telling my coworker I don’t want to walk to work with him anymore

A reader writes:

I started a job about six weeks ago and it is close enough to walk. A coworker who I work closely with throughout the day lives a block away and passes my apartment on his way to work, so we started walking together (I’m female, and he’s male).

Now that I’m more established and getting in to my groove at a new job in a new city, I don’t want to walk with him anymore, for numerous reasons. I can’t think of a way around this without being rude and having it carry on in to work. Is there a way out? Should I lie? Should I be honest? Should I start jogging in the morning?! Maybe he feels the same way and honesty would be best? But his ego is huge, so I’m afraid he loves to talk so much that he’d be mad.

It’s hard to say if you should just be completely straightforward without knowing what your reasons are for not wanting to walk with him anymore. If your reason is that, say, you want to listen to books on CD while you walk, just say that. But if your reason is that you find him boring or you’re repelled by the copious amounts of sweating that he does as you walk, then no, don’t be straightforward; in that case, you’d want to come up with a cover story.

Whatever you do, don’t give him a reason that can easily be proven false, such as that you’re going to drive in from now on. That’s a recipe for creating awkwardness. But any of the following would be reasonable to say:

* You want to use the walk to start thinking about work projects.

* You’re using the walk to clear your head before the day starts and find you do better if you have some time alone to think.

* You’ve resolved to start listening to a book a week on your iPod and you’re using the walk to get big chunks of “reading” in.

Pick a reason, then be direct that you’re going to start doing __ in the mornings so can’t walk with him anymore. And if he’s weird to you once given any of the reasons above, just ignore his weirdness — that would be an unreasonable reaction from him, not anything that you’re responsible for.

If his weirdness crosses over into the office, lasts more than a week, and gets in the way of being able to work effectively with you, then you’ve got a different problem. (Write back in if so.) But most people can handle a polite demurral pretty well, so let’s assume he can until given a reason to believe otherwise.

{ 96 comments… read them below }

  1. Andy Lester*

    You don’t have to justify why you want to walk alone. You just have to explain that that’s what you want to do. Phrase it as wanting to walk by yourself, rather than *not* walking with him.

    It sounds to me this is really about scheduling. It’s not like if you both happened to show up at the same point at the same time you would avoid him, right? You just don’t want to go through “I’ll meet you at your door at 8:20” that I’m guessing you do now, right?

    So at the end of your next walk to work, say something like “I’m pretty accustomed to the walk now, and I kind of like the having the morning to myself, so I don’t think we need to meet up for walking to work any more. I appreciate you helping me get acclimated.” Make it about removing a burden from him.

    1. Bridgette*

      I really like that phrasing. Emphasize needing the alone time. Most people don’t question that, especially if you don’t provide any details about why you need the alone time (and you shouldn’t have to).

      I wouldn’t advise listening to audiobooks, or anything whilst walking in the city, you need to hear cars and bikers and everything else. But then I’m paranoid and I want to know what is happening around me at all times.

      1. Drew*

        +1 for not listening to anything while walking. A friend was just hit by a car while biking (luckilyhe was not hurt seriously) and may have avoided it had he not had headphones on.

        1. Elizabeth*

          I think listening to something while biking is significantly more dangerous than walking while listening. You’re moving at faster speeds on a bicycle and you’re closer to traffic (whether or not there’s a bike lane) than if you’re a pedestrian on the sidewalk. I do listen to music while I’m walking, but I keep it at a low volume, use headphones that don’t block other noise, and get extra-alert when I cross the street.

          1. KellyK*

            Also very true. It really depends on your route. If there are no sidewalks or nice wide shoulders, it may be unsafe to walk and listen. Or if it’s a very busy area.

            1. fposte*

              There’s been growing acknowledgment of the earphones contribution to pedestrian accidents; a lot of places recommend removing your earphones before crossing the street, for instance, which I think is an excellent plan save for the fact that nobody’s likely to actually do it.

