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For many, Jim and Pam’s relationship in The Office portrayed a sort of fairytale romance in modern times. It had women swooning over Jim’s unwavering devotion to Pam, even during her engagement to another man and even though she wasn’t fully supportive of his own ambitions until the final few episodes. Basically, the message was “find a guy who will let you just be yourself while he completely gives in to all of your wants and needs.” Hell, he had to secretly get involved with his dream job because he was worried she wouldn’t even support him. Touching. But up front, I have to admit that I have always been Team Karen, partially because I think she was the best catch for Jim in the series and partially because I didn’t buy the premise that Pam was Jim’s soulmate to begin with.
And, when you think about it, she wasn’t.
Ever since the 1950s, studies have been performed addressing the theory of “proximity attraction,” showing, generally, a correlation between closer proximity and time of exposure to attraction. Why are people “office hot?” Why do so many flings start at work, causing people to perpetually violate the old axiom of “don’t crap where you eat”? Because the more you see someone, the more attractive they become. And it doesn’t just apply romantically or physically. Some of the studies showed that proximity attraction is what creates bonds, lasting friendships, and was even instrumental in breaking down racial barriers. It’s a surprisingly simple concept for a phenomenon so often studied.
This obviously applies to Jim and Pam who sat ten feet apart and faced one another for years. Eventually, that led to Jim regularly hanging out with her at reception and interacting with her even more than her fiancé, Roy, who worked in the warehouse and rarely visited her at reception despite having a pretty lax boss in Michael Scott. That many years in close proximity had a major factor in their attraction, but notice how quickly that attraction disappeared when Jim left for Stamford (yes, they weren’t together, but they were both single) or when Pam went to New York for art school or when Jim was working part-time at Athlead in Philadelphia. They had to close the distance to have chemistry again. I’m not saying that distance is not difficult. It’s extremely difficult, even for great couples who love each other, but Jim and Pam’s relationship seemed to fizzle quite quickly in those situations, causing pain on both sides and even opening up doors for others to make a move, even New York art nerds. So why was such a great relationship so quick to fizzle with distance?
Not only were they in close proximity for a long time, they used each other’s company to endure a stressful work environment, which strengthened their bond. Which is great, if she wasn’t engaged and her fiance didn’t work in the same building. Would the story have been different with Roy sitting at Dwight’s desk? I believe so. Not that Roy was Pam’s soulmate, but Jim wouldn’t have been able to have repeated, uninterrupted contact with her. Jim and Pam (as a couple) were simply offices crushes or for lack of a better term, “work wives” that worked out in the end. And that’s fine! It’s just not a worthy relationship goal.
As much as I hate to say it, the real soulmate examples in The Office were Michael and Holly, with Dwight and Angela being in the gray area between “office hot” fling and soulmates. When you saw them together, you just knew it. Especially Michael and Holly, odd as they were. So, unfortunately, Jim and Pam aren’t the fairytale romance in The Office, it’s Michael and Holly, although in the end, I wouldn’t say that any relationship in the show was particularly healthy. But, then again, how many are? .