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Today's word, boys and girls, is spouse. What does it mean, you ask? Well, I always thought it meant one's marriage partner. And by association with "marriage", it had the qualities of permanence, love and intimacy. It's the person with whom you can always count on sharing your joys and troubles at the end of the day. Isn't that the idea?

Not according to Tarra Weiss at Tarra would have you believe there's a whole new unexplored relationship out there - the "work spouse". As she explains, "with a work spouse, you know each other's favorite food; gripe about co-workers; confide about personal issues; and support each other during good and bad times. The main difference? There's no canoodling."

Wow, in my parents' days, before the advent of the "office culture" and "coffee buzz", when most people held 9-to-5 jobs, such relationships would have been at best called close friendships. And is it any surprise that friendships are not encouraged at work? No, says Linda Carr, the industrial psychologist quoted by Tarra, who refers to research that shows that "aside from showing a new employee the firm's culture and unwritten rules, they serve the same role as a mutual mentor. They bounce ideas off each other, offer advice and emotional support. That, says Carr, is the No. 1 reason employees give for staying with a job."

Fair enough, Tarra. But when can you cross the line to calling it a "work spouse". Apparently, when 17% of 750 surveyed claim they have one, according to the poll quoted by Tarra. And also when you go shopping with someone as "Jacalyn Lee and her office husband Patrick Farrell did during lunch breaks while working at the same New York City public relations firm." Why don't we question their similar tastes? Why doesn't anyone ask why these people don't leave their shopping till the weekends? To me, these are subtle signs that Jacalyn and Patrick either do not have time outside the office to pursue these matters, which is unlikely considering that they are taking their lunch break off. Or just more plainly and certainly not a subject for a column in Forbes, they share more common interests in shopping than perhaps, with their spouses.

So, was Lois Marino wrong to have termed her husband's office buddy as his "work spouse" in Tarra's article? Well, like most things related to marriage, I'd like to leave the vocabulary of people's relationships within the marriage and outside of it to them, because unlike most subjects of analysis, a relationship can be infinitely complex, irrational and spontaneous. Such is human nature as you and I know. My bone of contention are not with these seemingly sane people; it's with the folks who choose to label it. Because while there may be a need to highlight close friendships, there's no need to draw tenuous links between a good working relationship and the one that you have at home. The two are vastly different.

My belief is that there is no new relationship that is coming to the fore at 9 to 5 offices. If at all there is anything to speak of, it is a consequence of an office culture of longer hours stretching beyond the 9 to 5 regimen. But, that is not news to Forbes or Tarra Weiss, who arguably make a living off charting new territories in human relationships at the workplace. Even Linda Carr, the pyschologist quoted by Tarra, makes no fuss about it and simply calls the relationship one between "mutual mentors". I'm sorry Tarra, but that is simply too much of a leap to the "work spouse" that you're asking us to believe.

So, what about the 17% who said that they have a workplace spouse? Perhaps, it is that instinct within some people to compartmentalize their relationships and lives. Let me explain. If your relationship with your marriage partner consists of separately labelled domains called "canoodling", "shopping" and "supporting" and you have not found all these domains within your spouse, it may be "natural" to seek out the "work spouse" who possesses the missing ones. Or is it as simple as Forbes justifying the exclusivity of its audience by persuading readers of Forbes that on account of their ambitious, hard-working lives, they are redefining human relationships?


Or is it as simple as the death of the word "spouse", Tarra, in a culture that idolizes change, romance and choice beyond the banality and vagaries of ordinary life?

I read that, like, ten times and I can't figure out where the question begins and the ramble ends.

Great blog :)

4:07 AM

contextual relationships :) thanks to bangalore times, the concept of 'office spouse' is not unknown.. meanwhile drop in for some fourplay at my blog :)

9:54 PM

great post..!
hmmm.. i like the concept....

7:42 PM

it does make sense! if you spend 14-18 hours at work, then it's pretty sensible to have a work-spouse!

4:39 AM

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