I worked with the same two guys for more than 20 years. Steve, Steve and I climbed the corporate ladder together, though Steve One was a little older and a little ahead of Steve Two and me. Steve One ended up as the company President. Steve Two and I ended our careers as Senior Vice Presidents, reporting to Steve One. We were so intertwined that when the company was sold, they dismissed the three of us as a package!
No one ever questioned the friendship between the two Steves but I was asked many times if I was having an affair with one or had had an affair with the other. The first time I was asked, I was offended. How dare anyone think I would have an affair with a married man! The next time I was insulted. Did this person think I slept my way to the top? No. I worked my butt off to get those promotions, thank you very much.
I first met Steve One in 1982 in Kansas City MO. He interviewed me for my first real job. Before I went in for the interview I told myself I wouldn’t take anything less than $12,000 a year and he offered me $14,000 – in the FIRST interview. Over the years he taught me so much about business. I admired him. I respected him. I trusted him. He was married to his first wife at the time we met. Outside of the office, we played on the same recreational soccer team.
A few years later he was promoted to our company’s home office in Minneapolis and I took a job in Houston Texas. We stayed in touch with Christmas cards and when we had big news. These were the days before Facebook. Even before email. These were the days when you took out a pen and paper, wrote a letter, placed it in an envelope, addressed the envelope, bought a stamp and placed it in the mailbox. You really had to want to share that information back then. It was also before cell phones and when you paid for long-distance calls by the number of minutes you used, so long distance phone calls were saved for family. Steve One and I wrote to each other when he got divorced, I got married, he got remarried, I had a child, I got divorced, and I accepted a job with a Fortune 100 company in Minneapolis.
Once settled in the Twin Cities, Steve One and I met for lunch. He was just “Steve” back then. We talked about the same things any two people who hadn’t seen each other in a while would talk about; our families, our jobs, our hobbies. Like many single people with their married friends, we rarely got together in the evening unless I was dating someone. Then Steve and his wife and my beau and I would do couple things. When I wasn’t in a relationship, Steve and I generally caught up over lunch or happy hour. ALWAYS with his wife in the know.
A year after I move to the Twin Cities Steve had an opening in his company and he asked me to go to work for him….again. I accepted and that’s where I met Steve Two. Steve Two was married with two young daughters; one of which was my son’s age. Steve Two and I quickly fell into what experts call a “work spouse” relationship, which Patrick Erwin describes in his CNN article:
“A work spouse is a co-worker of the opposite sex with whom you have a close platonic relationship. In many ways, these relationships can mirror a real marriage.”
Erwin continues with the characteristics of a work spouse relationship are:
- When something eventful happens at work, this co-worker is the first person you seek out for a de-briefing.
- At breakfast, lunch and coffee breaks, your closest co-worker knows what to order for you and how you like your coffee (and vice versa).
- You and your co-worker can finish each other’s sentences.
- Someone in your office knows almost as much about your personal life as your best friend or real-life spouse does.
That absolutely described my relationship with Steve Two. We ate lunch together almost every day. We traveled for business together frequently. When we were home, though, we didn’t see each other outside of work. That was his time for his wife and kids and my time for my son.
Neither of us was physically attracted to the other. I didn’t even think about Steve Two in that way. He didn’t think of me in that way either. We weren’t each other’s “type.” That didn’t stop people in the office from gossiping, or his wife from worrying; unjustly but none-the-less she worried. Steve Two and his first wife ended up divorcing. He remarried and even though I had known Steve Two before he even met his second wife, she was just as jealous of my friendship with her husband as his first wife had been.
Why did so many people have a hard time believing a man and a woman can be just friends? Perhaps they don’t believe they are capable of such. Or maybe those who accuse are guilty of an affair in their past. At first I felt the need to defend myself but was reminded of the quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks,” which has come to describe someone’s “overly frequent and vehement attempts to convince others of some matter of which the opposite is true, thereby making themselves appear defensive and insincere” (source: Wikipedia).
Since Steve, Steve and I were laid off due to the sale of the company, we have each gone our own way. Steve One owns his own consulting company. Steve Two landed a similar leadership position with another company and I’m writing and freelancing and calling myself “semi-retired.” I still meet up with Steve One and Steve Two, both together and independently, every few weeks. These friendships were never just about the work. These are two people I care deeply about and who care deeply about me. It has nothing to do with gender and it has nothing to do with physical attraction.
The Steves and I are living proof that men and women can be just friends.
Photo credit: Pixabay