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Hello everyone! How are you? I am completely destroying my cat’s sense of safety and object permanence packing up my entire apartment for a move this week. All the comments in the spam filter are actually spam, so it must be time for another question. Shall we continue the Labor Day holiday with a work topic?

Dear Captain,

I have worked in my office for 8 years. My colleague has been here over thirty. He’s in his sixties, I’m thirty. I thought he was one of my best friends though we’ve had our issues before. Let me explain. No, there is too much, allow me to sum up.

We do the same job in a support team. For a long time, I’ve been taking on more stuff because I’m asked to (and because I actually like to feel like I’m doing my job to the best of my ability) and he’s been excluded somewhat from tasks he likes. I don’t know why this is – it’s certainly not my doing or responsibility, but the digs he gets in makes it clear that he thinks I take everything on (I can be prone to this and work against it…) and it’s basically my fault and there’s a giant conspiracy against him. If there’s a conspiracy against him, I’m not part of it. Which I’ve said a million times.

Sometimes the way he talks I think he has absolute contempt for me. He doesn’t like me being bossy (who would?) but he doesn’t pull his weight or step up to the plate to *offer* his services. The number of times I’ve walked past his desk and he’s just on the internet… or sometimes reading the newspaper! I’ve not said anything to our boss because I don’t want to get him into trouble… and because I feel it would make things worse anyway! All this, incidentally, while I’m tearing my hair out trying to get things done by deadlines etc.

I feel like what he wants is for people to go to him and say ‘Will you do this/help us with this?’ but he won’t offer, won’t put himself forward. When people do? He’s grumpy with them. So more and more people come to me because they know they’ll get a more positive answer… and he doesn’t really keep himself up to date with changes so oftentimes can’t answer their questions anyway!

He sits grumbling that he never gets asked to do things/attend meetings/whatever but when he IS included he then complains that he just sat there useless! All the while, getting in digs at me. He says he can’t be bothered fighting my ‘need to have fingers in all the pies’, to which I have responded that I don’t want fingers in all the pies (i’m inquisitive certainly, but I truly don’t feel that way, but it seems to go that way mostly because he won’t step up and because there’s nobody else). I try to fight the urge to do everything and I thought I was doing much better with trying to spread the load. Apparently not, or not enough/in the right way for him.

Have I mentioned that no matter how I approach things with him, he always seems to interpret what I say or do in the worst possible light? In fact, I do most everything with a view to not upsetting him, not making him irritable or grumpier…. which often means not even *ASKING* him to help out with things because a: I know he will just say no and b: he’ll accuse me of being bossy… then he gets angry because he sees ‘me doing everything as ‘him being left out’.

And all the while he’s sat there saying he doesn’t want to be there/wishes he didn’t have to work in this dump anymore/doesn’t get how *insert project here* works.

So I feel constantly like I’m on eggshells with him. And if he’s pissed at me, he’ll be nice as pie to everyone else and speak to me in monosyllables, which makes me feel about two inches tall.

Last year, he complained to our manager about me being bossy and know it all and opinionated, I think… and at the time I basically apologised, said I’d do better, and didn’t go back with my laundry list about him because I will always assume that I’m in the wrong. It was only later that I thought ‘hang on a second…’

I KNOW I can be bossy, especially when I’m stressed myself. I seem to construct everything at work around a fear of screwing up, which isn’t exactly healthy, so when it’s very busy or I feel like everything’s on me, I do get anxious. Since the last run-in, I’ve tried REALLY hard to regulate my weaknesses. It seems he doesn’t care/hasn’t acknowledged this. I can’t help wondering now that it’s not that I’m patronising/condescending/bossy, but that he will always interpret it that way because he chooses to. But I don’t know because my mind is being yanked in a million different directions and now I’m terrified that everyone thinks that I’m those things as well.

