- I became close friends with the new girl at the media job I had in my 20s.
- We became so close that she started sleeping on my couch, and I helped her get my dream job.
- When she left the company, we stopped talking and I felt used.
When I was in my early 20s, I worked a great media job, and I thought I had it made. I was proud I could afford to live in London — even if it meant renting a room in an eight-person house share at the edge of the city.
My job required little of me. It mostly involved writing about restaurants I’d never eaten at and could never afford to visit. Then we hired a new girl.
I was her buddy, assigned by my manager to show her how the printer worked and take her to lunch in the building cafeteria. We were soon inseparable.
A different type of friendship
I’d had work spouses before. As a recent graduate trying to break into magazine journalism, I’d trauma-bonded with my fair share of interns in various “fashion closets.” But the new employee and I clicked in a different way.
Unlike workplace romances, a work-spouse relationship is defined as “a special, platonic friendship with a work colleague characterized by a close emotional bond, high levels of disclosure and support, and mutual trust, honesty, loyalty, and respect,” said a 2015 paper by the communications researchers M. Chad McBride and Karla Mason Bergen.
The new girl and I spent every lunch break together, plotting how we’d leave the company. We made a pact that whoever was hired at a glossy magazine first would try to get the other person a job. Secretly, I thought it’d be me.
That Christmas, we bought each other matching monogram mugs for all the afternoon tea breaks we shared.
She then started sleeping at my place
She could afford to work for so little pay because she lived at home — almost two hours outside London. Despite her long commutes, she always arrived looking stylish and well groomed — more than could be said for me with my 40-minute bus ride. I valued sleep too much.
“Do you want to stay at mine?” I asked one evening after a work event ran long.
She was very glad to accept. Before long, it became a given. At least once a week, we’d have a sleepover to spare her the long train ride home.
Like most major cities, London can be lonely, and I treasured this blossoming friendship. I no longer saw us as coworkers but as genuine friends — and friends help each other. So when she asked me to cover for her so she could take a sick day to freelance for a popular women’s magazine, I did so without hesitation.
When a spot at that publication opened up, I loaned her my Mulberry Alexa bag for the job interview. This being 2015, she got so many compliments on the handbag, and she said if she got the gig, it would be thanks to me.
I learned there’s no such thing as divorcing your ‘work wife’
She got the job. Soon, she was smiling in photo shoots, doing the type of out-there assignments I always dreamed of. Whenever I leafed through the pages, her byline triggered a familiar ache.
I was envious, yes, but more than that, I was sad I’d lost my friend. We had a falling out before she left — my fault, in hindsight — but once her life became the glitzy parties we’d dreamed of, we didn’t keep in touch.
I started to view our relationship as a series of transactions from which she’d benefited: not just the free place to crash or the handbag but also the advice I’d shared and the hours I spent perfecting her résumé.
It took years before I could look back and see it for the unintentional, unfortunate mess it was. We were both so young and ambitious.
It’s now been so long that time has become a form of closure, and I’m OK with that. I just wish society had more meaningful ways to mark the end of a work-spouse relationship — a “conscious uncoupling,” if you will, from someone with whom you’ve likely spent more time than family or friends.