How do I sort out my feelings and stop caring so much?
October 17, 2020 3:36 PM   Subscribe

Though I’ve tried to deny it, I’ve become involved with some drama at work. It’s consuming my thoughts and I'm sick of these mind games. How can I stop this? Snowflakes inside…

I work with “Tom.” He is your definition of a player; he runs hot and cold, talks to you one week, then will not talk to you the next. He is also very manipulative, hot-headed, yet sucks up to the higher ups so he gets away with it.

He is close with “Jane” who works in another building, but sometimes helps out in our department. Jane is younger than me and seems to ignore me. She is super nice to Tom though. I don’t know what happened, but Tom has now started to ignore me whenever Jane is around.

I don’t know if she told him not to talk to me or what, but she acts like the Queen Bee/boss of him whenever she’s around him.

They are very flirty with one another- he dresses up when she comes to our building to the point that my male colleagues joke about it and joke that he had lipstick on his collar.

Tom and Jane are of the same ethnicity and have mutual friends in common. Jane is engaged to a man who works with the company part-time.

Often when I talk to Tom, she will come to join us, interrupt us mid-conversation, turn her attention 100% towards him (literally turn her back towards me) and start talking a ton. Any attempt of me to say anything is met by her completely ignoring me and pretty soon they are deep in conversation, me excluded, so I have no choice but to walk off.

It’s confusing me because when Jane isn’t there, then Tom is completely different. He is flirtatious with me. One day Jane left and Tom turned his attention towards me- he started playing with my hair and teasing me. He even went so far and asked me to sit on his lap and send him naked pictures of myself. (I declined both requests.)

Besides flirting and a little touching, nothing happened between us. Tom must have told people something happened because one guy said something (but I couldn’t hear it) when I walked past him. Other people looked at me funny, but no one said anything. I went to speak with Tom and another coworker followed me and just stood there with us, saying that they wanted to keep an eye on Tom.

I have to work with Tom, but it is difficult because he literally ignores me when Jane is around. I confronted him about this and of course, he denied it and placed the blame on me. He also told our boss (and probably the whole department because he has a big mouth.) Boss told me that he is busy and didn’t have time or something. (Boss always takes his side.)

I’m jealous because I can’t even get Tom to go to meetings with me or discuss work, yet he meets Jane for lunch, sits with her, and who knows what else is going on. Tom avoids me and barely talks to me anymore.

I wouldn't want to date him because he is moody, mean, hot/cold, and generally all over the place. I just miss socializing with him.

My main issue is what do I do now? I want to say something that doesn’t make me seem defensive/jealous but also doesn’t make me seem like a doormat. Otherwise, how can I stop caring so much and letting it take over my thoughts?
posted by Kobayashi Maru to Human Relations (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
So Tom is sexually harassing you, maybe spreading rumors about you, flirting whenever his main squeeze isn't around (who is also cheating on her fiance), and generally being a piece of shit.

Why do want to preserve this relationship? Can you just focus on your job? Is there a reason you are in this soap opera instead of avoiding it?

There is nothing here for you. Tom has nothing to offer you, and may even harm your career by spreading rumors. You need to get away from him.

You will stop caring when you value yourself enough to stop letting yourself be a pawn in the stupid bullshit games other people want to play. Whatever would help you get there..therapy, transfer, even a job what you should be doing.

You deserve better. In fact it sounds like at least some of your coworkers are worried about you. Why not hang out with them?
posted by emjaybee at 4:11 PM on October 17 [66 favorites]

You have fallen for a player and your heart is engaged with a guy who is major bad news. If Tom asked you to sit on his lap and for you to give him nude pictures Tom should be fired. Not acceptable professional behaviour. Your coworker who who followed you and said he wanted to keep an eye on Tom was a good guy and knows what is what.

Jane is a distraction. If Tom were even partially a good guy he would turn around so you were part of the conversation and include you. But he is encouraging her to behave stupidly, just the same as he is encouraging you to behave stupidly. This is on him, not her. She's behaving very badly, but she is his prey the same way you are.

How do you turn your heart off? The guy is good at what he does and has enticed you and made you feel special. He's given you something you crave - but you will only get enough of that to string you along, if he even decides to give you more of it. You are in enough trouble your co-workers are concerned for you, and they may be thinking that you are behaving as badly as Jane is.

Try to have a chaperone for all future interactions with Tom. This will discourage you from doing inappropriate things, and discourage him from continuing to entice you.

