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Help me with this difficult office friendship
January 24, 2014 8:14 AM   Subscribe

I've run into a rough patch with a coworker and I may have overstepped my boundaries. Help!

I work at an office that's predominantly 40+-year-old career women. Late last year they hired a guy who's close to my age, and we share many of the same interests and have similar aspirations outside of the workday. (I find him attractive, but we're both in long-term relationships and pursuing him romantically is off the table. He also lives down the street from me and has met my boyfriend in passing.) Though he's more of an introvert than I am, I sought him out as a friend, and he reciprocated my friendly overtures. (We're not in the same department and I work second shift, but he has come out to say goodbye to me and chat before he leaves.)

Earlier this week he confided in me that his girlfriend was in the hospital with a mystery illness. I gave him space for a few days (and he did say goodbye to me earlier this week, after telling me this)...but I sent him a quick email yesterday to check in on him and let him know that I was around if he needed any help. Three minutes later, I got a cryptic one-line response, and he didn't come to visit me that night. Even if he didn't take me up on his offer to help, I had hoped he'd at least say thank you.

I know I've been curt and snippy with people when I've been in crises like this, and even though his response didn't sit well with me I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. I half-thought of giving him another week, laying low, and sending him a more lighthearted email late next week with a funny YouTube clip or something. One of my coworkers -- who knew how nervous I was about sending the email -- is livid with him on my behalf and thinks I should cut all ties to him.

So my questions are:
- Did I overstep my boundaries by sending this email in the first place?
- Should I completely cut him off and just be "country club nice" when the need arises, or should I wait a week or two and make another, lighter attempt at contacting him?
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (62 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
So, he opened up to you about something major and scary going on at home, and you went from pursuing him as a friend to a few days of silence? If I were him I'd be surprised and confused that you never followed up about how she (or he) was doing. I understand that different people handle crises and disclosures like this differently, but your behavior is not what I'd expect from a friendly coworker.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 8:19 AM on January 24 [8 favorites]


His girlfriend is in the hospital and people are mad at him because he wasn't all OH THANK YOU EVER SO MUCH FOR YOUR SEVERAL DAYS LATE NEBULOUS OFFER OF HELP? Give me a break.

Just send him a quick email and say something like, "hey, hope things are going ok over there--haven't heard from you in a while!" and leave it at that.

It is completely mind boggling and absurd to me that people want to demonize this guy.
posted by phunniemee at 8:20 AM on January 24 [97 favorites]


Sometimes, it's not about you. This is definitely one of those times. He's wrapped up in his own issues, and you are more involved in your feelings about him than you're letting on. Just leave him be right now.
posted by xingcat at 8:21 AM on January 24 [38 favorites]


You know what you do when people are going through a hard time? You go easy on them because they have more important things to do than worry about you.

Your coworker is manufacturing drama and you are gossipping, so stop, let the guy have some space, check in with him periodically but not naggingly, and offer to help if you can.

Not another word to your coworkers.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:22 AM on January 24 [55 favorites]


His girlfriend is in the hospital. He's got some heavy shit to deal with.

People can still be grateful even if they're too busy to tell the people they're grateful.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:22 AM on January 24 [4 favorites]


He's stressed out and has other things on his mind than being friendly with you right now, I think that's reasonable given the circumstances.

The answer to both of your questions is No.

Your email sounds entirely reasonable. BUT you need to give this dude some more space/time.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:23 AM on January 24


And the fact that your nosy co-worker is mad at the guy on your behalf says way more about that co-worker than the guy whose girlfriend is sick, quite frankly.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:23 AM on January 24 [29 favorites]


From what I am reading here, I can't even figure out why this is "difficult." The guy is going though some stuff -- that is all that is going on, I think. Leave him be for a bit.

And your coworker is "is livid with him on my behalf." Livid, really? For the life of me I can't see why. She sounds like someone to be careful of in the office...a bit dramatic perhaps. Maybe even a pot-stirrer.
posted by Lescha at 8:26 AM on January 24 [12 favorites]


your "livid" co-worker sounds like a nasty piece of work. it's like she brought a tuba to your string quartet recital and doesn't even know how to play it.
posted by bruce at 8:28 AM on January 24 [17 favorites]


Should I completely cut him off and just be "country club nice" when the need arises...

I'm not understanding why you'd cut anyone off when they're clearly going through a tough time and haven't done anything to you. That's extraordinarily...I dunno, but it's not anyone I'd want to be office friends with.

