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The Vine: January 21, 2009

Submitted by on January 21, 2009 – 5:05 PM65 Comments

Dear Sars,

I am looking for tips on how to become tougher. I've always found it hard to reconcile myself with the idea that some people don't like me, or disapprove of some things I do, and it's all coming to a head now.

There are two situations. Firstly, my mother-in-law, otherwise a fine woman, could supervise PhDs in passive-aggressiveness. My way of dealing with this aspect of her character is to ignore what I can ignore, and respond innocently to the rest, which usually does the trick.

But this is nothing compared to my work situation: at the job where I've been for the past year there is, besides the usual amount of general nastiness associated with the academic (read: kindergarten) environment, someone who hates me with a passion because of something I have no control on (I was hired to be her superior, bypassing her many years of devotion to the department).

She, and her supporters, have done all kinds of things to me, from trying to make me look as bad as possible with superiors, to leaving little anonymous messages suggesting I ruined a family when I applied for the post, to being generally unpleasant and unhelpful while I tried to get the hang of the new job.

Now, I think I have behaved in the right way in dealing with this stuff: I have complained with superiors about the serious stuff, ignored the constant little jibes, and not retaliated with stuff that I considered beneath my style. This seems to be working, albeit slowly, with several colleagues, and now at least I see a few friendly faces when I go to work.

The thing is, however, that I still care, I'm still hurt every time these things happen and, regardless of the calm and collected front I try to offer the world, I have lost a lot of sleep and wanted to cry (and cried) more times than I ought to have really, considering that I have a wonderful and supportive family and a lot of love in my private life. I don't like this, and I don't like that my dear ones should suffer from the fact that I'm not tough enough to remain untouched by stuff like that.

I know that changing jobs would help a lot, but this is not an option at the moment, and anyway the issue would remain: I need a thicker skin, otherwise life is always going to be more miserable than it ought to.

So, the question is: how do I stop caring too much? How do I learn to live with the fact that not everybody loves me?

Thanks in advance.

Aspiring Elephant

Dear Babar,

You just…do.And a big part of it is accepting that you do care, that there isn't anything wrong with caring, and that it's fine to have hurt feelings now and then, as long as you don't let it rule your life.Everyone has work drama, everyone has annoying family members, almost everyone gets upset by those things — give yourself a break.Very few people "remain untouched" by the assholery of others, so if something like this crops up and preoccupies you, give yourself ten or fifteen minutes to obsess about it and then find something else to do.

It's interesting to me that you say quitting your job isn't an option.I know the economy is bad, but you could be looking for other opportunities, or insisting more strongly to HR where you are now that they take a much firmer hand in dealing with harassing or threatening behavior from your co-workers.Or doing it yourself.That woman works under you, and if she's sabotaging you, that needs to stop, pronto.

You say you want to toughen up, but maybe you want to take that more in the direction of changing negative circumstances (instead of assuming/deciding you can't), or sticking up for yourself more vocally.Sometimes, toughening up isn't about not caring what others think or how they behave.Sometimes, it's about caring, but doing what you need to do anyway.I do not enjoy firing people, or negotiating for more money, or telling close friends that an aspect of their behavior is bugging me; nobody does.Well, some people do, but your average person finds that kind of conversation or interaction very stressful.It's okay to worry that you won't get what you need, or whoever it is is going to get mad, and it's okay to feel barfy about things, or cry.But if something needs changing, or you aren't happy, things don't fix themselves.You have to act to fix them.

And again, it's stressful and difficult, but when you can force yourself to confront situations head-on, it builds confidence, and it lets you mind less as time goes on.No, not everybody is going to love you, but you can settle for "respects you enough not to fuck with your voicemail," I think.

Not everyone likes each other; that sucks; neither of those things will change; you can in fact deal with them both just fine.You don't have to feel all that tough; acting tough is usually adequate (and helps you feel tougher, too).

Sars –

About two years ago, I bought a very cute 1950s brick Cape Cod with a decent-sized unfenced backyard. The back property line is lined with very tall and very old honeysuckle bushes that provide a decent amount of shade and privacy. The bushes are actually on my side of the property line and are fairly healthy.

When I bought my house, the house behind it had been a foreclosure and was also for sale. Since I knew the property was vacant, I didn't feel comfortable traipsing onto the property to trim back that side of the bushes and I let them grow. I kept my side trimmed.

Flash forward to this spring when the home was sold to Janet and her children. Janet and I met one afternoon soon after she moved in, and she immediately mentioned that she thought we should cut the bushes all the way down to the stumps. I told her that I would be more than happy to help her trim back the year's extra growth and bundle it for the city. She said that was fine, but she really thought that they needed to be cut almost all the way down.

Since then, every time I see her (while out mowing, helping to clean up another neighbor's downed tree after a storm, playing catch in our backyard, etc.) she mentions the bushes. She's not outright nasty about it or anything, but I can't help but wonder when she's going to whip out her chainsaw and hack them off herself.

Long story short (too late!), what do I say when she mentions them again? And do I need to take care of her side of the bushes? Thanks for the advice!

Attempting To Avoid A Judge Judy Appearance

Dear Judy,

How much do you care about the bushes?Because if you're sort of neutral on the bushes themselves, but don't relish the idea of her coming after them and causing An Issue by getting on your side of the property line, just trim them all the way down.End the discussion.

If you don't like that idea, figure out what your responsibility is as far as keeping the bushes on your side of the property line; hew to that ordinance as far as the bush maintenance goes (hee) (…ew!) (…hee); and tell her that you've done so the next time she brings it up.Because if her problem is just that she doesn't like the bushes, that's tough shit.If she doesn't want them on her side of the property line, I don't know anything about honeysuckle or how it grows, but if you've made an effort to keep them trimmed and they don't go onto her property, problem solved.

So, figure out what you legally need to do with these plants, and do it; then figure out what the nature of her issue is with the bushes, and if it's that she doesn't want to look at them, well, too bad.Tell her it's not her call, nicely, and change the subject…but before you do that, make sure it's really not her call according to the local laws.

Dear Sars,

You give excellent advice, and I'm stuck on a situation I can't think how to address tactfully.

My problem involves three other people.Let's call them Ken, Barbie and Skipper.

Ken is a good friend of mine, a hell of a decent guy in just about every way.About a year ago he moved in with his girlfriend Barbie.Since then he sees most of his friends a lot less — nothing to do with Barbie, exactly, just Ken doesn't drive and he no longer lives in walking distance of all the places he used to see everyone.

Barbie and I aren't friends, really.No real animosity, just no real warmth either, and we've almost never talked.

