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?”


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.)

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  1. Kandeezie
    Kandeezie says:

    Some people are so insecure. I should say most instead of some. Marriages protect them. “I love you, til death or workplace spouse do us part”. Point is, no where EVER in marriage vows does it say anything about making your partner the only source of comfort or balance or perspective. Actually, it doesn’t say much about any of the things that get people so pissed off. Pen, you challenge all of that with your honesty. Thank goodness.

  2. Karla Mason Bergen
    Karla Mason Bergen says:

    I am a Communication professor who is actually in the process of studying/collecting data on work spouses. A colleague and I have a short (15 minute) survey. If you have ever been labeled a work spouse, label yourself a work spouse, OR work with people who are work spouses, follow the link below. You can choose to enter to win an giftcard.

    We have both been labeled work spouses in the past, which got us interested in this interesting relationship. We’d love to learn from your experiences!

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