If you want to be his friend, be his friend and remind him that you're there or ask him out to lunch so he can talk or get away from what's on his mind.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:29 AM on January 24 [18 favorites]


I don't think you overstepped your boundaries, you were acting as a concerned friend. It's the right thing to do. But offer him help because you care about him, without expecting something in return (his gratitude). Don't be upset because he didn't react the way you would, or the way you would expect someone to. Everyone deals with stress in their own way. And certainly don't cut him off. It's not going to make him (or you) feel any better. Just be his friend like you always have.
posted by random thoughts at 8:30 AM on January 24 [4 favorites]


It sounds like you tried your best to respond appropriately to a serious situation. Perhaps he's too stressed to show it right now, but chances are he appreciates the gesture all the same. Give him all the space he needs. Don't cut him off, but respect that he's got bigger things to worry about and might not be able to maintain the friendship at its old level right now. If your friendship is healthy, it will likely bounce back once his girlfriend recovers and he can breathe easier.

Your livid coworker is totally out of line. She's the one you need to be country club nice to.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:34 AM on January 24 [6 favorites]


Seriously - give him space and and let him deal with his girlfriend in the hospital. Just let him know that you're there for him if he needs and reconnect when things get a little smoother.

I can't even comment on how your coworker is upset at this guy - what a mess of priorities and that woman sounds astoundingly self-centered.
posted by waylaid at 8:34 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


So my questions are:
- Did I overstep my boundaries by sending this email in the first place?


No. But you may have overstepped boundaries elsewhere.

Earlier this week he confided in me that his girlfriend was in the hospital with a mystery illness.

But then:

One of my coworkers -- who knew how nervous I was about sending the email -- is livid with him on my behalf and thinks I should cut all ties to him.

Remember the word "confided?" Your coworker knows this guy's situation. Did he tell your coworker, or did you?

If you were the one who told a coworker about something that this guy told you in confidentiality, then what probably happened is that your coworker told other people and it got back to him, and he's annoyed about that. If you're the only person he told, then he already knows who blabbed, because it only could have come from one place.

If that's the case (or even if it isn't, come to think of it), then what I would do in your situation is just leave it alone. He knows you're available and he'll get in touch when he's ready. It wouldn't be the end of the world to send a lighthearted email sometime next week, but please don't hold it against him if he's not his usual self while his girlfriend is in the hospital.

- Should I completely cut him off and just be "country club nice" when the need arises,

Jesus Fitzgerald Christ, no. This is a terrible idea in any interpretation of the situation, and please never take any advice of any sort from the coworker who suggested it.

or should I wait a week or two and make another, lighter attempt at contacting him?

Sure, but don't be pushy and don't apologize or try to Talk About Things. Just be like, "Hey, saw this funny video, thought of you," and let it lie. If he doesn't respond to that, then just continue to leave it alone. Whatever's going on, you won't solve it by pushing harder.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:35 AM on January 24 [14 favorites]


I have no idea why you were nervous about sending the email, why you think his response represents anything other than 'is busy dealing with seriously ill girlfriend' or why anyone, least of all a person who is in no way involved in this situation, would be livid.

In a couple of days, feel free to send him another email that says 'Hey, I've been thinking good thoughts for you and (girlfriend's name). I hope things are improving for her.'

And then still don't expect a response, because this is a situation where you offer support and then don't get mad if it's not accepted, because you're work friends, not life long besties, and he has shit to deal with right now.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:38 AM on January 24 [17 favorites]


This is a very strange situation you've described. Is something being left out about what happened?
Because the way you've written it reads like this: I sought this coworker out as a friend and we're getting along just fine. Then he confided that his GF is in the hospital. You then gave him space for a few days, then reminded him you're there for him. He sends back a one line email you find cryptic. From there, you're considering either cutting him off as a friend or reaching again in a few days.

That literally makes no sense from what you've told us and makes you seem like a petty, spiteful person. Did he say or do something horrible to you or what?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:40 AM on January 24 [23 favorites]


You're work friends. You offered help vaguely, he's been busy and couldn't respond in the fashion you'd like.

When you say "he didn't come to visit me that night." like it's a personal affront-- he probably had to go visit his girlfriend in the hospital. Or do anything else. His stopping by to see you should not be an obligation.

Your reaction, your visceral emotional response, would seem to say you want more-- more friendship, or something-- than what you currently have.

He's got a lot going on. Neither you nor him need more drama on top of that. Stay friendly, but actually friendly not country-club-polite or secret-office-romance.
posted by RainyJay at 8:43 AM on January 24 [11 favorites]


Don't talk to your co-workers about other co-workers.

I feel like there is something else going on here. Despite your claims that you "find him attractive, but..." are you sure you're not interested in him? That would explain a lot of the emotional responses that you're describing: the nerves, the uncertainty, the wavering, etc.

I would maybe use this experience as an opportunity to reflect on myself - why is this important to me? Why am I feeling these things? Am I happy with my long-term relationship? Am I happy with myself? Etc.

