We have an innate desire to define the world around us. As soon as we see something, we want to know what it is. What’s its name? What’s its purpose? In many cases this is helpful. After all, it’s definitions that keep me from wasting time each night trying to decide between my toothbrush or my claw hammer. Definitions allow us to bring a semblance of recognition to the chaos in and around our lives.
This applies to the people in our lives as well. We define family, friends, and partners, and arrange them into neat little categories however we believe they best fit in our lives. Unfortunately, though, people rarely remain in their positions as easily as a toothbrush or a hammer. Friends become partners, family becomes strangers, and it’s quite a confusing and stressful time when one’s categorical structure begins to fluctuate.
Even a relationship as innocuous as a work friend can be a source of great speculation and unknown. What do you do when it looks like you might be becoming more than just work buds? Do you nip this transformation in the bud as quick as possible to save the original relationship? Or do you welcome the change and invite this stranger into all the areas of your life they were previously unaware of? Further, what’s the protocol when this starts to occur? Are there rules and obligations all parties are supposed to abide by? Maybe you didn’t think anything of it when you declined three straight offers from a coworker to hangout. But in his eyes, you made it perfectly clear you don’t ever want to be more than work friends.
Transitioning from work to permanent friends is, in a way, a space more difficult to navigate than dating. At least with dating you’re afforded the luxury of honest of intentions. You can tell someone you like them, or that you want the relationship to be romantic. With work friends there’s a lot more subtlety. It’s not like you can walk up to Scott from in-purchasing and go, “hey man since we’re such good friends around the water cooler what do you say we start being buds all the time?” That’s just weird. No, instead you have to wait for the right opportunity, like both of you mentioning how good a bar’s happy hour is, or a mutual excitement for an upcoming sporting event. Then you can hit Scott with “I finally checked out that grill’s patio you told me about last month; we should hit that up after work one day.”
From there, it’s a tightrope. If happy hour goes well and the camaraderie in the break room is present at the bar top, you’re faced with the decision of just how much of that you want in your life. Should that guy be in your foursome this weekend? Or is it best served where it already is. And who sets up the second invite? Is it on him since you arrested the first one? Let’s say you were the one that ref dived the invitation. Is there some window of opportunity to return that invite that not only are you unaware of, but is also rapidly closing? And when is the transformation complete? You can’t go out and buy the guy a friendship ring, so are y’all more than work friends after three hangouts? When he meets the crew? When he makes the group text? No one knows.
Ultimately, defining someone as more than just a work friend is completely up to you. Some of my best friends started off as work buddies and I can tell you I have no idea when I stopped associating them with our job. I just know at one point they began to be labeled “my friends” instead of “my coworkers.” One commonality it does share with dating is the transition is much easier after you get past the boozy stage. If you can find more common ground than just place of employment and a love of cheap margs, I’d say you’re probably there..
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