‘Work wife’ is an accolade – even if it is a bit cringe

My boyfriend asked me how I know an old friend. “She was my first work wife,” I replied.

This was a phrase he hadn’t heard before. “A work wife – or husband – is your special someone at work,” I explained. “Your confidante.”

“So, a good workmate?” he countered.

“It’s more than that. It’s deep.”

“What do you call them now then?” he wondered. “Your ex?”

“I just say ‘my friend’.”

He paused: “But couldn’t you have said that in the first place?”

Are jokey titles a cop-out? A way to sidestep embarrassment and save us admitting intimacy in the professional space?

A work wife relationship is intimate. I know because I’ve had four, each providing joy when work was dull; each my north star when I felt lost at sea. In hindsight, I am sure it is no coincidence that they were also mostly women of colour. They understood the nuances of the workplace and the nuances of me, and that was everything. Truly, a person who feels understood, even just by one other, is a person who can take on the world.

The title of work wife is an accolade in its own right, acknowledging something specific and worthy. And, most importantly, just because something is jolly doesn’t mean it’s not meaningful or heartfelt.

And so I say, long live the work wife and all other silly, cutesy and downright cringe titles. Perhaps I’ll even design my own monikers: I can talk about being reunited with my “gym cousin” (the friendly person at the gym I like but secretly want to beat at everything) and how I even miss my “salon auntie” (the woman at the salon who gives the hard sell through insults: “I took the liberty of booking you into the chin-waxing service,” she’ll say, “because I assumed you’d want it”).

There’s heart in even the silliest symbols. And a lot of honour in them, too.