read my blog for a while, you know I live by this rule. There's a typo in every post I run on this blog, and that's because it would cost about $100 a post to have someone proofread a post right before publication. (Please, don't email me to say you'll do it for free. I never write in advance, so you would have to be available at any time I want to post. And you wouldn't be.)

Anyway, Paul wrote to me:

“For the record, I think this column is dopey. When someone submits typo-laden pieces that I need to fix it’s just sorta insulting. It says to me: Paul’s not worth my time. And when I read pieces on the web or anywhere that are packed with errors, I distrust the writer; cred goes away. It indicates to the reader that you’re likely a sloppy thinker. In fact, I now recall that there have been several studies that show precisely this — that readers don’t put weight in content on the web that’s sloppy. And on a resume, it’s just inexcusable. You have time. You have spell check. You can ask a friend. You can read it backwards, which is the best way to catch spelling errors. If the job requires attention to detail, I would expect any resume with a typo to go directly to the trash bin. On Twitter, sure. Text? Email? No problem.”

I told him he was wrong, but that he could write a rebuttal at the end of my post.

He did. Victory. Another step into blurred boundaries.

4. Ask for what you want.
Then I was direct. I know you are not supposed to be direct when you are courting someone, but I thought a workplace spouse would be different.

Me: “What are you doing right now. Do you Skype? Will you Skype me? I think I need to cultivate a workplace spouse, and since I'm on the farm, you’re my best bet.”

Him: “Yes, I Skype. But I need to work now, sadly.”

Me: “I'm so annoyed that you have to work all the time. This is why I think I would be a good workplace spouse for you. It's almost like a real spouse bitching that you work too much.”

5. Find a good balance between the official relationship and the unofficial relationship. (This is hard.)
Then I said, “Hi, it's me again. You know the post I wrote about how your invoicing system stinks? Since you don't want me to publish it on BNET, can I publish it on my blog?”

Him: “We don't want you to publish it.”

Me: “Okay. I'm cancelling our workplace spouse relationship so that I can argue. How about if you pay a kill fee?”

Silence.

Then me: “I know that sounded like extortion. I didn't mean that. I mean, I won't publish it even if you don't pay a kill fee. I just hate to waste a post.”

More silence.

The research says that 13% of people have crossed the line and done something they regret with their workplace spouse. Does extortion count? Or sort of posting the post he told me not to post? (Note: I did leave out the juiciest, most offensive stuff, like where the accounting person jumps to his death due to the invoicing system.)

84 replies
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  1. Theodoros
    Theodoros says:

    Penelope, I thought you should ask Paul’s approval before mentioning him in your post. After all those things you wrote, I wouldn’t be surprised if Paul fired you – and if the Farmer (what a patient man he must be) kicked you out of the farm.

  2. kara
    kara says:

    The only reason you wrote this post is because Paul stopped talking to you, and this is your attempt to get a response from him. It’s like link bait. Here’s to hoping he responds.

    • J
      J says:

      @kara that’s exactly what I thought, which Is why I came to check the comments instead of just reading the post in my email.
      I hope Paul responds too, although I would say it does seems (forgive me if I’m wrong) as though you are purposely crossing the line as some sort of test. A test of the relationship? A test of the boundaries? Not just with Paul but maybe with the farmer too?

  3. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    Wow. Okay. Kara: Update. I heard from him. I should change that last line. I mean, I didn’t hear from him for like a day. Also, Theodoros, it stuns me that you think I’d publish Paul’s email to me without asking him first. Of course he saw this post and said it was ok.

    Penleope

  4. Izzy
    Izzy says:

    I have a workplace spouse of sorts. He used to work in the same but now we only email. For me he’s my “male point of view” barometer on stuff between my husband and I. We talk about sex or lack thereof in our marriages but we don’t flirt. We haven’t crossed that line, but I consider he my “guy buddy”. I have always had a guy in my life like this other than my romantic partner and I think it’s healthy. Just because I’m involved in a romantic relationship doesn’t mean I can’t have friends of the opposite sex. However when you cross that line and sex gets into it I think you are correct in stating that the relationship can go south very quickly. Because those kinds of things in the workplace are tricky, it’s probably better to avoid them and keep your good buddy instead. On another note, I hope you and the Farmer can work out your relationship. This must be a huge transition for both of you and from your writing, I bet you can be an exciting person to live with. He sounds more like the slow and methodical type, totally opposite to what you portray. Good luck with that!!

