work friends

Work friends are an interesting occurrence. OK, so maybe not that interesting. But interesting to me. And I’m the foremost authority on what’s interesting, right? No? Sh*t, there goes another title I was hoping to use on my business card (I’m down to “Master Quesadilla Maker” and “Technically A Man”).

I won’t patronize you by defining what a work friend is. The name itself should immediately bring up a specific person in your head (hint – they’re your friend at work). Here are some characteristics that hopefully describe the relationship you have with this person:

Work friends get along well together. They can knock a project out of the park. And by project I mean anything really: you can be at the fries station and your work friend be the salt person (assaulter?) and, by gum, those fries are just perfectly fried and salted every single time. Then one of you runs interference while the other sneaks a couple of victory fries and vice versa (dammit, now I want some fries).

Your work friend is the person you go to when you need to vent. This is an important aspect. Everyone needs to have an outlet for venting frustrations. In life those are friends. At work, well, you know. Now to be clear, this has to be a mutual thing. If you’re the one who vents all the time, but your “work friend” is always on the listening side, then you actually don’t have a work friend. You’re just an asshole.

When you have interesting but superficial news about your life and want to share it with co-workers, your work friend is the first you go to. This can be as deep or as insignificant as you want, but it’s essentially the positive vent. Though certainly less severe, it’s still bad to bottle up positive news the same way that it’s bad not to vent a frustration. Makes you all gassy and bloated, and then you have to go to the bathroom to fart (too much gas builds up for a sneaky squeaker at your desk), and people look at you weird cause you’re the red-headed guy who farts out his frustrations in bathrooms.

But the key difference between a work friend and a friend friend is that, notwithstanding positive vents, the majority of the stuff you share with your work friend is, well, work-related. You develop this seemingly close bond. You joke around. You talk about how you sometimes fart in the bathroom. You high-five often. But you don’t really get into deep discussions about the metaphysical nature of yourself (is the “me” that’s in my head more real than the “me” that just farted in the bathroom?). And therein lies the issue with a work friend.

The cards are stacked against you in transitioning a work friend to a friend friend because when you actually hang out outside of work, you tend to talk about, well, work. Seeing a work friend when not working is a super-awkward reminder of the superficiality of your relationship. You’ll be hanging out, discussing the finer points of which stapler is the most efficient stapler, and the conversation will wane as both of you realize that you don’t want to talk about work, but don’t know what else to talk about. It’s OK, happens to most of us (that need to staple things at work, at least).

So why do it? Why not just let things stay as they are? No need to mess with a good thing and whatnot. Well, there are instances where it’s worth transitioning that relationship. In some rare occasions, the bond that you forge with your work friend will be so strong that regular-life topics of conversation start creeping in. Sure, you mention that you had this crazy dream where you made the world’s greatest cheeseburger, and then McDonald’s hires assassins to kill you before you share the recipe. And sure, that interesting albeit superficial tidbit transitions to an equally interesting yet superficial tidbit about how you have a cousin who works at McDonald’s. But then you go on to talk about how you haven’t spoken to that cousin in years, and how you two used to go fishing in the lake behind your house and you confided your deepest secrets to each other.  This warrants some insightful info from your work friend, and the transition begins.

The trickiest thing about this transition is making sure you don’t slip back into your old ways. My friend friend Erika, who was a friend friend I ended up working with, has a great rule in this regard. Which is that once we hit quittin’ time, the bitchin’ time must revolve around life and life only. No work talk. It’s a strict rule, and one that proves difficult to follow at times, but she’s got the right idea. Since leaving my job, I have kept in contact with some of my work friends. And I’ve met up with some of them. But because they were so used to me being their vent at work and no longer having that after I left, when we met up they immediately went into that work-friend mode and just vented for some time, all whilst letting out angry, pent-up-work-frustration farts. I tell ya, it’s never fun to have to down a couple of shots of Jaeger so that you don’t care that your old work friend is farting and complaining about work.

All that being said, I think it’s worth it to pursue. I’ve had some incredibly rewarding and (mostly) fart-less relationships with people who used to be my work friends. Hell, one of ‘em became my bestie. So with some proper planning, and plenty of air freshener (“Why is he still going with the vent/fart joke? Let it go, dude!”) there’s no reason not to take that relationship to the next level. I mean hey, if you’re having difficulties, you can always just quit and get a whole new set of work friends.