Stalked? not really... just squicked.
October 21, 2006 11:52 PM   Subscribe

How does one gently discourage a colleague from inviting herself to one's place? Of course there's quite a bit

I have this colleague. I like my colleague just fine as a colleague. The challenge here is that my colleague happens to be moderately to severely depressed. (and yes, before you ask, she's going to a therapist weekly and just loooooves to talk on and on about her therapy, plus the coctktail of drugs they've got her on). In addition she claims to have 'no friends', seems to have a considerable degree of social awkwardness and a host of other personal and family problems that she loves to ramble on about at random inopportune moments throughout the day. Despite that 99% of the time her discourses are greeted by everyone in the room with the *blink...blink...crickets chirping* sort of response.

I chalk a lot of this up to the fact that she's young, incredibly sheltered and naive. which also means she has a hard time with criticism and takes everything personally. sooo... recently she's been point-blank inviting herself to come visit my place, ostensibly to play with my roommate's cat, but mainly since she seems to have attached herself to me as someone who doesn't actively shove her away for being clingy.

the difficult part for me is that I don't genuinely dislike this girl. it's just that I have absolutely nothing in common with her and don't feel like I can really relate to either her problems or her place in life.

not to mention I have never been the sort who likes to hang out with my colleagues afterhours. I'm intensely private, quite introverted, and like to keep my home and work life quite distinctly separate. I mean I see these people forty or more hours a week as it is.

ack. I'm pretty bad at the interpersonal skills thing myself, and I'm compassionate with the social-awkwardness theme, having been there myself, but I am at my wits' end here.

any good tips for dealing with this? I mean I still have to work with this person. and despite everything said above, she really is a good employee.
posted by lonefrontranger to Human Relations (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have never been the sort who likes to hang out with my colleagues afterhours. I'm intensely private, quite introverted, and like to keep my home and work life quite distinctly separate.

I think you can just say exactly that. And if she takes it personally that you don't want to interact socially with anyone you work with, well... At the risk of sounding like a jerk, that's her problem.
posted by jesourie at 12:01 AM on October 22, 2006

Just keep making excuses till she gets the message. Tell her your busy with something or the other whenever she tries to invite herself over. Ignore her phone calls outside of work and blame it on your cellphone/cellphone carrier. Hopefully she'll get the message and find someone else to cling on to.
posted by special-k at 12:02 AM on October 22, 2006

Some ideas.

1) Go to her place. Not because you want to, perhaps, but because you can leave from there, for intermediate destinations, and with plausible reasons not to be followed. Much better than being trapped in your own home with an unwanted visitor.

2) Once you've been to her place, suggest she introduce you to her friends, there. If she doesn't have any friends to introduce to you at her place, part of getting you to come hang with her will be for her to get some. Make this a quid pro quo with her, as part of your "older, wiser caring mentor" de facto persona.

3) Go with her to some place she might meet some other people to be social with. Bars, parks, zoos, I don't know. You may not feel comfortable about introducing her to strangers, but 2 heads beat 1 in sizing up new opportunities, and all you're looking for is new blood, anyway.

4) The lowest energy, most honest thing to do if you don't want to play host to her is to say clearly, "I don't want company. You're not invited to my house." You needn't be mean about it, but you don't need to explain, either. You may even be better able to remain a sympathetic colleague 40 hours a week, for not being forced to be an unwilling babysitter on your own time.
posted by paulsc at 12:09 AM on October 22, 2006

Best answer: You have no obligation whatsoever to have her come to your house and can simply not take her up on her offer either obliquely or more directly in an "I'm sorry my house is really my castle and I don't really like to have casual aquaintances over" Just use the "it's not you, it's me" language and be secure in the fact that it's a totally reasonable thing to do.

That said, if you feel like you want to give this gal a hand, you could plan a regular coffee break time with her maybe once a week. This might help channel her persistent need to talk/unload/relate and give you the rest of your work time a little more drama-free in a "hey, let's talk about that on Thursday" sort of way. I find that it's sometimes easier to turn down some offer of communication if there is a counteroffer available.
posted by jessamyn at 12:16 AM on October 22, 2006 [3 favorites]

Be nice to her -- how could it hurt? Just define some boundaries like Jessamyn suggested.
posted by footnote at 6:20 AM on October 22, 2006

Best answer: You're figuring out what your boundaries are with this person and that's completely reasonable. Basically what many have said up the thread about your place.