  5. dl
    dl says:

    Paul sounds like a very professional and classy guy.

    He says “We don’t want you to publish it.” And when Penelope appears to threaten him, he simply remains silent.

    Sometimes no words say so much more than lots of words.

  6. Jens Fiederer
    Jens Fiederer says:

    We have only one woman in our office, so my prospects are poor (she brings in delicious baked goods, though).

    One of my employees might have had one….during the summer, about once a week, our team would walk about a mile to the nearest ice cream store, and she’d come along. She was married, but was very chummy with Dan. Years after I left I connected with Dan on Facebook and found out she is now his RL wife.

    I tend to confuse “propinquity” and “concupiscence” for some reason, maybe because they are both a bit obscure and have “p” and “c” (q) sounds.

  7. Brad
    Brad says:

    If you’re married and want to stay that way, you don’t want a workplace spouse, especially if your real spouse is unaware. If you’re having secret and intimate discussions with a “friend” of the opposite sex, you are undermining your marriage.

    • Kara
      Kara says:

      I think the key factor is “if your spouse is unaware.” I became friends with one of my coworkers (his wife and I also became friends; I went on later to teach their daughter). People at work used to joke with us saying he was my work husband. That’s only because our classrooms were beside each other and we had similar senses of humor and teaching philosophies. There was absolutely no talk of sex or even a hint of flirting but neither of us is that type of person so it was a nonissue. We were professional friends. My husband knows and loves this “work husband.” While some people really push those boundaries and do have “emotional affairs,” some of use never even skirt that line. It’s just nice to have someone looking out for you at work, that’s all. Sometimes that person is of the opposite sex.

  8. Jens Fiederer
    Jens Fiederer says:

    Real spouses aren’t very aware of what goes on at work.
    Back when I worked at a company that actually had TWO women, my wife somewhat suspected me of having an affair with one because I worked late quite often (she didn’t realize the the woman involved did NOT work late).

    Although she kept quiet about her suspicions while I worked there, after I changed jobs her curiosity got the better of her and she asked. When I told her no (and that I found the thought amusing), she said “Well, it would have been OK…she’s ATTRACTIVE.”

  9. Kristin
    Kristin says:

    I have to agree with Brad. A workplace spouse might help the individual, but it does not help the marriage. This type of relationship is very threatening and hurtful to your partner.
    I think as women, we typically have control over the sexual parts of the relationship (it is more or less assumed that most men will sleep with a semi-attractive woman, if approached), so we feel empowered. If our husbands were the workplace spouse for a female coworker, I’m not sure if we would appreciate it so much.

  10. chris Keller
    chris Keller says:

    Sorry. I cannot go for this on any level, for any reason. I see a tiny bit of it at my workplace. I have to keep reassuring myself “Never mind. You can see it is innocent . . . ” but I also feel that I protest too much and that betrays the uneasiness it causes in me and in others, too, I’m guessing.

    If two people at work are both passionate, working hard on a particular issue or project, they have a common interest. Slippery slope for them personally, I believe.

    If you add to this that you are lonely in your marriage or that your home is not homey for you . . . Double impending trouble.

    Last, Penelope, I am uneasy with the tone of game-playing in your post. The negotiations and conversations that you say could be construed as extortion. . . . . They DO sound manipulative!

    If you long for more conversation, as I do in my own marriage, write an extra blog or two per week. Heaven knows how many people will write back to you!!!! You have a ton of fans, and all of them are smart and insightful. Also, speaking as a former English teacher, find a book with a lot of dialog in it, and put yourself into those conversations . . . (I’m only half-kidding).

    Last, I think you meant this post to be provocative. Many of your posts have been provocative and when the brough-ha-ha dies down after a particularly provocative post, you must feel as if you yourself are a hard act to follow—and what can you possibly write that is even more provocative . . . . ?

    I submit that you can take it down a thousand instead of taking it up a thousand. As in, steep yourself in the boredom of the farm and the steadiness of the farmer. Meditate. Plan something/do something childlike with your kids. Minimal stim is okay (“minimal stim” is a term from the NICU where the preemies need a quiet environment with minimal sleep interruptions).

  11. Alanna
    Alanna says:

    I get people on twitter to edit my blog posts. I have 3500 followers, so someone is always awake and willing to edit for free. It does mean that random strangers end up editing me, but their insight is very interesting.