              1. class factotum*

                I listen to podcasts during aerobics because I hate the music in the class so much, but I can still hear the instructor. And the obnoxious guy who “Woooos!” throughout the class.

                However, a 6th grader in my town was hit and killed by a train a few months ago. He was so engrossed in his mp3 player and music that he did not see or hear the train. It was just awful. I had no idea you could crank the music up loudly enough to drown out a train.

                1. fposte*

                  I think it’s like the problem of talking on a phone while driving–it’s not just the physical element, it’s the changing of the concentration.

                2. Jesse*

                  I work in an academic library. Headphone music is the bane of my existence. Students crank up their music to drown out the ambient noise made by students conversing, keyboards clacking, pages flipping, etc. Then other students, who can hear the first student, crank their music to drown out that noise.

                  I keep saying that I’m going to invest in hearing aids. That way I’ll get paid for all the obnoxious noise I put up with on a daily basis.

                3. Ellie H.*

                  @Jesse Audible music played on headphones is one of the most irritating things ever. Especially on the Bolt Bus. Or in the library. Ugh!

          2. BW*

            It depends on the area. I used to work in a busy (cars, pedestrians, trolleys, bikes) area where pedestrians routinely were listening to music or otherwise engrossed in paying to something other than where they were going and were walking targets while crossing the street. It’s Boston. There’s a lot of random jaywalking, red-light blowing, and students riding bikes like they were back home on their suburban dead-end street. There is no way I’d be wearing headphones in that area knowing so many people around me were already not paying attention. I am so glad I don’t work in that area anymore!

      2. Kathryn T.*

        I just got a pair of Airdrives for listening to music while I walk. They sit outside your ear, and they block NO ambient sound at all. When I’m walking past a construction site, the ambient noise drowns my music out, even. Which is as it should be.

        1. Amouse*

          hmm yes this is making me rethink the portion of my comment recommending earphones. There’s a big difference between noise cancelling earphones and non-noise cancelling ear phones. I do think noise-cancelling are dangerous to wear while walking but the other type, assuming the OP is a responsible adult who will look where she is going while walking (let’s not completely negate personal responsibility and environmental awareness here) should be fine. For a child under 13 I generally wouldn’t recommend listening to music while walking at all but it also depends on the child.

          1. Elizabeth*

            I think another very important part of it is the awareness of how having headphones on can alter your input. I get more consciously alert when I’m listening to music and walking because I’m aware that I might not hear quiet sounds as well. I think I’m much more likely to get hit by a car if I’m walking somewhere with a friend and engrossed in conversation than if I’m walking alone with headphones!

      3. Liz*

        If you’ve got the volume up so high you can’t hear cars or bicycles then I totally agree. However, I listen to audiobooks while I walk a couple of miles to work and can usually even hear when there’s someone walking behind me.

        Listening to anything while cycling is another matter – that’s just unsafe and begging for a Darwin Award, IMO.

        1. Jen in RO*

          I used to bike to work and I always listened to either music or audiobooks. I never had a problem hearing traffic, honking, ambulances or anything.

        2. Anon*

          It’s not like basically everyone doesn’t listen to music while driving cars, and those can actually kill other people (as opposed to just the driver/biker), so . . . .

      4. Melissa*

        I walk in the city all the time and listen to music. The vast majority of the time you are not on the road, and as long as you aren’t listening to anything at ear-splitting volume and are using your other senses, no one should be getting hit.

    2. Ellie H.*

      This seems like the best option to me too. If the issue is that it has become annoying and awkward, instead of helpful and friendly, to coordinate the stuff like “I’ll meet you at your door at this precise time” then this seems like the best way to put it. Even if this isn’t the issue, it is probably the most reasonable way to characterize it.

  2. fposte*

    If it’s not personal (though I’m thinking it might be), you can also make a point of eating lunch with him sometimes or grabbing coffee together now and then. But if it is personal, don’t feel you have to bargain your way out of walking together by offering something else.