You know he is two faced, keep repeating that to yourself and work on your mental health. - Get enough sleep, do things that amuse you and make your cheerful, spend time with decent people, don't do things that might be harmful to your physical or mental health. Try to cultivate something that will distract you, like binge watching some show, or finding a new social outlet, like joining a new group on line that fills some of your social needs.

Try to take a really critical mindset towards the guy - mentally run a track tearing him down - "Yes, he dresses well but his chin is awfully knobby, and he is really over dressed must be insecure and self conscious..." This will help you un bond with him - but of course don't say anything out loud like this to anyone, especially not him. Your best bet is to try to increase your disgust of him.

Good luck with this
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:12 PM on October 17 [9 favorites]

If you treat work like work and not like a dating app or the high school cafeteria, the Toms of this world are still a massive pain in the ass to work with but the only feeling you have to manage about it is frustration about getting your work done. Work involves some social contact, but is not for socializing. You stop caring by examining how incredibly unprofessional all this behavior is, including your own.

You will probably end up having to leave this job because the lid is already off this container of mess (and when men are driving this dynamic, it is the official company sport until someone gets sued or goes to jail, as demonstrated by the open sexual harassment you've experienced), but until then what you say should be limited to professional communication, and as much of it in writing as possible, so that you can document his failure to show up to meetings or provide you with things you need. Do not have emotional confrontations, do not accuse people of ignoring you, and do not be alone with any of them or leave drinks unattended around them if you must work-socialize for events or holidays. Simply document your requests and then document that they have been fulfilled or not fulfilled as requested.

In the future, at your next jobs, work is for work. You have probably ended up in this situation because the entire company dynamic was already fucked up and you just landed in it not knowing, but once you start playing along you've closed the door to going back to a unsullied professional arrangement with your employer.

You've probably mistaken the positive attention you've been intermittently given as approval, but this is a big game and you are sport. Tom is a bad person. Jane is probably also sport. Your boss likely thinks it's funny and fun to watch it happen. Do not assume that anybody is on your side there and will help you if things get worse.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:22 PM on October 17 [43 favorites]

I recognized your username. You are way, way, WAY too caught up in interpersonal drama at work and you need to take a big step back. This level of drama is not normal and it’s going to harm your career (bad!) and your life (even worse!).

Stop looking for potential bullies and “queen bees” in your female colleagues and stop engaging in these one-sided flirtations with male coworkers. People aren’t whispering about you and staring at you. I think you need to talk to a therapist about this. You have to look after your career and most importantly, yourself.
posted by cakelite at 4:28 PM on October 17 [61 favorites]

Almost all your questions are about work concerns regarding "Queen Bee"s and cold shoulders and whether people like you enough and stereotypically gendered conflicts. It seemed like you have changed jobs at least once in the past few years, so this pattern has persisted across workplaces. It could be that your chosen field is shitty for women. It could be that you are unconsciously creating or embracing these dynamics. That's worth exploring with a therapist. In the meantime, Tom sexually harassed you, full stop, and should be reported to HR immediately. You should also stop trying to get his attention for anything but the most necessary aspects of your job.
posted by donnagirl at 4:30 PM on October 17 [39 favorites]

Any man--no, anyone--who asks a coworker to sit on their lap and/or for naked pics should be reported and fired, and you should avoid this person like the plague.

The fact that your first automatic reaction is anything besides that means that your instincts are off regarding work behavior, boundaries, and maybe male/female relationships in general. Maybe put your head down, do NOTHING at work except work for a little while, and see if that helps you separate yourself from having such strong feelings (of attraction or frustration or persecution) from the people in your workplace.
posted by gideonfrog at 4:35 PM on October 17 [19 favorites]

"It’s confusing me because when Jane isn’t there, then Tom is completely different. He is flirtatious with me. One day Jane left and Tom turned his attention towards me- he started playing with my hair and teasing me. He even went so far and asked me to sit on his lap and send him naked pictures of myself. "

What the every loving eff. This behavior is illegal and is putting the company in jeopardy of a major lawsuit. No one should ever be treated this way in a professional environment.

Document, document, document. Every text, email, incident. And report immediately. If for some reason you are retaliated against. Get a lawyer.
posted by brookeb at 5:07 PM on October 17 [10 favorites]

You will stop caring when you value yourself enough to stop letting yourself be a pawn in the stupid bullshit games other people want to play. Whatever would help you get there..therapy, transfer, even a job what you should be doing.

This!!!! Immediately if not sooner!

This level of drama is not normal and it’s going to harm your career (bad!) and your life (even worse!).

I have BEEN THERE, and you don't want to go, trust me!
posted by jgirl at 5:21 PM on October 17 [3 favorites]

It's not hard to be sucked into this sort of thing when you're not used to sexual attention from "player" types.

