odd woman out
September 2, 2021 9:34 AM   Subscribe

I started a new job two months ago. Everyone was kind and friendly. In the past week, I feel like everyone is sort of being less friendly to me. I don't know what happened.

I started this job in June and right away it was the most comfortable I felt in a job in over a decade. My boss is great and my three colleagues were really cool and fun and willing to help me learn the ropes.

Up until last week, due to the incompetence of our home loan officer, my partner and I were stuck living in the resort hotel where he works. I was driving 70 minutes each way to get to work. It was miserable and exhausting, but it didn't impact my work - everyone gave me a lot of understanding and grace and also reassured me that I was doing well.

Last week we finally closed on our house, on Monday. I took the day off as we were also moving some furniture into the new house after closing. They were all very excited for me to move to this house as it cuts my commute in half. They all texted me congratulations when I texted that the papers were officially signed and were super happy for me when I came to work the next day, Tuesday.

Unfortunately, that day I got a call from my step-daughter, who attends college about an hour from my workplace. She had been having abdominal pains all morning and went to the student health center, where it was determined that her symptoms sounded like appendicitis and she needed to be ambulanced to the nearest hospital for testing and perhaps surgery. My partner (her father) had gone back down to our old house, 150 miles SW of where we are now, to pack up the kitchen supplies and return the U-Haul. Her mother lives down where we used to live. I was literally the only parental figure nearby. My step-daughter was scared and crying when she called me and I told my colleagues that I was so sorry to do this but I needed to go to the hospital. Even if COVID-19 protocols meant that I could not see her if she was admitted, I wanted to be there in the waiting room so she knew she had someone there for her. She's a freshman and it's early enough in the semester that she doesn't have any close friends yet, and the idea of leaving her alone when she was so scared was unfathomable to me. I'd wait in the waiting room, or even the car, if it meant being able to tell her that I was there for her.

My colleagues said of course the health of a kid is the most important thing, don't worry. I left around 2:30. When I came back the next day, the sort of fun, happy feeling that I had so enjoyed about the office was gone. They all seemed to be a bit distant with me and less friendly, and that has continued into this week. Just, speaking to me sharply, or ignoring me when I try to join conversations.

I don't know what I did wrong. My boss has been just as friendly to me as usual, and I figure as long as I'm good with her at the end of the day that's what matters. But I don't understand why they are doing this. It feels kind of Mean Girls-y. One of them just adopted a cat and has been sharing photos of the cat with the other two and not even acknowledging me, when she knows I have a cat and love cats. Sounds stupid, but it's exclusionary behavior. I get that the three of them have been friends for 2+ years and I am the new person they only just met 2 months ago, but the change in tone and demeanor towards me has happened so rapidly that I keep thinking I must have done something to offend them but I can't imagine what it was. I keep thinking the only outlier from last week is me having to leave early for my step-daughter? Maybe they thought I was trying to shirk work? Or that I was stupid for going to the hospital when I may not even be let in?

FTR it was appendicitis and my stepdaughter got there just in time to be rushed into surgery before it ruptured. She is home now and feeling much better. I was allowed to go into her room briefly as long as I was masked up. I do not regret going. She's 18 years old and living on her own for the first time and this was really scary for her, more so because of the pandemic. I told my colleagues that she had had surgery and I was allowed to see her briefly afterwards and they expressed that they were glad she was okay. But since then, they have cooled off towards me.

Maybe it's just the novelty of having a new coworker has worn off and they have returned to their usual friendship dynamic and it will take a while for me to truly be friends, or at least work acquaintances with them. But it's hard on a team of 4 people to feel like the other 3 are icing me out. I have major anxiety and abandonment issues and a history of being bullied in childhood. I also have worked a lot of jobs where I just didn't fit in culturally, and I was excited at first to feel like I'd finally landed somewhere I did. But then, I left early to be with my ill stepdaughter and the whole dynamic has changed.

If it's pertinent, my colleagues on my team are all cis women (as am I), and in our mid-to-late 30s. One of them has two children and a stepson, one is childfree by choice, and one is beginning to seriously think about starting a family with her husband.

Any ideas for what might have gone wrong here? I am stumped. Or is this just anxiety and my mean brain being mean to me because it's mean?
posted by nayantara to Human Relations (49 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
My money is on your mean brain being mean to you. Closing on a house, and moving, and adjusting to a new living space are stressful, even if it means your commute is now way shorter and the change is, overall, a positive one. Rushing to the hospital to be with a step-kid during a pandemic is stressful too. Stress and upheaval do weird things to brains. If you can, be gentle with yourself and maybe do some things to relax/recharge/focus on something other than your house and work for a bit.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:54 AM on September 2, 2021 [51 favorites]

It sounds to me like you have a lot of anxiety about how you are perceived by these people, so your brain is amplifying things and focusing on the negatives.

Trying to put myself in your colleagues' shoes, I can imagine being a bit frustrated by a coworker who was suddenly unavailable for several days, especially if it made my workday more challenging because I had to pick up their slack. I'm not sure if that justifies their behavior, but also, at the end of the day, you need to work effectively with your colleagues, not be their friend.

Along those lines, why were you sharing the medical details of your step-daughter's illness with your coworkers? All you really need to do is tell your manager is that there's been a family medical emergency and you need to take time off. The details aren't any of anyone's business, except maybe HR if they have a policy that says they need to verify that you used time off legitimately.
posted by Alterscape at 9:56 AM on September 2, 2021 [8 favorites]

Sometimes I sense something like this with my coworkers and I just think "Man, the vibes are off today." There's a ton of bad stuff in the news, everyone is dealing with multiple dramas of their own, and a lot of people are really stressed out right now. Sometimes the vibes are just off. Give it another day or so. If they're still acting like this next week, maybe bring in some treats for everyone/do something nice for the group. They will come back around.
posted by bleep at 10:07 AM on September 2, 2021 [28 favorites]

Whether the change in behavior is real and related to your actions, real but not really about anything you did, or in your head, there is absolutely no way that your continuing to think about it a lot is going to result in any positive outcome.

