It’s no longer just in showbiz that the question of special relationships that endanger the marketability of love teams and the box-office appeal of rising stars is routinely dismissed with the insignificant tag — we’re just friends. So what if we have the same mailing address.
Friendship is a loose and often undefined relationship without a job description or a list of obligations. There is no formal agreement specifying duties (Must confide latent amorous interest as soon as this becomes evident) or imposing rules like frequency of meetings.
It can be disputed if a claimed friendship is even reciprocated or recognized. The higher a person goes up the corporate or political ladder, the greater the number of acquaintances claiming to be his buddy. So proof of actual friendship is not even required.
There are degrees of friendship. There is a close friend (He attends the New Year’s Eve dinner at home), an acquaintance (Familiar with your first wife’s name and affiliation), a childhood buddy (Last seen in the high school reunion). The ties that bind differ — classmate, childhood neighbors, or thrown together by chance in a difficult situation like a foreign mugging.
There is now a new category, brought on perhaps by the cluttered hierarchy of closeness that has taken the place of “close friend.” The “soul mate” harks back to the Greek philosophers, maybe Socrates who talked about looking for the missing half of your soul. The soul mate is a person who completes you and settles down your once restless quest for the perfect partner. It’s never too late.
Are there soul mates to be found in the office?
For one, people who can finish your sentences are not considered particularly close, only rude — why do you keep interrupting me before I get to my point? That is not at all what I meant to say.
In a social setting, the soul mate can be a wonderful person to talk with as she is always on the same wave length and able to converse without the need for words. (How can you take the minutes of a meeting if everyone is quiet and just staring at each other?)
Nothing strains soul mating more than a business partnership or reporting relationship. The perfect harmony that soul mates display will only look like obsequiousness. The posture of constant and invariable assent and admiration can be easily mistaken as being a fawning “yes man.” (Yes, sir, you put that argument so well.)
Intimacy is seldom defined by goals. There is no assignment of tasks and responsibilities which need to be rated at the end of a period. Time, treasure, and talent are given to a soul mate not out of expectations of reward or good ratings but merely to make the other person happy and at peace. Action and thought are guided only by a fond regard for another.
Seldom will one in power declare openly and consistently that a specific person is a soul mate except perhaps in the context of a speech at a wedding, and referring always to the newlyweds. The inappropriateness of acknowledging unique ties of friendship in a corporate setting can arise out of the fear of alienating others whose help one also needs to succeed.
Still, in the context of separations and public displays of public disaffection (I don’t seem to know here anymore. Who is this beast?), there is no need to use the once-favored terms for a third party in a ménage a trois. Terms like lover, interloper, other man, or even special friend require too much legal proofs and presumptions of guilt.
A soul mate, on the other hand, propounds an undefined closeness arising from a chance encounter. (Sparks flew when we met at a product launch.) Even the activities mutually enjoyed do not necessarily refer to anything prurient — we can play chess without a board.
Presumptions of more pedestrian types of intimacy are dismissed as base and totally misunderstanding the relationship — she had nothing on but the radio.
The ambiguity of what a soul mate is can make such a label difficult to place in an office setting. There are more robust and clear-cut corporate terms for the positive attitude of an executive or employee — team player, prepared to do the heavy lifting, and always on the same page.
The soul mate lives in another plane, where money doesn’t matter… or is presumed not to.
A. R. Samson is chair and CEO of Touch DDB.