    I also think that enough people are accustomed to the notion of a quiet commute time for transition that it shouldn’t be that shocking a notion even for walkers.

  3. twentymilehike*

    Could you leave a little bit earlier for a while and see what happens? Could you take a different route in the name of getting more exercise? I do like AAM’s advice (as always!), especially the part about using the time to listen to audio books.

    I think that I thought about the leaving earlier idea because it’s something I keep saying I’m going to do, but it would probably make me feel a lot better if I really DID have an actual reason to give the coworker.

  4. Anon*

    I am thinking since the OP brought up genders it’s probably about that – doesn’t want to sent mixed messages to others as she walks to work with a co-worker of the opposite sex.

    1. fposte*

      I was thinking that it’s more personal: “But his ego is huge, so I’m afraid he loves to talk so much that he’d be mad.” That doesn’t sound like a restful morning companion.

    2. Meg*

      He’s scaring off all the potential new manmeat in the city if everyone she passes thinks they are together!

    1. Andy Lester*

      It’s frustrating to see answers in threads like this that basically say “Change who you are or what actions you take so that you can avoid a conversation that might maybe possibly potentially be awkward, or that might maybe possibly potentially make someone else unhappy.”

      We don’t have to change who we are to make others happy. It’s not OP’s responsibility to provide her walking companion with walking companionship.

      1. Lisa*

        You are a guy, and I am sorry but you do not know what it is like to be a woman. Many men have bad reactions to any type of rejection, and she may be getting the “creepy” vibe from him. As much as it makes sense to be honest, its only men you here about that bring oozies to work and the stalker ratio of men to women is a lot higher too. Women always attempt to defuse potential bad reactions from men, by creating a fake reason to get out of something. If she thought he would be able to take the honest answer, she would have given it. But clearly he is one of those men that cannot handle his reactions well, and she is trying to protect herself from the backlash while cutting the cord.

        1. Jamie*

          FWIW – women cross the line as well, when it comes to giving men unwanted attention at work.

          Men are, IME, loathe to go to HR about it so it’s under/non reported, but it happens a lot.

          1. Quiet too*

            yes, had a female I was training. Took her to lunch (“dutch”) the first two days, then stopped being her lunch companion (she is half my age and I am recently divorced.) New to the area she was lonely in the evengings, kept telling me such (for companionship only). Never took her up on her request for drinks afterwork. Consequently, got the cold shoulder and many comments about how I have a problem, how lonlely her lunches were (“Well TODAY I went for a walk at the mall as I had nothting else to do.”) Not even “kind of”, just creepy

        2. fposte*

          I’m female, and I disagree with some of this, especially this comment: “If she thought he would be able to take the honest answer, she would have given it.”

          Somebody’s not having fobbed somebody off truthfully is actually the norm, not any judgment about the person listening. If you read AAM, it’s letter after letter from people who want somebody to change without telling them to change.

          There definitely are creepy situations and I encourage people to get themselves out of them, but not everything awkward is creepy, and not every awkward ducking of a subject is a legitimate self protection.

        3. Jamie*

          Also in regards to “But clearly he is one of those men that cannot handle his reactions well”

          The only thing she said was that he has a big ego and likes to talk so might be mad. I can think of any number of people with no creepy intent (of both genders) which would fit that characterization.

          Her problem is that she is trying to disengage from walking to work with a co-worker – that’s all. She didn’t mention that he was creepy or there was afraid of anything untoward happening.

          I understand that this can be an issue, but it isn’t in every case and doesn’t seem to be here.

        4. Patti*

          “Clearly he is one of those men who cannot handle his reactions well…”

          I didn’t see any indication of that in the OP’s letter.

        5. simple simon*

          I agree with Lisa and have been afraid to be honest in these kinds of situations before. Furthermore, experience has shown me that that fear has been well founded on more than one occassion.