Folks are clutching their pearls as if people behaving this way weren't a thing. There wouldn't be so many famous lawsuits and laws about it if it weren't a thing.

But you need to understand those laws are there to protect people like you from people like Tom. And the rules about how to behave in the workplace are there both to protect the company and to protect you. If you stick to them - i.e. no more private and personal contact with him, at all, full stop; no more flirtations; focus solely on work- then he can't distract you; he can't create rumors about you; he can't set you up as a personal rival to Jane; he can't hurt you.

So do that.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:43 PM on October 17 [10 favorites]

My first thought: Don't ever involve your boss in anything interpersonal such as this. Bosses don't want to hear how an employee you've been flirting with ignores you. It's not his problem to solve and it's unprofessional to bring it up. This is not a work problem. It's not a problem of any sort. It's a crush and bosses don't need to hear about your crushes or office romances. I would immediately drop this. Stop with the open flirting and any personal talk or drama concerning these coworkers.

I understand that in some work cultures there is a closeness and casualness and people will date and flirt -- I am thinking of people who are young and working in service industries such as cafes, coffee shops, restaurants, or retail or entertainment venues. If you are in a workplace where you would like to climb the ladder or progress in your career, I would refrain from these dramas. Even if you're young and working in a job with no advancement I would still stop this behavior. It's not healthy or productive and Tom is not your boyfriend -- he's just a guy at work that you've touched and flirted with. Nobody has to sue anyone or go to HR about anything because you're both participating and nobody is a victim at this juncture. You're engaging in the personal and romantic at work. It's your doing as much as Tom's.

I want to say something that doesn’t make me seem defensive/jealous but also doesn’t make me seem like a doormat

Why say anything? Saying something will make things worse and does nothing for your self-respect. If it were me, I let all of this die by minding my own business and paying attention to my work duties. You've already said something and the boss said Tom is busy and Tom blamed you. What would you say now to change anything for the better? If you say something you're only perpetuating drama.

If you feel like a doormat because you've been flirting and you feel like there is a connection (but Tom doesn't and ignores you when another woman is around) I understand how this behavior can be hurtful. Behavior has consequences and what means little or nothing to one person can mean a lot to another person. You might think he's playing with your emotions, but you're allowing it, or reading too much into it -- most likely because you like him and want a real relationship where he only has eyes for you.

It doesn't matter either way who Tom prefers, because who can know or care what his motivations are, other than it doesn't seem that he prefers you. This should be your immediate cue to move on with your head held high and forget him as a romantic prospect.

The current dynamic isn't healthy or good for either of you. He's asking you to sit on his lap and send naked photos -- is this behavior from someone who respects you and wants a real relationship or friendship? Your'e worried and jealous when he talks to another women but he's not your boyfriend. He doesn't owe you anything and you don't owe him anything. You owe it to yourself to remember your worth as a person and to notice when you are pining after unavailable men.

If you don't like flirting with people who give other people attention, stop flirting. We all have choices and we're all in charge of our behavior. Gather your dignity, don't chase after Tom or ask for his attention. Don't demand answers because he doesn't owe you any answers. Going forward, all you owe one another is professionalism in the workplace and healthy work boundaries.
posted by loveandhappiness at 5:54 PM on October 17 [14 favorites]

This happens because you’re allowing it to. You’re getting caught up in petty drama. It’s a job. Who cares who flirts with who or sits on whose lap? You get paid to get stuff done, not to date or gossip or make friends. Get your head in the game and stop being jealous when you should actually be annoyed because these people are distracting you from what you’re supposed to be doing. Blank look and a shrug always works for me. When you stop engaging, they’ll stop doing it because they’re not getting a reaction. In short, get back to work.
posted by Jubey at 6:13 PM on October 17 [8 favorites]

If a colleague plays with your hair and then asks for naked photos of you, they should be fired.

But this has nothing to do with Jane as far as I can tell. You think she doesn't like you, and maybe she doesn't, but that's pretty immaterial. (You say that she and Tom have mutual friends. Is it possible they are thus actually...friends? And sometimes friends have lunch with each other?)

I recognize your user name from other questions, and I mean this in the spirit of helpfulness, truly: A lot of your questions involve ascribing a lot of intention to other people's behavior, and I don't know that choices you make based on those interpretations are helping you. In fact, I think they often hurt you. (For example, iff I knew a coworker was sexually harassing another coworker, I WOULD want to "keep an eye on them" to protect their victim...) I think you could benefit from talking to someone about calibrating your social barometer in a ways that's more productive for you.

