DEAR AMY: I have worked closely with a co-worker for five years. She can be warm and generous, is a hard worker and is always the first to volunteer for projects and committees. She is also incredibly sensitive and thin-skinned and often perceives slights in benign comments. When this happens, she flies off the handle. She has stormed out of meetings in tears and snapped at co-workers. She recently said something hurtful about a colleague (presumably meant to be funny) in a public forum. I have stopped defending her, both publicly and privately. But because I think her behavior is atrocious, now and then I still “run interference” for her in an attempt to prevent her from melting down and to protect others’ feelings. She often wants to vent about how she has been mistreated and asks for advice about how to handle these imaginary insults, but she rejects any actual help and seems to only want to be told that she is right and others are wrong. Colleagues and I are constantly walking on eggshells around this person, and we resent it. I feel like I’m being emotionally bullied, but confronting her will likely mean making the workplace very uncomfortable, possibly forever, as she tends to be unforgiving. She has experienced some trying personal circumstances in the past few years, and we work in a setting that gives workers a lot of autonomy (i.e. behavior has to be really egregious for a supervisor to get involved.) Any advice?
DEAR HOSTAGE: You have kindly run interference for your co-worker for years, expertly reading her moods and smoothing things over for her, so that she will be shielded from the natural consequences of her actions. No doubt you have done this for her because you are a genuinely good person who wants to protect her and others from her actions. Perhaps you’ve also done this for your own reasons. Her volatility makes you uncomfortable. You also sound a little afraid of her moods and behavior.
Emotional bullies get the best of people by making others check their own reactions in order to try to protect themselves. Over time, this can make things much worse.
If she is acting out, don’t offer help or advice. Never “protect” her from a meltdown. If she is venting to you and asks for advice, tell her, “You ask for advice but you don’t seem to actually want it. I’m confident you can figure this out.”
The loose environment at your workplace gives her a lot of latitude about her behavior, but this environment might not be the best fit for her. If her unhappiness and behavior at work interferes with her (and others’) ability to do your jobs, then it would be time for a supervisor to offer her a course correction.
DEAR AMY: I started dating this guy three years ago. We originally met in grade school and reconnected later in life. He has been married twice. He is everything I wanted in a man. He told me he loved me more than he has loved anyone before. He moved in with me. We get along great. We don’t argue about anything. This is the best relationship I’ve ever had. We were planning things for the future, but then a few months ago he started acting strange. At first I thought he was cheating on me, but I found out he’s having second thoughts. He doesn’t want to get married again. It scares him. I love him dearly. My head says to let him go, but my heart wants to keep him. What should I do?
DEAR TORN: Ultimately, you will be grateful that he is not caving into pressure (yours and possibly his own) to get married now. There is no loneliness quite as deep as being in a marriage with someone who doesn’t really want it.
If you don’t want to live with him without a plan for marriage, then it’s time for him to move out. You might want to leave the door open regarding continuing to see each other, but regardless of your choice, you need to bravely face your own sadness over how this has turned out.
DEAR AMY: “Quiet Neighbors” wondered if it was reasonable for their neighbors to use loud lawn mowers and leaf blowers in the morning. We asked our neighbors at our weekend house to limit and schedule their very noisy yardwork. They refused. So we waited until they had company and ran our mower (the way they routinely do). They were much more respectful after that.
DEAR DONE: A little dose of “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” is sometimes all it takes.