      2. Henning Makholm*

        On the other hand it’s not the coworker’s responsibility either to stay away from the direct route between his home and work at the times the OP would prefer to have it to herself. It it’s most convenient for each of them to walk that way at exactly N minutes before the start of working day, then someone’s convenience will have to give in order for the OP to avoid his company.

        1. Jamie*

          I just think this is like walking to school when you’re a kid.

          You have your pack of friends that you walk with and kind of gather as you walk towards school and pass each house.

          Other people can walk the same path and in the same vicinity and you can either say hi or not – but either way just walking the same way on the same sidewalk isn’t “walking together.” If no one is waiting for you to be ready, would hold up if you needed to stop and tie your shoe, and conversation isn’t required you’re not walking “together.”

          1. A Bug!*

            And then there’s the boy who like likes you but you don’t like like back, but your mom makes you walk with him every morning when he comes to your house to pick you up for school, because to do otherwise would be impolite.

            1. Jamie*

              Ha. Yeah, even my mom couldn’t make me greet people if I weren’t so inclined…talk about a lost cause and needless trauma on some fictional boy :).

  5. Anonymous*

    I had this same problem in college. Finally I just started going to class 10 minutes early every day to “study” and eventually the girl realized she’d have to walk alone or find a new walking buddy.

    I’ve just never been a the type of person who enjoys doing something along these lines, instead things like this just drive me nuts when I’m standing around waiting each morning waiting for my fellow-walker, or rushing so I can meet my fellow-walker on time…when I have absolutely no insecurity about and would prefer walking alone.

  6. Ella*

    Does the OP have much experience in the workplace? Because to me, this seems like the most unprofessional and crazy thing I’ve ever heard. Where is your concern about your reputation, your work welfare, your safety? You didn’t know this man and you didn’t know your workplace. You didn’t know if people would assume something romantic was going on. You didn’t know if this man was rude, mean or just someone who was vicious work gossip. He could be a lech. He could be overly friendly and continuously try to pop round for a cup of tea. He could even be dangerous. You knew none of this. But you *upfront* committed yourself to walking from *your home* with him every day. My mind is blown. It’s like in the movies when people hear a weird noise in the basement at night and walk towards it. I didn’t realize people in reality did that.

    It also sounds like you wanted him to walk when you were new and scared and now you feel established, you feel fine. But the way to deal with anxiety is not to establish impromptu co-worker babysitter programs! These people are your professional colleagues and if you start off indiscriminately blurring boundaries, you are more likely to find trouble. Now you are likely to make at least one enemy in your brand new job that you didn’t need to. Please please please learn how to establish effective boundaries! With a therapist if needs be.

    1. Ellie H.*

      Describing walking to work with a coworker as “the most unprofessional and crazy thing” you’ve ever heard and suggesting that the letter writer see a therapist in order to learn how to “establish effective boundaries” strikes me as an exceptionally excessive response.

      1. VintageLydia*

        Agreed. I’m one of the most paranoid people you could meet but I don’t see how the OP needs therapy for not being as paranoid as me…

      2. BW*

        I agree! Is walking to work with a co-worker really that different from car pooling? Are people who ride to work together also blurring boundaries and in need of therapy? Really? Where did this response even come from?

    2. Jamie*

      Two co-workers walking to work together is the craziest thing you’ve ever heard? Wow – that’s not even the craziest thing I’ve heard this morning.

      I’m really surprised this question could elicit such an extreme reaction.

      1. KellyK*

        Yeah, me too. I see nothing in the world wrong with walking to work with a coworker. Not seeing where this is even slightly unprofessional, weird, or crazy.

        As far as the “Oh, no, you met a *stranger* at your *house*!”, if you walk to work, anyone else who walks to work already knows you live in the area. Heck, the internet being what it is, if he knows your full name, he can find out where you live.

        Which is not to say that someone who feels uncomfortable walking with a coworker or having a coworker know their home address is wrong. They’re your boundaries, enforce them how you want. But she’s walking to work with the guy, not driving cross-country with him or going to his house at three in the morning.