In multiple questions, you're upset about "cold shoulder" and men who often run "hot and cold," toxicity, bullying. If your industry is this volatile, surely anything else would be better. But if you are experiencing this much conflict in every work place, and with friends and romance, too, then maybe you are not playing with the same information other people in your sphere seem to be, and talking to a therapist or social skills coach or something seems like the next step.
posted by Charity Garfein at 6:47 PM on October 17 [21 favorites]

Just adding another voice to say that this sort of behaviour in a workplace is absolutely not normal or acceptable.

How do you stop caring so much? I think you have to do some deep work to figure out why you crave the attention of a person like Tom. It seems like you’re seeking socialization with people who engage in unhealthy dynamics. Why would you even want to be around people who are twisted in that way—especially when there are plenty of people who have the class, tact and emotional/mental clarity/integrity to not be manipulative and make extremely unprofessional and gross comments at work?

You may also want to reflect on the role your workplace plays in your life. Do you have other places where you’re meeting people and making friends? One way to stop caring so much about work colleagues is to fill your life with other people for you to focus on. If you don’t have communities outside of work, can you find or create them?
posted by saltypup at 9:05 PM on October 17 [6 favorites]

Based on this and your previous questions, it seems like you are reading a lot in people's behaviours. It's all meaningful glances and unsaid things, funny looks and cold shoulders, like you are the omniscient narrator in a drama and every action of the people around you just have to relate to your tale in some way. I think it can happen to introspective bookish types who are used to discovering the world through narratives rather than close contact with real humans (ask me how I know). Not that real people don't play mind games, but these seem to be mostly in your mind, inferred via really slim input from these other actors. Real people are chaotic, narratively nonsensical, and don't care that much about their coworkers inner lives.
If you want to learn to control your feelings, start by controlling your thoughts and storytelling impulses. Focus on what's concrete (like your dang job!) and what people actually do and say - everything else that's in their thoughts and hearts is unreadable to you, and honestly none of your business. Worry less about who's trying to be Queen Bee (unless you work in an actual manga high school?), and more about who's your actual boss and what they want you to do at work.
posted by Freyja at 6:21 AM on October 18 [20 favorites]

Three pieces of advice:
1. Stop worrying about other people.
2. Recognize how much of a role you are playing in this scenario.
3. Question your assumptions and understand how much you are projecting or otherwise misconstruing things.

A few more comments:
-What Tom wears and why is none of your concern.
-Jane may or may not be a jerk, but the term “queen bee” is not useful. (You know there is only one queen bee, right?) Women in the workplace are not there to win “most popular with office hottie” award.
-Tom’s behavior is inappropriate for sure, but you need to stop interacting with him in this way--you are acting as if you are at a night club and want his attention, and complaining when he dances with other gals.

As to your question about what to do? The answer is nothing. The best outcome would you to look back on this experience in a few months and be able to say: “As much as I found him fun to be around, I know he is a player, so I just stopped being friendly and focused on work.”

Please realize your behavior fits beautifully into the many clichés and unfair stereotypes that make it difficult for women to be treated fairly in the workplace. I pretty much never suggest therapy, but in this case you might benefit from some self exploration.
posted by rhonzo at 6:42 AM on October 18 [9 favorites]

In the short term, I would focus on building relationships outside of work. If you're interested in dating someone, you should be looking for people outside of work. The more you can talk to family or friends after work, the less you'll feel the need to socialize with this particular coworker. At work, if wearing headphones and listening to podcasts or music is an option, maybe do that for a while to distract yourself. Based on all of your questions, it sounds like you struggle with basic social skills, and I agree with those who have suggested therapy. And yes, you should probably report the sexual harassment, though the fallout could make your life more difficult.
posted by pinochiette at 8:09 AM on October 18 [4 favorites]

You need to talk to a therapist about why you keep getting sucked into this drama, including both why you're attracted to creepy players and why you have trouble with other women.
posted by bile and syntax at 8:43 AM on October 18 [7 favorites]

For what's worth, I think your read of the situation is fairly plausible. Seems like Tom is flirting with you, because he enjoys the attention, also to make Jane jealous. My guess is he wants Jane to feel a bit threatened - keep her on her toes, make _her_woo _him_ - but not too threatened, which is why he focusses on her when you three are together.

I agree with everyone who concludes that you need to limit your interactions with Tom to the barest minimum (eg. requests only in writing) and document, document, every time he's too busy to do his job as far as cooperation with you is concerned. Cover your ass, and if you get criticized about your work because of Tom's failure to cooperate, provide your evidence. As long as no one criticizes your work, your life will probably be easiest if you don't do anything.

