A week after I started my new job, Jessica started hers and was assigned the cubicle next to me.
It only took one lunch, and we were fast friends. We bonded over being the newbies on the team. We bonded over shared assignments. We bonded over lattes, lunch breaks, and post-work happy hours. When we both got engaged a few months later, we bonded over rings and flowers and wedding venues. And about a year in, when our jobs took a turn for the worse, we bonded over our misery.
Before the term was even really a thing, Jessica was my work wife.
I still remember the day her team moved to another wing of the office. Mind you, her new cube was a mere 30-second walk from mine, but not sharing that grey felt wall sucked.
So you can imagine how I felt when she put in her two weeks notice.
Over coffee, she told me that the company she’d been interviewing with had made her an offer, and that she was going to take it. And why shouldn't she? She was unhappy, and the new job was a big career jump (not to mention a big raise).
I knew I should’ve been thrilled for her. The clink of glasses at her good-bye party was a real step toward the outcome we’d both been working toward—she had just done it first.
But in reality, it felt like a breakup. The confidante I’d turn to after a difficult meeting, the friend I could count on to blow off steam with after a tough day, the constant presence in my daily life wouldn’t be there anymore. I remember the first few days and weeks after she left feeling lost. Sure, I had other work friends, but pretty much every move I made at the office had involved her in some way. She was gone, and I wasn’t quite sure what to do.
I also remember feeling a bit silly that her departure hit me so hard. And when I first sat down to write this article, I meant to offer advice for not ending up in the same boat. Advice like not putting all of your eggs in one work wife basket, or remembering that the best office pals will be around long after your corporate tenure.
That’s fair. But I realized that what most of us need in this situation need isn’t advice, but a reminder that it’s OK to feel a sense of loss when our best work buds move on.
Because there’s something so special about this type of friendship. In some ways, our work friends become the closest people to us. As our lives intertwine, we start sharing things that we don't even discuss with our best friends. Besides our roommates and partners, who sees what we wear every day? Who listens to the details of what we did the night before, every single day?
And who knows in intimate detail all about our work, which is, for many of us, one of the biggest parts of our identity? Not just the triumphs we post on LinkedIn, but the difficult meetings, the heated conversations, the stress. When you talk about your job with friends, family, even your partner, there’s a mystery you’re allowed to have (and that, frankly, you need to have if you want them to continue hanging out with you). But our best work friends hear and see it all.
Fast forward eight years or so to last week, when my closest friend at my current job told me he was leaving. The person I’ve shared every challenge, triumph, and in-between moment with over the past four years. The person who’s cheered me on, who’s helped me through the most painful phases of startup life, who’s the first one I turn to when I need a gut check on a big decision. My work husband.
And it stings all over again. I’m happy for his new chapter, of course, but I know that not having him just a Slack or coffee run away will be tough.
I also know that, just as Jessica and I did, we’ll stay friends. It changes, of course. It’s the adult equivalent of your best friend who lived across the street moving to the next town over. You can’t see each other every day, but maybe you see each other on the weekends. Your workdays aren’t the same, but soon you create a new routine. You build closer relationships with other colleagues (or maybe you don’t). You move on, too (or maybe you don’t). No matter what, you find a new normal.
This time around, though, I’ll give myself permission to feel sad. Maybe it is silly. But maybe it’s also the best way to honor a friendship that’s made me happier, even better at, my job over the past four years.
(I guess the other best way would be refraining from sharing the details of the 2014 holiday party in public—but sorry, Elliott, this is what you get.)