I would add that you're under no obligation to give constructive criticism either. Generally speaking, often when people are coming out of a rough personal period they can be difficult because they talk about the treatment. In some ways this is part of her healing, venting about it, trying to get people to hear her.

They're not really looking for anyone to advise them on how to solve whatever it is. Even if they directly ask you. All you have to do, and this is if you want to, is actively listen for a little while. You don't have to make suggestions about what she should/shouldn't do, but you can be supportive of her figuring it all out herself. Recognize that you have boundaries for these conversations as well.
posted by dog food sugar at 8:02 AM on October 22, 2006

I'd also like to point out that you've probably already done that somewhat and that's what has led you to here - that's what's attracted her to you - and that's a compliment to your social interaction skills and your ability to show compassion to someone. Quite a nice way to be.
posted by dog food sugar at 8:11 AM on October 22, 2006

You know what you can do at the bottom level.

The end is: I need time to get away from work, so, no you can't come over.

You can be more polite about it (your roomate is uncomfortable, the cat seems ill, maybe you should get a cat of your own, inventing lots of reasons why she can't come by), but realistically that line is the end deal.

So, go with this:
"I can't wait to get home and be alone. You know I'm pretty much an introvert, right?"

"no, I didn't notice, because I have no clue beyond the nose of my face."

"Yeah, I am. And I when I don't get enough time away from people, away from work, I just want to kill everyone (alternative: I get really depressed unless I can spend lots of time alone.) I just love to sit, read and listen to the quiet."

No matter what you do, she's going to likely get offended. Bring her a gift the next day (you're obviously very compassionate), when she does, but hold the line about work and home.
posted by filmgeek at 8:16 AM on October 22, 2006 [1 favorite]

Bring her a gift the next day (you're obviously very compassionate), when she does, but hold the line about work and home.

Maybe I'm wrong, but if I'm not the most socially adept person in the world, receiving a gift after basically being told my presence isn't welcome at your house is going to completely screw with my head. Giving her a gift could easily give her a false sense of help if for no other reason than it sounds like she doesn't have other areas in her life giving her lots of hope and will find it where ever she can.

Anyways, I think the idea of brining up being an introvert before she invites herself over is a good idea. I've used this tactic myself before and it works quite well, especially if you repeat yourself on multiple occasions to get the idea across. Still be friendly- just make it clear that outside of work time is something you decide on, not her.
posted by jmd82 at 8:33 AM on October 22, 2006

Along the lines of Jessamyn, and defining boundaries, how bout happy hour once a week? After, you can always excuse yourself as having plans with family or tired, and ready to go home.

Also any chance that she um likes you?
posted by stratastar at 8:58 AM on October 22, 2006

Wow, you sound like me and...eventually this would turn into hell (as in, why is this person in my house and how do I get them out?) I am just listing somethings that I have done to help people similar to your young friend (operation: how to get the person other friends, life, hobbies, and into someone else's house).

As your young friend does not seem to have friends or support, does she have hobbies? (We know she loves cats). I would start there - ask her what hobbies she has and what does she like to do? If she does not have any interests and is confused, seriously, tell her about yours. I have run across people who have no interests and do not know what to do with their time, this may be a good starting point.

I would start with the 'cat' interest - tell her about your experiences volunteering (it brings balance to your life, you meet new people, help out with something you believe in, blah blah). Then tell her about opportunities to volunteer with animals. Many shelters let you walk dogs and play with kittens/if she really gets into it, good grief, she can sit outside with cats and dogs and talk to people to try to get them to adopt. I would find her the info, tell her about it, highly encourage her to volunteer and then ask - how is that project going?

Then for her hobbies - suggest joining a club, clubs, or a class. If she needs support, go with her to the first meeting (within reason). Surely there are things she would like to learn about. If she has no hobbies or topics she would like to learn about, then I would go the route where you tell her things that you do (i.e. go to the library or bookstore, browse - emphasize that this is by yourself) although at a later point you can tell people the topics you read about.