  12. Liza
    Liza says:

    Maybe you should just sit down with your husband and try to figure things out instead of trying to run away from the problems.

    And I also think you need to find female friends to confide in so that you can give the farmer the space he needs. IF you do that, then he might be more willing to talk with you – because you won’t appear to be so needy. The quiet seclusion of the farm could also be getting to you, which is probably why you are so needy to talk with him. You could adjust eventually, but it could take time – I would talk with the farmer about this.

    Emotional affairs end marriages. Dubbing them ‘workplace spouses’ is an insult to everyone.

  13. Kerry
    Kerry says:

    Geez. People are hard on you.

    Change the word “spouse” to “friend” and you’re fine. Because I’m pretty sure I know what you’re talking about, and it’s really a friendship…just in the workplace. You may not be recognizing it as such because of the Asperger’s (I mean that as inoffensively as possible, although it probably won’t sound that way).

    I’m sorry things are so sucky with the farmer. I hope they improve. One thing I’ve learned is that everything is worse at the holidays, because the in-laws are around more (or not around, which can be its own problem).

    • jshubbub
      jshubbub says:

      You are correct that if you change “spouse” to “friend” everything is fine. Of course, there is an order of magnitude of difference between both the words “spouse” and “friend” and the relationships they connote.

      You’re stating the obvious here, but I’m not sure you understand the difference yourself.

      • Kerry
        Kerry says:

        I understand the difference between a spouse and a friend.

        Clearly, this isn’t a real spouse she’s talking about. It’s a friend. But “How to Get a Workplace Friend” isn’t a very catchy blog post title…and unfortunately, not everyone has strong reading comprehension skills.

  14. Geli
    Geli says:

    I agree with Kerry! I have a workplace “spouse”, “friend” or whatever you want to call it – but never in a million years do I want to discuss sex with him let alone have it. We work great together, complement each other and know where to take over where weak points arise.
    Having a good working relationship however, translates to NEVER crossing the line. The minute you do, it’s over!

  15. Lisa C
    Lisa C says:

    I had a workplace spouse once – we were intellectual soulmates. Our exchanges were exciting, challenging and produced meaningful solutions for our employer. In the end, it was an emotional affair. It ended with pain and only the company reaped lasting benefits.
    I have also had great assistants and junior staff who fulfilled many of the same needs. They have been long-term relationships and eventually friendships. Same sex, by the way.
    Consider that this ‘spouse’ doesn’t need to be a man to provide all the levels of interaction you seek. Unless you also want to tick off The Farmer.

  16. KateNonymous
    KateNonymous says:

    It sounds like workplace “spouse” relationships generally don’t involve sex, but then you keep bringing sex into it. Are you sure you got the point?

  17. NHManager
    NHManager says:

    It is a very bad idea to talk about sex with people who are of a gender that you would engage in sex with if you are already in a committed intimate relationship.

    Unless you are polyamorous, this constitutes an emotional affair.

    Intimate work relationships are unavoidable and often healthy and productive, but what is described in this post is just gross.

    • Jens Fiederer
      Jens Fiederer says:

      Oh, for goodness sakes, I guess it depends whether most of the people you hang out with are monks. Although I agree that it usually is avoided in the workplace these days, sex is discussed all the time, frequently in mixed company during leisure hours.

      I remember once my wife was a bit irritated that a female friend of mine had taken me to Victoria’s Secret to get my opinion on some items she wanted to buy. I explained that she thought of me pretty much as though I were a girl friend, and she was skeptical. The next week my wife listened in on a pub conversation the friend was having with me (something of a menstrual nature) and immediately apologized and admitted I was correct.

  18. Pam
    Pam says:

    My husband and I both have workplace spouses, though never thought to call them such. My husband always finds women more interesting to talk with than men. We are both very trusting and faithful and share anecdotes from the workplace every day.
    What I’m more worried about is your loneliness out on the farm. That is a huge problem for me – no one to talk to but family, no one comes to visit, too many animals, too far to drive to get milk.

  19. jshubbub
    jshubbub says:

    I have long suspected, Penelope, that a good deal of the advice you offer is based on the assumption that men have misbehaved at work for decades and yet been consistently successful. Their success despite their bad behavior seems to be a recurring theme for you. Rather than deploring the state of things, you conclude that what women should do is exploit it–personal costs be damned. I’m skeptical about such a conclusion to put it mildly. Many times, it seems your attitude is that women should be allowed (if not expected) to engage in similar behavior in order to further their own ends without recognizing that the current dysfunction in corporate America is in many ways a direct result of that behavior.

