the great work spouse break up

Reader W. S. writes:

I know you’re not supposed to be romantically entangled with your “work spouse”, because they’re just a platonic friend you spend your time at work with. But I developed a pretty heavy crush on my work spouse and was even considering trying to pursue things with her. Sadly, there’s a rumor now that she’s dating someone else in the office, and I can’t handle it. I think I need to break the work spouse aspect off. How should I go about this?

Dear W.S.:

This is exactly why I maintain the “you can’t shit where you eat” logic and refuse to date or even get romantically interested in coworkers. It just hurts too damned much when things go awry. I feel for ya’, pardner. I’m real sorry you’re having to deal with this.

First off, I suppose I should explain to the readership at large a bit more about the work spouse dynamic.

From our friends at Wikipedia:

work spouse is a co-worker (usually of the opposite sex) with whom one shares a special relationship, having bonds similar to those of a marriage; such as, confidences, loyalties, shared experiences, and a degree of honesty or openness. The work spouse is a potentially key relationship when one’s actual spouse or boy/girlfriend is not able to be there. As people work more and more and spend less and less time at home, these hybrid relationships have begun to spawn more and more. This relationship can be threatened rather than enhanced if it ever becomes sexual.

work spouses

The couple that works together... works together... Image: br3akthru / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Basically, it’s the person you spend your lunch hours with, or the one that knows exactly why you’re out of the office today, or the one who takes the 4pm walk with you. Not everyone has a work spouse, and they’re not always of the opposite sex, and most importantly, the relationship is not romantic in nature.

So there’s the first problem. Basically, it sounds like you got put on the friend ladder. Which is exactly where work spouses go, anyway, but as I’ve said before, it’s really hard to get off the friend ladder and get onto the boyfriend ladder. So you were kind of doomed from the beginning.

Of course, you probably already know all this, and there’s no use crying over spilled milk, etc.

Breaking up the work spouse relationship is actually a lot harder than breaking up a romantic relationship, because you haven’t explicitly defined the relationship. It’s kind of like breaking up with a friend — usually, we just let it fade away, passively and with all due cowardice. I don’t advocate this way of handling things most of the time, but in the case of a working relationship, I think you have to handle things a little bit more cautiously than you would in a normal personal setting.

The first thing I’d do in your case is substantiate the rumor. Is it true that she’s dating someone else? Basically, you should find this out because I think you should quit torturing yourself. Whether it’s true or not, the work spouse relationship was ruined the minute you decided you liked her as more than friends. (Even if she had become your GF, the work spouse thing would have been over.) If it’s not true and she’s dating someone, say, outside the office, your feelings for her have already compromised the relationship in general. So you might as well know whether or not it’s really true.

I wouldn’t recommend asking her if the dating rumor is true. Ask someone else in the office to substantiate it. You probably don’t want her to know that you had a thing for her — that would be more awkward than is necessary, particularly in a work environment. Asking her if she’s dating someone else could tip your hand a bit too much. Unless, of course, you have the sort of relationship and feel comfortable sending her a simple inter-office IM, along the lines of, “So I heard you’re dating [fellow coworker]. Yeah?” Simple, friendly, non-accusatory.

Next up, gently, passively start to back out of your normal work spouse commitments, such as those regular lunches, tea time, coffee breaks, etc. Tell her you’re busy. Quit IMing her or emailing her as often. Just ease up on the regular conversation. She’ll either get the hint and back off herself, or she’ll call you out on it, in which case you can tell her you don’t feel comfortable with the relationship anymore and you need space. You do not have to tell her you’re head over heels and your heart is broken, etc. etc. Remember, you still work with her.

Finally, find someone new to focus your attention on. I don’t mean at work, although a new work spouse could be helpful. (Maybe one in the category of people to whom you are not attracted, so you don’t risk doing this a second time, eh?) What you should do is find someone new to have a crush on. Throw yourself into dating someone new (OUTSIDE THE OFFICE). And if you can’t find someone to date, at least fill your time thinking about something else. Get a new hobby, join a new sports team, hang out with your non-work friends who make you happy. Just get over it.

In time you will probably be at the point where you can be at least work friends again. However, it is really, really unlikely you’ll ever be at the point where you can be work spouses again.

Of course, there’s an alternative route to this whole story, and it is not one for sissies.

If you want to be really awesomely courageous and get mad points from me, you could just straight up tell her how you feel, regardless of what her answer is going to be or who else she’s dating. That will definitely break the spell, and possibly make things really, terribly awkward at work for a while. But sometimes you’re better off clearing the air than prancing around the bad smell.

And you never know. She might like you back. She could have just been avoiding the issue because she was afraid of ruining your work spouse relationship. Imagine how happy she’ll be in this case to know you’ve already ruined it!


1 Response to “the great work spouse break up”

  1. 1 tagesgeldvergleich
    October 22, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    I mistyped this website and luckily I found it again. presently am at my university I added this to favorites so that I can re-read it later regards

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