“So, Tina, I sense you’re really angry at me. And I honestly have no idea why, since you’ve never actually told me. I’m wondering if you want to talk about it instead of glaring at me all day and refusing to sit at the same table as me when I eat lunch, which, to be honest, has been kind of hurtful.” That’s how I’d open the conversation—a conversation you absolutely need to have. If Tina yells, so what. At least you’ll have cleared the air. Though I wouldn’t confront her in front of, or even in eavesdropping distance of, your co-workers. Instead, find a time when you can get Tina alone. (In the parking lot? On the way back from lunch? Invite her to coffee?) Person-to-person is best. It will remind her that you’re a human with feelings of your own.
As for you being mad at Tina for not coming to you with her grievance, I wouldn’t waste your time being sore about that. Most of us are naturally conflict-avoidant—even as we simmer and steam inside. Maybe a part of her is even ashamed that she’s as upset as she is. You don’t say if you’re higher up in the office food chain than Tina. But if you’re hiring the new associates (and she’s not), I’m guessing that the answer is yes. Is it possible that Tina herself was hoping to be awarded the position? Or that the person you hired did something unforgivable to Tina during his/her first tenure at the company? I wouldn’t jump to any conclusions until you hear it from Tina’s own mouth. Nor can I pass any more judgment until I hear her version of events. Feel free to write back with an update and let me know how it goes down.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
Three years ago, my college friend “Carly” had just begun a graduate program—when she landed a boyfriend (“Fred”). Instead of taking internships during the summer, she’d travel to see him. She also stopped putting energy into looking for a job after graduation. I know what it’s like to be lost in love—I’m now happily married—but Carly lost her entire self to this man! What’s more, she told me that Fred had cheated on her and that she was miserable but could never leave. She also starting telling our friend group that she "deserved" not to work for a few months after grad school because she’d worked so hard. She then began living off her sister, who’s a single mom. Later, despite sporadic work in the food services industry, she became financially dependent on Fred, who pays their rent.
More recently, she told me she and Fred haven't had sex in months (and these two are in their 20s!) and that he brings OTHER women home to their apartment late at night while Carly is asleep! Things she also said made me think he might be physically abusing her, though I have no proof. In any case, I got to a point where I couldn't bear to watch her make the same bad choices, over and over again. (I realized she was one bad fight with her jerk-boyfriend away from being homeless!) So, when, at a friend’s wedding a year ago, Carly had a drunken outburst directed at me, I cut her off.
Maybe that was harsh of me, even selfish, but all I could think was: What antics will she pull at my wedding? It almost goes without saying that I didn't invite her to my big day. Please tell me I’m not a bitch who abandoned friend in a hard time and it was OK to preserve my own sanity by ending the friendship. Carly has been there for me in the past, but we’re adults now and she gave no hint that she’d ever stand up for herself.
It’s a sad truth that not everyone strives to be self-reliant. Some prefer to spend their lives leaning on others. Of course, the being taken care of often comes with a price—like having to pretend you’re asleep when your caretaker brings home other women to have sex with in the living room. (Or does he do it right on the bed, next to her? The mind boggles.) In any case, as you say, Carly is an adult. She chooses to continue with the arrangement—just as it’s your choice whether you want to be friends with her. Assuming that you’ve told her you can’t bear to see her living like this—and that a cheating boyfriend with whom she doesn’t even have sex is not much of a bargain, even if he’s paying the rent—I don’t think you need to feel guilty about cutting her off.
The irony here is that I suspect Fred is trying to do the same. (I know that if I found a half-dressed woman eating cornflakes at my breakfast table, I’d take it as a message to start packing!) That’s not to excuse the guy’s behavior. But unless he’s a true psycho who gets off having a punching bag in his life—it’s hard to weigh your suspicion of physical abuse without more information—what is he even getting out of the arrangement?! You can cross sex, money, and intimacy off the list. Moreover, if Fred ever actually succeeds in dumping Carly, he’ll be doing her a favor. The transition to single life might be hard for her, but she might also learn something about a) self-reliance and, just as importantly, b) self-respect.
Friend or Foe