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I do, at work
In many offices, a best friend is just like a spouse
By KRISTI L. GUSTAFSON, Staff writer
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First published: Saturday, April 22, 2006

Carrie Monthie loves mornings spent with her husband. She and Dave read the newspaper and talk baseball. Dave tells her what he and 4-month-old Patrick plan to do that day. He promises to do Carrie's laundry, while she's at work.

After 5 years of marriage, Carrie, 28, is as crazy about Dave, 29, as she ever was. He puts up with her bossy nature and listens well. He even cooks and cleans. Dave is, simply put, the perfect husband.

When Carrie Monthie bursts through the office door at Troy's Vanderheyden Hall, Jim Carkner greets her.

"Did you have your coffee yet?" Carkner, 33, asks. He gets her a fresh cup. They talk baseball. Jim briefs her on the daily routines of the Vanderheyden residents. They make lunch plans. Monthie kvetches about work. He listens, says "uh huh" in all the right places.

After nearly two years of working together, Carkner is the best work friend Monthie can imagine. In fact, Carkner is Monthie's work husband, she says, and he, too, is perfect.

Monthie considers Carkner her "office spouse" (a year and counting on this union). It's a connection that is common in many workplaces.

Although some people consider such relationships emotional adultery, this isn't about romance. An office spouse can be single or married, straight or gay, and is, most importantly, uninterested in an intimate relationship.

More than just a friend or colleague, an office spouse is the person you talk to all day, who knows your romantic and familial woes, who's there when you need a confidante, a pick-me-up or a joke. He or she is the workplace comrade with whom you share looks, laughs and, well, life.

"As Americans of both sexes spend more time than ever at work, platonic office marriages evolve naturally through shared responsibilities, experiences and goals," says Tory Johnson, the workplace contributor on "Good Morning America." She's also the CEO of the New York City-based recruiting firm Women For Hire. "You watch each other's back. You root for each other's success. You plan, plot and scheme together to get the job done."

Perfect relationship

Co-workers Michelle Manchester and Paula Davis root for one another regularly. If Davis is down, Manchester tells jokes and acts silly. When Manchester worries about finances, Davis talks it through with her. The divorced women, and mothers of grown children, have been "spouses" for 15 years, ever since Davis came to work at Manchester's ABC Nursery School in Clifton Park.

It's a perfect relationship, they say, one with occasional disagreements, but constant laughter. For years, parents of students in the school have told them they seemed married.

They've got that simpatico, the rapport. And, like any good marriage, they're big on communication and respect.

"Her strengths are my weaknesses, and my strengths are her weaknesses," says Davis, who is good with money and can repair anything; Manchester does not think about finances and she can't fix anything.

"She's far more creative," Davis says of Manchester. "She sees the business in the sense of making it the place that it is, where I'm more the practical one. I look at the nuts and bolts and make it work."

Man and man

For Dan Frank, work just wouldn't be the same without Joe Pickett. Frank realized Pickett was his office husband after hearing the topic discussed on CNBC's "Squawk Box." The Guilderland man came to work that morning, leaned over Pickett's cube and declared them husband and, well, husband.

"I thought it was funny, considering he's a 30-year-old straight guy and I'm a 44-year-old gay guy," says Pickett, who works on the technology side of a local financial institution. "We've shared a lot of information about our love lives and families over the years."

At one point in their six-year professional relationship, Frank felt he needed a little queer eye to pick up his wardrobe, Pickett recalls. So the men hit the mall.

Pickett's partner, Steve Sondrini doesn't mind the "other man." In fact, Sondrini told Pickett that Frank is "cute." (Although jealousy may worm around at work, jokes Pickett, from the "six other women in the office who fawn over Dan," and don't get the coveted "spouse" title).

Two husbands

Dave Monthie is jealousy free, too. He says his wife needs a husband to take care of her at home and one to take care of her at work, and Carkner is the perfect partner. Carkner, who is single, makes decisions on where he and Monthie will go to lunch, he drives when they go anywhere and has a great sense of direction -- just like Monthie's home husband. But that's where the similarities end.

"He's friendly and outgoing and talks to anybody," says Dave Monthie. "I'd rather keep to myself and not deal with anybody."

Yet Monthie loves them both.

While the corporate spouse concept works for Frank and Monthie, some experts see potential danger.

"A spouse is a spouse is a spouse, and unless you acknowledge that you have a mistress, you don't get to have an office spouse, a gym spouse, a local coffee shop spouse, etc.," says April Masini, author of "Think and Date Like a Man." "Relationships need boundaries, if you want to live in a world that is peaceful and devoid of chaos."

Since we spend 35 to 40 hours a week in the office, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, it's not uncommon for deep friendships to form and those deep friendships sometimes turn into attraction, says Long Island's Debbie Mandel, a stress-management specialist and author of "Turn On Your Inner Light." People see office spouses as a safety net, someone who offers the comforts and perks of an at-home spousal relationship, minus the nagging nuances that come along with cohabitation. And minus the sex.

Which makes for a nice balance, at least for Monthie.

"It's never been inappropriate or weird," Carrie Monthie says of her relationship with Carkner. "It's this really good friend who reminds me a lot of my husband, in the sense that he's stable and he's sane and he keeps me that way."

Kristi Gustafson can be reached at 454-5494 or by e-mail at kgustafson@timesunion.com.

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