How to care less? Sure, you need more of a life outside of work, but that's easier said than done, especially now in a pandemic, when we are constantly told to limit our social interactions as much as possible. So for the time being, don't beat yourself up about caring too much. Lots of people find it hard to have much of a life outside of work, because capitalism isn't really designed to allow for that. Often you have to fight for it, and it can be hard to find the energy when you don't even know what you should be fighting for, because your social life might have never been that rich to begin with.

So, in the long run, sure, therapy, hobbies, volunteering, looking for community outside of work, etc. And for now, distractions (maybe redirect your focus on fictional dramas), and self-care. You care too much, you know that you care too much, it sucks, and you can acknowledge that. Allow yourself to care, be angry, be hurt, but don't act on it, and be proud of yourself for not acting on it. You can do this, you will do this, and sooner or later, this will just be an outrageous story to tell when you're sharing war memories, bonding over your struggles with assholes with your actual friends, because most of us have been there at some point; few people are above falling for that sort of shit at least once.
posted by sohalt at 11:06 AM on October 18 [2 favorites]

Talk to a supervisor (or ideally, put it in writing), and if they don't put a stop to this, talk to an employment lawyer. You might also talk to HR or an equal opportunity officer at the company. Document what's going on and don't participate in flirting. This is inappropriate for a workplace and might qualify as sexual harassment or a hostile work environment. You could ask both Tom and Jane to treat you the way you want to be treated (e.g., please don't interrupt me). None of this drama should be going on. Prepare in case you have to leave this job (e.g., save up money).
posted by slidell at 12:02 PM on October 18

He asked you to sit on his lap. He asked you to send him naked pictures. So okay, maybe you do have your own interpersonal and personal issues for which you need therapy, and maybe "go to therapy" should be your top takeaway from all this advice you're getting, but HE ASKED YOU TO SIT ON HIS LAP. HE ASKED YOU TO SEND HIM NAKED PICTURES. I disagree vehemently with everyone who is advising you to "do nothing". Please do report him to HR. (And also please find a therapist asap.)
posted by MiraK at 7:12 AM on October 19 [2 favorites]

Your question has stayed on my mind despite thinking you got a lot of advice already. But, from the perspective of someone who manages a team of young adults who are still learning professional behaviour in the workplace:

1. Read your company's harassment policy. If they don't have one, total red flag.

Take the policy to whoever it says is responsible for enforcing it and say something like "this situation has remained on my mind, especially because I sometimes have trouble getting Tom to respond to my work requests. It's starting to feel hostile. The other day... and since then Tom does not respond to me." and then tell them about him asking you to send him nude pictures.

I'm unclear about whether you mentioned that part to your boss or whether you framed it more as an issue between you and Jane. This is not between you and Jane. It's about whether you can do your work with Tom. If you didn't mention this to your boss, you should also tell your boss. If you did, you have a boss problem as well as a Tom problem.

2. Professionalize your own behaviour right away. Stop flirting at work. There is nothing to be gained from participating in any of these social games at work. If you need therapy or coaching to do that, it's a great investment in your future. You're not at work to get people attention, meet your social needs, etc. You're there to get a job done, build a career, and sure, have some calm, vanilla fun -- the kind that you could discuss with anyone any day and that if it were posted on social media would show you to be a competent professional.

The Mean Girls/Queen Bee narrative isn't helping you here - that's the language of social climbing, and was specifically developed for high school in the Queen Bees and Wannabes book (note the second category.)

There are people who support your work/career and people who don't, that's it. Cultivate the former and document everything with the latter.

3. Speaking of documenting, document the interaction with Tom and the flirting right now.

4. In my view, these are very bad dynamics outside of you, but you are taking a role in maintaining them. Someone treating you the way Tom did is absolutely unacceptable at any time, full stop. People who are professional and ethical just simply don't do that at work, ever. You should not want Tom's attention (except that he needs to do his work, and work with you.) He is an unethical, bad coworker.

The way you phrased this question though makes me worried for you. Here's what a professional question on this topic would look like:

"Tom was really inappropriate with me and asked me to sit on his lap and for nude pictures. Since then he's avoided me, talked to my boss pre-emptively about the situation in a way that makes me think he's painted me as the problem, and my sense is that he's trashing my professional reputation. I think he behaves inappropriately with my coworker Jane as well but I'm not sure if that's relevant. What should I do?"
posted by warriorqueen at 1:41 PM on October 19 [8 favorites]

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