I get it, you're sorry. Now leave me alone.
September 20, 2012 6:08 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to figure out next steps in this truly stupid interpersonal relations drama I'm having. "Sarah" did something I specifically asked her not to do. When I asked her to reverse her action, she complied, but is now overly remorseful. I need to respond, and I want to do it in some way that gets her to stop apologizing while keeping her at arm's length. Details after the jump.

Sorry for the vaguery about the thing she did. To clarify a bit: The thing she did was not a big deal. I asked beforehand if she was going to do simple thing "X" or complex thing "Y", and said if she was going to do Y, I'd rather not be involved. She said she'd do X and involved me, but then she did Y. Y is easily reversible. Neither option is a hardship to anyone.

After I learned Sarah did Y, I took her aside and said, "So, I asked you not to do Y last week. It's really not a big deal that you did, but I do wish you hadn't; could you please reverse it?" She said "Oh, I forgot you'd asked!" and was abjectly apologetic. I said it was no big deal and if she could just undo the thing, it would be fine.

To me, that's the end of the story. I tend to be nonconfrontational, so I was really proud of myself for being so "mature". Ha.

A few hours later, I get an email from "Sarah." Now she's soooo sorry she's crying while she's typing. The message was brimming with self-flagellation. I don't think it was her intent to try to make me feel terrible for pointing out her mistake, but that's the effect it had. However, I am self aware enough not to actually feel terrible, and instead I'm just annoyed with her.

What now? How do I respond?

I do not want to respond by email, because I sense she is the type of drama happy person who will print out the email and harp on the minute details whatever I've written. I just want to have another quick talk and get it over with. In the past I might have tried to get someone else to handle the drama for me, or just ignored it, but I want to deal with my own problems this time.

Some caveats: (1) I do not like Sarah; I did not like her before this dramarama, but I guess she's just now picking up on that. I have to admit, I probably would have been less serious and more jokey in the initial talk if she'd been a friend, or even someone I liked. It was sort of my goal to use this situation to distance her, though. I could tell she thought we were friends, even though I dislike her. Perhaps this was a mistake on my part - feel free to weigh in on that too. (2) I do not think she actually "forgot"; I suspect that that may be part of why she's overapologizing. We had a 10 minute group conversation about X vs Y, and Y is several orders of magnitude more difficult and complicated than X. I think she just thought I'd never find out, but 10 minute conversations tend to stick in people's minds, and the second she did Y, 4 people who had been involved in the initial conversation noticed and fell all over themselves to tell me she'd done it. I wouldn't have found out if they hadn't told me. (3) I cannot avoid her, since I work at a place she frequents. (This drama has nothing to do with work, and she can't get me fired or anything.)

I want to say something that will get her to understand that this tiff is in the past, but avoids groveling. This is really hard for me -- my first impulse is to go overboard in reassurances, to tell her not to feel bad, that I've always liked her, and I don't want this to drive a wedge between us. None of that is true, I just hate confrontation. I truly don't mind if she dislikes me after the conversation, because if she understands we're not friends, that makes my life a bit easier. However, I do not want her to think I hate her and therefore try to "make it up" to me or impress me with how bad she feels because I don't like her. How do I walk this tightrope?
posted by lesli212 to Human Relations (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
"Drop it. It's fine; no harm done. But please don't bring it up again."

Though I tend to err on the side of brusqueness. Maybe leave out the "drop it".
posted by supercres at 6:13 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you don't care whether she dislikes you, why not just do nothing?

But if you really just want to say something to indicate that this tiff is in the past? "It's not a big deal, it's ok, no worries."
posted by J. Wilson at 6:17 AM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Send her an email that says "Don't beat yourself up about it - it's fixed now and I'm not worrying about it. Cheers, Lesli212" Keep it VERY short. That will reassure her if she's sincerely seeking reassurance but not feed into anything. If she replies with anything dramatic (other than "thanks, I am sorry but I appreciate that you're not mad!") just don't respond.

