Please help me escape or conquer this high school drama at work
April 4, 2019 1:54 PM   Subscribe

I'm really frustrated with myself for not handling this better, and for not clearly understanding whether I am actually doing something wrong here. Help? Childish details inside.

Work friends began to form a clique that gets lunch together, goes to happy hour, occasional invitations for girls nights etc. For the first time I am included in a social situation and as an introvert who was emotionally abused and bullied in high school that's no small feat.

One day we were at lunch. Just before that a colleague had said he wasn't going to deal with "Mary" anymore outside of required communication because he's sick of her causing drama. I listened, I didn't know what had happened and was thinking to myself she is an impulsive communicator so something probably did happen.

At lunch Mary says I don't know if I'm imagining things but I think Joe is ignoring me. I thought do I say something or not and like an idiot I decided to say something. I said I'm telling you this because I'm your friend and explained what he said to me thinking she could have information to correct it. What a big mistake that was. She communicated at me in an aggressive manner in front of about 4 of our friends that I had handled things wrong. When I thought I was helping her. She felt like I was throwing her under the bus but I didn't have any information and I didn't want to get in the middle of it. I just wanted to tell her so she had information and could address as she felt appropriate.

Well with my history that really sucked so I started avoiding her. Problem is she has been the initiator of most of the social stuff. I tried to maintain some of the friendships. Finally a few weeks later I tried to clear the air. She's still pissed that I didn't stand up for her but says she recognizes not everyone handles things the same way.

Meanwhile there are photos on social media of fun things that some of the people are doing together that I didn't get invited to. Our group thread which used to be active with social requests, happy hour planning etc has died. I saw Mary talking to two colleagues yesterday after a meeting about trying to find somewhere fun for an 80s night. She looked right at me, and didn't invite me.

Now there's multiple interpretations of course. It could be they are all 10-15 years older than me and don't have young kids so they are interested in activities they know I'm not likely to be able to do. But I am just feeling invisible and shut out - not professionally but socially and it's really hurting me more than I think it should.

So I don't know what to do. I have to work with Mary on a project in the near future and things feel awkward, fake and generally unsafe. I keep putting myself out there even today invited people to eat lunch. Mary was the only one that responded, but everyone else still showed up. However they did not really talk to me. I messaged Mary and said what happened to you and she said she decided to stay in her office and do notes. So she accepted my invitation knowing we had a strained history then didn't come, but didn't bother to tell me she wasn't coming.

I don't even know if it's fair to feel hurt - then pissed - about that. It feels rude and maybe passive aggressive but has some plausible deniability to it.

My question is basically, how do you cope with feeling like an outsider especially when you thought you were finally included? What am I missing in my personality to make social group interactions work better? How can I cope with rejection and invisibility without it bothering me so much? And how do I create some influence in this situation with the other people? I have been trying to build individual friendships more but the feeling of being left out, or her intentionally flaking in such a rude manner.... After this last incident I've decided I don't need her approval and she's got some sensation seeking party girl stuff going on that I'm not compatible with, but I'm left feeling very lonely and alone, lacking good friendships, and generally it triggers feelings of unworthiness. How can I navigate this social relationship so that my emotions don't run me over? I want to just avoid this woman but she's a bit of a social gatekeeper and no match for my flimsy introverted shame based social presentation. Please help me heal my high school isolation by conquering this new permutation of the same shitty dynamic.
posted by crunchy potato to Human Relations (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This feels like a good riddance situation, as this woman sounds awful. However, if there is anything constructive to take away from it, it may be that it's wise to be pretty certain about the degree of intimacy you have with someone before meddling in any drama. It sounds like you spoke out too soon and before there was a strong enough relationship that you could predict the results of speaking accurately enough.

But seriously, this sounds insufferable. I would deal with it by compassionately reminding yourself that this is not the type of healthy friendship you really want.
posted by namesarehard at 1:59 PM on April 4, 2019 [29 favorites]

Mary's dreadful and I'm sorry this happened.

Everyone else came to the lunch you initiated, though, right? So this isn't one of those super toxic things where the group has circled the wagons. Mary's still sulking, but people like this always have something to stew about... I hope that when the next drama-nugget comes along (and it will) it will distract Mary.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:10 PM on April 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

I should clarify that I agree, good riddance, but I wonder how to continue growing friendships with the others so I can still be included generally and how to not let this woman interfere with that either "strategically" or emotionally due to getting triggered from feeling rejected.

