(The Root) —
"I'm not really the jealous type, but it kind of gets to me when my wife talks about her 'work husband.' Maybe it's my ego, but I'm really thinking I should be the only guy who is her husband. Am I taking this wrong?" —O.A.
"Work husband" is a popular term used to refer to a co-worker, usually of the opposite sex, with whom an employee shares a close and platonic relationship. The "spouse" is equal parts emotional crutch, lunch buddy, confidant and caretaker, both in the sense that he can look out and advocate for the "spouse" in office politics and also run to the drugstore for aspirin if the "spouse" is in need. In a survey released by market research firm Captivate Network, 65 percent of workers have or previously had a work spouse.
I've had four "work husbands," one for each job I've held for any length of time. The first was a married guy, with whom I used to go to the gym on my lunch break. We worked out together faithfully and occasionally would sneak out to buy smoothies. He kept me updated on the high-level office politics (and rumors). For clarity, he never crossed the line in any fashion.
The second was an engaged guy who worked at the cubicle next to mine. There were only four of us in the office — two senior editors and two juniors — that is, us. The important people shared an office, while we shared cube space. Shared proximity and an uncannily similar sense of humor made us inseparable. I didn't go to lunch or happy hour without him for two years.
I should add that when I once got a call that my then-boyfriend had been rushed to a hospital, it was my work husband who hailed the cab, went to the hospital with me and talked our way past the guard (after visiting hours) by claiming to be my boyfriend's brother. I cried tears of happiness at his wedding — which I attended with my boyfriend.
My third work husband was the other black person at my job. He worked in IT and mostly regaled me with tales of the hilarious things he found on our co-workers' hard drives over shared Frappuccinos at Starbucks. I was his "work wife," but he didn't even date black women.
My last husband — I no longer work out of an office — was my all-purpose confidant about everything from career advancement (he was a great strategist) to relationships and office banter to dieting. If I wasn't on deadline for an article or if I was away from my desk for any reason, I could be found in his office. And no, again, nothing ever happened. The last husband was openly gay.
I share these stories with you to put you at ease about the relationship between your wife and her "work husband." Despite the closeness of their relationship and the enormous amount of time they spend together, chances are it's strictly platonic. Statistics back up that assessment. Despite the prevalence of the "work spouse" and the emotional closeness of the pair, by and large, the relationships stay platonic. The same Captivate Network study found that 8 percent of workers admit to "crossing the line" with the work husband. Only 13 percent said they had an interaction with their work spouse that they later regretted.
The other "good news" is that if your wife is talking to you about her work husband, that actually indicates that there isn't anything fishy going on. If she were keeping this very close relationship a secret from you, that could be a sign that there's something worth more than a raised eyebrow going on.
Hopefully you're more at ease about the work husband, but if your wife's use of the term still bothers you, just speak up and let her know how you feel. Her use of the term is probably a handy catchphrase and no indication that her work husband poses any threat to her real husband.
Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor to The Root, a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. She answers your dating and relationship questions on The Root each week. Feel free to ask anything at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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