Skipper is Barbie's best friend, and I think is pretty close to Ken too.Skipper can't stand me — and I admit the feeling's pretty mutual.We've had some arguments in the past, and I think it's fair to say that there were harsh words on both sides.Even Ken will admit that Skipper tends to get "overly passionate" about things, and Ken never has a harsh word for anybody.

Fast forward a few months.Ken is still living with Barbie, and the only way to get to see him, most of the time, is to go to his house and visit.Ken's always welcoming, everyone's fine, everything's friendly.

Then along comes Skipper.

Skipper is crazy.For real crazy, "on medication and being treated by a clinical psychologist" crazy.I don't really know what's wrong with her, since we're not exactly on the kind of terms that lead to discussion of psychological problems, but I know — from what I've heard "around" — that around six months ago Skipper's intermittent problems with whatever it is got serious, and she crashed and burned and — with only a few brief gaps — she's been staying with Ken and Barbie ever since.

From what I gather, this has been mildly exhausting for Ken and Barbie, because they're being Skipper's emotional support and she seems to need a lot of that at the moment.Ken especially doesn't seem to spend a lot of time not taking care of Skipper — he goes with her to all her appointments and spends the rest of the time "looking after her."This is their choice, of course, but it seems a little harsh — which brings us to problem the first, which is that I think it's time that Ken and Barbie told Skipper to deal with her own problems and be less of an emotional parasite.

But Barbie won't hear a word said against Skipper, ever — the fastest way to piss her off is to say something negative about Skipper.Once I made a comment about how Skipper could stand to lose some weight in front of both of them, and Barbie just about tore my head off.(Seriously, though, Skipper is dangerously overweight.)

So then we have the second problem, which is the part where Skipper hates me.I didn't think this was a big deal.Last time I stopped by Ken and Barbie's house, I hung out with Ken in the living room while Barbie and Skipper did stuff in another room — where they'd been since before I arrived.Didn't even talk to either of them.

Afterwards I find out that Skipper finds it "stressful" to have me in the house, at all, even in another damn room, so it's now going to be a rule that before I can visit I have to call, and if Skipper is there — at all — I can't visit.And Skipper is always there.

So yeah, part of why I'm unhappy with the situation is that I'm getting cut off, but the real problem is that Skipper and her "mental illness" are dominating the lives of Ken and Barbie ridiculously…but they can't seem to see it.Rumour has it that Skipper's getting better, but it seems she's still too messed up to deal with just about anything, and Ken and Barbie treat taking care of Skipper as being the most important thing in their lives.

This can't be healthy.What can I do to try and make them see this?

The Onlooker, Seeing Most Of The Game

Dear Looker,

You can sit Ken down and give it to him sugar-free: you've got no problem with Barbie, and although you dislike Skipper, you've really got no problem with her either…but you think the parental role Ken and Barbie have taken with Skipper is inappropriate and toxic.That Skipper gets to make "rules" about who gets to come over and when, that after six months she's still there, that she doesn't appear to have anywhere else to go…you respect his compassion for her, but you think this has gone beyond that and into some dysfunctional enabling place.And you won't follow.

But it probably isn't going to work.If you think it's got a shot, grit your teeth and go for it, stressing that you care about him and you don't judge him but it's really gone too far with the latest "rule."But he does see it.He just doesn't mind.

I mean, yes, Skipper is technically the problem here, but the bigger problem vis-à-vis your friendship with Ken is that he permits it.Skipper is Barbie's best friend, not his, yet she dictates whether his friends can come over.Skipper is not his child, or Barbie's, yet they do for her as though she's an orphaned child.I understand it's not easy to come back from a breakdown, but past a certain point, this isn't really their job.But here they are, still doing it.Here Ken is, trapped in this house with these women, he doesn't drive, and apparently he's okay with this.You haven't said one thing in this letter that indicates any dissatisfaction on Ken's part.

Sure, tell him you're not okay with a guest in Ken's home dictating the terms of your friendship, but Ken himself doesn't appear to think it's a problem.I mean, who told you about this rule?Ken, right?"Skipper says you can't come over unless she's not there" — a grown man reported this to you about the rules of his own home?

It's possible you can get him to see that, if he doesn't give Skipper a little pushback, he's going to lose you as a friend, simply because you'll never get to see each other anymore if that rule sticks.Can you get him to see that the situation is claustrophobic and creepy?Probably not.He's lived in it for six months and there's no appreciable end in sight.He's choosing this, and you need to see that for what it is. This friendship may have already ended.

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65 Comments »

  • attica says:

    Honeysuckle's pretty viney; it'll go nuts with little attention. Its fragrance in the early summer can be pretty intense, too, so that may be a reason Neighbor doesn't like it.

    I'd be inclined to put up a fence abutting the bush on Janet's side to prevent it from overgrowing into her space — it'll just grow up the fence and horizontally. It'll also be out of Janet's sight and maybe therefore out of Janet's mind.

  • Margaret in CO says:

    "You don't have to feel all that tough; acting tough is usually adequate (and helps you feel tougher, too)." TOTALLY TRUE. And once you stand up to the bully, the bully backs down every time, because the bully is basically just a noisy chickenshit. Try it, you'll see.

    Judy, my neighbor hacked my bushes to the property line & he was within his rights. If the bushes had died from his "just a little trim" he'd have had to replace the bushes with same-sized shrubbery, but they all survived.
    (Big snarkiness ensued, we even threatened each other with lawyers, but it all worked out. We get along fine now – he ended up putting up a fence on his side to hide the horribly ugly hack job he did on my bushes.) Maybe trimming them would shut her up, but I'd recommend a fence on that side of the yard.

    Looker, do you really want this guy as a friend, if he'll allow Skipper to cut you out like this? It sucks, but it is what it is. Your friend has allowed other friends to come between you.

  • tadpoledrain says:

    Looker,

    I completely agree with both you and Sars that the situation with Barbie, Ken, and Skipper is messed up, and I agree with Sars's advice. I don't blame you for not wanting your friendship with Ken to exist solely on Skipper's terms. That's not fair, to you or to Ken.

    But I have to comment on something: "Once I made a comment about how Skipper could stand to lose some weight in front of both of them, and Barbie just about tore my head off. (Seriously, though, Skipper is dangerously overweight.)"

