Monday, 23 November 2009
Catherine Millet (or should I say Catherine Millet, 60, Writer) wrote yesterday in the Observer that she likes her men younger these days, because they have more energy than middle-aged ones. And, more newsworthy perhaps, that she’s ‘cool with mixing sex and work’. I thought this was a fabulously random view to share, and I’d like to agree with her, on the second point. But then I work from home, so my options are limited to either my husband or any male houseguests, which seems like a tricky game to play. So my opinion is slightly less risqué than hers maybe.
However, it does highlight a very particular problem with home working – an issue that I approach with trepidation for fear of implying something I don’t mean. Basically, there’s no-one to flirt with. I don’t mean the ‘sex and work’ thing that Catherine Millet, 60, Writer is referring to. I mean the very different style of social interaction that occurs when you talk to a man rather than a woman.
I love the company of women, and have always had amazing friends to confide in, support me and inspire me in a way that is very particular to women. My girlfriends are consistently the perfect antidotes to almost anything that’s wrong in life. But, like almost everything good in life (marzipan aside) the magic doesn’t work if it's all that's on offer.
After two long years working on The Lady magazine, that very special ladies’ weekly taught me two important life lessons. Never to work in Covent Garden on minimum wage again, and never to work in an entirely all-female office again. You only need a post-boy, or an ad man, or even a male boss – just someone to break the tension.
Fundamentally, women make friends on a different level to men. I crave ‘moments’ with virtual strangers as evidence of my competence, intellect and general niceness. I worry so much more about what women think of me than men. And trying to have that level of intimacy with a bunch of women you spend most of your waking day working around, with the added pressures of strip lighting, crap coffee and shoe envy, is a rich breeding ground for that most deadly of viruses – passive aggression.
I generalise, I know. And of course neither office politics or flirting potential are gender defined. But from my experience, everyone feels more inclined towards another working day after a slightly awkward journey in the office lift with the person who caught your eye just one too many times at the Christmas party last year and, 11 months on, you’d completely forgotten was still in the building.
So now, working from home, I’m spending too much time in my own totally passive aggressive company. Or struggling with the complex politics of my other working environment – the playground.
Last week was the school’s parents’ association AGM – the closest I’ve been to a proper meeting in weeks, and an exciting chance for some actual debate, discussion, maybe even a need for a follow-up meeting-ette to finalise the carol-singing running order? Anyway, someone, female, made a completely ridiculous comment, which I raised an eyebrow at just as she turned to scan the room for signs of dissent. She saw, I died an inward death, and left the building as my cheery goodbye was greeted with a turn of the back. Meanwhile, a dad I’d practically scowled at held the door open and walked me to the car.
Whilst I’m keen to point out that this is not a pre-curser to any kind of sex-work relationship, there's no denying there was an air of palpable excitement that a man had shown up to the meeting at all. Now if I could just get the unenergetic middle-aged man who sells me pre-school cereal bars every day to smile at me, my working world would be as diverse as it ever was.