friends forever?

Where Are All My Work Friends?

Photo-Illustration: by the Cut; Photo Getty Images

The “best work friend” is a different friend category than “best camp friend,” “best friend from high school,” or “best college friend.” They’re the person you spend more time with than anyone else besides maybe a live-in partner (and that’s a big maybe).

The best work friend knows every single thing you eat in a day — because they’re one cubicle over while you do it. They comfort you after meetings that make you rush to the stairwell to cry. They proofread emails you want to send to your boss asking for a raise, and they sit next to you in meetings while you Slack each other pithy pieces of bullshit and dozens of Real Housewives memes. They trauma-bond with you over mass layoffs and are your photo-booth buddy at the company holiday party. You gossip a lot and probably know every detail about the wedding they’re planning, but you don’t expect to be invited (though you will definitely shower them in cupcakes and Champagne at the office).

When I got a book deal in 2019, the first person I told was my co-worker, Ashley. I could have called my mom or Gchatted my partner. I could have dropped a message into my college friends’ group chat. But Ashley was right there sitting at the work space inches from mine, looking at me with wide, hopeful eyes and crossed fingers as I talked on the phone with my agent.

For months, she had listened to me bitch about this project; she cheered me through every step and every rejection. So when my call ended, it felt natural to blurt out the news. She jumped up, elated, and demanded we take a walk for a celebratory cookie, just as we had done to mark so many great (and shitty!) moments throughout the four years we worked together.

In so many ways, the best work friend is your closest ally, confidante, and, yes, friend. But rarely does such a friendship spill beyond the borders of the workplace.

I never used to mind that most of my best work friends, Ashley included, hadn’t made the leap into my out-of-office circle of friends. I was perfectly content with the space they occupied in my life: in the office, sharing a bag of Cheetos as we hurtled toward deadlines together.

Then the pandemic put the kibosh on office life as we knew it. When we saw that our bosses’ bosses were working from yachts or Nantucket mansions while we were relegated to our one-bedroom apartments with partners who took their meetings loudly in the living room, there was no voicing our complaints about the ostentatiousness over lunch. Sure, we messaged about the end of the world and the emotional toll of reporting on death and destruction. But long gone were the “Wanna go for a walk?” Slacks, the snack runs, and the impromptu sharing of ecstatic news.

We were simply … colleagues.

Over the past two years, I’ve missed that reliable camaraderie greatly, more than anything else about my in-person work life. I’ve missed random nights out with co-workers, the types that end with karaoke to Blink-182 or boozy huddles where we spend an hour talking about how much we love one another. I’ve missed raucous reunions where it’s okay to be petty about that one time a former colleague wronged us five years ago. Most of all, I’ve missed the small mundane interactions that made going to work so fun: bathroom pep talks and mid-afternoon coffee runs and laughing hysterically at one another’s horrible jokes because back-to-back meetings have fried our brains. The lack of best work friends, for me, has been a surprisingly notable loss in the great sea of grief we’ve all experienced in COVID’s wake.

Now that some employers have shifted back to in-person or hybrid models of work, some office dwellers are likely rekindling their best work friendships. Maybe they’re already taking long lunches in their cafeterias and picking up coffee for one another on their way into the daily morning meeting. But like many of my peers, I joined the Great Resignation and quit my job in June 2021, abandoning Ashley and the hope of having a best work friend for the foreseeable future. I’ve never second-guessed my decision, but one of the hardest parts of letting my nine-to-five job go was saying good-bye to the daily check-ins and creative collaboration with someone I respect immensely and had worked side by side with for years.

We are still friends, just of a different sort — the kind who text every few weeks to say “hi i fucking miss you!!!” We still update each other and cheerlead from afar, from our respective homes, an hour of subway time between them. There’s no denying that going from seeing each other every day to just a few times a year, likely after some rescheduling and a hundred or so planning texts, has resulted in a different, less connected bond.

Ashley and I grabbed dinner at a little Italian place on the Lower East Side with another of our best work friends in the fall, sharing platters of pasta and big life updates. At the end of the meal, we hugged fiercely and vowed to see one another more often.

It took us six months to schedule our next get-together. I can’t wait.

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Where Are All My Work Friends?