Avoid your "livid" 'co-worker and frankly I would also advise you to ignore the guy, too. His girlfriend is in the hospital and by your account he's not sure what's wrong with her and the last thing he needs right now is a co-worker with (sorry to be blunt) what sounds like a secret crush talking about him and his private business with his other co-workers.
posted by sockermom at 8:46 AM on January 24 [13 favorites]


My read on this is that you have feelings for him that go beyond friendship and that's what's driving your reaction here. Being nervous about sending the email says that you have a lot of emotions invested in this friendship. It's worth a little self-examination, I think.

To answer your questions: send another note, don't cut him off, and stop talking to your livid coworker about other people's private business.
posted by bedhead at 8:51 AM on January 24 [7 favorites]


This is... weird. He isn't your boyfriend, and he has no obligation to chat with you before he leaves the office. Ever. Especially when he has a lot of personal stuff going on. He doesn't owe you anything and you are reading way too much into the situation. Despite your protests that you're just friends, the entire tenor of your question sounds like you are dating, or acting like you are dating, and your coworkers have the same impression.

Maybe with his girlfriend in the hospital, it's made him refocus on her, and maybe he has realized that he let himself get too close to you. Without knowing more about the background and what exactly his "cryptic response" said it's tough to know for sure, but it seems to me like you should take this opportunity to create a little more distance in your relationship with him.
posted by payoto at 8:51 AM on January 24 [7 favorites]


You are clearly in the throes of a crush on this person and you are behaving inappropriately by getting your coworker involved in this non-event to the degree that she is livid on your behalf. The two of you sound like a couple of gossipy and giggly schoolgirls off on the corner breathlessly debating whether a glance from him means he "likes you" or not. Get a grip. His girlfriend is in the hospital. He is a work friend. You offered "help" and he didn't jump at the offer ... so what? Cutting him off and getting gossipy with your coworker are precisely the wrong things to do, they make you seem immature and you're trying make his girlfriend's illness about you, which is seriously messed up.
posted by jayder at 8:53 AM on January 24 [33 favorites]


Dude, I think you are seriously overstepping boundaries, but not at all in the way that you think.

His girlfriend is in the hospital!!!! And you've made this all about you and his relationship with you and how much he's coming to see or email you while this is going on, and you're getting the opinion of your CO-WORKERS on what they think how how he is "treating" you during this episode.

This is really crazy, seriously.

I also think you are really not being honest with yourself about how much you are attracted to him and how all you want is just a platonic friendship with him. In a regular platonic friendship of this type and duration, there would typically be absolutely no concern about how his girlfriend being in the hospital is affecting your relationship with him. Typically, you would also not be so jacked up about the whole thing that you would be asking co-workers and and posting online about it. It's just very, very unusual for a friendship of this (short) length and (relatively shallow) depth, to be THIS invested and having it take up this amount of mental space.
posted by cairdeas at 8:57 AM on January 24 [18 favorites]


Oh ... and I suspect that the gestalt of your overture to "help" seems to him, perhaps felt subconsciously, like you are trying to move in on him while his girlfriend is out of commission, and he is unnerved by that weird feeling and thus not gushing with gratitude and receptiveness to your offer.
posted by jayder at 8:58 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]


Just chill and go overthink a different plate of beans. And never, ever listen to (or confide in) the co-worker who is "livid" on your behalf. 99% of things people do that may affect you have nothing to do *with* you at all. You know how self-focused you're feeling now? That's how he's feeling. He's not thinking about how is actions may or may not affect you, and he shouldn't have to. Just be normal-friendly the next time you see him.
posted by rtha at 8:58 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


I just have the feeling this guy would be absolutely stunned if he knew how much thought and energy is going into the "relationship" from your end, to the point where you're actually asking co-workers their opinion on how he has behaved in your relationship during this time.
posted by cairdeas at 8:58 AM on January 24 [14 favorites]


I think you are way overthinking this. It's difficult to negotiate friendships sometimes, but most minor awkwardnesses can be solved by just being as sincere and kind as possible. I think that it's very easy to get into "rules" and "boundaries" for friendship situations and start acting like a friendship is a chess game or a barter system when it would be more effective just to be warm and friendly.