I know that's much easier said than done, but really, just do your best to be reliable and pleasant. Maybe tell yourself that you won't worry too much about it for another two weeks, and if it still seems like a problem at that point, you can start worrying about it then.
posted by eponym at 10:09 AM on September 2, 2021 [9 favorites]

I think it's also possible that they are trying to give you some space because you have a lot going on.
posted by sm1tten at 10:11 AM on September 2, 2021 [47 favorites]

Could you elaborate on what "speaking to me sharply" means?

And a couple ideas:
* Some people are introverted/shy and may have a certain short-term outgoing persona for "new" people because they want to welcome you and be polite, but now that you're not brand-new they may be reverting to their normal, quieter persona. (Hi this is me)
* If the "speaking to me sharply" is part of you being trained/onboarded to your new role, it may be that the person is trying to really emphasize/clarify things
* Everyone is super exhausted because it's a pandemic and our stores of positive energy/empathy are low

If the change in behavior is affecting your ability to do your work, that's an issue, but if it's just that you notice people are good friends in the office and you're not part of their friend group yet, that's something that can improve over time.
posted by rogerroger at 10:29 AM on September 2, 2021 [8 favorites]

I’m gonna go in and say your gut is right, they’re wondering if you’re gonna be a problem child employee who always has some crisis or another and maybe they even gossiped you behind your back and now are being chilly since no one wants to be tainted by the office crisis person.

How you handle this is now what kind of person you are
- political: find your allies and get the word on the street about you. Seed a counter narrative.
- apolitical: just keep doing you and give them a consistent no crisis performance for the next few months and let it blow over

Whatever you do, don’t be anxious and try to win their approval that’s a death spiral.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:34 AM on September 2, 2021 [47 favorites]

Maybe it's just the novelty of having a new coworker has worn off and they have returned to their usual friendship dynamic and it will take a while for me to truly be friends, or at least work acquaintances with them.

This sounds like the wiser part of you speaking. In addition, it may also be that now knowing the major upheavals (moving house, sick family member) are settling down for you, your coworkers are dialing back down to what would be their baseline level of interaction/support for a new coworker. It's not impossible that they're going to go Mean Girls on you, but part of you seems to know that it would be a massive leap to assume that they are. Listen to that wiser part of yourself.

I remember some of your previous questions where you've mentioned a sensitivity to (the possibility of) being rejected, so it's understandable that this shift and the resulting uncertainty would be very anxiety provoking. Do what you need to to take care of yourself--turn to your partner, friends, therapist, hobbies, whatever it is--as you give you and your new coworkers the time and space to establish positive and effective workplace relationships.
posted by obliterati at 10:54 AM on September 2, 2021 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Trying to put myself in your colleagues' shoes, I can imagine being a bit frustrated by a coworker who was suddenly unavailable for several days, especially if it made my workday more challenging because I had to pick up their slack.

Just wanted to clarify here that I was out of the office for one day for the house closing/moving, and then left at 2:30 the next day for my step-daughter's medical emergency. I've been back at work normally since then, and was at work normally for the two months prior even with the shitty commute. We work in an open office and when I told my manager that my stepdaughter was being rushed to the hospital everyone overheard and was concerned and wanted to know what was going on. Yeah, I didn't have to give them details, but I was in panic mode. I also feel like it would have been unnecessarily rude to be like "NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS" in that moment when people were trying to be kind to me.

I don't think a preaproved PTO day for a house closing and a family emergency constitutes being a "problem child crisis person". I missed 1.25 days of work due to these issues. Yes, I'm feeling defensive right now, because when I look at the facts, none of this makes any fucking sense, except that everyone is just being sharp and unfriendly to me, they barely say hello when I come in in the morning even when I greet them. I'm getting all of my work done, and am doing it well, according to my boss. So yeah, I'm confused, and I have anxiety issues, and I have a lot on my plate, and it would be nice if at least for once in my life I had a job where I didn't feel completely out of step with everyone I work with due to factors I cannot control.
posted by nayantara at 11:06 AM on September 2, 2021 [10 favorites]

Mostly, people with abandonment trauma and rejection sensitive dysphoria have this BECAUSE people treat them poorly, and this poor treatment, particularly when it’s happening to women, often happens to neurodivergent women. How painful it is when women, who are so good at masking, get the normal welcome and then get frozen out as soon as something happens and they can’t mask for, like a split fucking second. I believe you, OP. Showing everyone but you the cat is unlikely to be anything but freezing-out. And it’s rank, disgraceful bigotry.

Build your walls tall, document everything, make contingencies for work and family emergencies, and move slowly when considering reactions. They are in disgrace, God sees them, and you. It is not your moral obligation to mask, but you can choose to do so. They live, and breathe, the filth of their disgrace. Project calmness, helpfulness, and evenness and there is a chance their behaviour towards you may become less triggering in time, but don’t ever, EVER trust them. Not showing a cat picture because someone left to care for family is fuckin’ evil.
posted by The Last Sockpuppet at 11:19 AM on September 2, 2021 [26 favorites]

I would trust your observations too. Initially I thought what sm1tten said - that they're giving you space or that they don't know what to say so would rather avoid it but it's no reason for them to be frosty. It feels like a conversation happened...

Do you know if the workplace is usually generous with taking time off? Is your boss nice to everyone else as well? Do they praise you in front of others? There might be a bad apple in the bunch.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 11:21 AM on September 2, 2021

I hope this is useful and I can explain it right. This is what my mean brain does to me and I think it’s happening here. There are a bunch of answers here with a lot of favorites that say positive stuff: that you’re probably understandably anxious and tired and and feeling raw; the sparkly new employee vibes have ended and the office atmosphere is getting back to normal; maybe they are cranky about something totally unrelated to you because times are hard and people are cranky for all sorts of reasons, and EVEN IF they (bizarrely) got annoyed at you for having to miss work for very good reasons a) that’s on them and b) they will get over it. Just breathe and rest and wait and smile and it will almost certainly pass.

BUT THEN one commenter came in kinda hot, with a spicy unsubstantiated take about how they’ve decided you’re a problem employee and your attention went ZOOM straight to that comment and the mean voice in your head was like, aha! A piece of information that fits my narrative that they hate me and it’s my fault but also it’s totally unfair and these problems will trail me to every work place for every day of my life and I’m DOOMED. And now you’re angry and hurt and it’ll be even harder to smile at your coworkers and it’s like you’re on a set path and it gets harder and harder to turn around, and the worst of your brain’s projections start coming true, and all because one anonymous person who is almost certainly worked up about their own bad coworkers protected their bad feelings into you.