    If you made a comment that one of my friends "could stand to lose some weight" in front of me? I would damn well tear your head off, too. That comment was inappropriate and rude, and Skipper's body is none of your business. And commenting on Skipper's body in front of Skipper's friend, and then being affronted by her reaction? What did you think Barbie's response would (and should) be? "Seriously, though, Skipper is dangerously overweight." Are you her doctor? Do you know what her medical situation is, what her blood pressure, cholesterol, etc, are? …No? So you don't actually know whether her weight is or is not dangerous for her, or whether it might be, but is caused by something else that's beyond her control. And even if you did know for a fact that her weight is a, dangerous for her, and b, caused by her sitting around eating Doritos or whatever all day? Her body. Still none of your business. If you were a concerned friend, your comment would still be unacceptable, but at least it would be more understandable. But you just don't like her. What, exactly, was your motivation in making this comment in front of someone whom you knew to be Skipper's close friend? What do you think her reaction should be?

    I bring this up first of all because it makes me angry, but second of all because it makes me question your ability to judge the appropriateness or inappropriateness of various social interactions. The fact that you include this comment in your story to illustrate (what you seem to see as) Barbie's overprotectiveness, rather than your own foot-in-mouth-ness, makes me wonder about your take on the rest of the situation.

  • sb says:

    @Looker: You can't just . . . hang out with Ken on neutral ground? Like, there's no coffee shop by his house, or you can't pick him up and drive back to your place? It might be a bit of a pain, but it would end your issues with Skipper.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    '"Seriously, though, Skipper is dangerously overweight." Are you her doctor? Do you know what her medical situation is, what her blood pressure, cholesterol, etc, are? …No?'

    I'm pretty sure you can't tell me you've NEVER spoken frankly to your friends about other friends who are not present, without the medical or cosmetological qualifications to do so. Come on. I'm not an alcohol-abuse counselor either, but I'm still going to have conversations with my friends about how drunk third parties were last weekend.

    I see what you're saying, sort of, but even if Looker made that comment verbatim — which I doubt — it doesn't affect the assessment. That entire triangle is weird; Looker's relative tact levels aren't relevant.

  • Linda says:

    @Elephant: I hate to say this, but you may never become "tougher" in the way you want. Some people are more outwardly emotional than others…I'm not sure it's toughness as much as just natural variation in temperament. There are few feelings more frustrating than being upset about something you know doesn't deserve to upset you, but it doesn't necessarily work to just try to muscle your way out of it. I think you're saying a lot of good and smart things about your situation, and it'll get better, but will you ever be one of those people where things just roll off your back? Probably not.

    @Onlooker: I agree with everything Sarah said. Your friendship that you care about is with Ken. If he isn't willing to protect his friendship with you in this situation, then he doesn't care about it enough, and that's painful, but then that's what you have to deal with.

    I would encourage you to take your feelings about Skipper out of it as much as you can. She's ill; she's a disruption he won't deal with. I don't mean this the way it's going to sound, but don't pretend you can talk about her in some kind of objective, counseling way, because…you don't like her, and the fact that you don't like her makes you not a good candidate to try to speak out of concern for her. I'd just stick with your own concerns about your own friendship: "If I can't come here to see you and you won't come see me, then we're not going to see each other, and it's going to be your decision, and you can't expect me not to take that personally." Like…stick with your own needs, you know? Make it about you and Ken as much as possible. Not Barbie, not Skipper. I agree with Sarah that I'm not optimistic, but…that's what I'd try.

  • Jenn says:

    Babar, it sounds to me like you've done all the right things at work, you just need to keep doing them. Document everything your coworker does and says, and keep the messages. Then give everything to your supervisor and make it clear that the coworker is interfering with your ability to do your job, and if the supervisor doesn't do something about it, you'll have to find a job where you don't get harassed by your coworkers. I firmly believe that everyone should feel safe and comfortable at work, since you spend a good portion of your time there. Make sure your supervisor knows that you don't feel comfortable, and something needs to be done about it. If he/she doesn't listen, keep saying it until he/she does.

  • Lynne says:

    Elephant,

    I really hate how often I've heard about such a toxic work environment and I'm sorry to hear you're going through it. I have to echo Sars here and say, you need to give yourself a break. Your co-workers are engaging in harassment which is kind of like mental terrorism. It's no wonder you're stressed.

    This may sound paranoid but are you keeping track of the incidents at work? If I were you, I'd start keeping a log. Write down what happened, the date, what action (if any) that you took. If this ever comes to a head with your superiors or HR, you need an accurate account of what took place.

    If you choose to confront the perpetrators directly, always, always remain calm and unemotional (even if it's not how you feel). If you're the rational one, you'll come out ahead in the end.

    Or use a horrible cliche, don't let them see you sweat. You should give your dedication and skills to your job. You don't have to give them your soul.

  • Linda says:

    Ooh — and:

    "I'm not an alcohol-abuse counselor either, but I'm still going to have conversations with my friends about how drunk third parties were last weekend."

    I agree with this. But I think what tadpole is getting at is that Looker and Barbie aren't friends, and neither are Looker and Skipper. So it's not so much you talking to Friend A about Friend B's drinking (not that I can imagine doing such a thing myself), it's more like you making a comment to Tense Acquaintance A about Hated Enemy B's drinking, when you know TAA and HEB are BFF. BOOYAH!

  • cv says:

    Looker sounds very judgmental and self-centered. Ken, Barbie and Skipper are all adults, and you have no say over their lives. You can 1. express you concerns to Ken because you're worried about him as a friend, and 2. express to Ken that you don't like how this situation is affecting you in terms of your friendship with Ken. That's it. You don't get to decide whether Skipper's mental problems are real, whether Ken and Barbie are nuts to let her live with them, whether Skipper should lose weight (some psychiatric drugs can cause crazy weight gain, by the way), or anything else. Yes, the situation sounds totally dysfunctional, but you may not know the whole story, and you're not in charge of their lives even if Skipper is as much of a leech as you think. Trying to fix their lives for them is only going to result in angst and drama.

  • ADS says:

    I kind of agree with Tadpoledrain.

    "I'm pretty sure you can't tell me you've NEVER spoken frankly to your friends about other friends who are not present, without the medical or cosmetological qualifications to do so."

    To friends about mutual friends? Yes, I'd make those comments, and generally expect them to be taken well, since the assumption is that we both love the person in question. But to make an unflattering comment to the girlfriend of a friend of mine about a friend of hers who we both know I hate? Not in any way the same thing. I'm not surprised, given those circumstances, that Skipper feels "uncomfortable" having Looker in the house.

    I also agree that the Skipper thing seems over the top, but as you said, Sars, Ken doesn't seem to be interested in defending Looker's ability to visit him, and given the attitude of the letter, it makes me wonder whether maybe there's a reason.