A group that may be helpful for her since it sounds like she has mental health issues and is willing to share that experience - most cities have support groups for people with (insert problem, depression, bipolar, etc) along with activities ranging from art, theater, meetings, picnics. Suggest she go to these meetings to meet other people like her and share stories, etc.

Give yourself permission to at least have some days to yourself. Lie if you need to - you are going to (make up a mystery club or invitation with friends). I can't imagine that you will not eventually lose patience in the need to have your own space.

Best of luck
posted by Wolfster at 10:22 AM on October 22, 2006

Response by poster: good answers from everyone; the two I marked as best gave me a good line on different perspectives I'd not really considered.

I've never been in cognitive therapy myself, and regardless of whether it might be a good idea for me to do so, I just haven't felt the need or desire. I get most of my demons out on the bike and so far have been good with that. I'm also one of those annoying people who was raised in an old-fashioned family where it was considered bad form to talk about one's personal problems in public. yeah, yeah, I know, the ways of the dinosaur. It's partly why I have so much trouble relating to my colleague; we're not merely from different generations, we're also about as alike as apples and rhinoceroses.

special-k: that's good advise and all but unfortunately my colleague seems fairly blind to that sort of approach; my other two colleagues and I have tried this and it seems to not have worked. besides which to me this just feels insincere and somewhat passive aggressive. In my own personal self-improvement struggle, passive aggression and the ensuing brooding resentment/seethe cycle is one of my major faults I've been trying to correct. I'm trying to learn how to confront people honestly and without being (too much of) an ass about it.

jessamyn thanks, I'd not considered this. finding an appropriate time and place for venting on a regular basis will very likely give her a pressure release valve for all this stuff. I'll work on setting up a regular coffee klatch.

dog food sugar: I didn't even realise that about the whole venting cycle. thank you for pointing that out. I definitely get pedantic about cycling if people get me started on the topic, so yeah, I can see that.

jmd82: I think you're correct in that mixed messages aren't probably a good solution here. she tends to take everything very much at face value and stuff like sarcasm or jokey comments are kinda lost on her. when she does 'get it' often she seems to get the idea that 'gee, everyone just makes fun of me'. it's been a tough balancing act.

stratastar: haha, no, I doubt that, tho it would be an odd sort of symmetry seeing as my other colleague is a gay guy. I do get the impression she may have a crush on my roommate, despite that he's quite a bit older (and unimpressed as well, to judge from his commentary).
posted by lonefrontranger at 10:58 AM on October 22, 2006

lfr, good luck with setting the boundaries. It sounds like she has identified you as a person who will listen, and it's generous of you to give her some time and space to vent. I'd present the coffee hour/drinks/whatever as an alternative to hanging out at your house. There's nothing rude about clearly stating that you like to keep your work and home lives separate.

Try to be as neutral as possible when listening; don't get pulled into her drama. Because this will likely not be an equal relationship (she will be taking more than giving), don't let her suck you dry emotionally.
posted by initapplette at 2:12 PM on October 22, 2006

Best answer: Just as an aside:

I myself have more than my fair share of emotional problems. I've been in therapy -- twice a week -- for longer than I care to admit here. And I would never fuckin' dream of dumping all my problems on my coworkers in the way you describe. Work is work. You make your money there and go home to the rest of your life.

I remember a situation about a decade ago with a similarly troubled coworker. At one point, we had to tell her: "Look, we're sorry that you're so unhappy and have so many problems. We're sorry that you're alone. But we're not your family. We can't play that role for you."

As a whackjob, I can assure you that you are well within your rights to set limits and not be press-ganged into providing free therapy for her in your personal time. Like Wolfster, I think it would be humane to point her in the direction of other sources of support -- mood disorder support groups, volunteering at shelters -- while mentioning, in a gentle way, that work relationships aren't as deep or intimate as she's making them out to be, that most people are just there for the money, and that she might be better off finding support somewhere else.

Oh, and like you, I come from a relatively old-school background, one in which inviting yourself over to someone's house is wayyyyyyyy rude.
posted by jason's_planet at 3:40 PM on October 22, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: thanks init, good input.

