The Vine: January 21, 2009
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.
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).
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
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.
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
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-Ã -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.
Tags: etiquette friendships roommates workplace