Mad Men: Work Spouses

23 May 2012

written by Carolyn


This past Sunday’s episode of “Mad Men” featured some sizzling and not-so-innocent flirtation between office assistant Joan and advertising genius/resident bad boy Don Draper. The Joan/Don bar scene was perfect, and not only because it featured the two hottest people on the show tacitly acknowledging a mutual attraction and acting like they kinda sorta maybe wanted to spend the rest of the afternoon in a hotel room. As I watched the scene, it dawned on me: Joan is Don’s new work wife!

If you watch Mad Men, you’ll realize that Don has always had a work wife – an attractive woman in the office, with whom there’s some sexual attraction that may or may not be acted upon, to counterbalance a home life he finds dull. At the beginning of this season, Don appeared to finally have it all in Megan – a work wife and actual wife wrapped up in one. When Megan decided to quit the advertising agency to pursue her acting career – which appears to mean taking acting classes and getting angry at her husband for being, well, Don Draper – it was inevitable that Don would need a new work wife. Judging from last week’s episode, Joan may be the new Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce version of Mrs. Draper.

I’ve had a few work husbands: men who were truly my best friends in the office, in whom I could confide anything (work-related), with whom I shared every shred of office gossip, and whom I trusted to tell it to me straight when I needed it most. Most of those work husbands remained platonic friends, though, as with Joan and Don, there was always just a hint of tension beneath the purely platonic surface. Sleeping with a work husband gets very messy, and I don’t recommend it. It blurs lines that need to remain clear. I also never used my work husbands as confidants on anything other than work matters. We knew the basics of each other’s home and personal lives, but I wasn’t there for “my wife just doesn’t understand me,” and they weren’t there to hear me complain about my relationship, either.

For dramatic purposes, part of me hopes the dynamism between Don and Joan plays out for the rest of the season. I’m not sure I want them to actually hook up, because there’s certainly no future in it for their characters. I wouldn’t mind seeing the end of Don’s new marriage, simply because Don is a much more interesting character when he’s a womanizing boozehound than he is as a happily married, faithful and devoted husband. But outside of thinking how hot a Joan/Don hookup would be, it wouldn’t be wise, either for the story or as a representative work husband/work wife relationship.

What about you? Have you ever had a work wife or husband? Did it turn romantic or remain platonic? Does your spouse or significant other have a work spouse?

7 Comments on Mad Men: Work Spouses

  1. Tyrone M.

    At first, I thought Peggy was his work wife, but you’re right. It’s always been Joan. I think he was a little adrift when she was on maternity leave. I just hope their relationship stays platonic. I suspect it will, with Roger Sterling in the picture.

    I’ve had work spouses. But it always stayed platonic, thank goodness. I learned early on that mixing work and romance never ends up well. I saw it go sour too often. Everything’s great, then they split up. Messy.

    I don’t know if my wife has a work spouse. I think she does. I think almost everyone does, and it can make work a little bit more manageable.

  2. Carolyn

    I think Peggy was Don’s work wife at one point, but after he got a real work wife, Peggy as shunted off to the side. He seems to like women who are ambitious, but not enough to compete with him.

  3. Reads4Pleasure

    Once upon a time I had a work husband that turned into a romance that turned into a “I can’t wait until he leaves this project because I’m tired of looking at him all day at work only to turn around and find him at my place in the evening.”

    I was shocked by the Joan/Don afternoon outing because up until now, there hasn’t been much interaction between them and it’s always been limited to business. I’m interested to see if it goes anywhere.

  4. Carolyn

    See? Messy!

  5. Lewis Barlow

    No, I have never had a work wife. But I have had a lot of work sisters though. And odd term but I tend to try to watch-out for and help a lot of women at work. Perhaps it is the same thing? But I am not expecting any help from them in return. Has never turned romantic.

  6. Carolyn

    I think it’s the same or at least a similar concept. Works very well when no romance it’s involved.

  7. BigLittleWolf

    How lovely to come across this post about Mad Men, while I’m still going through season end withdrawal…

    I hadn’t thought about Don’s work wives. Good observation.

    Thinking back on my corporate career, I suspect I was the “work wife” to a few managers – supporting their efforts while frequently more or less on my own, with my own. As I consider the question, I realize this wasn’t the case with all but one of the female managers I had. Most were high level women with strong leadership skills and a commitment to supporting the other women working to do our jobs and be recognized and compensated for them (we were few).

    Fascinating topic…

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