Also, I honestly don't know if everyone else came to the lunch I initiated because nobody really talked to me. They had their own conversations going. No one but Mary acknowledged the message. So it's all just this weird ambiguity that my mind is recording as rejection because history plus Mary.
posted by crunchy potato at 2:11 PM on April 4, 2019

It sounds like your shame is coloring this a lot - Mary is the only one who didn't come to lunch with you? Your other friend has already publicly that he's sick of Mary's drama? Keep initiating events, ignore Mary. I would probably still invite her since it sounds like she won't come anyhow.

This is also an excellent illustration of why some folks intentionally don't form close friendships with coworkers. Find other social outlets - an obvious one is to get your small child into some activities so you can meet some other parents. Try to stay off social media / mute your work friends for a while.
posted by momus_window at 2:19 PM on April 4, 2019 [19 favorites]

Just before that a colleague had said he wasn't going to deal with "Mary" anymore outside of required communication because he's sick of her causing drama.

It sounds like that colleague has the right idea. Mary isn't going to let you force your way back into her good graces. She'll do it on her own terms, if she wants to. But even if she does that, I wouldn't trust her.

Since you mentioned having to work with Mary on a project in the future, I think that may be the best time to work on developing any sort of camaraderie with her, but don't try to force it. I think it is a good sign that your other coworkers came out to lunch with you, while she behaved passive-aggressively.

I'm terrible at making friends, being very introverted and not into idle chit chat. I'm in my late thirties and have rarely been included in any cliques at work. I think if you can manage to add meaning to your life outside of work, not having friends at work won't seem like such a big deal that makes you feel bad about yourself.

Honestly from what you wrote it doesn't sound like you really even like your coworkers, more that you want to be included in social activities with them. To feel included. Which is an understandable way to feel, but is it really worth the bother with this group? It doesn't sound like it.
posted by wondermouse at 2:23 PM on April 4, 2019 [11 favorites]

You should keep doing what you did, invite people to have lunch with you, arrange an after-work happy hour, let people know about a cool exhibit you can see, find out about cool outdoor/lunchtime concerts if your office is in a downtown area now that the weather is nice, invite someone to take a breaktime/sunshine walk.

To make friendships and at least keep work pleasant, you should take the initiative to suggest and plan things.

Mary can come if she wants, others can come if they want, they are all adults (at least in age if not always behavior) and will make decisions based on their own criteria.

As for handling things in the future, I would stay far away from listening to, repeating, or getting involved in gossip/drama. I would only intervene if I was really, really, really close with someone. So the next time someone comes to you with an issue, you should say something like, "Wow, that sounds really frustrating/exhausting/annoying, I hope you can work that out with Mary, you should talk to her about it." If people are gossiping around you either ignore it or redirect the conversation to the latest episode of Game of Thrones, Great British Bakeoff, Daily Show, etc...
posted by brookeb at 2:30 PM on April 4, 2019 [8 favorites]

It's hard because of introversion and your history in high school, but the mode I encourage you to adopt is one of friendly above-it-all professionalism. You are not there to be the most popular kid in school. You are there to do your work like a professional. Mary is so far over the line that she can't even see the line from where she is.

I suspect that you told Mary what Joe said about her because at some level you felt like you wanted Mary's approval. Like maybe you feel like she's the mean girl or the mother hen of the clique or whatever and that gives her some power over you because of your history. I encourage you to consider that, and to consider as well that if Joe thinks Mary is a drama queen, other people do, too. Probably including some of the people that seem like they are in her inner circle. If Mary has drama with you over that, she's had drama with other people over small things. It's not some giant black mark on you; it's just Mary.

What I encourage you to think about, at work, is being friendly without being friends, if that makes sense. Yes, get lunch with co-workers if that is the done thing in your office, but keep conversations and emotions light, and don't repeat things people told you about other people. Healthy, well-adjusted people who work together don't have tons of interpersonal drama and aren't looking for slights. Just being a good listener and having integrity and boundaries will serve you, in one of two ways. Either it will elevate you above the petty drama of others, or it will show you that this whole workplace is toxic and no place where you want to work.
posted by gauche at 2:33 PM on April 4, 2019 [34 favorites]

Right now you are understandably fixated on the present moment and worried about each small thing as it happens because of the anxiety of not knowing what is going on or what is going to happen. But just like drama in a family, drama in a workplace is limited by that fact that you’re all stuck together. This is not like a friend group where you might have a permanent fissure. Try to view what’s going on as just one season in a much longer social situation.

When I don’t know what to do in a sticky social situation, I tend to step back and wait. Something will develop that will clarify things for you. In your upcoming project with Mary, I would try to work calmly and project a friendly and carefree attitude about social relations with her. (Don’t worry about being fake—sometimes getting along at work requires being a little fake!) Let the temperature between you cool down. If she really is a drama llama, she will soon be focused on a different drama with someone else at work.

