Today’s feature in our new series HerStories: Tales of Friendship comes from Emily Tedeschi, who tells us about her friendship with a co-worker. Sometimes, in our culture the true importance of workplace friendships can get minimized — have you ever heard someone say, “Oh, that’s just a work friend”? — but as Emily so beautifully describes, for working moms particularly, these relationships are critical sources of support.
Although I seem friendly with a lot of people, I have very few people in my life that I let close enough to be actual friends. To have someone in my life who knows how neurotic I am but also sees the good in me—it is a truly wonderful gift. A true friend is someone you don’t have to provide any context for—no need to explain why I’m occasionally a titanic asshole, or why authority figures make me cringy, or why I loathe driving with every pore of my being. Nope, they got this, they don’t need any explanation.
My mom was a housewife, who seemed quite relieved to quit teaching English to remedial students in Gloucester so she could stay home while my dad went off to work—he was a psychiatrist and during my childhood, he seemed to have about fifteen random jobs. When he came home, my mom had her duties clearly laid out for her: make a good dinner and make Pleasant Conversation. Clearly, my tendency to Want to Make Things Pleasant at all times is hereditary. Awkward silence? Oh, I’ll fill it, usually with neurotic ramblings that resemble John Cusack talking about kickboxing to his girlfriend’s less-than-thrilled father in Say Anything. Have something critical to say? Oh, I’ll couch it in cringing apologetics for so long that the person being criticized will fairly beg to have me spit out what I have to say.
I also, like my mom, have the self-esteem of…give me someone or something with poor self-esteem. Kim Jong-Il’s tailor? Lindsay Lohan’s personal assistant? You get the idea. So despite the fact that I endeavor to keep Things Pleasant so that Everyone Will Like Me, I seem to have no problem saying incredibly disparaging things about myself, all the time. It has gotten slightly better since I was younger, thanks to an endlessly patient husband, a good therapist, and possibly some meds. Maybe.
So a friend of mine has to put up with a lot. They have to pierce through my relentless urges to be liked and my endless self-criticism and get me to frigging relax. It’s hard work, people. My friend Stacy is willing to wade through this meshugas and for that, I am eternally grateful. We work together and it doesn’t matter how peevish I am being, or how weird my family or coworkers are—nothing fazes her. I mean NOTHING. I know we’re good friends because I can’t even remember when we decided to become friends. It just seemed pretty easy, and it’s probably because we both have the sensibility of a ten year old boy. My guess is someone used the word “duty” in a staff meeting, we sniggered simultaneously, you know, ‘cause it sounds like doody…look, if I’ve lost you here, FORGET IT WE CAN NEVER BE FRIENDS… and a beautiful friendship was born. There just didn’t seem to be any of that strain that often accompanies getting to know someone.
Similarly, it seemed pretty easy for our families to become friends. Her husband and my husband genuinely like each other. Her kids think my son is insane, but they kind of like it. And my son is obsessed with Stacy, probably because when he visits the office she basically ululates like a deranged malamute and chases him down the hallway.
To me, there are two essential components of friendship: open acceptance and willingness to be around during the crap. In the past twelve months, Stacy’s dad had a heart attack and she lost her house to Hurricane Sandy. This means that there have been a lot of days when she’s been trudging through the day—and this is made harder because when she goes home at night, it’s to a room in her dad’s house, where she, her husband, and her two sons are sleeping on futons.
Now, I’ve seen natural disasters on the news. I sent money to help survivors of the tsunami in the Pacific, the earthquake in Haiti, and Hurricane Katrina. But I’ve never been surrounded by one before. I didn’t lose anything except big tree branches, yet I can still recall the terror of that storm, and the complete, unnerving silence that followed, at least a couple of times a day. Stacy had to see her kid’s Legos and Star Wars sheets floating through her house. She had to see people looting, the US Army preventing access to her neighborhood, and the smell of petroleum and sewage permeating her once beautiful neighborhood. In short, what happened to Stacy is not something that a trip to the mall is going to fix.
So when her door is closed, sometimes I will leave her alone. Sometimes I will tap on it and bring her a candy bar. Sometimes I will barrel in and talk about my helplessness in dealing with my father’s slide into dementia. We listen to each other. We tell each other to get the hell out of our office so we can get back to work. We trade war stories. We pray our husbands have no clue about how much of our personal lives we disclose to one another. And yeah, sometimes we go to the mall.
Do you see your own friendships with other women at work in Emily’s story? How has a work friend supported you professionally and personally? Send us your story at firstname.lastname@example.org
Emily Tedeschi is an office drone somewhere near the Jersey Shore. She has a mildly deranged husband and son who make her life worth living and once in a blue moon, she posts on a blog called “Yes, But Can I Put Cheese On It?” that was supposed to be about cooking, but really isn’t. If you need her, she will be reading a book about vicars while her son demands more Cocoa Puffs.