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Romance in the corridor

Long working hours in offices have bred a new brand of relationship, that of ‘office spouse’. They are couples who are friends and sometimes more, finds Jaydip Majumder

It started out as an innocent friendship for Pritsikha Kaul and Anil Roy. Both of them were co-workers in a software company and spent long hours at work. Over steaming cups of coffee, they would share secrets and would give each other support during hard times.

Well, Pritsikha and Anil are not alone. There are many couples who share more than a steaming cup of coffee in the canteen. Here’s an example of another one – Kallol and Sumita, who know everything about each other, right from the Chinese restaurant one loves to eat to the particular brand of T-shirt the other adores.

Welcome to the age of corporatization and globalization – when long working hours have bred a new brand of relationship; that of an “office spouse.” They are couples who are friends and sometimes more. Discussing family matters and sometimes children’s errant behaviour comes naturally to them. At the end of the day, however, they have their own spouses to go back to. But till such time they are in office they act as a perfect partner to each other.

As Sudha, journalist with a leading daily, says, “When I had started out my career in journalism five years ago, there was this person Sumit to help me out with contacts, etc. Over a period of time, we really came close. Now I am married but I share everything with Sumit.”

Of course, one should know where to draw the line. Ideally, there should not even be a flicker of romance between office spouses, she feels.

However, with stress increasing and the long office hours smothering opportunities for couples to be with each other at home, the line between office spouses are slowly getting blurred. “It’s increasingly becoming a risky proposition and I have come across many colleagues who are crossing the borders of fidelity,” says Pooja Ghosh, a chartered accountant.
Dissatisfaction with marital life is normally the trigger for such relationships.

Take for instance, Amitava Dutta and Piyali Sen, a lecturer and an employee in an IT firm respectively. They had married after a two-year courtship. Soon after, the couple started having problems. It was primarily because of mother of Dutta’s interference in their marital life.

The situation started getting worse and Sen started spending time window shopping in malls to avoid going home after work. She also started sharing her woes with a senior office colleague. He responded sympathetically and she soon started visiting his house and spending time there.

“There is so much diversity at the workplace that it leads to close interaction between colleagues but it makes sense to stay away from physical proximity,” says Aditi, who works at the Customer Service Delivery of a telecom major.

“One of my friends got close to one of her colleagues and when she started spending tea and coffee breaks with him, people started talking about her. Once they had gone to a club and they were featured in the photo shoot by a newspaper. The grapevine just went abuzz with rumours. None would believe that her husband was also close by!” says Aditi.

The phenomenon has been growing in India at a fast pace, particularly because women work with men as equals. As a result, both men and women encounter colleagues of the opposite sex with whom they can share time and thoughts and paving the way for intimate relationships. It often starts with discussing the boss or work and gradually spills over to discussions beyond the office. The process is a gradual one but inevitable.

Psychiatrist Kanika Mitra observes, “People spend long hours at work and the office becomes a second home for many. Most office-goers spend whole days and the better part of many evenings with colleagues and only get to spend time with their spouses on weekends.

In such a scenario, special friendships with a colleague of the opposite sex can develop very easily, leading to a close bond between people.”

Admittedly, having an office spouse can send your adrenaline levels shooting, but it is definitely not always fun. The unique bonding that such relationships create can provide emotional support when the going gets tough. Mitra, however, cautions. “It’s all right to have a close friend in office who can be your support and guide.

There’s a problem though. Such relationships can sometimes morph into a full-fledged affair.”

So what are the things you should keep in mind? Ask yourself these questions if you find yourself getting close to a person. Am I keeping the relationship a secret? Do I hide from my spouse every time I go for a coffee break with him/her? Do I often make comparisons between the both? If the answers to the questions are ‘yes’, then there’s cause for concern.

(Some names have been changed to protect confidentiality)
Trans World Features (TWF)
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