That’s what depression is. Attention is selective, and there’s huge amount of information out there, and when these stories take hold, it gets harder and harder to escape them. Noticing it’s happening is the first step. Rest, take care of yourself, get help if you can. You got this. I swear.
posted by Merricat Blackwood at 11:25 AM on September 2, 2021 [89 favorites]

I don't think a preaproved PTO day for a house closing and a family emergency constitutes being a "problem child crisis person".

It doesn’t at all! Except they don’t know you. Two months is still short. People are lazy and jump to the easy explanation rather than having some perspective. It’s not The Truth of you at all but maybe they’ve made it their story. Just a thought.

Maybe something else happened while you were out (boss sent out urgent bad mood vibes) and they’re responding to that.

If you often feel out of step with others at the office (this is totally me too btw) then there’s a lot to explore inside yourself about belonging, being liked, being disliked, being your authentic self etc.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:18 PM on September 2, 2021 [8 favorites]

Instead of focusing on what went wrong, perhaps focus on how you can reestablish a good relationship going forward. If nothing went wrong, great, you'll be on an even better footing with them. If something did go wrong, perhaps you can fix it by killing them with kindness.

Can you help them do a part of their job that isn't exactly part of your job so you seem helpful and make up for any covering they had to do for you? Can you bring doughnuts (or other treats they might prefer if the culture of your office isn't sweets-oriented) to the staff meeting to seem friendly? Can you invite everyone to a housewarming at your new house to make them feel more invested in that move you made? Can you greet them warmly in the morning? Can you ask the coworker about how her cat is settling in?
posted by jacquilynne at 12:26 PM on September 2, 2021 [4 favorites]

I agree with jacquilynne that it's a lost cause figuring out why, and better to focus on trying to just kill them with kindness. If there is any chance that your 1.25 days off, however justified they were, increased their workload, then I'd bring in some sort of treat and say something like "Hey, hope my absence last week didn't impact people's workload too much, but in any case, here are some treats!" Of course, you should not have to do this, but people can be petty and weird.
posted by coffeecat at 12:32 PM on September 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

I've had this happen to me before. One time I quietly walked in and overheard a co-worker telling another she didn't like me. The others decided to not like me either because they were all friends. I think some women do this in group settings. Instead of asking what you did wrong, ask what they're doing to cause the rift. I'm very selective in working with women now after this experience and others where competitive and insecure women make work life hostile or confusing.

Also, why not address it head on? Tell them you can't help but notice they're not including you anymore and see what they say
posted by DixieBaby at 12:41 PM on September 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

I believe you, OP. Going out on a limb, but see if anything about the neurodivergent experience of exclusion here resonates. If it does, maybe leveling up your body language skills (both reading and performing) might help.
posted by danceswithlight at 1:06 PM on September 2, 2021

The “miserable and exhausting” commute, house-buying stresses, and stepdaughter who had to have her appendix removed all sound sucky and stressful for you, but I could see how talking about them a lot at work might make you sound like someone who a) has a lot going on and b) is a little easily stressed by somewhat routine life things. I think sm1tten has it that they are trying to give you some space for what they might perceive as you going through a tough time.

The only way through this is to just go to work with your game face on and be a cool, positive coworker who doesn’t complain too much. If you can do this, you will get along with everyone. Don’t be so angry about this, it’s just making it worse.
posted by cakelite at 1:06 PM on September 2, 2021 [3 favorites]

DixieBaby has it If you feel comfortable ask if you did anything to upset them and see what happens. This is probably the most mature approach. If they are only being petty and weird they won't say a thing and pretend like all is well (and it might remind them that the are being petty and weird and they might drop the mean girls act). If there is something truly happening that is alienating them, and you have a grown-up who can give you feedback, that's good too.

It is hard to for anyone to speculate what is happening. I was going to suggest that missing work might be why they are irritated but that doesn't seem to be the case. What is annoying to one person is perceived as completely reasonable to another. Irritation is in the eye of the beholder. It might be your behavior that is irritating these colleagues or it could be your stress, anxiety (that often accompanies depression) and that is causing your mind to play tricks on you.

and it would be nice if at least for once in my life I had a job where I didn't feel completely out of step with everyone I work with due to factors I cannot control.

Is your feeling "out of step" a pattern? What are the factors that you cannot control at every job that you have? Is your anxiety getting the best of you? Are you feeling like a victim at every job? Is there unnecessary drama? Only you know for sure and a therapist might be able to help you with your feelings of not belonging and victimhood.

If you have abandonment issues and a fear rejection, or have an intense need to be accepted, that might be seeping out in ways that you might not notice but others do. If you are expecting friendships too soon or if you read into why someone didn't show you a photo you may be coming across us "too much". When you say, "They know I like cats" it does not mean that they are purposefully avoiding you. Perhaps it didn't cross their mind. Perhaps they were too lazy to walk over to your desk. Perhaps your body language was sending unapproachable vibes. Some people are going to be clueless as to what you need to feel included. If you expect less from work colleagues you're probably going to be happier. And what if they are purposefully ignoring you? It doesn't feel good but you don't have to hinge your happiness or contentment on it. Let them ignore you. Allow it for what it is because you can't control how they behave. What if you said, "Oh can I see your cat photo?" and said something nice about it?

Try to care less by placing the focus back on yourself and what you're doing instead of looking for signs on how they are leaving you out. You're not a victim. My approach would probably be to keep my metaphorical head down for a while and keep it professional. What if you thought too highly of yourself to let others get you so upset and irritated? Who cares what they are doing. Say hello without reading into their greetings, do your work, be cordial, and that is all.

Also, you might consider therapy to address/heal your abandonment issues. I don't have abandonment issues -- I am more avoidant --but I have a long history of feeling that I don't belong or feeling on the outside of life. I would probably be relieved if I didn't have to fawn over cat photos, when I mostly want to be left alone, but that is my own issue. What we might have in common is a deep sadness caused by that feeling of not belonging. A therapist can help you with this. In the meantime know that you are valuable and lovable.
posted by loveandhappiness at 1:25 PM on September 2, 2021 [5 favorites]

good god, don't ask them anything like "why don't you like me." If there IS something against you in the wind it will make it worse; and if there isn't, you will mark yourself as a weird drama llama.

