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Dating Don’ts: In Praise Of The Work Boyfriend

I used to work with someone who was smart, funny, a little goofy, and relatively handsome. From his first day, I could tell that we were going to get along. Sure enough, after a few weeks, we had a routine. We smoked a morning cigarette together and discussed weekend plans. We stood next to each other at work-mandated happy hours and drank bourbon, gossiping under our breath. If I was having a horrible day, he could tell from the timbre of my typing. We were inseparable during the workday, always there for each other, able to communicate complex sentences and emotions in a few words and a glance. After a while, I told him everything — doubts about my career path, complaints about the person I was dating, and he reciprocated in kind. From the outside, it would seem that we had been dating for years. Our interactions were marked with the easy-going nature that the best relationships have. We settled into a pattern that sustained throughout the entire time we worked together. It was the easiest relationship I had ever had.

One day, his mom who was visiting from out of town, came by the office to drop off her luggage.

“I really want you to meet her,” he told me over our morning ritual of cigarette and shit talking around the corner.

“I can’t wait,” I said.

When she showed up, he walked her over to my desk.

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“This is Megan, my work friend, my … she’s a good friend, she’s more than a work friend. She’s my work girlfriend,” he said, laughing. I shook his mom’s hand, told her she had a lovely son, and went back to whatever it was that I was doing. It was settled, though I knew all along. I had an work boyfriend.

Modern office life is dreary, full of excitement only when something goes terribly wrong. The hundreds of minute frustrations you experience weekly will wear on your soul, building to a roiling boil if left unwatched and unreleased. The work boyfriend/girlfriend is one of the most valuable relationships you can make at work. Allies at the workplace are essential, and proximity breeds a quick intimacy, at almost double the pace of that in the real world. We see our coworkers more often than we see our own families, and so all relationships within that environment form quickly, and are deep and fulfilling in their own way. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a  happy relationship outside of work, because it’s okay to have an at-work analogue. Your work boyfriend can be the key to your work sanity.

Jealousy, that tricky thing, is natural. Coming home from work one day and flopping on the sofa, only to go on and on to your real boyfriend about how Matt at work did this and said that is enough to make any secure human worry, just a little. I would say something about how jealousy keeps the fire of your one true desire burning hot, but that’s bullshit. If you’re dating someone who doesn’t understand that your work boo is in his own special — and necessary — category than that person doesn’t deserve you.

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There are things that happen at work that are only important or relevant to the people that you work with. Feel free to share your scintillating story about how Amy in accounts really fucked up on this one thing that happened at the all-hands meeting on Tuesday, but don’t get pissed if your partner is surreptitiously scrolling through Instagram, or paying more attention to the rerun of “Law and Order: SVU” that’s on TV. In any other setting, this would be inexcusable. A relationship is built on love, trust, mutual understanding, and above all, listening skills. If you’re talking about something like the state of your current relationship, whose turn it is to pay the utilities, and precisely what happened to the fridge that made it smell like that, you want them to listen. But, if you happen to be discussing the intricate minutiae of your office political system, don’t  be surprised if they zone out.

Here’s the thing that your at-home boo is probably too polite to tell you: listening to other people talk in great detail about their jobs is only interesting for a little while. To fully understand why you’re so pissed at Amy in accounts requires a deep understanding of the backstory and an intimate familiarity with the ecosystem of your workplace. When you’re really fired up about something, the first instinct is to get the devil out to whoever will listen. In this kind of white hot anger, telling the backstory required to really land the story is just too much. Enter the work boyfriend.

He’s the best kind of sounding board, because he’s right there with you, witnessing that thing that happened, and he probably feels a way about it too. He can finish your sentence about why that thing made you mad before you even have a chance to fully synthesize your feelings, and talking to him is the best kind of vent because it could lead to a solution. You’re strengthening the bond of your closest ally and making yourself feel better in the process, and you’re happy to do the same for him. Modern workplaces can be soul-crushing, especially if you’re unsatisfied with your career. The bright spots in the eight-hour stretches of time that make up the workday are your coworkers. If you don’t like them and you don’t like your job, well, I wish you the best. An office boyfriend breaks up the drudgery, and provides much-needed emotional support. They are crucial.

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