  • Sabrina says:

    "Once I made a comment about how Skipper could stand to lose some weight in front of both of them"

    I took this to mean that Looker commented on Skipper's weight in front of "both" Barbie and Skipper, and found it pretty damn offensive on those grounds. I guess she could have meant "both" Barbie and Ken, though, in which case I agree with Sars that it's the kind of comment it's marginally acceptable to make about a third party who is not present.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    I assumed she meant both Barbie and Ken, not both Barbie and Skipper.

    Linda is right that Looker really shouldn't be talking about Skipper at all anymore, as it isn't going to be productive, but given that, from Looker's perspective, Skipper is interfering in her friendship with Ken, declaring any and all Skipper-related subjects not to be her business is to my mind an overreaction.

    And, you know, Skipper didn't write to me. If I get another letter that's all "my roommate's boyfriend's friend is a bitch who won't leave us alone, and we had to make up some shit to get her to go away," that might clear some things up, but quite frankly I don't think Looker's tact, or lack of same, is going to have much bearing here either way. Ken's made his choices.

  • tadpoledrain says:

    'I'm pretty sure you can't tell me you've NEVER spoken frankly to your friends about other friends who are not present, without the medical or cosmetological qualifications to do so. Come on.'

    OK, agreed. Commenting on other people's bodies, and fat in particular, is just a really, really, really, REALLY touchy subject for me.

    But? If I make a negative comment about person A to person B, and person B is close friends with person A, and I am not close to B and have had problems with A in the past? I probably shouldn't be surprised if B gets pissed, nor should I condemn B for doing so. And that's what Looker is doing. I don't think this comes under the category of speaking 'to your friends about other friends.' To me, Looker's portrayal of this particular situation makes her(?) seem either disingenuous or somewhat clueless, and that makes me question her understanding/portrayal of the rest of the situation. Not entirely relevant, true, especially since your advice is good either way, but not entirely irrelevant, I think.

    (Also, I ended my last comment with an "end angry rant" to show that I knew that my comment wasn't entirely relevant to the question asked, but probably because I used a slash or weird brackets, that part was eaten. So yeah, I know. But I read "Seriously, though, Skipper is dangerously overweight," like that means Looker is justified in commenting on it, and I got twitchy.)

  • Jess says:

    @Elephant: It's taken me a good few years, but I have finally been able to develop the skin. It wasn't easy, and I still have to cry alone sometimes, but I don't let things get to me in that nagging "someone said this offhand comment to me three months ago and it's still on my mind and I'm still upset and oh damn now I can't sleep" kind of way.

    It involved a whole lot of forcing myself to say "Don't think about that right now", letting my mind wander, and getting to sleep. I still sometimes wake up in the middle of the night bothered by things, but at least now I can force myself to sleep and deal with things when I'm conscious and have the ability to think clearly.

    It took awhile to let offhand nasty comments roll off as well; pretending to not hear them is the easiest, because then you can document what was said without having a confrontation. If you're feeling up to it, turn the comment into self-depreciation, laugh at it like it's a joke, and leave smiling – it confuses the crap out of the commenter.

  • Mary 2 says:

    Oh, Elephant,
    I used to worry about my "image" a lot. I did seek outside approval to a silly degree.
    One of the best ways to realize that it really is OK that not everyone likes you is to think of the people you don't like. There is at least one in the world. It doesn't make you a bad person. Often, the people you don't like aren't really bad either, sometimes people's personalities don't mesh at all.

    Figuring this out was great for my psyche. I am polite and civil and most of the time, my dislikees return the favor.

    And if they don't, the polite person almost always comes out looking better.

    If you are a kind person who does have friends and family who love and like you, please don't let a few others mess that up. Think of how terribly unhappy and empty a person has to be to treat you the way you have been treated. It's definitely easier said than done, but counting your blessings can bolster you up so it's easier to deal with unpleasantness.

  • Dawn says:

    Having a family member with a mental illness who has needs a constant drug treatment and has been hospitalized for his safety and others on more than occassion, I'm impressed at Ken and Barbie's willingness to stick by Skipper and try to help her. Are they helping her, I don't know. Its tough. Its hard. They may feel that if they don't help Skipper, no one will. That may or may not be true, but it may be how they feel.

    Anyway, why do you have to show up at their place? Can you invite Skipper and Barbie out? Pick them up and go out for coffee? Can you pick Ken up and take him out for lunch (that wasn't my first suggestion because I don't know what the level of jealously there may be if you start taking Ken out). Maybe just call and email for awhile. Be Ken's island of sanity in this decidedly stressful sounding situation.

    @Judy How messy is Honeysuckle? Is it looming over her yard? Is her yard south/east facing and she wants to plant a vegie garden? Maybe you should just ask why she wants to cut them down all the way ("I'm quite fond of them for general privacy and the flowers, but you've mentioned cutting them down, why would that be better?). Maybe she hates the smell? I hate lilac, but I wouldn't ask someone else to hack down their bushes unless they were attacking something on my property (garage, etc).

  • MCB says:

    @Elephant — Your letter really spoke to me. I was one of those kids who cried if anyone looked at me wrong, and I'm still pretty thin-skinned. I'm a people pleaser, I want everyone to like me, and if someone doesn't like me I tend to take it hard. It's not a quality I like about myself. Like you, I wish I were tougher, because rationally I know that there are a lot of people in the world and I can't make all of them happy. But I've kind of done what Linda suggested and accepted that I'm a sensitive person, and that it's probably not going to change.

    When you're extra sensitive and self-aware enough to know it, I think it can be easy to start thinking "a normal person wouldn't feel this bad, I'm overreacting, I need to suck it up and be tougher." And sometimes that's the right thing to do. But in a situation like your toxic work environment, *don't* beat yourself up for feeling bad. Someone is being consistently nasty to you and sabotaging you for reasons you had absolutely no control over. Of course that makes you feel like crap. You have every right to be upset. So instead of telling yourself to suck it up and be tougher, tell yourself "this situation is unacceptable" and take Sars's advice about acting to fix it. My guess is that at least one reason your tormentor wasn't promoted to your position is that the higher-ups know she's toxic.

  • Miranda says:

    The Ken/Barbie/Skipper situation struck a chord with me for some reason. I totally agree with Sars' advice, and just have one thing to add: it sounds to me like Looker would be better off without the entire trio. I know Ken is her friend, but since he has accepted this chaos into his life and let it take priority over his friendship with Looker … if it were me, I'd take the opportunity to distance myself. (But I should admit, I don't have a lot of patience for stuff like she described with K, B and S. Watching a friend in that situation would make me a little nuts myself.)

