In the world of full-time employment, out there in the weeds of xerox machines and customer service, there are these things called “coworkers” and – just like your neighbors and your children – you don’t get to choose them. Nope. You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.
Most of the time. Unless you want to step into the lavatory stall, close the door, and silent scream. That’s a thing.
Jobs can be fun. Right?
“You’re too happy,” commented my coworker early on, “You like people too much. I give it six months. You’ll be jaded and cranky like the rest of us.”
“Jolie, you are a fish in a little pond,” a senior director manager type human said to me once, when I was considering a move up the corporate ladder into a larger professional arena, “but in that circle….they are sharks. You will need to learn survival skills. Don’t trust anyone.”
Too late. I already considered every person in that shark tank my “friend”. We were all helpful, kind, courteous, even going out to lunch once in a while. I couldn’t think of a single reason why any one of them would turn around and have me for lunch instead.
But adult friendships are trickier than third grade ones. I thought I had a friendship that was outside of office politics, the lady being quite worthy on her own two feet, but her loyalty to her boss was stronger than mere courtesy to me, and even though she apologized after the fact, she had not prevented me being thrown under a passing bus.
She was sorry/not sorry.
There were bigger fish fries than that, but are hardly worth recounting. I have since been told The Rules: under no circumstances do you consider a coworker a “friend”.
Even if you go to Happy Hour or yoga with these fish. Even if you “donate” an exorbitant amount of personal money towards an office baby shower gift for a fish from the next department over that you’ve never even exchanged paperclips with. Even if this fish swaps intimate mom stories with you and brings you Valentines Day treats and laughs with you over morning coffee.
If this fish has a personal family emergency, I am expected to act like my own mother was in a car explosion and make sure “the office” is supportive with donations, flowers, and cards. We will cover his work load with concerned faces and ask how the recovery is coming along.
If this fish senses that I am drifting into their territory, or if the boss needs bait for a bigger fish, or perhaps I am just not taking their teeth seriously enough, queue the Jaws theme song.
I am investing more time and money and love languages with these fish than my own family. In return, I am to expect…shark bites?
This concept is so far out of my box that I don’t know where to begin. So I asked a thirteen-year-old girlfriend for some help. We agreed that relationships in both school and office arenas are based upon being temporary and the “every man for himself” attitude. And we suppose everyone goes in with this expectation. Which is a huge waste of possibility, in our opinion.
Somewhere out there in the deep blue sea is a company getting this aquarium thing right. Employees are trained that there are enough krill and plenty of waves for everyone.
I still have a habit of petting sharks, treating them like shiny yellow tang.
Perhaps the only way you will know for sure whether you made an authentic friendship at school or work is if the person is still friendly after the building is gone. If you remove the competition and the politics and the teeth, and are left with a real person with no agenda, I’d say you can finally call that fish a friend.
Everyone else can go jump in the lake.
The Forgetful Files is creating safe, supportive space to explore different life transitions with courage, kindness, humor, and practicality. Please join the conversation by commenting in the box below and check back frequently on topics that hit home for you. By offering your unique perspective and resources, we can remember that no one is alone during a plot twist…unless they’re Jane Eyre.
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