When I decided to work from home, I figured my new life would be manly. No boss controlling my time. Self-motivation. Utter freedom. I would be a man of intrigue; no one would ever be sure where I was. There would be midafternoon workouts, midafternoon drinking, midafternoon sex, midafternoon leaving right after sex because I really have to go do some work now. I would work from mountaintops, South American beaches, sailboats, European capitals and—were it not, in my particular situation, technically an office—the Playboy Mansion.
Instead, I am in a small room in my house, wearing sweatpants, a T-shirt and the underwear I slept in, which is the underwear I wore yesterday, which if I don’t shower soon will be the underwear I wear tomorrow. I have examined the contents of my refrigerator 10 times. I have watched a fair amount of porn. Although I have not smoked any marijuana, it’s unclear how my day would be remotely different if I had.
Working from home is plenty masculine if you live in a log cabin and are a lumberjack. That’s because you’re not working from home, you’re working from outdoors. But I’m actually working from home. From the place with the washing machine, dishwasher and vacuum cleaner, all of which I sometimes use in between work calls. And sometimes during calls. Which doesn’t sound professional to the person on the other end of the line. For the 15 years I worked in an office, my home was capable of taking care of itself for eight hours a day. Now I find it constantly needs repairs and cleaning. Meals need to be prepped, groceries bought, Amazon shopped at. It turns out that if you’re allowed to do whatever you want with your time, you will do very lame things.
Offices are full of metal and partitions and machines that print or scan or vend. My house is full of pillows and beds and glass animals that I collected as a child and my parents mailed to me a few years ago. The point is: There is no way I would have put those glass animals on a shelf in my office, because other people might have seen them.
But the problem isn’t just that my surroundings have domesticated me. It’s that other people want to domesticate me. I thought that being home all day meant my friends would invite me to baseball day games or to play tennis or to drive to Vegas. If they needed my help, I figured they’d think of me as Bruce Wayne, available for crime-fighting adventures. Instead they think of me as Alfred. People need to be picked up from airports, and because I work from home, I am in the privileged position of being able to rearrange my schedule to do it. I can wait around for the cable guy and electrician. I can pick up and drop off things before the stores close. I am pretty sure that soon a friend is going to ask me to go to his kid’s parent-teacher conference for him.
I feel myself becoming a put-upon 1950s housewife, eager to hear my friends’ lame office stories. No, I don’t miss sitting in meetings where the boss talks about himself while I pretend to be amused. I don’t miss co-workers stopping by my office to tell me their boyfriend problems. I don’t miss people asking me to donate to their kids’ school fund-raisers. But I do miss having women in the office to flirt with. I have no office wife. No crush on the woman on the fourth floor with the tattoo on the back of her neck. I am forced to seek out that ego boost by flirting with baristas at cafés, which is the most pathetic kind of flirting, other than stripper flirting.
In fact, just being in a coffee shop is emasculating. The floors are puddled with testosterone dripped by men “working” on “projects” they “haven’t been paid for.” I don’t have an office, so I often ask people to meet me at a coffee shop, which is the equivalent of saying, “Let’s meet up at the unemployment office.” There is no way to end a meeting at a coffee shop, since saying “I really have to go to work now” and then continuing to sit there is utterly unconvincing.
It turns out you need annoying co-workers and unreasonable bosses to complain about, because otherwise you turn soft. Everyone is nice to me all day, because the only people I see are people I’m buying stuff from. Complaining may not sound manly, but it turns out that complaining is just a socially acceptable way of saying how much better you are than everyone else. Plus, without that guy who comes by with those confusing rows and boxes and demands $5, I know nothing about sports. For all I know, the rows are crushing the boxes, or the boxes have been suspended for bullying their own box teammates in the box locker room.
So I work in my backyard, typing and listening to music that’s way too loud. I feel soft. No one ever circumnavigated anything from home; no one ever railroad-baroned from home; no one ever defeated the Spanish Armada from home. No one ever homesteaded from home. But then I think about the many great work-from-home heroes—not just William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway but Thomas Edison and Steve Jobs and every single one of the U.S. presidents. Although somehow Obama always looks like he’s showered.