How do I find a "work wife"? (I know that sounds sort of silly and gender normative, but you know what I mean.) This is my first job. My friends outside work have a best friend in the “office” to share inside jokes, gossip, and complaints. I'm friendly with most of my colleagues, and there are a few with whom I talk about skin care and bad TV, but there’s no one who's anything close to a confidant. I feel left out.
–Cristin, New York
First, about terminology: We’re reclaiming the phrase “work wife,” Cristin. It’s only gender normative if you use it exclusively to describe women or stereotypically femme behaviors. “Work spouse,” meanwhile, doesn’t sound as nice and suggests that the relationship depends on a person’s gender, which it doesn’t! (While I have not always had a work wife, these days I have two; one is a man and one a woman.)
OK then. While the academic research on the value of work friends finds risks as well as benefits, in my experience having a work wife has only ever made my professional life orders of magnitude more enjoyable. But the unfortunate truth about acquiring one is that you have to, well, work for one. We’re staying away from dating analogies here (see above), but you might have to dip a toe into the water a few times before finding the right pond. This isn’t as daunting as it sounds, though. All you have to do is have friendly conversations with a handful of people and see where things lead. Even better, you have a head start—start with the people you gab with about skin care and bad TV, then see if the back-and-forth flows.
Lately I’ve been admiring the work-wife relationship between two early-career WIRED staffers. So I asked them for tips specific to cool young people—a descriptor to which I cannot relate. Senior producer Pia Ceres and associate editor Ricki Harris live across the country from each other, but they often work together on WIRED projects. It didn't take them long to suspect they had more than work in common. Then, one day, Ricki suggested a one-on-one call. Things clicked, Pia says, when they both thought, “Wait, so I'm not the only one who's really confused and totally improvising the first few years of my career in a notoriously uncertain industry?”
Realizing your common interests and struggles is an important component of work-wife relationships. A true and long-lasting work-wife pairing, though, requires gossip—a confidante is useless if they’re not willing to get a tiny bit shady. A Slack that says, “Let’s take this to text,” is a historic milestone in the relationship; a text saying, “BRB moving to Signal,” is even better. But tread carefully here. Start with an open-ended question about whether they’ve heard about some drama and what they think about it. If they see the situation all wrong (because obviously your way of seeing is correct), move on. If you feel a glimmer of kinship, though, take another step. (This sketch by Akilah Hughes and Milana Vayntrub is the perfect demonstration of how to do this dance, and the joy that results from realizing you’re on the same page.)
One of my favorite things about the Ricki-Pia union is it started remotely even pre-pandemic. This weekend, they met in person for the first time on a beach in LA (socially distanced, according to the photographic evidence they provided me). By the time beach days arrive in New York, Cristin, may you be vaccinated and ready to meet your work wife in the Rockaways.
In the past two weeks I’ve been asked by a few people I work with at other companies to consider in-person meetings. I’ve had the privilege of working from home for the past year; I’m not vaccinated (yet!), and I’m still feeling skittish about contact with people. Meeting up with most of these people also isn't a core requirement of my job. How should I respond to these meeting requests—and when is the appropriate time to start taking IRL meetings again? Frankly, if I’m going to start taking a few more risks, I’d rather it involve hugging family and friends first.
As a non-vaccinated person who loves working from home and occasionally gets overwhelmed in large groups, I am exhausted just thinking about a return to human contact, so I feel you. I don’t begrudge anyone who is comfortable meeting semi-strangers for coffee or lunch, but I’m definitely not there. And based on a very informal poll I did of friends and colleagues, you and I have plenty of company, Lauren.
The appropriate time to start taking IRL meetings is when you are comfortable and not a day before. Face-to-face interactions may become the norm again at some point, but no decent boss should insist on them until everyone is vaccinated and feels safe. (And yes yes yes, hugging your mom is unquestionably a bigger priority than meeting a sales rep or potential client.) If you suspect yours is not a decent boss, please start looking for a new job.
But also, don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself. And don’t feel pressured to overexplain. A simple “I’m not comfortable doing in-person meetings yet, but I’m happy to get on the phone” should do the trick. If neither your boss nor the offending client understand, it’s time to move on. And call your mom.