You don't know what the hell is going on in his head at all; why not just be a kind person? Stop by his desk with a small thoughtful thing - I like to get people food gift certificates either for nearby deli places or for delivery because that provides a stress-free meal. Don't overthink it or get all dramatic - a modestly thoughtful, sincere gesture when there's no Heavy Emotional Overtones is virtually always appreciated.
posted by Frowner at 9:00 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


Also. The fact that you were so nervous about sending an email letting him know you were there if he needed anything--to the extent that you discussed with your coworker your angst over sending the email? That alone is a huge red flag that these are not normal friendship/coworker feelings you have for this guy. If this were just any other coworker you have a friendly working relationship with, you would not think twice about sending a quick email letting them know you were thinking of them and if there's anything you can do.
posted by payoto at 9:04 AM on January 24 [7 favorites]


You cannot read minds. You don't know what is going on. So I think you ought to reserve judgment on what is happening and wait to let it play out.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:10 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


Everything you did was fine except gossiping with your coworker (or coworkers?) about his personal situation. If he "confided" in you it's likely he didn't want that news spread around the office, especially to the sort of people who will have the bizarre reaction of being "livid" at him for being a little bit out of touch while his girlfriend is in the hospital(!)

There is zero reason for you to cut him off, although if one of your coworkers blabs to him that you blabbed to them, he may well cut you off... Which may have already happened, and may be the explanation for his cryptic one-line response.

But too late to fix that. If you want to maintain contact I'd follow up later on with a "hey, thinking of you, hope you and your girlfriend are doing better" or something of the sort. (Note emphasis. She's the one who's sick after all.)

I would not try to make this "lighthearted" or try to dress up a sincere communication with a YouTube video; that feels analogous to bringing a whoopie cushion along on a hospital visit.
posted by ook at 9:10 AM on January 24


From the OP:
First of all, all I said to my coworker was "[other coworker] is having a hard time right now, do you think I should send him an email and offer help?" That was it. I made no mention of the specific help he needed and said nothing about his girlfriend being sick. She is aware of our friendship and thought this was a nice idea. She asked later on if I heard back from him and I told her I received a strange email from him, which led to her being angry for me.

As far as waiting a few days to send it...He waited for a cab with me the night before I sent it, and he didn't seem to want to talk about it. (I asked him point blank "are you okay?" and he complained about the weather.)

Maybe my response to his email was out of line. The email he sent me seemed strange, and it would have taken him as long to say "hey, thanks" as it would have to send the email he sent. I've been in similar situations to the one he's in (my father-in-law had a stroke earlier this week), and I know I've been prone to making weird, cryptic statements under stress. Even though the email was weird, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
posted by jessamyn at 9:12 AM on January 24


I apologise if this sounds harsh, but I have two seriously ill family members at the moment and have recently experienced a similar dramatic episode, but from his perspective, rather than yours.

In short - not everything is about you. Offers of help will not be appreciated in traumatic situations if they come loaded with expectations. You can't expect someone to prioritise making the perfect polite response to every offer of help when all their emotional energy is invested in their sick loved one. Also, if I were him, and I found out that not only were you manufacturing a drama because I wasn't overcome with gratitude for receiving an email from you, but you had discussed the whole thing with a mutual coworker... you would be not be hearing from me again.

Again, sorry if this was harsh, but you asked the question.
posted by unbearablylight at 9:14 AM on January 24 [11 favorites]


OP, why are you going out of your way to not tell us what he said in the email? You don't to copy of verbatim, but if you want advice on this, then you should paraphrase it somehow.
posted by nooneyouknow at 9:14 AM on January 24 [17 favorites]


He waited for a cab with me the night before I sent it, and he didn't seem to want to talk about it. (I asked him point blank "are you okay?" and he complained about the weather.)

I'm gonna go with: He doesn't want to talk about it, whatever his reasons. Possibly, he was curt in his response to your email because he didn't know what to say. One assumes he's been distant for the same reason.

He's going through a lot right now. Cut him some slack. Just be friendly and don't analyze his every action to death. Like I said: Whatever's going on here, you're not going to help it by getting angry at him or pushing him.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:16 AM on January 24 [5 favorites]


Given the followup, I retract the first two paragraphs of my previous comment.

The rest stands, though; this is definitely "cut him some slack" territory.
posted by ook at 9:18 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


I still think you should cut him some slack, but I'm now wondering exactly what this "strange" email he sent you was that has you in such a lather. It wasn't anything like "Gorbachev sings tractors: turnip! Buttocks!" or anything surreal like that, was it?

Because if it wasn't anything like that, and it was instead something curt like "I'm 'k, just holding on", then you are definitely reading too much into this and that email wasn't "strange" at all.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:20 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]


The email he sent me seemed strange, and it would have taken him as long to say "hey, thanks" as it would have to send the email he sent.

The problem with being cryptic is that if people have a bad feeling in general about the situation, they are primed to assume the worst. That appears to be what happened between you and your friend, and that is also exactly what's happening here.

You are being dodgy about his response. If it was his response to your email that has propagated this entire doing, then knowing his response is relevant to this thread.

If you don't wish to share, that's fine, but people here will assume the worst (as they have so far), which is that you and your nosy coworker are being extremely uncharitable here.
posted by phunniemee at 9:22 AM on January 24 [5 favorites]


I've been in similar situations to the one he's in (my father-in-law had a stroke earlier this week), and I know I've been prone to making weird, cryptic statements under stress.

