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Dear Captain,

I am a female self-employed professional in a male dominated profession in her early 30s. My friend is a female of a similar age who is also a self-employed professional in the same profession. This person was my closest female friend in the profession. We would socialise and when things were going badly for me a couple of times in the last few years we have been friends, I would open up with her, share my problems and occasionally have a cry in her presence. I felt that we were open with each other and trusted each other.

Friend has some boundaries that surprise me, for example, even though she would seek out my company, once I went to hug her after not seeing her for some months, because I had been travelling, and she told me she doesn’t like to be hugged because she doesn’t like touching. I was surprised and found that unusual. Friend also asked not to be invited to my wedding in 2016 as friend “Hates weddings.” Again, I considered this an unusual request. I did not invite her but otherwise might have.

Friend became pregnant and was excited. I shared her excitement. She went on maternity leave shortly before the baby was due. I texted her offering to visit her at home if she wanted company (she demurred) and that I was looking forward to baby pictures. She send she would send photos.

Friend shares an office with another female self-employed professional in our profession (lady). One night weeks later, around November 2017, I was socialising with professionals in our field and I meet lady. Knowing lady shares an office with friend, I asked her how friend was. Lady shared the devastating news that friend’s pregnancy spontaneously terminated at a late stage and her baby was stillborn. I was shocked and saddened and expressed this. I immediately asked lady for friend’s address so I could send flowers. Lady responded firmly “Friend doesn’t want flowers”. I was surprised. I asked if lady would give me friend’s address so I could send a condolence card. Lady responded, “Friend doesn’t want contact with anyone. All messages are to go through an email address operated by friend’s sister.” I asked lady to send me that email address. Lady said she would. Lady didn’t send the email and I felt uncomfortable chasing lady about it given the no flowers/no cards information I had been given. I also felt uncomfortable with the idea of emailing friend’s sister, who I have never meant. I did not contact friend, or friend’s sister, out of respect for friend’s wishes, even though I very much wanted to share my condolences with her.

Finally, on New Year’s eve I texted friend saying that I was thinking of her, I had heard her terrible news, I was there for her if she needed support but that if she did not want ever to discuss the matter that would be okay with me. I wished her a better 2018. I got no reply.

Friend returned to work in January 2018. I work in a separate building and did not see friend for some months. I was waiting for her to reach out to me. She didn’t. I texted her a couple times offering to catch up for lunch or a drink. My texts were either ignored or she responded one word: “Can’t”. I let it go.

I saw her tonight at a networking event. It is now about 5 or 6 months since the still birth. I have not seen her since several weeks before her maternity leave. I approached her and she was civil, but not friendly. She barely smiled that evening. I was unsure whether her behaviour was directed towards me or whether she is just miserable. I made an effort to be friendly but to also give her space. I did not mention the still birth. She did not go out of her way to speak to me or say anything like, “Let’s catch up.” I left the event that night without saying goodbye to her, though it is possible she might have previously left without saying goodbye to me. Overall, friend’s behaviour was markedly cold.

I now feel like friend has placed me in an awkward position. I feel like friend has pushed me away. I don’t know if this is because friend felt like I was not there after her still birth, but I complied with lady’s “no contact” instructions. I feel like I can’t mention the still birth at this point because friend clearly did not want condolences at the time. It also feels deeply wrong to me to just smile and treat friend like nothing happened. I now feel like I’m walking on eggshells with friend and just wish that she had let me give her condolences like people normally do.

What, if anything, should I do? Should I accept that for whatever reason (and I have no idea why) friend no longer wants to be my friend? For the record I have no kids and am not currently trying, so there is no awkwardness about my family situation vs hers. It is now at the point where I am starting to feel secretly angry at friend for making me second guess how I should behave around her. My male friend has told me, when I have asked about it, to “just act normal”, but the problem is that friend is not acting normal towards me. I don’t know if I can, or should, try to fix it. I also don’t feel like continually putting myself out there to be rejected by friend. It is getting to the point where I am questioning whether to just let the friendship go, but it seems like a strangely unnecessary outcome. I have tried to be compassionate and respectful towards friend all along.

Thanks,

Puzzled

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m having an awkward problem dealing with jealousy(?) from my peers.

I’m mid-twenties and very new to the working world. I dropped out of highschool due to some very serious mental health struggles and have only managed to pick myself up in the past few years. I’m doing amazing now, though I will probably still be in therapy for a couple more decades. I don’t think this history is relevant to my successes, but it’s probably relevant to my raging “imposter syndrome” and insecurities.