    The fact is that such conduct is ill-advised no matter which sex is engaging in it. You make conditions better and more equitable by serving as an example of good professional behavior most especially when you reach a position of authority. Even if you never change a single thing about American corporate culture, at least you can look at yourself in the mirror every day without hating the person you see there. Granted, you would most likely not have the readership you currently enjoy if you were dispensing such pedestrian advice. People love a good train wreck. Judging by many of your commenters, some people love them so much they want to be on the train.

    I have greatly admired many of your blog posts. You can be incredibly brave at times. It’s probably worth pointing out, however, that the line between bravery and foolishness is often painfully thin. I suspect you have a great deal of difficulty discerning that line.

    It has become clear to me over the months I have been reading your blog that your North Star in both business and personal relationships is little more than boundless narcissism that cannot be explained away by Asperger’s. I wish you the best, Penelope. I sincerely hope that you find healthy, supportive relationships and live a gratifying life. Your obvious yearning for love and acceptance evokes in me tremendous empathy, but your consistency in demolishing any opportunity to find those things is heartbreaking. This latest post in which you pine for someone outside your marriage who can provide what you lack in your marriage is only the most recent example. I can no longer watch in good conscience. I beg of you, please use your amazing resourcefulness to find real help. You need it, and those who care for you need to tell you so. If they are telling you so you need to listen.

    • KateNonymous
      KateNonymous says:

      As do I. The occasional one, eh, we’re all human. Too many, though, and they get in the way of your message.

    • CostumeLady
      CostumeLady says:

      Got to agree about the typos. Sloppy writing = sloppy thinking. My favorite was when a colleague in Marketing wanted to talk about “feature parity” between two products and instead wrote “feature parody.” (Don’t get me started on the nasty American habit of pronouncing the letter “t” as “d” and the differences between passive and active vocabulary. 8^)
      Proffessionally, I write in English but what I produce is used by a technical audience, some of whom are in India and Eastern Europe. My experience shows that every single time I leave any ambiguity, it raises questions and costs time. Sometimes it’s a question of clarifying facts, but other times simply misplacing a comma causes issues. In the business world you can’t afford this type of easily corrected mistakes.

  20. Mike
    Mike says:

    This post and all the comments show one thing. Nobody is exactly like anybody else. Everyone has their own version of normal. There are 6 billion people on this planet and 6 billion versions of normal to go with them.

  21. d-day
    d-day says:

    I really enjoy having a work spouse. My husband doesn’t care about a lot of the stuff I love: work stuff, gossip, family stuff, and politics. WS and I hash that all out in gory detail, plus it’s nice to have a reliable lunch buddy. Eating alone every day sucks. I keep it all on the up-and-up by telling my husband “this is what I talked about today with X – do you care?” and he ALWAYS says “NO. Thank you for sparing me.” It’s fine. I make an effort to talk to his wife (mostly giving her tech support). Everyone’s happy. Everyone wins. Plus, I made a new friend in my husband’s work wife – which is nice, because he gravitates towards work wives that share my interests, so I can get new friends pre-screened. I don’t make friends easily, so it works out a lot better than randomly friending the wives of my husband’s friends.

  22. Sara
    Sara says:

    Having worked the vast majority of my career in male dominated fields – I am quite familiar with male friends – some of those friends were even quite close, although I would never in a million years call them my work spouse. The ONLY way a male-female friendship can truly work without torpedoing a healthy marriage (let alone a troubled one!) is if sex is off the table, period. You’ve already broken rule number one. If the farmer isn’t much of a talker and you crave chatting-great. Even if the person you’re chatting with happens to be a man, I don’t think that’s an issue. Some people relate better to men, I know I do. I treat all men other than my husband exactly like I would treat my brother, and as long as they treat me like a sister – great. The second the line is crossed – and yes that line is spelled SEX, continuing the relationship is unfair to your husband. This story shouts of blatant manipulation. The whole paragraph about Paul wanting to convince you that he doesn’t suck in bed. Hello throwing other men in the farmer’s face is not going to help your marriage.