I generally am against bringing in treats because it looks like you are begging to be liked, but in this case if you announce it as "I wanna thank you guys for covering for me last week, you're awesome" it will probably be well received and at least make you feel better.

But even better would be to assume that the shinyness of new-you is simply rubbed off because you've been there a while now, they're not going out of their way to be sweet to the new person anymore, this is just business as usual.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:36 PM on September 2, 2021 [33 favorites]

They all seemed to be a bit distant with me and less friendly, and that has continued into this week

Literally distant? As a left-field speculation: you work in an open-plan office, and spent hours in a hospital that day. If you're in a COVID-19 hotspot, is it possible your co-workers are giving you a wide berth at the moment because of virus exposure concerns?

You're good at your job, you had a strong start, and you've been really stressed out (especially lately, and for good reason). Whatever's going on in the office, it's a bump, not a complete detour. Bring pastries to the office next Wednesday? And I agree, therapy to sort of habituate your mind to treat you with kindness (forget the colleagues, your thoughts are with you all day) is a solid idea.
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:41 PM on September 2, 2021 [12 favorites]

If you are a minority in a white-dominated workplace, this could be a factor in what you are experiencing. It might be the case that you are being held to an unreasonable standard that you happened to have met until this week. I don't have much advice to give in dealing with this unfortunately, besides the fact that I don't think it's helpful to assume that you are imagining what's happening to you.
posted by chernoffhoeffding at 1:45 PM on September 2, 2021 [5 favorites]

You sound like a good parent and I’m glad you were there for your step daughter. I think you’re right that it was a very understandable reason to take time off and they should not judge you for that at all. I think you’ll have to ignore how they’re acting and wait it out. Because what else can you do? Put your head down, get to work, and focus on your supervisor and your relationship with her (because she sounds more friendly, right?)
Your post has a lot of detail about the situation and your stress and your decision and my guess is if you were also saying all that detail to them at work, that it was a bit over wrought. They’re trying to work, they don’t want to know where you can sit in the waiting room or that your kid doesn’t have a lot of friends yet, you know? And I do get why you’re explaining that, but I also think if someone I barely knew was saying that all to me, I’d not necessarily have time for it and would not want to hear it during a work day. Maybe they’re stressed with their own Covid situations or life transitions. It’s a stressful time. I would focus on offering yourself the grace you wish they would give you.
posted by areaperson at 1:46 PM on September 2, 2021 [4 favorites]

Gently, I think this is your anxiety and mean brain playing tricks on you and you are really, really overthinking it.

From your question history, it sounds like your last job was very difficult and abusive. You've trained yourself to hyperfocus on your co-workers' behavior so that you could predict when they were about to go off and mitigate the effect. That behavior served you well in the past, but now it's time to let it go because it's not serving you well now. Sometimes people have off days and don't want to chat. This doesn't say anything about you as a person or a coworker.

On preview, please do not ask co-workers if you did anything to upset them. Nothing sends a red flag up faster and you'll just make it weird and awkward.
posted by pumpkinlatte at 2:01 PM on September 2, 2021 [10 favorites]

Not sure what kind of work culture you have, but could you invite them all out for a drink end of week as a 'phew what a stressful couple weeks, I'd like to treat you all to a round of drinks in appreciation of your accommodation and support during this' kind of thing? Or bring in coffee or donuts or something tomorrow morning? Some kind of 'hey all this has finally blown over, want to show you some gratitude for covering me' gesture (even if they didn't really support you) to re-establish some goodwill?
posted by greta simone at 2:03 PM on September 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

If you are a minority in a white-dominated workplace, this could be a factor in what you are experiencing. It might be the case that you are being held to an unreasonable standard that you happened to have met until this week. I don't have much advice to give in dealing with this unfortunately, besides the fact that I don't think it's helpful to assume that you are imagining what's happening to you.

Seconding this. You may have become a real person to them recently, with real human imperfections, rather than the magical ethnic pixie unicorn white-majority environments seem to require of the minorities they systemically consume via the passive insatiable ethno-cultural phagocytosis of Western society.

It doesn't mean they don't like you anymore. It's just that the false illusion of security they had inadvertently invested in their magical interpretation of you may have vanished, as it would have eventually. Do yourself a favor and accept their limits... especially if in the long-run, they can't accept yours. Good luck.
posted by human ecologist at 2:08 PM on September 2, 2021 [3 favorites]

Hey, my first answer above and your username twigged something, and I re-read your July vaccination-related question. In it, people in your life were [wrongly] criticizing you for getting the vaccine available to you in March, the single-dose Johnson & Johnson. Were these colleagues in that group? If so, then they haven't been "really cool and fun" these last two months!

Apologies, more 'ifs' on the way. I'm mentioning this in case it's any part of your concerns over co-worker frostiness and spurring your self-described anxiety & abandonment issues: You're in a new house 150 miles away from your previous home, working a new job, and you could be interested in making new local friends... which often happens via the new job. Your colleagues, superficially similar to you (cis women in their 30s), have been on the team at least two years and are fairly friendly with one another, making them appear viable candidates. If your team members were jerks to you about your vaccination, they're not suitable for off-hours friendship, so if you are looking to make local connections: when you're more settled in your new home, leave work at work and look into activity groups/other social opportunities to meet nice people.
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:22 PM on September 2, 2021

You didn’t do anything wrong. This is either anxiety brain talking or your new-person-ness wearing off or or some weird shit your coworkers are doing that’s in no way your fault. They may not even realize they’re doing anything - everyone is stressed and tired right now, no one’s their best self.