As for today’s lunch, I read that as others picking up on the awkwardness and not quite sure how to act, but showing up because they want to show you they’re not trying to shun you. Mary may be being a jerk or she may have worried she’d end up in an awkward one-on-one lunch with you because of the lack of response to your email.
posted by sallybrown at 2:33 PM on April 4, 2019 [7 favorites]

It sounds like Joe was right.

However, in the future, don't repeat other people's drama (Joe probably didn't expect you to go tattling and you probably made it worse between him and Mary) and if you do need to tell someone that a course correction is in order, don't do it publicly in front of other friends. Unless someone asks you to intervene on their behalf, leave people to sort out their own drama.
posted by Candleman at 2:35 PM on April 4, 2019 [31 favorites]

What am I missing in my personality to make social group interactions work better?

don't tell people the bad things you heard other people say about them.

I don't think this is anything "missing" in your personality, it is just a basic rule to follow. to be clear, when I say don't bring people bad gossip about themselves on a platter, I mean don't do it unless you want to hurt them. it takes a very specific personality type to carry that off with an air of such innocence that the originator of the bad opinion gets the blame and not you, the volunteer messenger. you don't sound like someone who has kind of deviousness in you and, to be clear, it is not something to aspire to.

and if you do it not to hurt them, but for their own good/because you felt they needed to know, it makes it so much worse.

and don't betray a confidence. if Joe wanted to start shit with Mary he'd have done it himself. again, this is a behavior guideline, not a personality issue.
posted by queenofbithynia at 4:50 PM on April 4, 2019 [21 favorites]

So Joe told you that he was avoiding Mary because he didn’t like drama. You then went to Mary and told her, creating the exact drama your friend was trying to avoid. Now Mary thinks you’re a gossip - and she’s not wrong, and you tell her that you don’t want to get in the middle of it...even though you have gone out of your way to insert yourself in the middle of it. Now you want to know how to avoid these situations and what to do it about it now.

Well for a start, don’t get in the middle of other people’s interpersonal issues. Not your circus, not your monkeys. But now that you have, the least you can do is apologise to both of them. I’m sure Mary is going over the top about the whole thing (there’s a reason your friend Joe said he didn’t like her drama, now you’re finding out why!) but that doesn’t matter.

She’s annoyed with you, you did something to cause it, it’s now up to you to fix it. I know you said you tried to clear the air but that’s not the same as apologising. Buy her lunch or flowers or both, say you’re sorry and ask if you can put it behind you. Then do the same with Joe because you betrayed his confidence too. Maybe you think it doesn’t warrant all of that but you’re the one out in the cold, not them and you have to keep working with these people so I know what I would do.
posted by Jubey at 7:18 PM on April 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

It sounds like this is in the process of blowing over. Focus on your relationships with other coworkers. Remember that if Mary is known for drama you are probably FAR from alone in having had an uncomfortable encounter with her, and no one in the office is thinking of you as "that person who had the awkward situation with Mary."

I would not worry too much about what Mary thinks or what the intention is behind her actions. Be polite and friendly, focus on work and cover your ass (get all agreements about who does what etc in an email and save every email, but be aware that this is a "just in case" measure that you hopefully won't need). It does sound like she realizes that she over-reacted even if she's never going to give you an adequate apology.

Keep doing what you're doing - invite people to lunch etc. It's also great to develop your non-work life - if you're doing enjoyable, fulfilling stuff outside of work the politics of work socialization seem less concerning.

I have been the sort to try to help people by sharing information with them and it really never works out the way that I envision. My life got better when 1) I decided that people's relationships with each other are their problems and 2) to take a long time to trust coworkers. I'll be friendly but very slow to share anything that I don't want the whole office to know about.
posted by bunderful at 7:32 PM on April 4, 2019 [4 favorites]

Oh yes, you've got three take aways from this.

1) Don't get involved in other people's drama at work.

2) Really, don't get involved in other people's drama at work.

3) Now that you are involved, don't thrash around in the sticky situation, you'll only get more deeply tangled. Go the high road. Be professionally pleasent to everyone, but look for friendships outside of work.

(I wish I'dve had someone tell me this years ago)
posted by WalkerWestridge at 9:05 PM on April 4, 2019 [5 favorites]

Thank you all. I suspect as some of you said, my problem was thinking I was close enough with Mary to do the sort of thing only truly close people do, helping friends by giving them information that people stay out of most of the time. I don't confuse the messenger with the message and expected her to be like me about that. I have gotten great value from everything that has been said here. Lots of fantastic suggestions for the immediate future and reframing the bigger picture. I will say Mary was much friendlier towards me today so maybe it all just needs time. (And yes, absolutely I hear the point about being friendly but not friends.) Thanks again!
posted by crunchy potato at 9:30 AM on April 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

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