Have you ever had an Office Spouse? I had one way back in the 2000s when Indians were just cautiously navigating gender interactions in new millennium workplaces. Back in 2007, Tejas Parikh joined my workplace and within a week, he had declared that I was his Office Spouse. It suited so I went along.
In the years since, I’ve experienced many different workplace models and varied connections with men. More people now recognise the futility of trying to compartmentalise the professional & personal. Alongside, Indians are grappling for identity amidst shifting definitions of relationships. At this point, I find his framing of us as Office Spouses still apt. I have had other great connections that came from the professional space but I have only ever had one Office Spouse.
It’s possible that he & I would have become friends even if we had met socially. But it is likely? I’m not so sure. We met at a time when career trumped all personal & social pursuits. I did have the perfect utopia in my time at BASES, complete with absorbing work, supportive processes and great people. He & I sat across across a table from each other, separated by an eye-level partition, such a fortunate placement for us both. But we worked in different departments that didn’t actually have to engage. The unique nature of our relationship was built around having a common landscape and also on not competing with each other. This factor takes away most team-mates and classmates from being eligible for the role of Office Spouse. In many workplaces even today, teams are clubbed together. You might get along very well with your team mates (as I did there – most of my Office Capers posts are from that time) but the context of a team and goals becomes a box of identity, from which there’s no respite.
He was my breathing break (and I, his) between the sprints on our parallel tracks. That would not have happened with people who were not running or who were running the same track as I. At the time, I only thought of Tejas as the fun guy with whom I took a chai break or stood at street corners in corporate formals chewing a paan for the heck of it who bullied me into sharing his lunch dabba (“Try it first! Then you can make faces and say you don’t want to eat it.”). But it was in those conversations, that sharing, the laughter as well as the venting that I navigated the daily pressures that come even with the best of jobs – in a healthy manner. Now, I’d have to check my resume for the names of projects that consumed me then. But I was growing through those experiences in ways that were not chronicled except in these conversations.
Interestingly, when I looked for images to accompany this post, I found a lot of photographs of single people miserably hunched over computers or looking wistfully into the distance. A search for ‘colleagues’ threw up images of groups of people around whiteboards and graphs. But nothing that suggested ‘this one especially close connection at work’.
Working on my new website brought up the olds posts and memories of the one Office Spouse I’ve had. We reconnected recently and what a joy it was to talk again. Neither of us has worked in the place we met, for years. We live in two different continents now. But social media has played happy matchmaker (as that serendipitous office layout did all those years ago). T, it is so good to have you back in my life, even if the ‘office’ part of our label is redundant.
We may not all need to be in traditional relationships but I think we could all do with a good office spouse.