You sound like you're a bit heavy on the drama yourself too though, or maybe it's just me - it just strikes me how rarely I actually think to myself "I don't like [person], I want to distance myself from them", or spend a lot of time thinking about the finer emotional points of conversations as you do in the "some caveats" paragraph. I don't think you need to reassure her that you like her OR let her know that you dislike her. You just need to minimize your interactions with her and keep them neutral. Not everybody likes everybody else, and usually it's perfectly decent people disliking other perfectly decent people for idiosyncratic reasons. (I mean, unless there's WAY more to this than you've said.)
posted by Frowner at 6:19 AM on September 20, 2012 [15 favorites]

A timely update, and ugh, hopefully the only one: I just received ANOTHER apologetic email (2 in 12 hours!). Thank goodness she doesn't have my phone number. So, doing nothing, as I suspected, is definitely off the table.

(And, I wouldn't normally comment on this, but since I had an actual relevant update, I'll just say I feel like most people who ask human relations questions are trying to mend/keep relationships, and I also have a bad tendency to act as though "smoothing things over and moving past disagreements" is synonymous with "becoming closer", so maybe I went overboard in trying to make it clear that that's not my goal here.)
posted by lesli212 at 6:28 AM on September 20, 2012

"Thanks for your help in resolving this. Let's drop the subject."

[Her response.]

"Again, thanks. No more needs to be said about this."

[Her response.]

"Thanks again. This subject is now closed."
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:29 AM on September 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

Just reply to her email with "no worries." Anything more prolongs the drama. Another face-to-face? No way.

I want to say something that will get her to understand that this tiff is in the past, but avoids groveling.

Avoid the urge to make this a "teachable moment." She is not your responsibility. Respond only with what *you* want to respond with. "No worries. Peace, lesli212" and you're done. Whether she's done is not your concern.
posted by headnsouth at 6:31 AM on September 20, 2012 [15 favorites]

I used to be something like Sarah, meaning that I excessively beat myself up if I did something wrong. It freaked people out, much like I'm sure Sarah is freaking you out.

A friend of mine has been good at disarming this in me by first accepting my apology, and then, if I go on, saying "you're really being much harder on yourself than you have to be. I'm fine, please stop." (Kind of like what Monkeytoes suggests.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:36 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

You know, it's quite possible that Sara has some OCD-type issues, or some intense anxiety. (I say this as someone who used to get incredibly, agonizingly upset and freaked out if I committed a minor social faux pas - as it appears that she did (you have no way to know why she did Y, so I'd suggest assuming that she's telling the truth). I used to think about these things for days. They used to haunt me. I used to beat myself up like crazy. It was awful.

The best thing to do for Sara is to send her one email saying clearly, "Please stop worrying about it [this gives her permission AND pressure to do so]. It's fixed now and I am no longer thinking about it myself." Don't tell her you like her or that she's still an okay person or whatever; she has to be able to manage that part of the issue for herself. Just give her permission to stop obsessing about the thing she did wrong. Use clear language.

If you're feeling kind and she continues to apologize at length (as opposed to a follow-up email reiterating her apology in a one-sentence, sign-off kind of way) , send her one more very short email that says something like "Seriously, it's okay, we don't need to talk about it any more."

If she's like I used to be, she probably needs a push to turn off the part of her brain that's hung up on this.
posted by Frowner at 6:36 AM on September 20, 2012 [8 favorites]

Email would be fine, if you keep it as short as possible. Even though you worry she'll pick it apart, it's better than an in-person conversation; someone in a mood like that can really drag the conversation off on a tangent and get you into way more meotional territory than you meant to be in.

Hi Sarah,
Thanks for your notes. I'm sorry you're finding this so upsetting - really, it's not a big deal to me, and there's no need for you to keep worrying either. I'm sorry if I said something yesterday (or whenever it was that you confronted her) that implied I was upset with you personally - I really was just concerned about (the project). I'm happy to just move on and put it behind us.
posted by aimedwander at 6:44 AM on September 20, 2012

I asked beforehand if she was going to do simple thing "X" or complex thing "Y", and said if she was going to do Y, I'd rather not be involved. ... So, I asked you not to do Y last week. It's really not a big deal that you did, but I do wish you hadn't; could you please reverse it?

Unless I am missing something it sounds like you communicated two options to her, she choose one and then when she made a choice you told her you actually only gave her ONE choice and she chose the wrong one.

