How to find a “woman at work”? (I know it sounds a bit silly and prescriptive, but you know what I mean.) This is my first job. My friends outside of work have a best friend in the “office” to share jokes, gossip, and complaints. I’m friends with most of my coworkers, and there are a few I talk to about skin care and bad TV, but there’s no one close to a confidant. I feel excluded.
–Cristin, New York State
First, about the terminology: we get the expression “working woman”, Cristin. It is only gender normative if you use it exclusively to describe women or female stereotypical behaviors. “Work spouse”, meanwhile, does not sound so good and suggests that the relationship depends on a person’s gender, which it is not! (Although I haven’t always had a wife at work, these days I have of them; one is a man and the other a woman.)
So ok. While the academic search on the value of work, friends find risks as well as benefits, in my experience having a working wife has never made my working life many orders of magnitude more enjoyable. But the sad truth about acquiring such a system is that you have to, well, work for one. We stay away from dating analogies here (see above), but you may have to dip your toe in the water a few times before you find the right pond. It’s not as intimidating as it sounds, however. All you need to do is have friendly conversations with a handful of people and see where the going is going. Best of all, you’ve got a head start – start with the people you chat with about skin care and bad TV, then see if the back-and-forth.
Lately, I admire the work-woman relationship between two early career WIRED staff. So I asked them for specific cool kids advice – a descriptor I can’t relate to. Senior Producer Pia Ceres and Associate Editor Ricki Harris live apart from each other across the country, but they often work together on WIRED projects. It didn’t take long for them to suspect that they had more than work in common. Then one day Ricki suggested a one-on-one call. Things clicked, Pia said, when they both thought, “Wait, so I’m not the only one getting really confused and totally improvising the early years of my career in a notoriously uncertain industry?”
Being aware of your common interests and your difficulties is an important part of work-woman relations. However, a true and lasting work-woman relationship requires gossip– a confidant is useless if he is not inclined to become a little shady. A Slack that says, “Let’s take this to text,” is a historic milestone in the relationship; even better is a text saying “BRB is switching to Signal”. But go carefully here. Start with an open-ended question to find out if they have heard of a drama and what they think about it. If they see it wrong (because your outlook is obviously correct), move on. If you feel a glimmer of kinship, however, 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 comes with realizing that you are on the same page.)
One of my favorite things about the Ricki-Pia Union is that it started remotely, even before the pandemic. This weekend they met in person for the first time on a beach in LA (socially distant, according to the photographic evidence they provided to me). By the time the beach days arrive in New York City, Cristin, may you be vaccinated and ready to meet your working wife in the Rockaways.
Over the past two weeks, a few people I work with at other companies have asked me to consider meeting in person. I have had the privilege of working from home for a year; I am not (yet!) Vaccinated, and I still feel nervous about contact with people. Meeting most of these people is not a fundamental requirement of my job either. How should I respond to these meeting requests and when is when to resume IRL meetings? Frankly, if I’m going to start taking a few extra risks, I’d rather it involve hugging family and friends first.