I'm sorry to hear your FiL had a stroke and hope he recovers.

Perhaps you're also under stress and lashing out? Does he know about your situation and if so, are you upset that hasn't asked about you? Either way, take it easy and take care of yourself.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:25 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


Without knowing what the cryptic/strange email said -- it's hard to say. Maybe it was so off the wall strange that nosy coworker was genuinely freaked out. (But I doubt it based on the limited info we have.)

Post update, I still I think she (not him) spells trouble. I would not tell her anything going forward. She seems to far too invested/interested in your business.
posted by Lescha at 9:28 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


Ok, so he told you he didn't want to talk about it. You were cool with that, but not for long, and instead you decided to send him an email to see how he was doing. That's fine, it's understandable that you'd want to at least let him know that if he changes his mind, you are available to help/chat.

But it shouldn't surprise you that you get a weird response when you've ignored his request that he not be asked about it.

As everyone else here says, just let him be, and be a friend by making work a 'normal' space where his ill girlfriend is not a thing.

(Also, I can think of only one time in my life when I fretted about whether or not I should communicate with a person where I didn't also have some level of crush on that person. That you asked your coworker about what is appropriate here makes me think that there is more crush here than you are admitting, and if that's the case, tread carefully, as noted by others).
posted by girlpublisher at 9:32 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]


You taking this personally mean you're making a situation that is categorically not about you into the all-about-you-show. He is stressed. His girlfriend is in the hospital. You are a coworker. You work in different departments. He actually owes you nothing, and for you to assume that this is some sort of slight towards you is a problem. You need to let go and leave him alone.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:33 AM on January 24 [6 favorites]


What did the "cryptic" email say? Is there a reason you haven't told us?
posted by J. Wilson at 9:34 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


She asked later on if I heard back from him and I told her I received a strange email from him, which led to her being angry for me.

For the record, if I found out during the tough time I was having that my communications and/or potential short-comings were not only being judged by my friend, but also other co-workers, that would be the last email I ever sent you.

You've definitely crossed a work boundary, but not the one you think. Stop talking about this friendship with other coworkers - if that coworker is angry and treats him differently as a result, you've now messed with his professional relationships for your personal one. That is very wrong.
posted by rutabega at 9:35 AM on January 24 [13 favorites]


My first thought upon reading this question was "What was the cryptic email?"

My second thought was - oh, office full of 40 year old women = DRAMA.

Now I'm even more curious as to what he said in the email because I feel all answers to your question must hinge on what was said - it's hard to comment otherwise.

But yes - agreeing with everyone else, he's going through a rough time. Give him space.
Also, you sound as if you like him more than you are prepared to let on, that's why his email is bothering you so much.
posted by JenThePro at 9:36 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]


Look, your reaction here is clearly a result of the crush you have on him. You probably ought to admit that.

If you want to just be friends with this co-worker, then you need to start by admitting, dealing with, and getting over your crush. The next step should be to continue to act with this person as you would with any co-worker you wanted to be friends with. That includes, for example, not taking it personally if your friend isn't quick to get back to you or super responsive while his girlfriend is being hospitalized with a serious medical condition.

That also includes backing off and chilling for now. When your friend has time to chat, he will reach out to you. Or after things clearly settle down, you can reach out to him to chat. No talks about your relationship or what any of this drama-in-your-head means. Just, hey, how bout them Yankees or that art exhibit or the new coffee maker at the office -- back to normal as if nothing has happened with respect to your relationship (because it hasn't). But of course you need to act like a human being and say, hey, how are things, I hope your girlfriend is doing okay.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:38 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]


To be honest, this is way too much thought and strife for a relationship with a coworker. You should be dialing back no matter what he has going on.
posted by empath at 10:13 AM on January 24 [16 favorites]


If someone that close to me was in the hospital with a "mystery illness," I'd be lucky if I was able to think to respond to an email from a work acquaintance (one I don't even spend much time with) at all, so I guess that makes me a terribly rude person too. Also, "offers to help" for people who are suffering loss or stress are often seen as a ritualistic gesture (do you know how many very close friends I have told with fervent sincerity, after deaths, diagnoses, etc., "call me if you need anything at all," who never actually called on me? And I've been on that side of things as well).