Last year, I was given a very cool opportunity to program a small game, with dedicated art assets and various quality checks already in place. I had never programmed anything for money before, but I quickly taught myself what I was doing and I felt very supported throughout. The client is impressed enough that I was brought on for a second game with the same team. I’ve realized that I am Not Bad at this, and, more importantly, I love doing it enough that I want to keep going. I plan to take some real classes and branch out in my abilities so I can make this a full-time job.

Not everyone is happy for me, and I don’t know how to deal with negative responses to my new streak of “doing well,” especially as it relates to my work. A lot of my friends have previously tried to make their own games, often unsuccessfully. I got a lot of discouraging talk early on (“it’s actually really hard and you’ll hate it!”) but it hasn’t been as bad now that I have a completed game ready to go out and am working on the second one. It’s been a lot harder for me to cope with comments that minimize my achievements and make them into… well, not achievements. For example, recently an acquaintance (who has previously expressed interest in working in this field) asked what development tools I was using and said something like, “Wow, people pay money for that? Really? *I* could do that – I should start doing it too.”

I didn’t want to be publicly insecure about my abilities, so I wasn’t. But it made me feel really, really bad, like what I was doing wasn’t significant or valuable. I don’t know what to do to gracefully defend myself when this kind of thing comes up, or if I even should. I already have a lot of survivor’s guilt for how well my life has been going the past two years, when a lot of my peer group is Very Sad All The Time, so it’s possible that these kinds of comments are being blown out of proportion for me. How do I cope with it? What can I say?

Thanks,
A Real Programmer!
(she/her)

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Hail Captain! (And Awkwardeers)

I come to you with a question regarding boundaries and the ways to professionally enforce them. Some background: I’m a law student of a certain age (mid-30s) and a custodian to 2 cats (a black and a gray). Meaning that no matter what I wear, I’ve got some visible cat hair on all my outfits. After being a cat mom for 10 years, I’ve come to terms with it. Because honestly, my entire life (furniture, clothes, cars, to my casebooks) has some cat hair on it. And before anyone asks, yes I do try to curb the worst of it, but my cats are prodigious shedders. I can spend the minuscule bit of energy not devoted to school driving myself nuts about it, or I can just let it go and enjoy the fact my kiddos love me and want to be with me.

However, for my 22 year old cohort-mate, this is a way of life she can’t abide. This young lady feels extremely free to reach out and being removing cat hair from my person whenever she’s within arm’s reach. She does it in class, when I’m sitting beside her. She does it in casual conversation, when other people are present. I can only surmise she’s a “motherly” type, who thinks she’s helping. Or she’s got a thing about stray hairs that just makes her nuts. But Captain, as an introvert and adult woman, I don’t like it when someone who’s not the list of approved “touch me whenever you like” people touches me.

Captain, I’ve told her repeatedly to stop, that I don’t care if there’s cat hair, that I like it just fine, that maybe I want to take my babies with me all day! Her response is “It bothers me” as if that’s a valid excuse for breaching the sacred three foot bubble. Apparently she comes from a house of sisters, where this behavior is normal. Whereas I and my brothers outgrew the phase of just manhandling each other ten years ago. I want her to stop; I’ve told her to stop, but apparently what I want doesn’t much matter.

Captain, part of this program is hearing repeatedly that our professional community is very small, that we’re establishing our professional reputations, and that our behavior is being monitored. So making a scene isn’t an option I can take. I need some thoughts, or even a script on how to make a “professionally appropriate scene” to get this young woman to keep her hands to herself!

Any insights you can suggest would be appreciated,

Covered in Cat-hair

(she/her pronouns for both parties)

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Hi,

I’m hoping you can help me with some coping mechanisms for jealousy which will help me feel less like the shittiest friend in the universe. 

Long story short, a friend got a job I wanted, and I’ve spent months failing to not let it affect our friendship. The whole story is long but the important details are these:

She got an early start in the “big leagues” of our industry because of connections I didn’t have, beating me out for jobs before I even knew her.

A mutual friend promised me I’d be his first call on a job I really wanted, but then hired her.

I had a hard autumn, and overwork combined with personal insecurity culminated in me, in tears, while she tried to console me over the job she was (very rightly!) excited to start the next day.

She’s just gotten the reiteration of that job I really wanted. I’m still angling to get them to hire me too, at a lower title than hers.

Last fall I tried really hard to be supportive and excited for her and mostly failed. I’m afraid to spend the rest of her time in our city (she plans on moving… eventually) watching her get jobs I am equally qualified for because her resume is better. I also don’t want to look forward to the day she moves, just because it means I won’t have to compete with her for work anymore. I don’t want to feel like a terrible friend anymore because I can’t be happy for her, and I absolutely don’t want to force her to console me on big happy occasions.

