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Dear Swipe This!
Im a teacher and I have a coworker whos driving me bonkers. She complains non-stop and comes to me to vent. No matter whats happening, she acts like its an emergency. Shes usually mad about the same things I deal with, like a difficult co-teacher or rude parents. So part of me can empathize. There are things that are difficult and annoying about this job. But her complaints are so over-the-top and she needs constant support.
Lately, its gotten worse. She bursts into my room while Im teaching. And she texts me throughout the day. And when work is over, I go home and the texts keep coming. I feel like no matter what I say to calm her down or offer support, she just keeps going. She wont let anything go, and when she does finally get over something, another problem always comes up. She has an endless supply of problems. I just dont know what to do anymore!
I know youre probably going to tell me not to engage her (some of my friends already have), but if I dont respond right away, she just texts me MORE. Sometimes, Ill look at my phone, and I have more than 10 unread messages from her. I guess if I didnt work with her, Id just ghost her and let the friendship fade away, but since I know Ill have to face her at work, I feel like theres no way out.
I am honestly an enthusiastic texter, and I feel like I brought this on myself. I became friends with this co-worker a while ago because we shared a mutual friend at work. We shared a group text and sometimes it was fun to vent on there and laugh together about all the stupid nonsense that gets on our nerves in a week. But then our mutual friend quit, and now Im stuck with this coworker who wont leave me alone IRL, and when I finally escape, there she is, again, in my phone!
The thing is, I do feel bad for her. Shes older than me, shes had a rough year, and shes frustrated in her career. She seems to be having a streak of bad luck at work and in her personal life. Things just arent that great for her right now. But, at the same time, I cant help but think that her negative attitude is part of the problem. (Not that Id ever tell her that!)
Anyway, Im at my wit’s end. I feel like my space at work is being invaded. And now I feel like shes invading my after-work hours too. Is there a nice way to tell someone to leave you alone? I dont want to hurt her feelings, but I have a lot going on in my own lifeIm about to move to a new home and Im pregnant with my first child. Im preparing for some really big changes and it can be really tiring. Sometimes, I just dont have that much to give. Is there a kind and caring way to tell someone to leave you the fuck alone?What should I do?
Not Your Mommy
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Dear Not Your Mommy,
Have you ever entered a public restroom and discovered that the lock is broken? Depending on how badly you need to go, maybe you take your chances and keep one eye nervously on the doorknob while you do what youve got to do. Or maybe the restroom is small, so you contort yourself. You press an arm or a foot to the door and strain over the toilet and hope it will all be over as quickly as possible.
When you find yourself contorting and stretching yourself as you have with your coworker, its a sign that healthy boundaries are missing. We can stretch ourselves at times. In fact, there may be circumstances where we have to. But when you put yourself in a situation where your boundaries are constantly tested or threatened, you start to feel stressed, anxious, and possibly out of control.
I mean, you can survive an uncomfortable bathroom if you know the experience is temporary. But what if you had to deal with that broken door every day at work? What if that restroom was your only option? Youd probably tell your boss or manager that the situation wasnt livable.
As children, the bathroom is one of the first places where we learn boundaries. We learn that everyone is entitled to a certain amount of privacy or space. Unfortunately, we dont always extend those conversations to what were entitled to when it comes to how we relate to others. You wouldnt put up with someone barging in on you in the restroom, so why are you letting your coworker invade your daily life with constant drop-ins and texting? Simple: You were never taught how to say no to people in need. In fact, depending on who your parents were and what your family was like, you may have been taught that it was important to always be nice and welcoming, no matter what! And I have to tell you that is an absolute lie.
Heres what I wish the grownups would have taught you instead: Doing the nice thing isnt nice at all if it leads to self-harm.
Youre sacrificing yourself and your needs for your coworkers comfort. Youre so bent on not upsetting this very upsetting and frankly inconsiderate person that youre creating an impossible situation. And youre doing it at a time when, quite frankly, your focus should be on you. Youre about to move into a new home and have a baby, and those are incredibly challenging tasks that require a lot of support. Why are you so worked up over how to handle this coworker? Has she asked how she can be of service to you? Has she offered you support? Has she even considered how incredibly rude it is of her to implicitly demand so much time and attention?
I dont believe that relationships should involve keeping score or tit-for-tat antics. But I have to say, when you find yourself ruminating over the best way to deal with someone who would never give a second thought to how their behavior might affect you, youve really got to slow your roll.
I can understand why youre feeling so panicked. From your perspective, this situation is inescapable. When you try to dial back your interactions, she just ramps up the intensity. But thats only because you havent taken any actions to set a clear boundary. So lets start with the texting. You can easily mute her. If you have an iPhone, all you need to do is go into your current text thread with her, press the little i in the top right corner, and set hide alerts to “on.” That way your coworker can text you all she wants, but she wont blow up your phone. You can respond to her at your leisure. Or, you can simply not respond. I guarantee you no one will die and she will survive.
If you want to handle the situation more directly, Id say you are well within your rights to set a firm boundary with her. Did you know that in France it is illegal for your boss to email you after work hours are over? Illegal! Tell her that youve decided, for your own health and happiness, that youre leaving work at work from now on. You can say, I know weve commiserated in the past, but Ive realized that doesnt work for me anymore. I would also set afirm boundary with her at work. Tell her it isn’t OK to interrupt your teaching and that you’re concerned you could get in trouble with a supervisor if she’s found in your room mid-lesson.
But I think the most important shift you need to make has nothing to do with your coworker and everything to do with your own personal, internal boundaries. It sounds to me like you believe you must be kind and pleasant and helpful at all times. I bet you are a wonderful friend, and the people near and dear to you value this side of you. But that is not your only value as a human being. You should know that your real friends and loved ones will love and value you no matter what, even if you cant always show up or come to the rescue. So, instead of spreading yourself so thin, I think you should take some time to reflect on who those people are. Make a list and keep it small. Who are the five people in life who you really trust and love who you can count on to be there for you? Those are the people you show up for. Those are the people you invest in. Everyone else is optional.
And, theres a caveatif any of the people who make your list acts unforgiving or cruel when you need to set a boundary, theyre off the list! You should only give generously with people who let you have healthy boundaries.And as for the people who arent on your list, please consider that it is OK if their feelings get hurt. You most definitely are not their mommy. Its not your job to rescue them, and ultimately, when they realize they cant get what they want from you anymore, theyll find someone else to drain. Social vampires always do.