Language matters. That is why politicians persist in saying ‘investment’ rather than ‘tax’, and disguise their votes as opposing ‘budget cuts’ rather than promoting ‘a smaller than desired budget increase’. It’s why people talk of pro-choice rather than pro-abortion. A rose by any other name might smell as sweet but call it a ‘putrid bloom’ and no one will buy and smell it in the first place.
New words and phrases that enter our personal, family or community vocabulary often lead to ramifications unimagined at the time they are first used. As Valentine’s Day approached, I was completely taken aback reading an article entitled Does Your Work Wife Get a Valentine? in the Wall Street Journal. Work wife? Work husband? Office spouse? Have I been in such isolation that I missed an entire trend?
Not exactly. The story and its accompanying pictures featured male and female co-workers who are good buddies as well as office mates and whose real spouse or romantic interests accept this fact with equanimity. Sure, there is a warning about office friendships which cross the line and marriages ruined by office affairs, but in general the tone of the article is “How cool and sophisticated are we?” The article quoted a study claiming that, “nearly two-thirds of workers have or have had a work spouse…”
The entire article sounded so weird that I looked up the study mentioned. Are you shocked to hear that the findings weren’t quite as depicted? It’s not clear to me if the researchers made up the term “work spouse” but they define it as “someone…whom they communicate with and confide in at the workplace.” 55% of those surveyed said their work spouse was of the same gender as they. Are you shocked to hear that a high percentage of married women said they have had a same-sex work spouse while only half as many married men say the same? That makes it sound suspiciously like what women used to call a friend, specifically that type of friend which women previously called a girlfriend. There is nothing new and cutting-edge about women making friends with the women they see at the office every day.
Marriage is under constant assault these days. Couples who don’t recognize that the ease with which genders mix in the business world poses a serious threat to marital stability are out of touch. When marriages fall apart the individuals involved, the children, extended families, communities and our nation are impacted, overwhelmingly in a negative way. We would all benefit from clear-eyed discussions about handling the challenges of mixed-gender offices rather than applying the language of marriage in a casual and misleading way. Unless a married couple is in business together, spouses have no place in the office.