The biggest problem you've got is that co-worker. She's not a drama llama, she's a drama vulture, and a very dangerous person you need to keep an eye on. There is an archetype of a seemingly warm, friendly, caring woman--with some sort of deeper unhappiness, need to be special, or insecurity in her personal life--who will draw you all the way in as a friend, specifically to take the things you confide in her to manufacture interpersonal dramas she is holding all the strings to and breathlessly reporting to everyone else. Two attractive younger people, one in a relationship, one with a suspected crush, in the middle of an office of stable, boring 40 year olds? Chum. In. The. Water. Smile bright and keep your own confidence.
posted by blue suede stockings at 10:20 AM on January 24 [15 favorites]


Earlier this week he confided in me that his girlfriend was in the hospital with a mystery illness. I gave him space for a few days (and he did say goodbye to me earlier this week, after telling me this)...but I sent him a quick email yesterday to check in on him and let him know that I was around if he needed any help. Three minutes later, I got a cryptic one-line response,

What did the e-mail actually say?

and he didn't come to visit me that night.

His girlfriend is in the hospital. Maybe he went there. Maybe he doesn't feel like socializing. On what planet is this about you?

Even if he didn't take me up on his offer to help, I had hoped he'd at least say thank you.

Thank you for what? You gave him generic well-wishes. It's a nice thought, but there is nothing really to do with that. It's like when people say "how's your day going?" as "hello". How can you possibly think he owes you something?

I know I've been curt and snippy with people when I've been in crises like this,

Okay, but he hasn't been, unless that "cryptic" e-mail wasn't cryptic at all and was snippy.

and even though his response didn't sit well with me I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

You're willing to give the guy who is dealing with a crisis the benefit of the doubt? Are you listening to yourself?

One of my coworkers -- who knew how nervous I was about sending the email -- is livid with him on my behalf and thinks I should cut all ties to him.

Your co-worker is an overly-invested crazy person who is egging on your strange reaction to a non-event. You probably should cut ties with her.

First of all, all I said to my coworker was "[other coworker] is having a hard time right now,

Don't do that.

do you think I should send him an email and offer help?

Again, please realize this isn't about you. His loved one is in the hospital, there is nothing you can do. He is probably getting a lot of this generic "good thoughts" and they're probably also coming from people a lot closer to him than you. If you really expect him to be thankful for this, you're imposing an extra burden, not a helping hand.

The email he sent me seemed strange, and it would have taken him as long to say "hey, thanks" as it would have to send the email he sent.

It's impossible to judge his reaction if you won't disclose the content.

Unless that e-mail was actually a thing, it seems nothing actually happened, except for you and the co-worker decided to freak out over your own speculation.
posted by spaltavian at 10:35 AM on January 24 [9 favorites]


Three minutes later, I got a cryptic one-line response, and he didn't come to visit me that night. Even if he didn't take me up on his offer to help, I had hoped he'd at least say thank you.

It seems like the main thing you are upset about is that he said "[cryptic one-line response]" instead of "[cryptic one-line response], thanks for the offer!" If so, you need to get over it. People don't always remember to put on their best manners when they are in crisis, and anyway, an offer to help is such a generic platitude, it barely requires a thank you anyway.
posted by coupdefoudre at 10:42 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


I was your co-worker in this situation once. I was friendly with a guy from my volunteer group. We both had significant others. Our volunteer group, much like your office, was staffed by people older than us, so we gravitated to each other. While I enjoyed our time spent together in group, I saw him as a work friend and didn't think much about him otherwise.

At one point, my husband and I split up , and I was devastated/distracted trying to keep myself together. My friend sent a few nice emails, offering his sympathies, to which I replied a brief "thanks." He asked if I'd like to hang out a few times and I declined.

A few weeks later, I got an out-of-the-blue, very harsh email from him, saying he felt like I'd been wasting his time and that he expected more from me and that he had never been treated so badly. I was shocked, but I realized something: he thought we had a closeness and intimacy (and all the expectations that go along with this) more akin to very close, personal friends, instead of work friends.

I had no idea. To me, he was my very friendly co-worker, but not someone I put at the top of the list to stay in touch with in times of crisis, like I would my sister or my best friend.

I'm wondering if this is happening here - a mismanaged set of expectations for your closeness. I have no doubt he likes you and considers you a friend, but do you think it's possible you feel closer to him than he does to you? Work friendships can have some of the most confusing friendship boundaries - we've all been there. I suggest that he's not being malicious and he still likes you as a friend - but you just feel closer to him than he does to you. So, even though if you were in his shoes you would react much differently, he may not have the same set of expectations.
posted by Laura Macbeth at 10:52 AM on January 24 [22 favorites]


Not to pile on, but I think this calls for a complete rethinking of your approach to this situation. The fact that somebody is enough of an office pal to drop by and talk to you on the way out sometimes doesn't mean that has to happen every day or else he's giving you the brush-off. (I happen to work in the same office as my very best friend, and we sometimes don't see each other all day. Just happens.)

