ATLANTA—Despite making no deliberate efforts to engage with his coworker beyond the point of pleasant acquaintance, Eric Phipps said Thursday he was astonished to discover he had inadvertently forged a personal bond with fellow web developer Michael Jenkins.
Phipps, 31, told reporters that the interactions with his coworker, which for two years had been confined to job-related matters and breezy small talk, first took an unplanned turn toward authentic friendship this past March. According to Phipps, he and Jenkins happened to leave the office at the same time one day and decided to kill half an hour at a nearby bar before heading off to separate evening engagements.
"I figured we'd just talk about work stuff for a little bit and then be on our way," said Phipps, adding that he wasn't even sure at the time if Jenkins drank. "But next thing I knew, he was telling me about the problems he's having with his pool, and I was promising to lend him my copy of TheWild Bunch."
"And the bizarre thing is, I was legitimately enjoying myself," added Phipps, citing his coworker's intelligence and sense of humor as well as the surprising abundance of interests they shared. "How did this happen?"
While Phipps assumed that his collegial but limited relationship with Jenkins would resume once they were back at the office, he soon realized it would be impossible to interact with his coworker in the surface-level, noncommittal way he was accustomed to.
†"It's like everything had shifted," Phipps said. "All of a sudden, I was stopping by his cubicle to ask about his woodworking project, and he was at mine giving me the name of a good chiropractor my sister should try for her back spasms. Then somehow I suddenly had his personal e-mail address."
Even as long lunches with Jenkins became an everyday activity, Phipps told reporters he never expected their camaraderie to extend past the "best friend at the office" level. But that barrier was shattered last Thursday, when Phipps' neighborhood softball team needed an extra player for their weekend game.
"I got a call from the captain asking if I knew anyone who could sub in, and before I could stop myself, I told him I had a buddy who used to play in college," said Phipps, referring to the man he once knew only as "polo-shirt guy." "I called him my buddy. I didn't say 'coworker' or even 'buddy from work.' I said buddy. That's something you say about an actual friend."
It was perhaps that escalation, Phipps acknowledged, that cleared the path for Jenkins to invite him to a barbecue a couple of weeks later—an event whose guests did not include any other coworkers. Not until he was bouncing Jenkins' 4-year-old daughter on his knee did Phipps realize the full impact of the unintentional befriending.
"No going back now," Phipps said. "There's been talk of carpooling, and he mentioned a cabin he owns near a good fishing spot. He'll probably end up being godfather to one of my kids."
When reached for comment, Jenkins readily acknowledged his relationship with Phipps.
"Yeah, Phippsy's a great guy," Jenkins said. "Though he tends to over think things."