Hypochondriac coworker is driving me nuts.

Advice on sticky friendship dilemmas.
Feb. 8 2011 10:16 AM

I Keep Covering for My Hypochondriac Co-Worker

I'm sick of doing my friend's work. Should I confront her?

Illustration by Jason Raish. Click image to expand.

Dear Friend or Foe, My friend "Willa" and I used to work together. While she seemed incapable of enduring the most minor discomforts, I also thought highly of her because she appeared to work hard. When I found a new job, I helped her get one at the same place. More recently, however, her whining has been really grinding on me. She goes on and on about her headaches, allergies, nausea, and snoring and has been missing work to visit various doctors. It doesn't appear that there's anything seriously wrong with her or I'm sure she would have spilled the beans by now.

Lucinda Rosenfeld Lucinda Rosenfeld

Lucinda Rosenfeld is the author of four novels, including I'm So Happy for You and The Pretty One, which will be published in early 2013.

Willa recently pulled a stunt where she didn't come to work because she "couldn't get out of her driveway." (That evening, she posted a notice on Facebook that the plow "finally came by.")

We had three inches of snow, and her commute isn't long. I made it to work just fine that morning, and no plow came near my neighborhood. I also had to pick up some of her workload because she decided to give herself a personal holiday. The next day I asked her if she was ill, and she said no. I told her that if she kept missing work for petty reasons, her job could be in jeopardy. She got really defensive, tossed a couple of F-bombs at me, and stomped off. Somehow, by lunch, all was forgiven. But, lately, she's been going on and on about the "horrific skin rash" she's suffering from—and left work early two days in a row.

Today, she said her doctor informed her that she had mild eczema. Fine. But then she proceeded to go on about it as if it were something grave. I had to spend the rest of the conversation in silence because I wanted so badly to tell her that she has a serious health problem, all right: It's called hypochondria! Should I? I doubt she'd take it well. And since we work together, getting out of the friendship would be awkward. I also have several tight deadlines coming up, and I may need to enlist her for help. But I'm seething with resentment. For the record, I've already asked her if everything is OK at home and mentioned that I have the name of a great therapist, but she thinks therapy is bunk.

Sincerely,
Can't Take the Eczema Excuses Anymore

Dear CTTEEAM,
Two possibilities. One, Willa is a total lazy-ass who is faking sickness to get out of work. Two, Willa actually believes her life is in jeopardy every time it snows; she gets eczema, etc. Whatever the case, the onus falls partly on you for bringing her onboard at your new job. Hiring friends, even if they're nonwhiny friends and even if you're not technically their boss, is still a dangerous game. They know they can lean on you in a crisis. With Hypochondriac Friends, of course, every mosquito bite portends the coming of World War III.

At the risk of, yes, making things awkward and extra challenging in the short term, you need to sit down Whiny Willa and tell her that you a) ordinarily love working with her and b) recommended her for the new job precisely because she was once such a hard worker. But you're starting to feel as if she's taking advantage of your goodwill. While you sympathize with her eczema—and are sure it itches a lot—the hours she misses mean more work for you. And that's a drag. If she gets defensive, as she probably will, ask her to imagine that you were always cutting out and expecting her to pick up the slack.

Meanwhile, the next time Willa is out nursing a broken nail or mourning spilt milk, I suggest not covering—but rather informing your superior that you simply don't have the time to (hint, hint) do two people's jobs at once. With any luck, Boss Man or Lady will take over from there and give Willa a good talking to and maybe even a warning that the next time she leaves works early it will be because she's been fired.

Sincerely,
Friend or Foe

Dear Friend or Foe,
My husband and I recently moved across the country to take jobs in a new city, where my good and old friend "Minna" lives. To save money, we all decided to move in together. The situation worked well … for a while. After a few months, Minna asked whether her younger brother, "Pete," could move in with us. And we agreed. We're all young professionals in our late 20s and early 30s, with the exception of Pete, who is in his mid-20s but who is emotionally closer to 16. He also turned out to be incredibly spoiled. He's completely supported by his affluent and doting parents and enabled by his sister. While ostensibly attending college, Pete was in fact doing a lot of drugs and refusing to take even a part-time job. He quickly flunked out of school.