He told you he was in a difficult spot, and you offered support if he needed it. The absolute most important support you can provide to people in a difficult spot, if that's really what you intend to do, is to loosen any expectations of them that you might have. There's often very little that's concrete that you can do for someone with (for instance) a sick girlfriend, but you can make it so that they don't at least have to worry about you on top of everything else.

That's the unselfish move, if you're looking for one. The unselfish move is to support him in a way that he might not even notice, which is to hang back and not need or want or ask for anything. Don't offer to help with the expectation that he'll turn around and thank you, or acknowledge you, or that it will bring the two of you closer together as friends. Offer help and ask for nothing in return, including his mental energy, while he's in a crisis.

Even if you were very close friends, I'd advise that you take a step back and make it about him. I think that's even more the case here, where your friendship seems to be pretty casual. I understand you'd like to be acknowledged, but this is one of those things that I think makes you a better friend, is realizing that down the road, he'll probably appreciate your support. Right now, he's barely noticing it and absolutely not thinking about you one way or the other, which is what he needs to do.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 10:59 AM on January 24 [7 favorites]


Maybe this hits too close to home for me, a 41 year old female "boring" "stable" "career" office worker, but the demonization of the female coworker here is off-putting.

If one of my coworkers confided in me that she was nervous about sending an email, wouldn't it be natural for me to followup on that? And then if she was confused/upset (enough to post the question here) and told me that he replied with a really strange email and didn't even say thank you I'd say I was angry on her behalf, too. And if it's a really strange response email, I'd probably say to DTMFA. Remember, "I" doesn't know coworker's gf is in the hospital. "I" just know he's having a hard time and blew someone off. Because that's what OP told me.

Anyway, vague offers of "help" when there is nothing to do can be interpreted as strange. Give him space. If the opportunity arises, tell him you hope his gf is better soon.
posted by kimberussell at 11:00 AM on January 24 [9 favorites]


Okay, so here's the sequence of events:

Co-worker tells you that his girlfriend is in the hospital.

You don't say anything to him for a few days.

A couple of days later, you wait for a taxi with him after work, ask if he's okay, and he changes the subject.

The next day, after consulting with another colleague, you send him an email. He replies with a "cryptic one-line response" and doesn't go out of his way to drop by and say hi.

Another gossipy co-worker tries to make you feel offended at his conduct.


Am I missing anything? Because this seems pretty ridiculous to me. You found out that his girlfriend was seriously ill in hospital, and waiting a few days to say anything to him? If I were him, I'd take that as a pretty solid sign that you weren't interested in being friends. Also, you have no idea what sort of personal pain this guy was in. There are lots of reasons he might not want to talk about his girlfriend's illness.

There's nothing wrong with this guy's behaviour. I'd say that you were moderately rude for not saying anything to him for a few days. Your colleague's behaviour in trying to get you to be mad at him is poisonous, petty bullshit.
posted by Dasein at 12:00 PM on January 24 [4 favorites]


He just doesn't want emotional support from you right now, and that's fine.

You did nothing wrong (as described here), he did nothing wrong (as described here), it's a shitty situation for everyone. Quit trying to psychoanalyze his actions and just treat him like any other coworker going through a rough time. Be friendly, stop obsessing about whether to email him or how to behave.

And for the love of god, if a casual acquaintance (or anyone, really) going through a rough time doesn't want your emotional support/doesn't thank you for the offer/is a bit more curt than usual, that is totally fine and normal and doesn't say anything bad about you. "Retaliating" by giving him the silent treatment, using it as grounds to end a friendship, silently seething that he didn't explicitly thank you (?!), bitching about him with your coworker, all of these are completely ridiculous and harmful responses.

Maybe think about why you're having such a strong reaction to his (again totally normal) behaviour. Are you feeling rejected or lonely, maybe? There's nothing wrong with that, but there is something wrong with turning the situation into "why isn't he being nicer to me" instead of "how can I make things easier for him during a rough time". Stop obsessing, be friendly and polite (and cut him some extra slack if he's grumpy/rude), and accept that he doesn't want to bare his soul to you right now.
posted by randomnity at 12:40 PM on January 24 [2 favorites]


[This is another followup from the asker.]
One of the reasons why it took me a day or two to get in touch with my coworker is that I found out earlier that day that my father-in-law (who lives three states away from us) had a stroke. I hadn't mentioned this to my coworker because I didn't want to burden him any further. No one at work asked me how I was doing while that was going down, which might be why I'm having this response.
Additionally, I asked my coworker today if she said anything to anyone. She swore up and down that she kept her mouth shut.
posted by cortex at 12:40 PM on January 24