I think her fiance dislikes me and I worry she confides in him that she feels uncomfortable in our friendship, or that she thinks I’m an incompetent artist. I will never actually know without damaging the friendship by pushing the issue, but it bothers me anyway.

I have read your “focus on yourself and what you like” advice, and the “back off and gently let reconnection happen” advice and that has been helping, but I’m worried that watching her have a job I wanted will disintegrate our friendship, or worse, if she doesn’t, or isn’t able to hire me. I need a way to restructure what’s happening in my head so I’m not feeling overwhelmingly betrayed by this friend who hired her, and jealous of her all the time.

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Hey Captain,

I was hoping I could still get some assistance with a minor but ongoing irritation in my life.

I am Jewish, and I live in the Midwest, and that is awkward. I’m almost always the only Jewish person in my social circle, workplace, etc. Eleven months out of the year, this is a non-issue. And then there’s December. Captain, why are people SO WEIRD about Christmas? Even non-religious friends seem to get swept up into it. I feel like all month I hear an unending barrage of “oh but it’s really a secular holiday so it’s fine if you participate!” and “you’re really hurting my feelings/ruining Christmas for me if you don’t participate in my tree decorating party/secret santa/whatever!” Guys. I DON’T WANT TO PARTICIPATE IN ANYTHING CHRISTMAS RELATED IT MAKES ME VERY UNCOMFORTABLE. Not only do I have my own holiday to celebrate that is much less stressful thank you very much, I really hate the constant pressure to observe someone else’s holidays. How can me not celebrating YOUR holiday ruin it FOR YOU? I don’t seem to be able to convince people that their holiday feelings are their problems and not mine.

Most of my long term friends are used to this and even if they don’t totally understand they leave me alone about it. But I feel like every time I meet someone new I have to go through a song and dance routine to convince them that no, really, I don’t celebrate Christmas NO REALLY I DON’T WANT TO. This particular year is extra stressful because I just started a new job and I always I feel like I’m missing some workplace etiquette this time of year. Having brand new coworker dynamics to navigate just makes things more confusing. For example, someone I don’t know (because I literally just started this job a week ago) left an admittedly very cute little jar of hot chocolate with a “merry christmas” note attached to it in my work mailbox (she gave one to everyone, it’s not just me). But. Do I have to get her something in return? Or write her a thank you card?? Can I just wear a shirt all month that says “Sorry, I’m Jewish, please leave me out of your strange Christmas rituals, Gentiles”??? Idk how to handle this at work especially where I’m worried my preexisting annoyance will come across as hostility or ingratitude to people I’ve just met but would like to develop at least an amiable working relationship with.

Any scripts or advice you have for getting people to believe that I really and truly want to be left out of All Things Christmas would be greatly appreciated!

~Christmas is Confusing

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Dear Captain,

This is a pretty low-stakes question, but I was wondering if you and your lovely commenters could help me out here? I’m a young, disabled woman working in a hyper-competitive, male-dominated, rank-obsessed industry. I recently started a job at a new company, and in my department there’s a potluck every fortnight at one of the senior people’s houses. It’s pretty much expected that you attend — which I have pretty mixed feelings about, because, like, what if you have kids or other home responsibilities? or if you don’t drive and don’t want to have to rely on your possibly-drunk co-workers for rides? — but they do seem to be good fun and are a great networking opportunity.

Because of my disability, I can’t stand up for long periods of time, and I have pretty severe fatigue issues, so cooking is not in the cards for me. So, the night before the potluck, I go to a posh grocery store, buy some super nice potluck-appropriate food in a reasonable quantity, and bring that. Sounds good, right?

Nope. Basically everybody has told me that I should be bringing something home-made, with comments ranging from discreet, well-intentioned warnings to super-aggressive in-your-face attacks.

I have so many issues with this, including: (1) most of the food is made by my co-workers’ stay-at-home wives, not them themselves, grr patriarchy, (2) a lot of the home-cooked food is legitimately terrible, whereas my grocery store stuff is at least tasty and unlikely to give anyone food poisoning.

I don’t want my disability to become general knowledge, I probably shouldn’t rage against the patriarchy, and I don’t want to insult anyone else’s food, but I need a script to get people to stop being weird about this. With the people I outrank I typically make a joke about how all I do is work all the time, but I don’t actually like doing that, because promoting overwork is bad and also I’m female and super-young for my rank so making a big deal out of my job title is a whole new level of awkward. And otherwise I just try to change the subject? But that’s not really working?

Thanks,

Making lasagne is not in my job description

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