You lack of clarity in communication is probably what is throwing her off, and the implication that as two adults you would have the authority/power to tell someone else what to do is a bit weird. This may of course be a moot point if you had described the actual action and how it impacted you.

But it seems you have set up a dynamic where you are in charge of her and she has responded by being deferential to you but now you don't like it. Do NOT email her back, have a conversation face to face owning up your part of the problem and work together colloboratively in solving whatever problem her action was supposed to solve.
posted by saucysault at 6:48 AM on September 20, 2012 [9 favorites]

Yes, short and sweet, as MonkeyToes indicates.

It's probably good, though, that this is the problem rather than the other way around. It's easier to have a relationship with someone who cares about reconciling it than someone who doesn't care that she broke her word.
posted by SpacemanStix at 6:48 AM on September 20, 2012

I have been an overapologizer. The anxiety is real, but it's also manipulative behavior intended to get you to forget your own feelings and focus on hers. I'd ignore it.
posted by liketitanic at 7:49 AM on September 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

The choice was "X with me" vs "Y without me"; she did "Y with me". She was free to do either X or Y, but if she wanted to do Y, I did not want to be involved and would have removed myself from the situation.
posted by lesli212 at 7:56 AM on September 20, 2012

Okay, that makes more sense, thanks for clarifying (because you said you only found out about her decison from third parties I thought her choice no longer affected you). Disregard my advice then! You have gotten some great suggestions in-thread.
posted by saucysault at 7:59 AM on September 20, 2012

Can you explain a bit more about what is actually going on? When you first wrote this, I thought it was about a girlfriend. Then a friend. Then a coworker. But your updates make it clear that you don't actually like her, nor does it seem you work with her. It might be easier to answer this question with more data.
posted by corb at 8:35 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sounds like Sarah displays some of the characteristics that you maybe find least desirable in yourself, such as people-pleasing, trying to get on good terms with everyone, etc. 'If you spot it, you got it' in other words. So I would send a brief email like those suggested above, then invest some time in thinking about why she gets on your nerves so much when she's not even a friend or family member whom you have responsibility for.
posted by pink_gorilla at 3:07 PM on September 20, 2012

Hmm, well, unfortunately this human relations mefi experiment was mostly unhelpful. I am not a good question asker. I seem to have given too much detail in some areas and not nearly enough in other areas. I did not do a good enough job of establishing that this woman is and always has been awful, and it's got nothing to do with subtle things like her mannerisms or attitude. I was not clear enough about how she thinks she's friends with me even though I have only ever been professional with her. As I said in the original question, she frequents the place where I work.

I see now I should have given that info in the first paragraph, not as "caveats", since many people seem made up that minds based on the interpersonal issues and overlooked the background info in that paragraph. The info was there, I guess it was just hard to parse.

I did share some more identifiable details (about why she's so horrible) that I'm not comfortable sharing in a public google archived forum over memail with Frowner, who did have some really good advice -- especially about asking other people to intervene, which I was reluctant to do for reasons I mentioned in the original question. But upon reflection, Frowner's right, that this situation is not really something I can or should handle on my own.

At this time, I've decided to ignore her apologies; it's so rude it was unthinkable to me when I received her first email, but liketitanic was spot on. I've also told a gossip she's close to (and several others) that she really needs to stop apologizing; I'm sure that guy will give her the message.
posted by lesli212 at 7:03 PM on September 20, 2012

It's really hard to tell what you wanted to hear, but the best general advice for people you dislike but can't avoid is to be completely neutral, Miss Manners style. "I'm sorry, but that won't be possible" is the single best way to disengage from someone who keeps pressing you. Repeat over again as needed to demonstrate that you are being professional and she is not.

Fueling the fires of gossip might satisfy an itch but it will also create flames. That might be the satisfaction you're looking for but it's definitely not going to cause someone to leave you alone as your question specified.
posted by SakuraK at 9:37 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've also told a gossip she's close to (and several others) that she really needs to stop apologizing; I'm sure that guy will give her the message.

Yeah, that's not going to help you disengage from this person or have her disengage from you. You just amped up the drama by involving other people.
posted by headnsouth at 11:24 PM on September 20, 2012 [7 favorites]

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