        1. Jamie*

          Right. I mean I could almost see another letter coming in from the co-worker:

          Dear AAM – I have a new co-worker and it turns out she lives near me and also walks to work. I happened to pass her on the street one morning and we walked in together. It seems to have become a morning routine…

          She seems very nice, but I’d like to get back to walking by myself in the mornings. How can I extricate myself gracefully from this routine without hurting her feelings or making things weird at work?”

          Signed – Walking to Work Guy

      2. jmkenrick*

        Whenever I see reactions like this, I’m alwasy so curious about the person’s backstory. What kind of coworkers has someone encountered to elicit this kind or response?

        1. Jeb-Ray Gumpeater*

          Exactly what I was thinking. What happened to this person to make them suspect the worst from everyone she doesn’t know?

          Putting up a wall between yourself is safe, but it seems excessive.

      3. fposte*

        Though it’s made my life seem a lot more exciting. In fact, I used to grocery shop with a co-worker. Maybe I can make myself a scarlet G.

        Taking your response a little more seriously, Ella, what I’m reading there is the conviction that people can’t change a situation once it’s started, and that’s just not true. If he continuously wants to come around, she can tell him no. If he’s mean, she can stop talking to him. None of these things are lifelong traumas or prison sentences. There’s a concept in some relationship psychology about being a “good ender”–that people end up afraid to date because they’re afraid of being unable to back off if they don’t like the person, so knowing you have the ability and the right to say “This has been great but I’m going it alone” empowers you–you can try stuff (and people) knowing that you won’t get stuck with it (and them). I think that’s a really important life skill in general.

    3. Ivy*

      I agree… with most of that.

      OP I think there should be a little part of you that understands you put yourself in this bizarre situation. In the future, as Ella said, you really need to establish those boundaries from the beginning. Having professionalism between you and the people you work with from the beginning makes it so much easier to handle things that come up (and with really good boundaries they almost never do).

      On a human level (because yes, our coworkers are humans), I think you’ve been somewhat unfair to your coworker. You’re pretty much throwing him out as soon as you’ve “established” yourself. He probably won’t see it that way, and it’s an exaggeration, but in the smallest way, you are.

      The only part I disagree with is the “likely to make an enemy” bit. Unless this man is completely unprofessional, I doubt you’ll make an enemy… so while possible… I would say its “unlikely”.

      1. Ivy*

        Oh an in response to the others that responded (lol what a sentence).

        I think Ella was being a little excessive in her response, but I think she was trying to prove a less excessive point. The point of establishing boundaries….

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Wow. This is really excessive — both the suggestion that agreeing to walk to work with someone is crazy or unprofessional, and the suggestion that she’s now going to make an enemy because of this. Ella, I’m not sure if you read the letter wrong, but this is a very odd reading of the situation, and not one that would resonate with most people.

    5. Spreadsheet Monkey*

      Wow. This is pretty harsh.

      Would you feel the same if they lived miles from work and carpooled?

    6. Hari*

      In Ella’s defense, I think everyone is taking “this seems like the most unprofessional and crazy thing I’ve ever heard” out of context. I think she is referring to the need for the OP to write in over this situation rather than 2 co-workers walking to work, that actually was pretty obvious to me. The rest of it I do think is dramatic assumptions but I think its just calling reference to other things brought up in the comment section and her being so willing to take help from someone she doesn’t know.

      Also don’t agree with her needing a therapist but I do whole-heartily agree OP needs to establish boundaries. The problem isn’t that she feels independent enough to walk alone but that she has built a friendly association with her co-worker who she walks with by walking and risks damaging that. No, no one is obligated to walk with anyone and they have the right to discontinue to do such, but they must be prepared for consequences. I think that its reasonable to assume that even if she was upfront with her co-worker the co-worker wouldn’t develop some deep-seeded guy-fawkes vendetta against her , but I think its also reasonable to assume that he might feel snubbed by it. Now depending on the work culture and structure (whether everyone in the office is super buddy-buddy or if she also has to have direct contact with this man to get her job done) I would think it would either be a bigger deal or not so much at all.

