As far as relationships go this one happened pretty effortlessly. There was no chase, no coy half-hearted rebuttal, no formalities and no awkwardness. After all, games have no place in a business environment.
She was beautiful, obviously. Dark and exotic with almond-shaped eyes and a constellation of freckles across the bridge of her nose. Those cheekbones you could open envelopes on. Her shampoo advert hair ran all the way down to her chicane curve caboose, which was always impeccably outfitted. She was gorgeousness and gorgosity and she was mine.
Well, sort of. She had a boyfriend who lived in Joburg, which was fine, because I had a girlfriend who lived with me. However, during working hours we belonged to one another. Yep, between 9 and 5 she was the most important woman in my life. That’s eight hours a day, Monday to Friday, and with just weekends, public holidays, sick days and 20 days’ annual leave keeping us apart.
We gravitated towards one another with the force of celestial beings. The courtship was as comfortable as slipping into a warm bath, and had a foundation built on equal parts attraction and a shared distaste for certain colleagues. Knowing glances quickly blossomed into instant messaging and then joint coffee breaks, desk visits and long leisurely lunches.
We went from confidants to bantering buddies to best friends sharing a mutual affection and understanding. We told one another things we couldn’t tell anyone else. We actually enjoyed going to work because of our Pavlovian conditioning.
We’d literally share our sarmies at the sandwich place across the road, but the communal tables made it too easy for other colleagues to join us, and so we ventured out further, to quieter, quainter eateries that bore no risk of third wheels and where I could order a proper drink with my lunch. She joked that I was putting on weight, and I was. She ate like a bird, but taking great delight in my appetite always ordered a large portion and then encouraged me to finish up what she couldn’t.
At the end of lunch we’d be surprised at how time had flown by, happy in the knowledge that a long lunch required an evening of working late. Together. Soon our colleagues spoke about us more than we did about them. People were surprised that we weren’t dating, that we were just really good friends. We were inseparable.
But nothing ever happened.
She still lived at home with her parents and her somewhat intimidating brothers fetched and carried her to and from work every day. I lived with a woman with whom I shared a child and a type of pantomime relationship where it was easier to go through the motions of coupledom than to break up.
Misery loves company, and I was fortunate to have my work wife to commiserate with. Our talk was now on a more personal level: sharing our dreams, desires and more often than not the problems that I had with my partner. Work was a holiday. A respite from real life. A place where we could escape the realities of our shituation. We agreed how perfect we’d be together, that in the next life, when we came back as cats, we’d seek one another out.
Fortunately she didn’t drink and my genetic make-up has an extra helping of shyness that stops me from doing all those things in life I really want to. In fact, there was nothing more sordid than her once sitting on my lap at a company function after a dare. Yep, just like a real wife, a work wife should be just as frigid, cold as a starfish, if you want things to work. And our situation worked. That is until she jumped ship.
After she’d left we made an effort to meet up once a week, but this soon became once a month until finally we were at the stage where I’d require too much backstory when listening to her story about the slimy client services guy at her new agency and we’d only meet intermittently. A happy birthday Facebook post once a year is all that’s left…
Let’s get something straight: there’s a massive difference between a work wife and an office sex. The two should never be confused. Workplace matrimony is sacred, and should never be consummated. The reason being because this is a relationship based on proximity.
The work wife is pretty much the perfect woman. You only ever see this woman when she’s at work, on her best behaviour, immaculately made up, impeccably dressed and without her cackling circle of friends or her family in tow. She has her own money, doesn’t whine, and uses a different bathroom to you. You might as well be a pair of lab rats in a cage.
Nothing is more dangerous than a little bit of knowledge. You take these crumbs and then dine on them as if they were a gourmet meal. Yours is an idealistic infatuation at best. Of course you’re going to catch feelings. But they’re not sustainable because just as soon as she wakes up next to you without her face on, or introduces you to her cats, anything that pulls back the curtain to reveal a part of her life that isn’t the one you know from work, that’s when she loses all allure.
Like I said, nothing ever happened between my work wife and I. And that’s why we worked. Eventually her boyfriend moved to Cape Town and married her. And I was truly happy for her. As happy as she was for me when I escaped my dire situation and then later met someone, someone that I didn’t work with, whom I married.
Perhaps it’s because of this that I’ve never had another work wife since. Or maybe it’s because I can’t find a work wife quite like my first. Other people seem to get it right, making me both jealous and nostalgic at the same time. There’s George and Rob, a same-sex work couple who nag each other like OAPs in a nursing home, Mark and Maresa who communicate almost telepathically, Tlhoki and Azeez who seem to be constantly conspiring, Clint and Wanita who commute together…
And it’s adorable, but as much as I’d like to try and get back out there again, I just can’t. Yes it’s tough, having to go through the motions of corporate life without someone watching your back. After a while you just kind of grow used to seeing one pair of footprints in the sand and become content in the knowledge that at close of business you’ll have someone to hold you, stroke your head and tell you that everything is going to be okay.