Either way I think your way forward is the same - keep doing a good job, stay pleasant and friendly, and see how things go. Don’t bring it up. Give it a week or two and then maybe bring in a snack or invite the friendliest prospect for coffee or ask how the kitten is doing, something low key.
posted by Stacey at 3:59 PM on September 2, 2021

Response by poster: I think I'm just exhausted. After we closed on the house I decided that I was sick of talking about it all the time (they kept asking me for updates though, when I was in the hotel!) and the thing is, we haven't even finished moving. Professional movers are coming in a couple of weeks to bring the rest of our stuff up here, and in between we are driving back down on weekends to pack (we have been going down to the old place every weekend pretty much every weekend since we began the relocation - especially since we couldn't bear the hotel on the weekends). It's a lot of driving, a lot of stress. We also have some repairs that need to be done on the new house, and we have to finalize the sale of the old house. My partner has taken up on coordinating the bulk of the work that needs to be done ok the new house before winter comes, and I am the point person for the sale of the old house (which I kind of have to be - it's my house, my partner is not on that mortgage). We have buyers, inspection happened, radon test happened, attorney has me signing papers, the movers are coordinating with me, I'm trying not to let all of this interfere with work but sometimes I need to duck out to take a call to coordinate some logistical thing or whatever.

I'm telling you all of the above because this is what I am NOT talking about at work. I feel like I wore out whatever grace and sympathy they gave me about moving with the never ending saga of our home buying process and the horrid loan officer we were stuck with and the seller delaying the closing date because she couldn't get her house packed up in a reasonable time frame. Now I don't want to talk about the second half of this process (getting rid of the old house) because it's just too much house talk and I've probably bored them. I'm NOT not talking about it, like, in retaliation for their perceived frostiness. I made a conscious decision after we moved into the new house that I was going to stop talking about the whole thing because it's just not that interesting. When I left to go to the hospital last week all I said was my stepdaughter had appendicitis and the health center was sending her to the hospital and she called me bc I'm the only parent close by - I didn't get into further detail than that, I just apologized for having to leave early.

Like I am making a conscious decision to not talk in great detail about my life so I don't bore them, but right now I don't have a whole lot else to talk about because this is just the reality of my life right now. I'm trying to take up less space. I'm trying to just be a normal co-worker. And they are being weird.

I am very much a minority in a majority white company. Like it's really white. It's a really white city. It's a really white part of NY state.

I don't know why I am rambling now. I just feel so drained, and I don't want to dread going to work, AGAIN. I thought I'd found a good place to land and now I'm doubting that. Maybe I'm just overtired and reading too much into things. I need to find a new therapist who takes my health insurance. I just want people to be nice to me. I try to be nice to them, I always say hello and offer to pitch in and help if someone is getting overwhelmed by work load, like I do all of those things you all have suggested, and I'm still feeling like they hate me.

I'm sorry to ramble like this, really. I feel like I'm a broken person.
posted by nayantara at 4:23 PM on September 2, 2021 [9 favorites]

Worst case scenario, they're stressed and maybe a bit annoyed, but I think you'll find that it all blows over once you're settled in and things will revert to how it was before very quickly. Keep your manner the way it's always been and I think you'll find that how work feels will revert back.

You sounds like a normal, nice coworker and you're just exhausted right now, but the exhausting thing is almost over. Hang in there! Be nice to yourself!
posted by quince at 5:10 PM on September 2, 2021 [4 favorites]

Could this be COVID related? For instinct, are they anti-vaxxers/anti-maskers, and you said something in relation to going to the hospital that made it clear that you’re in favor of vaccines and masks?
posted by MexicanYenta at 11:03 PM on September 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

unless i have worked with you for a while, and actually like you, i do not care at all about your house drama and don't want to hear it; you're probably right to tone it down. two months is not a long time, and you are still super new. i am a VERY snarky person in a VERY snarky workplace, and even we would just shrug and roll our eyes at you having to leave for 1.25 days for very good reasons. unless it was like a major deadline day and you were integral to it and you being gone fucked us somehow. without knowing these people it's hard to say for sure, but i think it unlikely your 1.25 days away made them hate you.

if you feel up to it: share cat pictures with your co-workers. if you don't have a kitty right now, there are tons of cat memes/threads out there (r/catswhoyell on reddit is great). this does two things: 1) shows you can talk about positive things/things that aren't your house, 2) shows you're interesting in having a relationship with them. i did something similar to this and it was a good way for my socially anxious self to show people i wasn't a jerk and could be whimsical.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:49 AM on September 3, 2021 [3 favorites]

Why not just bring in some doughnuts and say, "Hey all thanks for covering for me those two days! It's been a time, and I appreciate having a stable place to come to every day while everything else is in flux."

When you see them sharing photos, ask to see them. Ask questions about their lives. Be curious.

And then go home and do something nice for yourself and relax.
posted by haplesschild at 8:55 AM on September 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Well, apparently the problem is that even though these women are sharing TikTok memes and doing dramatic readings of text messages constantly, they feel that I have been on my phone too much. I am not typically a phone at work person but managing buying a house, selling a house, and coordinating a move (even though I step out of the office for actual phone calls so as not to bother anyone) kind of made it hard for me to not have my phone nearby, even with my partner sharing duties pertaining to the house purchase.

So now I just feel mortified that they think I'm a flaky phone person who dicks around on Facebook all day long when I'm just trying to fucking get my life sorted.

And maybe they didn't care about my house drama but then why did they keep asking me about it?

In my interview, I made it clear that we were in the very beginning stages of relocating, but we had a temporary place to live and an accepted offer on a house. They all told me that they would understand and be accommodating during the transition. Whenever I step out for a call I inform my boss briefly why ("loan officer needs some info, be back in a bit" "agent downstate needs some info, stepping out for a minute" "moving company calling to get me on their schedule, going to ask them to talk to partner instead") so they don't think I'm just walking out of the office for no reason because I think that would reflect poorly on me. But apparently it all reflects poorly on me and I should have just shoved everything onto my partner, who works a much higher stress job but at least is the head of a department and gets more leeway, despite the fact that I don't think that would be particularly fair to him.

I've put my phone in my bag but all I want to do is cry. Our furniture isn't even here yet, we have the bed, a tiny loveseat, our TV, and the kitchen supplies. I don't know when the buyers of our old house are going to get their closing date and I don't want to pay two mortgages. Money is tight. I'm trying to do my best and no matter what I do, I do it wrong and I don't feel safe here. I've never felt safe in any workplace. If I could cover my bills working at an animal sanctuary or rescue or at as a cheese maker I'd do it in a heartbeat.