  • Barbara says:

    to Looker:
    you can't change Ken, you can't change Barbie, and you can't change or heal Skipper, you can't educate any of them. Ken may or may not be happy with the situation. Based on your information, he has not complained to you about it or asked you to fix it. You can ask Ken if he would like to meet for coffee or to call you when Skipper is out of the house, but I think any more than that is intrusive. Perhaps you feel differently, but from out here, it looks like Ken already made his decision.

  • Diane in WA says:

    Elephant – I was in a similar situation about twenty years ago and it took at least a year before the hissing died down. Your supervisor, and/or the person who hired you rather than promoting your nemesis, should be taking an active role in working with staff to keep the high school stuff to a minimum. If she or he is not, I would request their assistance. If the activities of your nemesis are keeping the job from getting done, that is something that needs to be addressed in yearly performance evaluations.

    The fact that you have been able to turn a few people's attitudes around is very encouraging and you should take heart from that. I would stick with it – it should get better, because these things tend to change exponentially.

    After the fact, you will find that your skin IS thicker because you are building calluses (and self-esteem at making it through, despite the tears).

    Remember – they don't all have to like you, they just have to respect you and not create a hostile environment or impede your (and others') ability to do the job.

  • Amalthea says:

    Re: Ken/Barbie/Skipper, the weight comment really jumped out at me, too.

    Honestly, if I were Skipper, and I was having trouble with an unspecified mental illness, I wouldn't want someone who clearly disliked me and made comments about my weight around, either.

    Onlooker sees this as Ken's place that Skipper is invading, but right now for Skipper, it's home. The situation seems messed up, but I find myself feeling sympathy for Skipper here, and I can certainly see why she'd see Onlooker's presence in the house as being a bit toxic. It doesn't feel as though Onlooker has done anything to disguise her contempt for this girl.

    Meet up with Ken in a coffeeshop. Let Ken and Barbie deal with Skipper's issues on their own.

  • Debby says:

    Looker is a woman? Funny, as I read it, I assumed it was a man. I don't know why I assumed that Ken's friend had to be a man, because Ken is a man, because I have 2 very close male friends, but I did make that assumption.

    Maybe there is some jealousy there on Barbie's part, if Looker is a woman.

  • shissher says:

    Regarding the Ken/Barbie/Skipper thing, I'm with Miranda. I probably would distance myself from Ken and the drama. I'm also thinking that Ken might want to distance himself from the person who drops by unannounced …. it doesn't seem like he's making much of an effort to see his friend. I understand that he doesn't drive, but I spent a year hoofing it while saving for a car, and if you were a friend that I wanted to see, I'd find a way to see you. And I lived in the suburbs with limited public transportation.

    My two ¢.

  • Linda says:

    @Sarah: Oh, I totally agree with you that Looker's tact is not the point; that's why it wasn't part of my original response. But admittedly on kind of a side note, I certainly don't think she should be surprised that it didn't go over well when she insulted Skipper to Barbie. But you're right; that wasn't the question and it's not, in the main, the answer. The only relevance, maybe, is that to the degree she can make it easier on herself by not making the tension any worse between herself and Barbie (who doesn't seem to be an enemy yet, just kind of a blah), it might be good to keep her thoughts about Skipper to herself, not because (as she seems to think) Barbie is somehow hypersensitive, but because nobody likes to hear someone who genuinely can't stand her best friend shit-talk her. It's a side issue, though, totally.

  • Katharine says:

    I'm carefully not touching the Ken/Barbie/Skipper situation (although I have to say that I'm pretty much of on tadpoledrain's side here — if you snark about someone everyone KNOWS you hate, to that person's best friend, you are, at best, insensitive, in my opinion).

    However, as to Judy – honeysuckle is, in my experience, weedy. Like lilacs, rather. Also, as I learned from my ex-husband (who was, as he described it, a Landscape Architorturer, but with a heavily organic bent) pruning – drastic pruning – very often is the secret to healthy, fluffy bushes and trees.

    If I were Judy, I would ask my neighbour whether she wants just no bushes, ever, or if she in fact thinks they're looking a bit seedy down at the stem/trunk end, and would be improved by, more or less, a good pollarding. If she wants them gone, cutting them down to the stump is probably not the answer, anyway — they'll send up a mad craze of suckers that will be thicker than ever in a couple of years. Someone would need to bring in a backhoe.

  • Jane says:

    @Judy–have you told your neighbor, nonconfrontationally of course, that you actually like having the bushes there? She might just think that you're simply not getting around to removing the bushes that neither of you like. I also think Dawn's got a good point about finding out what she objects to–the honeysuckle-berry bird shit can get kind of nasty, for instance, or she may be getting overwhelmed with volunteer honeysuckle babies. If she just wants sun there for a veggie garden or something, a surprise fence is just going to be more annoying. I don't see her repeating the point as being inherently combative (though I don't hear the tone, of course), and I think if you can speak a bit more clearly with each other about what's going on here, since it sounds like you're friendly enough to get along in basic neighbor encounters, you might be able to get the matter a little more settled.

    @Looker–it's tough when a friend moves in a direction that leaves you out. But to be honest, if one friend told me that I was spending too much time/attention/whatever on another friend, I'd be beyond annoyed, because I'm a grownup, I make my own decisions about who I'm spending time with, and telling me that my judgment about my relationship with a friend is wrong is just insulting. On the other hand, if a friend were to tell me she missed being able to spend time with me and was even kind of hurt that we hadn't had much together time, and maybe here were some ways we could do more of that and what did I think, that would be an approach that would be likelier to remind me of why I like this friend and that I do indeed want to spend time with her. So by me it'd work best to make it more about wanting time with Ken and less about your disagreement with his choices.

  • attica says:

    You know, I actually read some good advice for Elephant's situation in Cary Tennis's column. (I know. He's mostly as douchey an advice columnist as there is. I know.) His suggestion is that you spend some time figuring out what the people at work are trying to accomplish — whether they are undermining you to get your job, undermining you to hurt the department, insulating themselves from the failures of the sector, currying favor with co-workers, or just plain acting out, sensing your vulnerability and hurting you for the fun of it.

    This process should give you insight, but it will also allow you the distance that may substitute for a thicker skin until you have one. For instance, when the shenanigans are going on, you can detach from the immediate sting and kind of work on a puzzle instead of getting worked up by the hurt.

    As for the aforementioned insight, if you understand what's driving each offense, you will be better equipped to counteract with proportionate response. Say, if the problem is hurt over being passed over for promotion, you can try to involve the passee in a project with you, making her an integral partner in its success.