      At my old agency people carpooled, went to happy hours together, went on weeks long business trips together for shoots, hung-out on weekends, so everyone was pretty buddy-buddy and the nature of the work forces you to be. If a new person were to come in and be involved but suddenly withdraw from that aspect then they wouldn’t be treated hostilely but it would definitely cause strain in the work environment. This sort of environment granted isn’t for everyone but I think its also important to evaluate that aspect as well in the situation.

      I think there is a lot of things we don’t know about OP and the guy so we could be here all day listing assumptions about their characters. However assuming they are normal people, no crazies or creeps, I think if she should just be honest if she doesn’t perceive there to be backlash that could effect her work environment.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Hmmm. Perhaps Ella can clarify, but her comment certainly reads like she’s calling walking with a coworker unprofessional and crazy, not writing in to ask advice about it (“you *upfront* committed yourself to walking from *your home* with him every day. My mind is blown”). I think you’re giving her a more charitable read than what her comment actually says!

        I also don’t think the OP was “taking help” from this guy, like she needed an escort to find her way to work. It sounds like it was just a social arrangement, not one meant to “help” her.

        1. Hari*

          Perhaps I am but I was also thinking something similar along the lines of I too felt it was kind of a ridiculous non-issue (only because it seems as it has nothing to do with a matter of safety) so that could be why I read it that way. But the second half of her comment makes sense (besides the therapist part), so I easily made sense out of the first as well I guess.

          Also while I do think it was an initial social arrangement I think the OP did consider it help as well as she said “I’m more established and getting in to my groove at a new job in a new city, I don’t want to walk with him anymore, for numerous reasons.”. Even though she mentioned there are other unstated reasons her mentioning that she is new to the city makes it seem like she did consider it an advantage and help at one point.

          1. Jeb-Ray Gumpeater*

            “…Even though she mentioned there are other unstated reasons her mentioning that she is new to the city makes it seem like she did consider it an advantage and help at one point…”

            I thought the same thing, but I was a bit less generous. My first inclination was to think he was fine to walk with when she was feeling insecure, but now she’s done with him and is ready to kick him to the curb. She just needs to know how to do it without any repercussions to her reputation at her new job.

            It’s kind of a lousy thing to do and she knows it.

        2. Ellie H.*

          I agree with Hari – my impression from the letter is not that the arrangement came about by something like “I’m so new and helpless! Please will someone, preferably a male person I don’t know well, escort me from the doorstep of my private residence every day?” but more like ” Thanks for offering to wait for me to walk together because I’m still not 100% confident I won’t take a wrong turn!” It seems pretty innocuous to me.

    7. Elizabeth West*

      I think you’re waaaaaayyyy overreacting.

      She’s feeling awkward about it, that’s all. She doesn’t want to hurt the guy’s feelings or make an enemy. It wasn’t a question of boundaries–just one of those situations where you find yourself in the same place at the same time, and after an initial mutual “Oh hi, we’re walking the same way,” you would rather go alone. She didn’t commit to anything.

      I think what Andy Lester recommended in the first comment was right on. I suggest you go back and read the post and then that comment again.

    8. Jessica*

      I’m totally the type of person who hears a noise in the basement and goes to figure out what it is. Of course, I also actually do live in the real world and not a movie, so the likelihood that it’s a mass murderer or a werewolf rather than a raccoon or squirrel is pretty darn low.

      Now I’m curious as to what other people do when they hear a noise in the basement or upstairs or something. Do people call 911 without checking to see if it’s a person or an animal? Do they leave their houses and never return? I just want to make sure a skunk didn’t make it into my house…

      1. Laura L*

        I always check the noises in the basement. Like you said, I live in the real world and assume it’s nothing that bad.