I'm so embarrassed and sad. I know I need a local therapist but then calling potential therapists is another thing that I'm going to have to somehow squeeze into my lunch break along with everything else so as not to piss these people off.

If the phone was a problem I wish they would have said it up front and I would have come up with a different plan with my partner. They let it fester for two months. And I am still getting all of my work done and stepping in to help others when I run out of tasks and it's still not good enough, it's never good enough, nothing I do is ever good enough.

I'm sorry guys. I'm really sorry. I just feel so frustrated and humiliated and sad.
posted by nayantara at 9:38 AM on September 3, 2021 [5 favorites]

Hey it's ok. I totally understand how you're feeling. But you just have to decide you don't care about things that don't matter and can't be known for sure, and whether or not these people are judging you is one of those things. We don't have the capacity to care about everything and that means you have to reject things like this, that you don't have the energy for and that don't actually matter.
posted by bleep at 10:25 AM on September 3, 2021 [5 favorites]

You know the phone activity was necessary during your relocation, and you were candid about it from the beginning.

Now that your co-workers have answered the question you originally posed to AskMe, you don't have to devote any more mental energy trying to figure them out! Plus they've gotten it off their collective chest, so things will get better. When you're a conflict-avoidant person with a slow burn, it's hard to understand that last part -- seriously, people think of it as 'clearing the air' to start anew, it's a positive experience for them, but having it directed your way certainly feels like 'they've announced how I've failed, and now they're going to hold my egregious behaviour against me forever.' It's not that. This is actually a minor office dust-up early on in your tenure there. Still bring a bakery box in as a conciliatory gesture; if any of your personal tasks can be accomplished via email exchange rather than calls, or if your husband can take on more of these tasks for a tiny bit, do that.

Hold your head up. You received a performance note at work (from co-workers, it sounds like, not the big boss?), and you know it's related to the unusual life situation, not your innate capabilities. You'll get past this.

You do lots of things which are great, not just "good enough." You've managed living out of the hotel and the ridiculous commute. You're navigating the whole difficult, drawn-out house-closing-and-moving-in process. You landed and started a new job. You did a particularly excellent thing for your stepdaughter just last week. And remember, your boss has been overall very pleased with your work performance. This was (note -- it's already happened) a brief conflict with your team members, not a scathing indictment of you as a person.

I found my therapist using the Psychology Today database, and I was able to email her as the initial contact. As you're researching today, see if any promising therapists can be emailed first. Please be kind to yourself.
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:34 AM on September 3, 2021 [6 favorites]

Since you sound really stressed I just want to affirm that this-

My boss has been just as friendly to me as usual, and I figure as long as I'm good with her at the end of the day that's what matters

is 100% correct. Sure, having a good friendly working relationship with co-workers makes life much more pleasant, but if your boss likes you, eventually your co-workers will come around. And if they don't in a couple of weeks, I'd bring it up with your boss, because ultimately that should be a management problem, not your problem.
posted by coffeecat at 10:39 AM on September 3, 2021 [4 favorites]

Compartmentalizing worklife and homelife is very hard, and it's very unfair that it reflects poorly on us professionally when we don't get it absolutely right. Especially after a year of pandemic/WFH/nonstandard life, when those lines very reasonably got much more soft and blurred.

All that said: you are in a work environment where, however unfairly, you are expected to be more or less at your desk. It sounds like other people use their mobile phones in the office, for quick socializing breaks, but not to leave for extended periods. It sounds like people are expected to manage most of their personal tasks either from their desks or on their lunches. You can do this.

Does this suck? Yes, this sucks. Does it mean you're a bad horrible person and not good enough and that the situation is unsafe? Nope. Sure doesn't. This situation is safe. This situation is extremely normal. Embarrassment is not fatal; it's not even dangerous. It's just unpleasant, and temporary, and possible to tolerate.

Gently, you have posted often about having mental health issues that cause you to catastrophize and spiral, and it looks very much like you are doing that right now. You say that you can't prioritize a therapist but that sounds very much like a lie that Bad Brain is telling you so that it can have a blast torpedoing your state of mind.

If I recall correctly this relocation was all your partner's idea in the first place, right? (I remember because you posted about how his out-of-town job search caused you to spiral.) It is not unfair for him to take on the greater logistical burden for a move that was 1) his idea and 2) not compatible with your new workplace. Let him take it over. On your lunch, check your phone for calls and messages, and either call him or text him with what he needs to follow up on.

And then use the rest of your break to work on that local therapist.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:04 AM on September 3, 2021 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: To clarify, the note came from my boss, which leads me to think that the others said something about it to her. She said my performance has been good, I just need to cool it with the phone. So I am. I'm just extremely humiliated, and to be perfectly honest I don't really understand why desk use of phone for TikTok nonsense during work hours is ok but stepping outside briefly so as not to disturb anyone is not. But I'm not going to say that. Just filing that info away.
posted by nayantara at 11:11 AM on September 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

Sharing TikTok vids and reading texts aloud to the others is "team-building" -- in this environment. Stepping away for personal business isn't. You're getting to know how this particular office dynamic works; that's just part of learning on the job, too, and that's where it should go in the filing system.
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:32 AM on September 3, 2021 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I think the level of sharing of your personal life that they originally invited and you partook in was unusual and unsustainable.

You need to stop looking for friendship and belonging at work. Otherwise every minor office drama is going to throw you for a loop. Aim for friendly but leave distance. Your coworkers - especially new ones - should not be in a constant loop about your daily challenges outside work.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:26 PM on September 3, 2021 [18 favorites]

I don't really understand why desk use of phone for TikTok nonsense during work hours is ok but stepping outside briefly so as not to disturb anyone is not.

Because to some extent only one of those things risks coming across as self-involved, particularly when combined with frequently discussing the situation that caused all the personal calls. There, I said it. But I think I may need to elaborate on why it tends to show up that way.

Because there's a strong expectation that you'll compartmentalize your homelife when at work, most of us, to some degree, are going to give a colleague a wide berth when their homelife collides with their worklife. The idea is that if you have to violate the expectation of compartmentalization, things are serious enough that you can't just tell someone to ignore whatever they have to deal with. We also don't want to get involved in things that are obviously private. But what that also means is that there's a boundary set that's impolite for your colleagues to cross. It makes you off-limits in terms of your worklife, which is potentially tricky to work with. Stepping out to take personal calls does make you a lot less present to your colleagues.