    So that's Cary's advice, Or, you know, you could take a few pointers from Obama and give a dinner for McCain, or hire Hillary as your SoS. Seriously — that dude has madd people managing skillz.

  • lsn says:

    @Elephant: Seconding the logging the harassment. I'd also suggest putting all complaints to superiors about this behavior in writing. If it doesn't stop, definitely start looking around and/or take it further up the food chain. Also, ITA about the "kindergarten" atmosphere!

    @Looker: meet Ken (and I'd suggest Barbie as well) on neutral ground. Coffee shop, park, football game… whatever. I personally wouldn't bring up Skipper, at least not until you've a better understanding of the situation from his perspective.

  • Liz says:

    @cv: I totally agree. The extent to which this situation is Looker's business, or Looker's problem at all, is "Ken, I'm worried about you, you seem exhausted" and "Ken, it bothers me that I never get to see you; can we work something out here?" Getting more involved than that is pushing it. Sars' advice is the way to go.

    And obviously I don't know the context, for all I know you guys were having a calm discussion on the topic of Friends Of Ours Who Are Chubby and Barbie's reaction really was kind of out of the blue, but in general: I think it's rude to say "Skipper needs to lose weight," and I think it's either weirdly naive or trying to pick a fight to say it to someone you're not really friends with, about her best friend, whom she knows you can't stand. It sucks that you're unwillingly involved in Skipper's drama, but this kind of thing is only going to add bonus drama.

  • Kate says:

    @Judy:

    Depending where you live, the general rule tends to be that if if you're plants are encroaching on a neighbor's property line, they are allowed to trim anything that extends into the airspace above their property, as long as they do not cause damage to the plant that would kill it or cause you any expense to keep it from dying. I think you've done the right thing by offering to maintain it on her side of the property line; you may even make the offer more concrete by saying something like, "hey neighbor lady, I was going to trim back the honeysuckle this week. Would you like me to trim up the side facing your property, too?

    Check your local zoning regulations, but I think everything you've done so far has probably been spot on.

    For what it's worth, I live in Florida, and that's pretty much the regulation here. I had to do some research on the matter when my crackhead neighbor tried to take an axe to a tree of ours that has a branch that extended ever so slightly into his yard. We offered to trim the branch ourselves, pointed out that he was not allowed to chop down our tree, and gently reminded him that we don't call the cops on him when his dealer stops by every few days, so maybe he should keep to his side of the fence.

  • Jacq says:

    Elephant, I can't add much to the great advice you've already been given by Sars and others, here, but I will say this: the way you're handling the passive-aggressive m-i-l is PERFECT. My mother and my m-i-l, while nice women, are both a bit 'that way inclined' (I think it's a generational thing), and the best thing you can do is refuse to pander to them – so ignoring them or acting innocent is the only way forward. People like that probably won't change at this stage of their lives, but you don't have to get on board their crazy passive-aggressive train.

    And what your nasty colleagues are doing is harrassment, in my opinion. You shouldn't have to be 'tough' enough to cope with that – you should get them in a whole heap of trouble over it by reporting them to your HR department.

    And don't try to be tough as a general rule. Be yourself.

  • Jennie says:

    Elephant, I am also a "sensitive soul" (tm my grandmother), and I have two separate methods for you. With family members, you can be a little more direct, I have, in the past, told my nasty-when-anxious sister that she just cannot speak to me in that tone of voice, which usually helps calm everything down. At work though, I have found that a simple question deflects most silliness: "Why would you say that?" If said in a tone of "genuine" inquiry, there is really no answer, as few people are brave/aware enough to say "because I was being a" £$ £ £% £". It stops that sort of petty nastiness in its tracks, and it works a charm on those situations where being more polite means you win…
    Good luck!

  • ferretrick says:

    I just want to add a caveat to everyone's advice to Elephant about going to the superiors: do as you've been doing and only involve them in the most serious shit. (i.e. the things that directly inhibit your ability to do your job, like insubordination or refusing to give you needed information). The smaller things-looks, snotty comments, etc.-your superiors are busy and they won't thank you for bothering them with stuff like that. Going to them with things like that just makes you look weak and whiny. Continue to do as you've been doing and try to ignore that stuff. I'm in a similar situation at my work and the owners have made it clear that they've been dealing with drama from these three people for years and they hired me so they don't have to deal with it anymore.

    Also, if you have been promoted, do you have the authority to formally discipline these people?

  • Another Miranda says:

    Elephant, I used to be a lot more sensitive than I am now. The best advice that anyone ever gave me was, "fuck `em". It may sound simplistic, but there are always going to be jerkface people who decide that they hate you for no good reason.

    When you start a new job, there's a fair amount of drama to be expected – I mean, the place existed before you started but you could never expect (nor should you accept) the crap that your co-workers are pulling. Obviously, the Mean Girl who didn't get the job you were brought in for didn't get it for a good reason.

    Keep that log of dates, times, and names. As an aside, I had someone leaving nasty little messages on my desk for a while. I'd discover them on my desk, wait until the offending woman was looking, then smile brightly at her as I balled them up and threw them away. She didn't know what to think about that and stopped soon after.

  • Krissa says:

    @Elephant – Have you tried the old "kill 'em with kindness" angle? It sounds like there's one person in particular who is stirring the pot. I'm not suggesting you bake cookies for her, or invite her to your desk for tea every thursday or anything – but I would look around the office for little ways to make her job easier. It's a little hard to give examples, not knowing what kind of office environment you're in, but…even little things like making sure you don't take the parking spot she views as "hers" or something – just don't give her any reason at all to engage in the childish behavior. She may never know what's going on, and in fact you kind of don't want her to know, but with no miniscule excuse for her to subconsciously start dwelling on you/the position she "lost"/whatever, it might end up accidently becoming something she stops harping on.
    I think you're doing a great job of keeping the negativity from flowing OUT from you, even though it still is coming at you. If you can make sure she gets the post-it size/color she likes and has enough paper clips, those little anonymous acts of good will can actually insulate you a bit from her crap. You can only change *your* behavior – rather than trying to be "tougher," why not try a little honey to combat her vinegar?

  • Dawn says:

    As an aside, I had someone leaving nasty little messages on my desk for a while. I'd discover them on my desk, wait until the offending woman was looking, then smile brightly at her as I balled them up and threw them away. She didn't know what to think about that and stopped soon after.
    —-
    People do this in real life? I clearly live in a sheltered work life.