We’ve talked about all this before. I’ve tried to stress to him that I’m never looking to do things to make him feel bad, that I don’t do anything with a mind to making his day worse. I’ve also said that he needs to be direct when he feels I’m doing those things… but he does the same passive-aggressive thing as always.

I deal really badly with passive-aggression (see also: my mother). I know this. I try to do better. I am trying so hard to be the best human I can be and it just seems like it’s all for nothing. I do not know what to do, how to approach any of it!

I don’t feel I can talk to him because he’ll blow up, so I sent him an email trying to explain my side as gently and yet as honestly as I could. He came back and said my email was condescending, that he is way more productive when I’m not there… I just wanted to be honest for once and got accused of condescension, being confident/rude/pushy.

I don’t know… am I a mean bitch, or is it that he won’t accept anything but the responses he wants?

I have no idea what to do, Captain. I really don’t want this to be a thing with our manager again, or to affect my reputation with other people at work – if it hasn’t already – and I’m also scared that actually, everyone else thinks I’m those things when I really try not to be and I’ve been trying so f**king hard to regulate my lesser demons.

Yours,

Terrified Yet Increasingly Unwilling To Be His Doormat

Dear Terrified:

The fact that you are walking on eggshells around this person and signing yourself “Terrified” is giving me a lot of information. That information sums up thusly:

  • Whatever bond you shared in the past, your coworker is now actively sabotaging you and your work.
  • He wants you to be scared, miserable, and walk on eggshells.
  • I don’t think there is a fix where you guys are friends again, so what we are going for is neutrality and distance.

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Lady Catherine de Bourgh: President of the Society of Literary Characters Who Don't Get Invited To Your Wedding

Dear Abby is a classic for a reason, right?  Soothing.  Non-confrontational.  Midwestern common sense. Often terrible and does not get at any of the actual issues going on between actual people.

For instance:

DEAR ABBY: What do you do when your future in-laws tell other relatives that they intend to ruin your upcoming wedding? They are upset because they were not included in the wedding party. My future mother-in-law let it be known she’s dressing up like a hooker!

I have family members who are police officers coming to the wedding. The only idea I can come up with to prevent it is to ask them to guard the door of the church, and if need be, escort these unruly people out before they can raise a ruckus.

As you might have gathered, my fiance’s parents don’t want me to marry their son.

On the Verge

Abby’s Answer:

DEAR ON THE VERGE: Take a deep breath and talk to your fiance about eloping. Once your in-laws accept the fact that the knot has already been tied, you can host a lovely reception. When the time comes, give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they’ll behave themselves. Use the police only as a last resort, but if it comes to that, cross your fingers and hope your mother-in-law solicits one of them.

HA!  THAT WILL SHOW THEM!

I think we’ve covered that my expertise on weddings consists of “I’ve been to some,”  but they are the bread and butter of advice columnists. In a perfect world, a wedding is a fun party where two people who love each other very much agree to do that permanently.  In the world we live in, I’ve seen legislation being written, sausage being made, and weddings being planned, and I’m going to say that the sausage is the only one I’d want to watch up close again.  Legislation and weddings have the whole “expensive!” and “bringing together people who don’t agree on anything who must now pretend they like each other for the sake of the bigger picture” thing in common.  The potential for awkwardness in both cases  is unlimited, and if you come out the other end with the thing you wanted (a good law, a fun party where people celebrate love) at least some of it happens in spite of the process.

There is so much wrong with both this question and this answer. Let’s start with Abby.  “Use the police only as a last resort, but if it comes to that, cross your fingers and hope your mother-in-law solicits one of them.”  Hilarious!  Is it tongue-in-cheek?  It’s Dear Abby, so I can’t tell.

On The Verge, I’m sure your fiance’s family does not like you and I’m sure they are just as mean and crazy as you say they are.  However, I am also sure that the answer to this problem is NOT to have police bar invited guests from your wedding ceremony, and when you talk like that you come across as the crazy person. How far would you go to defend Your Special Day?  Arrests?  Handcuffs?  Restraining orders?  Tear gas?

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