  7. Your Boss*

    This one is a tough. Be careful coming up with a reason why you don’t want to walk with him anymore. People (some) tend to keep a grudge, especially if you work together. Can you change time? Can you change a route?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      What she’s going to say is so entirely reasonable that expecting that someone would hold a grudge over it and that she should alter her behavior to accommodate that possibility is really pretty over-the-top. If I were her walking partner, I’d be offended that someone assumed I was so unhinged. Seriously, it’s not necessary to expect craziness where no evidence for craziness exists.

      1. Patti*

        “Seriously, it’s not necessary to expect craziness where no evidence for craziness exists.”

        Thank you… I was trying to say exactly that.

  8. Ivy*

    I think the best time to bring this is up is at the end of your next walk. A quick “from now on go ahead without me” shouldn’t mess up any relationships. As a personal note, my excuse would be that my mornings are a mess and coordinating to meet up with him at a particular time is proving to be too much. I don’t want to make him late! (He could say he doesn’t mind, to which I would say, “but I do”.) Of course, this is 100% true for me. I’m a chronic snooze-button presser :(

  9. Laura*

    I agree with Ivy’s suggestion, and it is precisely the reason why I would never walk with someone or carpool before/after work. My mornings are a mess, and if I need to take an extra 5 minutes in the morning to make a phone call, I wouldn’t want it to impact someone else’s walk.

    I also sometimes use my morning commute to take care of phone calls to family, errands, etc.

    I wouldn’t give random one-off excuses, but just say that your mornings are hectic and it just isn’t the best to walk together anymore.

  10. Amouse*

    I had this same issue with taking the same bus in the morning that my co-workers were on. When I lived in a large city where there were wall-to-wall people on the streetcar and my co-workers came from a large geographic radius this wasn’t a problem. So when this came up I didn’t quite know how to deal with the endlessly chatty nice old man I work with wanting to talk to me on rides to and from work every single day. It’s not that I have anything against him I’m just not a morning person and I need time to process and prepare myself for the day which the bus ride had always been used for.

    While we don’t know all of the specifics for your no longer wishing to walk to work with him, I agree with others above who’ve said you aren’t obligated to do so. I will encourage you, however, to handle this as politely as possible because that will diffuse as opposed to exacerbate the situation and give him no reason to react negatively. The biggest reason people get offended by these types of changes imo is that especially in the course of a person’s work day people get set in their patterns and develop an expectation about maintaining them. You’re probably part of his daily morning routine at this time.

    As Alison said I would make it about you. If you want the walking together to stop immediately I’d go with something along the lines of: “Hey I really hope you don’t take this personally but now that I’m more into a groove at work I really want to use the morning walk to sort out my day in my head. I’ve never really been a morning person so it helps to wake myself up if I walk alone.”
    If you want to phase out or cut back on the walks to work, on the days you don’t wish to walk with him I’d say something like “Hey I’m going to walk ahead today/listen to my ipod today” etc. I really would recommend you listen to music while you walk (provided you enjoy doing so) to make the point clear.

    Most people understand this kind of thing. If he doesn’t, well, he’s probably either greatly concerned of what others think of him or a bit of a jerk. The only thing he may not understand is if you abruptly just walk ahead or take some other drastic action. Then you’re being rude about it unnecessarily. You need to nip this in the bud now before it becomes a more normalized part of his day and it’ll probably be easier to deal with. Remember above all though that while this is annoying in the grand scheme of things it isn’t a huge deal.
    If he makes it one, it’s his problem, not yours.

  11. Andrew*

    Honestly, just tell him you prefer to be alone. Stop being so timid, and stop over-analyzing the situation.

    Perhaps it’s not that his ego is so large, but that yours isn’t large enough.

  12. Henning Makholm*

    If it was me I’d just say something like: “Joe, there are mornings when I’m ready to leave for work early and it feels silly to be pacing back and forth in my living room until you come knock on my door at 8.52 exactly, when I could just have gone as soon as I’m ready and start getting some work done instead. Could you please assume in the future that I’ll be able to find my own way to work?”

