Why You Need a Work Wife

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Office wives are there to help you dissect cryptic emails from your boss. Photo: Caiaimage/Sam Edwards/Getty Images

Love is patient, love is kind … but my loving husband simply does not want to gossip for 45 minutes about my co-workers. 

For that, I’ve relied on a work wife. And I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that I’m not sure how I would have survived some of my past office jobs — I am freelance now — were it not for the treasured work wives I’ve had over the years. I once took a nap under the desk of my work wife. (She had an office door; I didn't.) She didn’t even blink an eye.

I had just broken up with a boyfriend and I was totally spent, and couldn't keep up a happy face without a little break. I basically just stumbled into her office and crawled under the desk (yes, next to her stash of "office heels") and mumbled that I needed ten minutes to be invisible. I didn't give her much choice — but that's a wife for you.

Office wives are there to help you dissect cryptic emails from your boss. They go with you on an afternoon coffee run — or pick up your usual if you are too busy. They chime in during pitch meetings to support even your most harebrained ideas. One office wife consistently covered for me when I was sneaking in from longer-than-necessary lunches. Another once assumed my identity and went to a rather-loathsome PR event in my stead. 

I’d argue that being married at work is a pretty smart career move. (And for the record, your perfect work wife can be of any gender or sexual preference. You need only pledge to love and honor in an office setting.) Think about it: There’s safety in numbers, especially when your plus one always has your back. “A few years ago, there were a bunch of occasions where the woman who was my work wife at the time really saved me,” says Yun Yu, a media supervisor in public relations. “I forgot to fax a paper or do something important and she’d be right there to pick up the pieces or remind me at the key moment.”

Alyssa Gelper, a former attorney now working at a large bank, has had a series of “work husbands” throughout the years. “Every Monday morning, one of us would show up in the other’s office to talk about the weekend, and just generally tell each other everything. There were even little things that I didn’t tell my husband that I could tell him. My kids used to joke that I liked my work husband [at the time] better than their dad.”

And, in some respects, a work marriage can help the relationship you have going at home. Unlike your real-life husband, boyfriend, or wife — who may not really even know what the hell you DO all day much less want to hear about it ad nauseam — your work spouse just totally gets it. He or she is there for the day-in, day-out minutia of your particular office environment; your strange crush on the guy at security; how excited you get when it’s sushi day at the cafeteria.

Hell, you probably see more of your work spouse than you do your legal spouse. And there’s something about being in the trenches together — through cutbacks and layoffs, performance reviews and promotions — that creates a kinship and shared history that is so special and intimate. It’s also a helluva lot less lonely, in an era where we spend 99 percent of our day on our butts, staring at pixels and printouts.

Which is not to say you need to be f2f with your work wife to love him or her. About 15 years ago I had a job-share with another woman, at a now-defunct web company. Two days a week I was in the office; the other three, she came in. I'd arrive to find little Post-it notes on the desk telling me where she was with certain tasks, or little jokes and bits of encouragement. And I'd leave the same, along with gum and takeout menus in the drawers. These passing-the-baton notes now strike me as somewhat absurd and very un-digital — but at the time I kind of loved them. More than anything, I found it reassuring that there was almost literally someone in my shoes half the week, someone sitting in my chair and typing at the same keyboard. The ultimate in she-just-gets-it work-wife connection.

Alexi Tsonopoulos has that in Patrick — the guy that his real-wife calls Alexi’s “work wife.” Theirs is a particularly enduring union, having lasted from job to job. They have followed one another from company to company over the last two decades, each one helping to bring the other one aboard at times. “Our friends joke that we simply cannot not work together,” says Tsonopoulos, who is a client strategist for a software company. “At this point, people just expect us to be together. And honestly, it just makes work better, having him there.”

Being coupled at work is much preferable to what happens when you become a threesome or more — a.k.a. a clique. A small group can connote exclusivity and no one wants to project that to the rest of the office. But few could cast any real side-eye at the siblinglike bond of two kindred spirits who make each other happier at work. (Unless you can’t control the snickering during staff meetings, which, alas, has also happened to me. Again: not proud of those moments.)

While the work-wife bond can be surprisingly ephemeral — never turning into impromptu weekend hangouts or family get-togethers and dissolving when someone leaves the company — I don’t think that takes away from how special those times were. 

These days I am a freelancer and I work at home, alone. Most of my “exes” have moved on to other office gigs, and probably have new work wives, or work husbands. From time to time I do actually fill in as an editor at various companies, sometimes for several months at a time, which doesn’t give me quite enough time to really pair up. 

So I’m back to unloading on my half-listening husband or frantically texting a fellow freelancer when I am freaking out. My daily officemates are two orange cats, neither of which ever notice my new haircut and certainly can’t discuss Homeland with me. I miss my wife.