Wolfster I think you responded as I was composing a reply and I didn't get a chance to see this earlier. The frustrating part is that I've been trying to get her involved in things like the Boulder no-kill shelter (she won't volunteer at the humane society because she says she gets 'too attached', which I do understand). It's been like trying to nail jello to a wall. Every suggestion I or our other colleague gives seems to get shot down with 'oh but I don't think...' - it's like for every solution we offer to help bootstrap herself up, she has some excuse for continuing to be a total wet rag. and yes, I've even offered to take her to some local meetups for various hobby groups that I thought she'd be interested in... much as I really don't want to encourage her codependence.

I mean the only thing she seems to be doing as far as confronting her social fears is (like I said) inviting herself over to my place. which is just... not comfortable for me. and furthermore, I think it's squicking out my roommate - he's as much of a misanthrope as I am, if not more so.

I sometimes feel like asking, point-blank: "so if you're going to continually whine / cry / mope and ask for solutions to your problems then why do you only give excuses when we try to help you deal with them??!!" Which would only send her off into another emotional tizzy, which none of us wants or needs. it's been like dealing with my (clinically hypochondriac) mother, during a time when I just want to concentrate on doing my job, thankyouverymuch, and go home.

I'm sure there's an element of ocd/agoraphobia/shut-in syndrome at work here, but god it's so frustrating, especially for someone like me who's so active and really can't stand being cooped up inside. Like I said, I have nothing in common with this person besides the part where we work at the same place.
posted by lonefrontranger at 3:53 PM on October 22, 2006

Response by poster: jason's_planet: At one point, we had to tell her: 'Look, we're sorry that you're so unhappy and have so many problems. We're sorry that you're alone. But we're not your family. We can't play that role for you.'

thanks, that's one of the best recommendations for how to word this sort of confrontational topic I've seen. I mean I'm all for helping this girl out, and I feel for her because I was young and emotionally challenged myself once -- but I also would like to eventually disengage her from my ankle, if you get me.

j_p, for a 'whackjob' which I doubt you're an awfully well-spoken and introspective one. thanks.

and yeah, you're right. I was taught growing up that under no circumstances should one ever self-invite, but I know not everyone's cultural or family background teaches this.
posted by lonefrontranger at 5:26 PM on October 22, 2006

As a socially awkward person myself, I can say this with some confidence. At some level, she knows what she's doing, and she is waiting for you to set firmer boundaries. This sort of thing isn't always obvious if you haven't been there yourself. When you aren't confident enough in your own ability to know for sure what your relationships are to the people in your life, the doubt can really eat away at you. So you start pushing things, a little at a time, to discover where the boundaries actually are. You invite yourself over to someone's house. They let you in, but you sense that they're not totally comfortable. So, with this new set of mixed messages, you get even more confused and insecure, and you set out to repeat the experiment, this time with more tangible results. And yet, what happens is that this time, your arrival is not a surprise, and you are greeted with a certain amount of readiness, but the awkwardness (which you feel very dimly and far away) is nonetheless a bit more palpable. So you keep coming back, hoping to eventually get a clear sign of what the relationship actually is. And yes, you would prefer a positive sign, but a negative one would be more believeable and easier to deal with.

The nicest thing you can do is to come up with a way to give her the answer she's seeking in a way that doesn't make her think you're sniggering at her behind her back. "It's not you, it's me," really misses the point, because social awkwardness is not mental retardation; she knows it's her, and you saying otherwise is going to sound condescending, and she's going to go obsess about it. Just tell her a gentle version of the truth; it's what she really wants anyway.
posted by bingo at 5:29 PM on October 22, 2006

most of the above comments nailed it, i think, but one or two other things to add ...

if you are interested in helping her out (as it seems you are), and not just getting her out of your space, the plan for a regular or semi-regular meetup for coffee/other is a good one. as jessamyn pointed out, it will give her something concrete to look forward to, a "for this [insert time period] i will have someone to talk to", and will be a handy way to deflect her advances at less opportune times. it also allows you to regulate the situation somewhat. schedule it prior to a regular activity, so that she can't suck any more time from you than what you choose to allot to her. no regular activities? make one up.

if she takes to this scenario, you may be able to start nudging her out of her shell. i used to be (and in more than a few ways still am) rather like her; i'm really good at bitching about how bad things are but not so good at making an effort to change them. if you spend a few/several sessions talking to her, letting her get out her unhappiness or her frustration or her dissatisfaction or whatever, this will most likely create a situation wherein she begins to trust you. and when she hits the point where she starts repeating herself, that's when you can say "hey, i'm more than happy to be a sympathetic ear or a shoulder when you need one, but you need to be making some efforts to change these things that are making you unhappy". you say she's been rejecting suggestions for activities, this can be when you say something as simple as "well, could it be any worse than what you're doing now?" or "why not give it a try and see?"

