Do you have an office spouse?

Through the lens, lightly


Sushmita Bose

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Published: Thu 2 Mar 2023, 7:39 PM

There are two ways in which the term ‘office spouse’ can be interpreted — and I’m not going to bother Googling to reaffirm their nuances; let’s just call them my personal empirical theories. One is the textbook definition: an office spouse is a colleague of the opposite sex who you are close to, but in a platonic way. You spend a good part of your workday together — throw in lunch and maybe a coffee — and you get into the habit of using this person as a sounding board… and not only for things official; at times, you discuss your personal issues too. The other person does the same, it’s two-way traffic, and you end up in a quasi-spousal groove.

The second one is the more feasible version (will come to that in a moment) — but, strangely, it’s not the textbook definition. This one points at you identifying a person not necessarily of the opposite sex, and sharing the same office spousal ethos of the textbook definition. You are like same-sex besties sharing the same workspace, and have each other’s back in the cut-and-thrust world of professional gamesmanship.

The second version is the one I connected with when I first heard of ‘office spouse’. Almost 20 years ago, when I’d moved to New Delhi with a new job and made a friend — a girl/woman/lady friend — at work immediately, someone remarked to me, “Looks like ______ is your office spouse.” Back then, I had no idea what he was trying to hint at, so I went to one of the computers at work that had Internet access (most didn’t) and looked up ‘office spouse’. Okay. Platonic. I heaved a sigh of relief. But since my new office spouse was of the same sex, I decided from thereon that, for me, office spouse would be a gender-neutral term.

In fact, I had a problem with the original definition because I found it odd that two colleagues of the opposite sex could be office spouses and not be subject to relentless scrutiny — and judgement and gossip — from everyone around them. Surely, that would lead to divorce?

Also, I couldn’t imagine the actual, ‘married’ spouse of the person who had an opposite-sex office spouse would be okay with that. Sure, once in a while, it’s okay to be hanging out with colleagues of the other-gender denomination, but not every single work day. Unless you are lying about your office pairings at home whenever your real spouse asked (when you got back home from work) “How was your day dear?” I mean, which husband — or wife — would be “cool” with their real-life spouses snagging a second spouse at work? In an ideal world, yes, but who said anything about our world being ideal?

Maybe that’s why in the slightly small-minded — and very judgmental — world of the Delhi media, it was a given that an office spouse had to be a same-sex pairing to prevent the rumour mongers from running amok.

PS: The woman with who I had the office spousal relationship still remains very special, and she’s the one example I quote whenever people say it’s not possible to have ‘meaningful’ friendships at work.

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