  • LDA says:

    All of Looker's letter strikes me as off and judgemental- I agree with above posters that the mention about Skipper's weight was out of line and Barbie's response sounds justified. The fact that Looker doesn't get that makes me questions whether Looker is in fact making Skipper uncomfortable for things we don't know about, because Looker thought there was nothing wrong in his (? I really can't tell) behavior.

    Tell Ken you miss seeing him. Leave Skipper out of the equation unless you believe Ken is in danger or in serious trouble. And I am not sure what you think he is in danger of- being over helpful to someone with mental health issues who is his live-in girlfriends best friend? Where are the complaints from Ken in this letter that this is making him unhappy?

  • lizgwiz says:

    I've had a couple of different neighbors who hacked the hedges separating our yards to pieces, for no reason other than they just didn't like vegetation, period. I'd suggest keeping her side well-trimmed, at minimum, so that she doesn't go at it with a chainsaw, and if you can afford it, maybe spring for a privacy fence so she no longer has any say about what you plant. I personally LOVE honeysuckle, so I'd do anything I could to keep it from being killed.

  • La BellaDonna says:

    @Krissa – speaking as one of the thin-skinned myself, I would suggest that in this instance, Elephant might need to be a little … cautious … about "look[ing] around the office for little ways to make her job easier." I'm not saying it WON'T work; but I can say that I was in the same position, with the same kind of trouble, and in my case, it didn't work. A nasty person gets far more gratification out of being nasty and petty, apparently, than out of any kind of good or kindness you may attempt to do her (or him). Your kindness is quite often interpreted as weakness, and they just trample all the harder – or try to, at any rate. I think one of the problems that Elephant faces is that there are just some crappy, unpleasant people out there. Elephant sounds like a well-adjusted, well-intentioned, intelligent, sensible, kind person, and it's always a bit of a shock for a person like that to run into someone who doesn't CARE that you are well-adjusted, well-intentioned, intelligent, sensible, kind person, and treats you like crap. You wonder what did you do to deserve it, how do you fix it? You didn't do anything wrong, Elephant, you seem to be doing everything right, but the truth is, even if you're a decent person, sometimes people will be really … just freaking awful. It has to do with them, and not you. I think the suggestions here about documenting incidents is vital; I think the suggestion above about responding with, "Why would you say something like that?" is brilliant; and I think, from what you've written, you've done everything a sensible person could and would do. The problem isn't you and your skin; this is someone who's trying to be hurtful. My only other suggestion is whatever stress relief works for you; maybe a voodoo doll? A kickboxing class? Letters in a notebook that no one else sees, that you never send? If you come up with a good system, post it here, because I'm still trying to learn how to deal with that sort of thing myself.

    Anyway, good luck, and do try to keep us posted, if you can!

  • Stephanie says:

    Aspiring Elephant,

    The book "How to Win Friends and Influence People" basically changed my life in terms of getting along with people, whether I actively disliked them or just had nothing in common with them to develop a friendship.

    Sure, the advice is old and basic. But it's also golden. I was amazed at how quickly people responded when I used the tactics in the book. There's a section about managing people and leadership, too (I skipped that part because I've never been in that situation). Essentially, kill them with kindness.

    I hope that helps. I was bullied a lot as a kid and I imagine that as an adult, it's 10 times more frustrating. (In-laws on the other hand… will always be in-laws). I'm glad that you're finding a lot of love in every other area of your life.

  • Ix says:

    @Judy: As most everyone else has mentioned (and as you've probably noticed), honeysuckle tends to grow back crazy-fast. And it throws out about a dozen suckers, when it does.
    Truly, this is the coyote of the plant kingdom.

    I'd ask the neighbour *why*, exactly, she wants the bushes gone. If it's 'cause they bother her, or they're dropping flowers on her lawn, well – a fence should fix that nicely.
    If she wants to plant a vegetable garden, or just doesn't like that they block her light? Well…that's going to be rather more of a problem. And I'd suggest your response should be determined by how much effort, exactly, you're willing to go to in order to make her happy and/or avoid an appearance in court – because getting rid of those entirely? Yeah, not likely to happen short of digging up the whole thing – which, considering their position, will probably involve digging up a chunk of both your yards.

    I'd phrase it something like this: "Well, it'd be helpful to know why you want to get rid of my honeysuckle bushes. I like that they provide some shade and privacy, but if trimming them isn't keeping them off your side of the yard enough, I could always put up a fence."
    If she ekeps going on about it, point out that getting rid of them entirely would be expensive, labour-intensive, and possibly hazardous (depending on the age of her kids and their tendency to wander over to things they really shouldn't – like heavy equipment). Plus, it'd alter the look of the landscape entirely, and it'd leave a large hole in the ground afterwards – which you'd then have to have filled in and resodded, if you want lawn again.

    @Babar: Supporting the suggestions to document everything. Write down what's said or done, what you did or said in return, when it happened, where it happened, and who was involved. And make your requests for help from your superiors in writing, and keep copies.

    And definitely, definitely, get the person who hired you to step in here. They should have done something *long* before it got to this point. If they won't (or, for whatever reason, can't) do anything, go to HR and ask for help dealing with a toxic work environment. And then start looking for somewhere else to work.

    Which brings me to another question – why can't you leave?
    Are you under a contract that requires you to stay there for a certain period of time? Do they have the soul of your firstborn? Are they paying you in solid gold hookers?
    Seriously, what is it that would prevent you from leaving, besides the current economy? And if it *is* the current economy…well, saving up money and having a job lined up beforehand will solve that problem.

  • Peach says:

    Along the lines of "How to Win Friends…" I would suggest "Getting to Yes." It's more about conflict management, but it really made me stop and think about my mindset when facing any dilemma and such. Just shifting my perspective on that really made it a lot easier to deal with others in general. I mean, if Elephant has to work directly with the nasty people, looking at how to manage their projects better (with the perspective of everyone getting what they want and not worrying about "compromise" right off the bat) could really help head-off some of the pettiness.

  • Krissa says:

    @La Bella – I agree, kindness is often perceived as weakness by vindictive people. What I meant for her to look for were things to do that would only be noticed if she pointed them out. Don't announce it, don't ask "if she needs anything from the coffee bar?", nothing overt or obvious. Many people who have the ability to hold a grudge feed off of anything they see their nemesis doing "to" them. "She took my parking spot!" "She used the last paper towel in the kitchen without replacing the roll!" and those little made-up grievances pile up and fester fester fester / rot rot rot.