Messing around on tiktok doesn't bring any of that into play because your colleagues don't have an expectation to afford you privacy or discretion, and it's something they can join in in some cases. To the extent that people are actually fulfilling their work duties and are responsive and helpful, it comes across in a much more benign way. It's not so much about doing something on your phone as it is about implied preoccupation.
posted by blerghamot at 4:30 PM on September 3, 2021 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Last comment and I'm bowing out. It's actually a question, because I am legitimately confused about the notion that my constant updates about the hotel and the house buying situation constitutes not adequately separating worklife from homelife (and coming off as self-involved) in the context of this workplace culture. Maybe I'm just not understanding social cues, or am hypervigilent because CPTSD woo! and toxic past workplaces:

1) Every day I came in while I was in the hotel all of my colleagues asked me for an update about our idiot loan officer and about how we were holding up. They commiserated about how hotels are not comfortable. They shared their own stories of house buying.

2) Every day they asked me about how things were going with the sale of our house downstate, and shared their own stories of house selling.

3) One woman grew up in the same small town in Florida where my partner grew up and legit asked me to call him so she could ask him about where he used to hang out and if they knew people in common (I didn't do this, my partner is also settling into a new job and this felt a little insane).

4) Same woman as above shared a lot of details about her nephew in Florida who is immunocompromised due to a rare childhood cancer and his prognosis is getting worse and she is super scared because of Florida being a hotspot for COVID. (This same woman is NOT vaccinated; she isn't anti-vax so much as she's scared about the efficacy of the COVID vaccines, but she's also worried about her ill nephew and drove down to Florida for a week to hang out with her sister and him and her sister told her not to bother with getting the vax before going.). She is the dramatic text-reader.

5) Woman with the cat has shared in detail her experiences with being put on anxiety medication, her suspicions that she has a thyroid issue or PCOS, the length and duration of her menstrual cycles, what her menstrual discharge looks like, and whether she was suffering from constipation or loose stools while on her period. (I swear I am not making this up. It was jarring.) I have PCOS and she asked me how I found my endocrinologist and what my experience has been like living with PCOS. She is also the main TikTok offender.

6) Third woman in the office is a bit more reticent and is the one I'm trying to model myself after going forward. She doesn't share much about her home life. But she is genuinely curious about other people and was always the first one to ask about updates about the house buying and selling, and gave me advice on how to shop for an AWD car since winters are rough in our new area.

7) ALL OF THEM insisted I bring my partner to visit the day of the house closing (the day before my stepdaughter's appendicitis) because our real estate attorney's office is one block away from my office and they were all so excited to meet him. We did drop in and say hello. Woman who grew up in the same town as my partner started naming bars and malls and other landmarks to see if they hung out in the same places and is now convinced that she was in the same high school class as my partner's younger sister.

8) Woman who grew up in same town as my partner has the biggest personality of the group, very loud and boisterous, wanted to know everything about my music career (which is my real job honestly but I keep that to myself) and the music I play and what it's like to play in bar bands. She wants to learn the bass, which is my instrument. She also talks a lot about how much pot she smokes when she's out of the office. (I have no problem with pot but it's not something I would ever bring up at work.) She claims that she considers everyone at work her family and that's why she likes her job so much. When her behavior cooled towards me, it was the most noticeable and made me start to suspect something was up.

My point is, everyone there spent two months drawing a lot of personal information from me, taking an interest in my out of work life, giving me suggestions for places to visit in our new town, and also sharing immensely personal details about their lives that I would NEVER share in an office context. I engaged with them not necessarily because I wanted to be their best friends, but because they seemed to be trying to welcome me to the office (we are a small, self-contained department) and I thought it would be rude to blow off their questions and attempts to make conversation. They seemed to want to get to know me, and they also told me A LOT about themselves.

So, I am experiencing some immense cognitive dissonance at this point. I was rolling with the office culture, I took 1.25 days off in two months, one for a house closing which my boss was aware would be happening eventually (she also knows that at the end of September I'm closing on the house I am selling downstate and is prepared for me to take another PTO day for that), and the day I left early to be there for my stepdaughter. Telling them she had appendicitis didn't seem that different from sharing about a nephew dying of cancer or the consistency of menstrual discharge. Telling them about my housing situation didn't feel weird when they asked me about it specifically. HR and my boss are well aware that I am in the middle of a major relocation involving four parts and we've only cleared two of them (scheduling professional movers - which is who I was on the phone with last week and this week trying desperately to get on their schedule before the end of September when they were almost totally booked, even if it meant a mid-week move for which ONLY my partner would be present since he has more flexibility to take time off - and closing the downstate house sale).

Hence my confusion, and asking this question. What the fuck happened? Did I completely misunderstood the cues they were giving me? How?!

I'm getting to a point where I'm less hurt and humiliated. Big personality woman from Florida was off work yesterday and the other two women were much friendlier to me. I'm thinking there may be a Queen Bee thing going on? I don't know, and I'm trying to actively not care, and to play everything closer to the vest from now and keeping my phone in my purse unless it's lunchtime.

But seriously... WTF? I feel helpless with confusion.
posted by nayantara at 8:20 AM on September 4, 2021 [4 favorites]

When Queen Bee asked about your music career, was it just before the change in behavior? Could she have been fishing for help with her music career and you missed the cues? Maybe she was hoping you'd offer to teach her or something along those lines. Or maybe she thinks you're not a long-term prospect because you consider your music career to be your real job.

I don't think the problem has anything to do with you over-sharing at work, every workplace has its own culture and it sounds like this is a very small company where its totally normal to share personal information and I don't really think its about the phone stuff - although stepping out to take personal calls during work hours is not really OK at a lot of places, especially if its happening multiple times a day. It might seem hypocritical if your coworkers are slacking off but in some places, all that matters is that you're in the office/at your desk. But maybe in fact they have a problem stepping out because they want to listen in on the conversation or they feel like you're being too private. There's really no way to know for sure but it seems pretty clear from your update the the frosty behavior is being instigated/influenced by Queen Bee.