  23. Mike
    Mike says:

    Almost all of the discussion here depends on one’s definition of a work spouse. Mine is simple: someone at work with whom you discuss things that you would not discuss if home spouse was sitting with you. Not a healthy thing.

    But I’m pretty sure P would talk sex with anyone regardless of whether the farmer was there, so she’s absolved.

  24. C
    C says:

    Big fan, Penelope. I’m not sure what to make of this post. Some of it I understand, but in other places I’m utterly confused (I have a hard time negotiating relationships, period.)

    What I find especially confusing is how this qualifies as career advice? How does having a work spouse help one’s career? I can see how it helps fill the gaps in one’s marriage/personal relationship (and couldn’t care less if people choose to seek that kind of thing out), but it seems like it only complicates things at work. If someone is disatisfied in their marriage/relationship, I think having an affair – emotional or otherwise – with someone completely outside their usual sphere would make the most sense. Less chance of backlash when things go sour and all that. Of course, there is the matter of proximity, since we spend most of our time at work and are most likely to “blur the lines” with people closest to us… Maybe finding a suitable gap-filler outside the office requires too much time and effort?

    Anyway, I’m interested in hearing more on how this helps one’s career.

  25. Thomas
    Thomas says:

    My initial thought on reading Penelope’s post was “oh, no, not again!” But then I remembered the several conversations my wife and I have had regarding Penelope, her business, and her posts. I have not had the privledge of meeting her (my wife has), so my take on this is purely speculative.

    I think Penelope is witty, charming, insightful (sometimes), challenging (often), and provocative. She also has an infectious smile that may help her get away with much of it.

    I also think she knows all this and uses it to her advantage. She is, after all, a major asset of Brazen Careerist (“Chief Evangelist”!) and THE asset of penelopetrunk.com. What both those organizations need is site traffic and Penelope delivers! You’re here, aren’t you?

    I think we get selective “truths” that make for a good post. They are entertaining and they even make you think (not a lot of things out there do both). I think it’s great. She’s doing a fantastic job of … doing her job.

    Thank you, Penelope.

  26. Virginia
    Virginia says:

    This phrase says a lot –

    “So sweet. Really. If the farmer responded to me like that, with sweet, neediness, I would fall over.”

    You are definitely an Aspie! The guy is patronizing you, and you read it as if he is being kind.

    Entretaining post. You should try to get a reality tv show. For real.

  27. contrarian
    contrarian says:

    This is great! As a matter of fact, I strongly suggest stepping it up a notch, and start sleeping with your secretary! I highly recommend it! It’s great for me, and it provides job security for her (she likes it too). It breaks up the monotony of the day and makes time fly by. We sneak around like lil’ kids and have our favorite places in the office to do it. When I come home at the end of a long work day, I am energized and in such a great mood. My secretary tells me the same for her.

    Disclaimer: I work at home and my wife is my secretary :-)

  28. Hope
    Hope says:

    Dangerous territory, this work spouse thing. Too many people have started that way and gravitated into affairs and/or divorce. Although the way you talk about about the farmer and your life of late, I’m sad to say I am not hopeful. Wishing you the best…

  29. Hope
    Hope says:

    Dangerous territory, this work spouse thing. Too many people have started that way and gravitated into affairs and/or divorce. Although the way you talk about the farmer and your life of late, I’m sad to say I am not hopeful. Wishing you the best…

  30. SK
    SK says:

    You know, normally I love reading your blog but this made me feel a bit ill. You’re deliberately messing with your husband and deliberately messing with this man Paul, then posting it up for our entertainment – and I don’t see how that can be explained away by your Aspergers.

  31. Sadya
    Sadya says:

    its amazing how we try to (desperately at times) to reach out & connect to people when we are especially lonely. Because we have been told, and rightly so, that we need to reach out to people when we are low/lonely/not doing so well. So maybe this is what this post is actually about, its not just work-spouse.
    If you started doing well in one aspect, things start improving on other fronts too. So here if the connection with the workspouse starts doing well , which looks it is & will continue to do , then the real-life spouse front will do well too.

  32. steve
    steve says:

    Wow! I never considered this issue before but I think you are making a valid point even though many of the comments think your idea is trash. I think the issue is not a sexual one but an emotional one. Everyone needs someone to confide in and the real spouse is often not interested in your endless work problems. A work spouse, however is chosen not for the sexual attraction but for the fact that he/she are in a similar situation and are glad to share thoughts. Women sometimes chose other women as their work spouses whereas men are more likely to confide and share with women. The whole thing can get a bit touchy when you one side gets confused and forgets the boundaries and attempts a sexual contact.