    From my own experience, the sure knowledge of not only having done nothing to deserve that negative attention, as well as the secret knowledge of little kindnesses, helps keep me afloat rather than pulled down by all the negativity. This is all contingent on Elephant being able to do such things – depending on the workplace, it may not be possible.
    It also helps keep me from becoming embittered about the whole thing – I don't want to give in to my own bitchy, vindictive side, no matter how "righteous" I might feel about it! So I actively combat that with…being nice. Hard to be both kind and hateful, at least for me. I'm gonna go hang out with Pollyanna this afternoon, too, yes. :)

  • Jennifer says:

    @Looker: "Ken and Barbie treat taking care of Skipper as being the most important thing in their lives." Um…maybe it is? I mean, you don't have to, but if they actively want to be Skipper's support system, who are you to tell them they can't? I mean, I have no idea if the situation is healthy or not, but Ken hasn't called you up all sad because he has to be around Skipper all the time. In fact, he moved to a place where he knew he didn't have easy access to his other friends, and with a woman who he knew was best friends with Skipper. So…

    You're the one who doesn't like Skipper. Ken and Barbie seem to like her just fine. Yes, it's entirely possible that the whole situation is completely unhealthy, but what I get from your letter is that your relationship with Ken has changed and you don't like it. So tell Ken that. But, given the choices he's already made, don't be too surprised if he doesn't change his actions. And yeah, pick him up and bring him to your house. If he's not willing to do that…then I think Ken has made his priorities clear.

    I"m not trying to rag on you, but the way you say that Skipper needs to "deal with her own problems" (…she's on medication and going to doctor's appointments, I'm not sure what else she should do) and to put mental illness in quotes, like she's lying? It makes it seem like you think Skipper is doing this on purpose to annoy you and not that she might have actual legitimate problems that require support. I'm…just not clear where Skipper is the problem here.

  • Nicole says:

    Elephant, one of the things that helped me deal with horrible people when I worked in retail was just to tell myself "I only have to deal with this for x amount of hours out of the day, they have to deal with themselves and how miserable they are for the rest of their life". A happy, well adjusted person would not be harassing you at work like this. Document it, report it if it keeps you from doing your job, but other than that just keep doing what you are already doing. Remember, every mean and petty they do is to make you feel like crap – if they don't think they are succeeding, eventually they will get bored and stop. Good luck!

  • RJ says:

    Elephant: I've been having boss-issues at work lately. He's not abusive or anything, he's just kind of … well, sometimes he's a pill. Over the last few months I've come to realize that we do not have the rapport I thought we did, and it's had quite an effect on my attitude, to the point that I broke down at least twice at the office.

    I absolutely hate that I did that. I dislike how he does things at times (although he has many other good qualities), but I really hate that I got emotional about it. I vented to a co-worker and friend, and the one thing she said that has helped me work through it is, "You can't help the way you feel; these are your FEELINGS, don't beat yourself up about it." I'm working now on developing that thicker skin … and also on distancing myself internally from his anal retentive nonsense, but that's another story.

    You can do it, with time and effort … and I agree with Sars, if this woman works under you, she's got to toe the line here. She's got no business showing that kind of disrespect, this is the workplace! (And you can bet if it were the other way around, there would have been hell to pay!)

    Looker: The cold hard fact is, Ken is responsible for Ken's life. Barbie is a major part of it. As a result, Skipper is now firmly lodged in it. That's their choice, and nobody else's. Whether or not their relationship stands the strain, whether or not they finally throw Skipper out and tell her to get a life or they adopt her and raise her as their own (so to speak), depends solely on them. It's really frustrating to watch, and it's hard to have to pull back from what was once a good friendship, but there's nothing you can do, aside from tell Ken why and let him know that you still think of him as a friend but you just feel bad about the situation.

    Hope it works out!

  • autiger23 says:

    La Bella said: 'My only other suggestion is whatever stress relief works for you'

    Yes!! My favorite is to flip them off under my desk as they walk away. Childish, but it totally makes me feel better.

    But you need to log the stuff that interferes with you doing your job and go to the boss after a few of them and continue to after every three or four incidents. That way your boss can't pull a 'I didn't know it was this bad/going on, etc' and you are covering your a$$. With them pulling this, you also need to make sure you are doing a stellar job, not coming in late, etc – basically give them absolutely nothing that they can try to 'get' you for and you'll have your details that you've been giving to your boss on the incidents if they try to lie.

    Clearly, they didn't give the jackhole your job for a reason, and I'd be tempted as heck to say respond to their nastiness with that comment at some point, but it's not like that'd would help. Keep taking the high road, but make darned sure doing so isn't going to leave yourself wide open to them getting you fired. I've had people try to do that to me a couple times, but because I was aware of what the jerks were doing and kept my boss informed and had proof it wasn't me, it didn't work out for them, and my bosses saw that I could handle BS, shrug it off, and still get the job done.

    But I feel you. I'm a people pleaser, too, and it's hard, but you do have to make yourself realize there are some people in the world that are just not worth your effort. And once you do reach that point, it's really freeing. I still want most people to like me, but when they don't, I can shrug it off and flip them off in my mind. LOL!

  • "HoneySuckle Judy" says:

    Wow, thanks everyone! Especially to Sars, who can see the humor of non-traditional bush maintenance. Heh.

    @Dawn–The bushes are pretty tall, but not really encroaching over into her space all that much. She doesn't have a shed or anything back there. (My side neighbor does, and I trim that side for him, he has no complaints.) The yard is south facing, but she put her garden up near her house. I also have a large tree on one side of the backyard that would probably throw some shade over there anyway.

    @Katharine, Jane, Kate and Ix–I don't think it's the smell that's bothering her, really, or if it is she hasn't mentioned it. (She seems the type that would.) I think that she thinks the lower parts of the bushes look kinda scraggly. They are so old, that sometimes it can be tough to tell which branch is which and yeah, they can get that way.

    I don't think her kids are an issue–they're in jr. high. Mine is in elementary.

    I really enjoy the privacy, and it's free privacy. Free is good. Yeah, I'll have some sore muscles but right now, it's no money out of pocket. These plants are probably the same age as the house and in pretty good shape and I don't want to take them down unless I have to. Cost aside, (and holy shit I hadn't even thought of a backhoe) chopping down such mature plants just because seems wrong.

    Thanks again, everyone!

  • bossyboots says:

    Lots of good things here, none of which need my reiteration. I just want to say that I am ridiculously tickled to know, autiger23, that someone else flips people off in nonperceptible ways as the offenders walk away. Hee! I hate hate hate the woman who has a desk outside my office, and I flip her off every time I close my door. After I close my door. Because I'm apparently 10. But it makes her shit so much easier to deal with.

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