After Pete volunteered to look after my husband's and my puppy while we were away for a weekend, then "forgot" to feed it, things went from tense to outright hostile between us. Then he punched holes in his walls and started carrying around a loaded gun everywhere he went, even to the gym. Minna just laughed off the behavior. My husband and I, on the other hand, were completely freaked and moved out. Needless to say, we're much happier now. But things between Minna and me remain frosty. (Pete subsequently left to go live with his parents, and Minna now lives with her boyfriend, a guy we both like.) Should I try to salvage the friendship?

Sincerely,
Happy To Be Away From That Psycho

Dear HTBAFTP,
That's a tricky one. Clearly, you did the right thing walking off the Charles Bronson movie set. But if you were expecting Minna to denounce her lout of a brother as you and the Hubby packed up your toiletries, you were perhaps expecting too much. Family ties are not rational. Mothers still weep when their serial killer sons are executed. It follows that the sister of a screwed up brother is still going to love and feel protective of the guy even when he's brandishing a Magnum 357 in her face.

If you miss Minna, why don't you send her an e-mail telling her how sorry you were that things didn't end well with the share—and that you still care about her as a friend. Ask whether she and the boyfriend would like to come over for dinner some time and "start fresh." I wouldn't even bother mentioning her brother by name or the reasons you fled. (Unless she's being willfully dumb, Minna probably understands well enough.) In the meantime, give your pup an extra helping of Innova for me—poor guy.

Sincerely,
Friend or Foe

Dear Friend or Foe,
"Sharon" has been my closest friend since third grade, 32 years ago. We grew up together, went to college together. She dated my brother, then my brother-in-law. I let her move in with me when I was a newlywed. We've seen each other through lots of ups and downs. She never married, though she's now in a happy long-term relationship and doesn't want children. I've been married for more than 17 years. For many years, I tried to conceive a child. Two and a half years ago, I finally gave birth to my son, "Ben."

At first, Sharon was very supportive. She came to the hospital; helped me a few times in the difficult sleepless newborn period; babysat once so my husband I could go out; and claimed Ben was like a nephew to her. Because we'd been best friends for so long, I always imagined we'd feel that way about each other's children, too. However, in the last two years, Sharon has barely mentioned my son during our phone conversations; never seems to be interested in seeing him; and never even asks how he's doing.

I don't expect her to give up her free time to befriend my son. She works two jobs, while I'm a stay-at-home mom. I also live in a rural area, so there's that obstacle to us seeing each other as well. I also think it's great that Sharon made the decision not to have children; as much as I love being a mother, I know it's not for everyone. But I'm still disappointed that Ben is an afterthought to her. I talk about him with her occasionally because raising him is my focus right now, but she barely responds. Am I being unreasonable?

Sincerely,
Hurt That She Never Asks About Baby

Dear HTSNAB,
You're all diapers all the time. And she's all the other kind of work. It's no wonder you two are having trouble connecting the dots. I agree it's disappointing that Sharon can't seem to be bothered even to ask after your son. But perhaps she feels that you don't ever ask about what's going on in her life? (Or perhaps she feels somehow threatened and as if she's lost you to him.) Whatever the case, the irony is that, while you and Sharon are currently occupying opposite poles of female existence, you're probably equally exhausted—and disinclined to make any extra effort on the other's behalf.

But what if instead of sitting at home feeling hurt that she never comes calling, you call Sharon and propose visiting her in her town/city with Ben in tow? No doubt she'll appreciate the gesture. Moreover, maybe if she sees more of Babe-ala in the flesh, she'll start to feel a stronger connection. If that fails, there's always 16 years from now—when your nests will likely both be empty (again). But hopefully, it won't take that long for you two to find common ground again.

Sincerely,
Friend or Foe

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