  33. Margaret Goerig
    Margaret Goerig says:

    Hi, Penelope. Have you read any biographies that talk about FDR & Eleanor Roosevelt’s marriage? There is a new one out that I would like to read, Franklin and Eleanor. I am not suggesting you have an affair; it just sounds like you might enjoy the storyline. It seems there could be some (I repeat: SOME) parallels between being First Lady and Farm Wife in a Small Town. Also, I am reading The Romantic Movement by Alain de Botton right now and I keep thinking you’d enjoy it, if you have not read it before.

  34. CostumeLady
    CostumeLady says:

    I have read several articles in other places regarding “work spouses” and can’t recall any of them that mentioned a sexual component being part of the relationship (except perhaps the ones that specifically mentioned that sex, actual or conversational was not part of the work spouse relationship).
    I think, perhaps Penelope, that your personal circumstances may have led you to misinterpret what the work spouse idea is all about. I’m also pretty sure, like another commenter, that “work spouse” was a term coined to describe a type of relationship that has existed harmlessly for ages. A true “work spouse” relationship has nothing to do with sex. Introducing “work spouse” as a description does a disservice to the many people who have this type of relationship. However, in our society “sex sells” and someone was probably looking for a theme that would get people to read their article or research study.
    Like others who have commented, I too work in a male-dominated field, and having a friend in the workplace (often male by default)can be a lifesaver. Someone who shares your sense of humor, who knows what’s going on in your workplace, and who understands when something is funny, frustrating, or puzzling is a great resource. Someone who you can go to and say “This happened in the meeting – what do you think is going on?” and who can give you a trusted second perspective (and can have you do the same for them) is invaluable.
    We all need support systems, especially at work. Even if you are in a committed relationship it is unrealistic to assume that one other person can provide all the support anyone needs. A fullfilling life includes support from and providing support to many different people at different times. The gender of the person providing or needing support shouldn’t matter. It’s a shame that pop-sociological research has tried to stick a marketing label on this type of relationship that has left it open to misinterpretation.
    I wonder how much money the original coiners of the term made from it?

  35. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Thanks for the post, Penelope, as it did really make me think about these topics of loneliness and workplace spouses.
    One thing I noticed in this post was that you made the assumption that everyone could benefit from a workplace spouse … or at least it seemed so to me. You do speak from the first person, I, in most cases though. However, an assessment of the pros and cons of a workplace spouse was never really developed. The workplace spouse is a relationship that would need to be fostered and maintained on a regular basis which would include both pros and cons and involves walking a fine line at times. Is it really beneficial or necessary? Each individual has to answer this question for themselves and therefore, as usual, it is critical to know thyself.

  36. dfn
    dfn says:

    people who grew up surrounded by drama are only subconsiously happy when still surrounded by drama. P, this is you. while there are some good points in the post, the underlying theme of all your posts seems to be a need to create some type of drama. in this post, the drama is the implicit secrets involved in a separate work place relationship.

  37. MJ
    MJ says:

    Bad idea. Work is work. Keep your mouth shut and do your job – and go home to your real life. Work is not “real” – it is a game and masks are required.

    • Brad
      Brad says:

      But her real life sucks. That’s the real point of this post. She won’t (or can’t) leave the farm, so when loneliness takes over, nutty ideas start to sound reasonable.

    • Jens Fiederer
      Jens Fiederer says:

      We spend more of our waking life at work than we do at home, so if work is not “real” you had better learn to enjoy its irreality — or you are consigning one of the biggest part of your life to Inferno.

    • Snowmama
      Snowmama says:

      Hmmm…I think you must be a very sad person if you truly believe that work is a game. I am in guest service basically at a Resort, I love my job, the ups/downs, challenges and even the times I get smacked down by one of our members! Work is not a game, no masks are required. People want to deal with ‘real’ people, even in business. I don’t have a ‘workplace spouse’, and don’t feel as though I need one at this point in my life. I am happily married and am so fortunate my husband fulfills me! How sad it would be to spend 40+ hours per week at a job where you feel you have to play a game and wear a mask. I would suggest your brush-up your resume and do some soul-searching to find something that you are passionate about.

