Lucy Mangan nails why we don't need to be friends with our co-workers

Posted by
Lucy Mangan
backgroundLayer 1
Add this article to your list of favourites

The older she and I get the more I love Kim Cattrall. Since Sex And The City ended, she has gone on to earn plaudits in roles requiring acting chops she never got to display in full as Samantha, handled numerous unsubstantiated tabloid attacks with grace, and spoken out on various women’s issues, including the right to sexual pleasure, ageism and the sidelining and invisibility of women as we get older. Now she has done us all a further favour by speaking openly about her relationship with the rest of the SATC cast and saying firmly – without rancour or defensiveness – that they were not friends, but colleagues with a common purpose; to make a great show. Since that ended, they have gone their separate ways.

It is rare to hear a woman in the public eye willing to make such a distinction between work and friendship. And yet it is a distinction worth making because the blurring of these two areas in real life has such an impact on us.

I have been out of the office a while now, but when I was there the thing that used to leave me most drained was not the workload – though that was bad enough, even with the protection my lack of ambition afforded me against taking on extra duties; I believe there is still a plaque to me somewhere as the High Queen of Passive-Resistance – but the constant pressure to be friends with everyone.

There has been a lot of talk lately about the desirability and benefits of having a “work wife” – a best friend at work whose tastes and attitudes you share and who’s got your back and vice versa, and I’m sure it’s lovely if it happens naturally and spontaneously. But that’s a real friendship that just happens to have arisen at work.

No, I’m talking about the endless making-nice that is imposed unnaturally on everyone at work, but disproportionately so on women, which makes me tired to even think of. When you need all your concentration and energy to keep on top of your job (which is equally true whether you love it or loathe it), keeping track of people’s latest diet fads, 5k training, cat adoptions and contraceptive side-effects eats up too much of your mental bandwidth. And your time is similarly consumed by small talk and emails that have to be twice as long as necessary so that they don’t seem peremptory and the sender ‘up herself’ before you can delegate a task. It’s professional emotional labour. And then you go home and do the domestic version.

I sometimes think men’s greatest advantage at work is that they don’t have to fanny about like this. They don’t have to grease the wheels of interaction, feign interests they don’t feel or decorate straightforward requests or brief instructions with a time-consuming load of disingenuous rubbish. Of course everyone has to do it – we’ve all had to butter up crappy clients and managers – but women do it more; and, crucially, have to do it more because, as things currently stand, we will get penalised if not.

But when someone like Cattrall speaks out and says, basically – no, colleagues don’t need to be friends; you can just come together and do a job well and then part without guilt, it liberates us all. It’s time for women to take a little step back and stop feeling the need to be all things to all people. Being a good colleague without becoming good friends doesn’t make you a b*tch. Trying to be both will probably turn you into one, though. Take it from me, and all the colleagues’ and kittens’ names I never did remember. 

A proposal put forward by Dr Alan Smith, bishop of St Albans for a digital marriage registry looks set to enable mothers’ names to be added to marriage certificates.     

Why marriage certificates need a makeover

You could be forgiven for thinking that the idea of human history as one of overall progress and improvement was dead, but let me offer you one small light in the darkness. A proposal put forward by Dr Alan Smith, bishop of St Albans and one of the UK’s 26 Lords Spiritual (I do love this country sometimes), for a digital marriage registry looks set to enable mothers’ names to be added to marriage certificates. At the moment, a couple’s distaff (or female if you’re not familiar with legalese) sides – generally quite an important part of their lives – are erased from the record. Only the fathers’ names and occupations have historically been of note.

Dr Smith has put forward an alternative registry that would negate many of the difficulties – especially the financial – that attend such an alteration to tradition. Hurrah! We can move immediately on to the next question. How many Ladies Spiritual are there? Over to you, established church of the realm! 

Images: iStock