after that, if she continues to refuse, perhaps gently but firmly suggest that you don't feel that you are helping her by being someone she can constantly unload on--at that point it's gone from helping to enabling. if she's come to rely on your weekly (or whatever) conversations, use those as motivation, and tell her that you need to break them off until she starts doing something to change what is making her so unhappy, and once she starts making progress you'll be happy to spend time with her again, hear about the positive things as well as the negative, and feel better about helping her when you can see that she is trying to help herself. if personal experience is any indication, she'll feel much better about herself once she starts being proactive about her own situation, and it creates a goal for her to work toward. she may very well thank you for giving her the push she needed to make the change.

and if she still doesn't do anything, or she gets angry or resentful, then that's an indication that she's enjoying where she's at, at some level, and you're not helping her by being an additional set of ears she can use to reinforce the "poor me" status she's created for herself.

(and as for the personal space question ... honesty is really the best approach, especially if she's as prone to misinterpretation as it seems. tell her that you need your boundaries, and that you have to consider not only yourself, but your roommate as well. part of what she needs to learn is how to hear what people say, not what she thinks they say, so be straightforward about your reasons for discontinuing her visits, and follow it up with, "how about a regular coffee break instead?" or, on preview, what bingo said.)
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 6:35 PM on October 22, 2006

Oh, and like you, I come from a relatively old-school background, one in which inviting yourself over to someone's house is wayyyyyyyy rude.

That's the bottom line for me, and I think most people of any school: this is just an intolerably presumptuous thing to do to an acquaintance. Think of it this way: you wouldn't be doing her any favors by caving in on this point, because you'd only be reinforcing her negative behavior. She'll then feel comfortable doing this to other acquaintances, some of whom will have the possibility of turning into friends -- and most will recoil from her and her attempt to brute force a relationship that has to evolve naturally. The end result is that she's lonelier and more adrift than ever.

It's deeply unfortunate that she has depression compounding her problems, and you are a good person to want to help her, but ultimately, at some point she'll recover and she'll need to treat people with more consideration if she wants to have friends.
posted by melissa may at 8:04 PM on October 22, 2006

Why on earth would you pretend to like this person if you don't? It's unfair and not nice. Just tell her you're not interested in hanging out.
posted by digitalis at 11:10 PM on October 22, 2006

Response by poster: because digitalis, I'm not 'pretending' anything. I like her just fine as a colleague. I just don't want to 'hang out' together; well at least not at my place where she comes over and then doesn't leave for hours and hours.

geez. can't there be shades of grey here? this isn't a simple case of liking or not liking a person. It's more about having not enough common ground with someone for a deep friendship, more of a 'let's get coffee' acquaintanceship with a colleague. I just don't like having people over at my place. If you don't 'get that' fine.

Metafilter: where things are only understood in terms of black or white.
posted by lonefrontranger at 3:27 PM on October 23, 2006

Why on earth would you pretend to like this person if you don't?

digitalis: there are gazillions of potential flavors of "like." There are as many ways to like people as there are people. There's the painful, obsessive love you feel for someone who is completely wrong for you. There's the fondness you might feel for a clever counterman at a deli you visit every day. There's the respect you give to someone who is socially awkward but very smart, very accomplished. (You would never hang out with that guy but you still think he's awesome.) There's the love you feel for an adult sibling whom you love very much but don't have all that much in common with anymore. There's the amusing bar character -- the screwup, the born loser with a million funny stories -- who you would never hang out with outside of your favorite bar.

There's also liking someone as a colleague and not necessarily wanting to be friends with them. Does this make sense to you?
posted by jason's_planet at 6:22 PM on October 23, 2006

j_p, for a 'whackjob' which I doubt you're an awfully well-spoken and introspective one. thanks

You're welcome! Anytime! (And thank you!)

Good luck with this; it's definitely an awkward situation.

I hope it works out well for both of you.
posted by jason's_planet at 12:50 PM on October 24, 2006

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