  38. Ali
    Ali says:

    I’ve got a workplace wife I guess but we don’t need to talk sex. Having someone listen to the boring minutiae of the workplace that shouldn’t be imparted on anyone anyways is service enough to each other. In that sense, I know exactly what you mean – the intimate work ally. Otherwise, I don’t understand the talking taboo stuff.

  39. Ziggy
    Ziggy says:

    This post reminds me of observations made in by Ray Oldenburg in his classic work “The Great Good Place” about how having access to “third places” can strengthen marriages:

    “Among those who currently enjoy it, third place associations reduces the dangerous insularity of modern marriage, a condition once described by Margaret Mead:

    ‘Each spouse is suppose to be all things to the other. They’re suppose to be good in bed, and good out of it. Women are suppose to be good cooks, good mothers, good wives, good skiers, good conversationists, good accountants. Neither person is suppose to find any sustenance from anybody else.’

    Regular associations with enjoyable people in relaxed social gatherings reduces the pressure Mead described. The third place makes a substantial contribution to the individual’s contentment with life; contented people are not likely to disturb, much less destroy, their basic relationships. Those with fuller lives expect less from marriage and enjoy it more.”

    Perhaps it’s not so much of finding a “workplace spouse” as having access to the kinds of relationships, male and female, that classic “third places” can help to nurture. And by third places Oldenburg means “public places where people can gather, put aside concerns for home and work (their first and second places) and hang out for the simple pleasure of good company.”

  40. Maggie McGary
    Maggie McGary says:

    I used to have a workplace spouse. Now he’s my husband. I think any kind of intimate relationship outside marriage will inevitably lead to a “real” relationship: whether real means sex or just real feelings or whatever. I’m not good at boundaries so when I crossed the line with my workplace relationship, I only did it after thinking it over carefully and figuring either way I was probably going to have to find another job at some point.

    And also, an intimate work relationship that doesn’t involves sex only doesn’t involve sex until it does…given enough time and opportunity it’s pretty much a sure thing.

  41. pfj
    pfj says:

    The only reason that Penelope is suggesting the “workplace spouse” concept (even if she hasn’t ever heard of those quaint old-fashioned things called quotation marks for a concept) is because she is not able to make a friend. Or friends. Female friend, someone to talk to, someone to have her back, etc etc.

  42. Ash
    Ash says:

    I know you hate Gretchen, but read this post about how to proof your marriage from an affair at work:

    http://www.happiness-project.com/happiness_project/2010/01/seven-maybe-tips-for-avoiding-an-office-affair.html

    Sometimes, making your marriage work is more important than having a work spouse. This is the only post of yours I have disliked and feel is giving completely bad advice to young and impressionable readers. In my view, marriage is serious business and making it work is more important than having people to flirt with.

  43. MyWifeThinksImADonkey
    MyWifeThinksImADonkey says:

    I’m sorry for sounding overly harsh, but from my distant vantage point it appears that the ONLY thing you are bringing to the table in your relationship with the farmer is sex. Other than that it appears to be all Penelope all of the time, sucking everything out of him including his soul.

    I think your relationship is already over. You are just waiting for your next landing pad to come into view and, since he is tied to the farm, he’s just waiting for you to leave. Your unique strangeness was probably once interesting to him but I’m sure the novelty has worn off by now.

    Is Aspergers your real problem or is it narcissistic personality disorder?

  44. ASH
    ASH says:

    I also would love a work spouse, but I’m fortunate that my husband keeps me in check. He gives me serious grief for any lunches I do alone with men. I argue and say it’s the same as when I go out with female co-workers, but in truth it really isn’t. I did a happy hour alone with a guy friend a couple weeks ago that made my husband livid. I almost went for principle, but deep down I know my husband was right because I enjoyed the flirty banter a little too much. It made me feel great, but it wasn’t the right answer for my family. Marriage and family is about compromise. That’s not an exciting statement but long term it’s the way to go.

  45. Ken
    Ken says:

    Reduce typos: Draft your blog items in Outlook and email them to yourself so they run through spell check. Then cut and paste them into blogs.

  46. Belinda Gomez
    Belinda Gomez says:

    Considering that the farmer’s not an actual spouse, I’d say you’re trying to get some real commitment out of him. Also, he’s not a chick. He doesn’t want to chatter about what you said and what she said and so on. I think you had a very unrealistic notion of what life on the farm would be like, and now you’re trying to find a way out.

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