You asked how he was when you waited for the taxi - did you ask how she was, too? Is it possible that he took your decision not to speak to him for a couple of days after he told you what had happened as a sign that you weren't very concerned about his girlfriend? I suspect you were trying not to be intrusive but it's possible that in his mind the moment to talk about things concerning his partner and situation had passed in those initial few days and he found your interest intrusive. Especially after he'd made it clear he didn't want to talk to you about it and you'd sent him an e-mail the very next day bringing it up again.
I wonder if his reply reflected this at all, which might be why you read it as curt or offhand.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 12:49 PM on January 24


OP, this isn't about WHY you didn't write to him. The point is that given your behaviour, there's nothing wrong with his behaviour. You didn't respond normally to him because of a health issue with a loved one. Can you see now why he might not be responding normally to you? Stop making this about you, and tell your gossipy co-worker to drop it. If she starts badmouthing him on your account this could end up damaging your reputation in the workplace, too.
posted by Dasein at 1:02 PM on January 24 [8 favorites]


You really, really need to mind that coworker/friend boundary.

She swore up and down that she kept her mouth shut.
Of course she did. I don't believe her, though.

Also, consider how much the fact that you find him attractive (although off the table) is driving your actions, this question, your follow ups...
posted by sm1tten at 1:48 PM on January 24 [3 favorites]


A purely platonic, casual work friendship shouldn't be this hard--it's no big deal to send someone who is just a friend an offer to help via email when they're in crisis, and there's no reason to get hugely nervous about it or go methodically plotting your next move. Of course, the truth is, this isn't just a purely platonic, casual work friendship for you. You think he's cute so you are reading way, way too much into these scant and totally normal interactions.

The truth is, and I'm sorry if this hurts to hear, he's probably not thinking of you very much at all right now. And that's okay! He's dealing with a lot, and his responses have nothing to do with you. Your interactions don't hold the same weight for him as they do for you, and they don't need to, for you to be perfectly normal work friends. Waiting for a taxi together is not an obligation for him to reach out for help or even make some kind of grand gesture of reciprocation back to what is really a no-biggie sort of email.

Let it go. Focus on yourself and your significant other. Resist the temptation to mire yourself in drama here. It's not about you.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:04 PM on January 24 [5 favorites]


Your follow ups haven't really clarified anything, in fact they've only confirmed that you have completely inappropriate expectations for this casual workplace acquaintanceship. Your expectations are more appropriate to a budding romance.
-- why would you be nervous about sending him an email?
-- why would you confide in the coworker about this?
-- what did his cryptic email say?

If I were to venture a guess, based upon your question and the follow ups, about why his response has been so lukewarm-to-nonexistent: he thinks you're being creepy. All of these expectations, all this microanalysis and whispering between you and your Linda Tripp-wannabe coworker, has turned this into a Thing that he can sense. Your interactions with him, even a purportedly innocent offer to help, come laden with creepy vibes that he can feel!

If you want to salvage this friendship, you need to back way off and be careful to check yourself whenever you interact with him. Ask yourself whether what you're thinking, saying, or doing (or contemplating doing) is colored by the fact that you are crushing on him. You should really only be behaving in ways you'd behave toward any other coworker.

It kinda seems like you're really smitten with this guy and it shows. Or at the very least you're trying to cultivate that thing people often mention around here ... the "work spouse." And if there's ever a time to not be trying to deepen your relationship with this guy, and when such efforts would be creepy and offensive, it's when the guy's girlfriend is in the hospital with a mystery illness.
posted by jayder at 2:45 PM on January 24 [11 favorites]


Forget about him and focus on yourself for a while. Don't reach out to him. Don't think about him at all.

This other coworker who was mad on your behalf should not be listened to, she is overreacting and does not know the real story. However, the fact that you already go to her for advice and she becomes angry on your behalf suggests that maybe she cares about you and would be receptive to your telling her about your dad-in-law's stroke. Reach out to her and give her a chance to help you.

I'm very sorry you're going through a stressful time.

Also what jayder said vis-a-vis romantic vibe here. I was getting it, too, but didn't know quite how to articulate it. This guy seems like your "work spouse" and I think maybe you need to back off.
posted by quincunx at 3:35 PM on January 24 [5 favorites]


It seems like this situation has been analyzed to completion. I also think it's tangentially a good example of the Ring Theory ("comfort in, dump out"), which might be useful to the OP in understanding her co-worker and his situation.
posted by msittig at 7:53 AM on January 25 [3 favorites]


I'll tell you what I tell people around the boat when they start getting nosy about other people's relationships:

"You don't know what other people have going on, so the best thing you can do is to be a friend here."

To actually answer your questions:

- No, you're being friendly, or at least coming across as being friendly.
- Jebus, no! Burning bridges is the last thing you want to do. Give him some time, re-contact him in that friendly manner, and then let it lie. Don't mention how you feel - you're not the one in extremis here.
posted by squorch at 11:14 AM on January 25


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