Stop obsessing and beating yourself up. Its more than likely you did nothing wrong and its Queen Bee reacting to some imagined slight. Be on your guard with her but don't be cold. If he has gone frosty because she was hoping you'd do something for her or offer her something , that's her problem not yours.
posted by missmagenta at 8:50 AM on September 4, 2021

Best answer: I wanted to offer my thoughts. My intention is to come from a place of kindness. But I will be straightforward. For reference I am a cis hetero male.

You have been hurt before, and you have been deemed to be not part of the ingroup before. So you are rightfully sensitive to any changes in the temperature of the room, in your social interactions. I absolutely get that. Whatever you have sensed, trust your gut. You are hyper aware, consider it your superpower, this emotional intelligence of yours.

But that's it, just note the change, do not spend one iota of effort or thought on this, do not scooby doo your way to the root cause.

Do not feel humiliated about the co worker interactions, they ultimately do not matter. Be present for your partner, your family, friends, loved ones; these are the people that matter. You did nothing wrong.

My advice, is to, from now and forevermore, do not follow other people's social cues in office environment relationships. They are oversharing, Fine. But do not feel obligated to follow suit. Ever again. Especially after only two months. This conversations shared here is a level of intimacy I would develop with someone over a decade plus of friendship.

Menstrual cycles? Stool descriptions (ew, btw)? Nod your head and smile. But you have to establish your own boundaries. Other people's lack of decorum shouldn't guide you in any way. For people that are sensitive to social interactions (I am too) refrain from going there. Like, anywhere near 'there'. If people want to overshare, that's their prerogative (bobby brown voice). Do not follow suit. Especially at work.

General breadcrumb-style info given over the course of years (not months) is more appropriate. Many years. Keep it light, keep it general, keep it surface level. If you connect with someone at work, that's just frosting on the cake. But do not seek that out, do not expect it. You have an awesome life with an awesome partner, you sound like a truly caring and awesome stepmom. People, in general, have to prove themselves worthy before getting to that part of you (looking at you, Florida woman and company).

I am reading this as a relationship (or relationships) that burned white hot from the gate, then cooled off quickly for whatever reason. These things happen all the time, whether romantically, socially, whatever. The best relationships burn slow, they develop over time. You get what I am saying.

Do not try to figure it out. Just know that they suck. Do not beat yourself up over this, you did nothing wrong. If 1.25 days of absence for legit reasons is enough to get you the cold shoulder, are these people you want to be cool with in the first place? Serious question. Simply being in my proximity while I am forced to participate in capitalism does not give any one access to my full, true self, details from my life, info about my partner, about my incompetent home loan officer, etc. Oversharing w co workers rarely turns out well.

You set the pace of these relationships, not the other way around.

Stay out of the fray, keep your head in the game (i.e. work). Demonstrate, to the boss, your work ethic. Be a dependable teammate, in the sense of work and work only. Social stuff stays at the door. Save your emotional and mental cache for those that truly matter (family/friends). These people are not worthy and, frankly, never were.
posted by Soma707 at 9:40 AM on September 4, 2021 [13 favorites]

Best answer: Soma707 said it so well.
Let me just add: Your coworkers would give me hives. I wouldn't want to be this close to new coworkers and be forced to rebuff all their personal questions and listen to all their medical issues!

Plus, as nice as it is to feel in-group insta-friendships, you can see the problem once you get on the wrong side of them - suddenly it's like a bucket of cold water.

That said, most office cultures are fraught in different interesting ways. The only way to navigate the different expectations is to be consistently you - friendly, a team player but not intimate and always true to your own comfort levels (as oulined by Soma707).
posted by Omnomnom at 12:36 PM on September 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

to me it sounds like they were just miffed you went outside for your calls because that's not their practice. They presented it to the boss as "she's making too many personal calls" but actually the problem - and they may not even have realized this - was just that you were doing something different, and maybe even that you were drawing that boundary around your business.

That said, I agree with Soma707, there is never anything to be gained by sharing your personal business with people like this. First of all, they don't care. Their own oversharing is because they like to talk about themselves; they don't really love sharing the stage. Secondly, the speed with which people like this will turn on you will make your head fucking spin. In my experience, the habitual oversharers are also always VICIOUS gossips.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:07 PM on September 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm getting to a point where I'm less hurt and humiliated [...] I'm thinking there may be a Queen Bee thing going on? I don't know, and I'm trying to actively not care [...] But seriously... WTF? I feel helpless with confusion.

There's a lot of good advice above. I'm just going to add, as someone who is often a stranger in a strange land: sometimes you just have to accept the confusion, with a kind of equanimity. Right now is the time to be an anthropologist, and observe the party without trying too hard to join it. You can entertain different possibilities, like the queen bee thing, but not put much weight on any of them. Float like a butterfly (sorry) until you know the situation better, focus on acting in a ways you feel good with, and just give it all time. A year from now you'll understand much more, and maybe you'll have found people you connect with, or maybe not. But for now, make some peace with the confusion. It's okay.

(This is true in general in new situations, ime. I don't know if you've moved a lot, but every time I've moved to a new area I notice that my impressions after a month or two are very different from my impressions a year later. Sometimes 180 degrees different. It's weird, but because of that I've learned not to take any initial worries or negative impressions too seriously -- to observe them but not buy into them, if that makes sense.)

And don't be so embarrassed about the phone thing. If that's your boss's biggest note to you so far, that's pretty good.

Also, fwiw --
I don't feel safe here.

I know the feeling. I try to remind myself: sometimes we focus so much on not falling off the horse, that we forget we're pretty good at surviving the fall. And making the fall safer is something I can do.

Apologies for all the terrible metaphors.
posted by trig at 3:58 PM on September 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: What happened, nayantara, is that there are double standards at play. Unfortunately, the rules don’t apply to you, and they won’t let you know that because it’s not conscious. It’s discriminatory behaviour and it’s so, so unfair that it happens to you, but, just as all marginalised groups do, you’ll need to assume that the same rules, freedoms, protections and norms don’t apply to you, because you’re different. It’s very, very unfair. Please feel free to message me at any time.
posted by The Last Sockpuppet at 4:02 PM on September 5, 2021

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