    1. lucy*

      I would rephrase the last sentence. It’s rather condescending. Maybe something like “let’s walk together if/when we meet up, but I don’t think we need to schedule it now that I’m settled in.”

    2. Esra*

      That seems a bit rude. No need to make the guy feel like he’s a/ a hassle, and b/ patronizing you. You could just say you’d like more flexibility in the morning and won’t be able to walk with him anymore.

  13. lucy*

    If you really cannot bear to be straightforward,

    Be late one day. Not so that you’re late for work, but maybe 5-10 minutes after you’re supposed to leave. See if he waits for you. If so, when you come out, act mortified that you made him late. Tell him now that you’re settling into your role, you feel comfortable to play with your arrival time a little bit instead of having to get up two hours early and not to wait for you next time. Repeat as necessary. Walk with him if you guys happen to pass each other at the same time, but you don’t have to make an effort to be scheduled walk buddies.

    1. Maire*

      Yeah, I would probably do something like this too.
      Or I might tell him one day “oh don’t bother waiting for me for the next couple of days, I’ve visitors(or whatever)”
      Then, I might walk with him for a few intermittent days, but just kind of phase the whole thing out, so it’s not a routine anymore.
      Maybe that’s the coward’s way out, but I think that I might be a bit put out if someone just told me they didn’t want to walk with me anymore. I’d find it sorta hard not to take it personally.
      That said, I probably wouldn’t get into an arrangement like that with someone I’d just met, before I was actually sure of the person.

      1. Anonymous*

        I would do the fade out too ! It’s so much easier.
        Less stressful.

        And I would not have begun this in the first place. Regardless if I were sure of the person or not. Just to avoid running into the situation where I have to “break up” with fellow commuter.

        Car pools are different. Mutual tangible benefit vs just company ( which I totally do not value in the morning !)

    2. Anonymous*

      Yes, exactly. Like my comment above about riding a bike (which some objected to), there’s ways of making it obvious that you don’t wish to be tied to this without being rude. That’s what etiquette is all about, after all. Or you could say matter-of-factly, in one sentence, that walking with someone doesn’t fit into your schedule. The key here is, if you do that, you have to say the one planned sentence, then stop talking. No matter what the response is. You don’t need to say anything else or explain further, as there is no negotiation here. Most people cannot do that well!

  14. KayDay*

    As someone who really enjoys walking and commuting (via any mode of transportation) by myself I understand this. There are some people who would totally understand if you simply said that you wanted to walk alone (to clear your head or whatever), but then again there are other people who totally wouldn’t understand. Some people really like to have company as they commute, and some people really don’t.

    I think an easy and very neutral excuse would be to simply say that now that you are more established and busier, you need more flexibly to leave you place earlier/later/not exactly at the same exact time each day, and it would be more convenient for you if you don’t intentionally walk together anymore. Depending on your situation, you could say that you are no longer able to leave at exactly 8:07 or that you now sometimes need to go in early and can’t wait for the co-worker to arrive.

    Assuming that you don’t have a personal problem with this person and want to continue a friendly relationship, it would be nice of you to occasionally walk with them, if you see them as you make your way to work. Of course, you don’t have to do this (and definitely don’t if this coworker makes you uncomfortable), but it would be a nice thing to do.

    BTW, since this is “A coworker who I work closely with throughout the day lives a block away and passes my apartment on his way to work” I think it would be very difficult for the OP to avoid having the coworker know where she lives.

  15. Hari*

    I’m wondering if this is the case of them having similar schedules and meeting up on the way or if the man OP mentions is actually waiting outsider her apartment and calling her to meet up. If the first then I think OP should just let it go, change the time she leaves, or take a different route. I feel like if it was obvious that I was walking next to/by a co-worker on my way to work the only socially polite thing to do would be to strike up a conversation. So while its not odd someone would like their morning walk to themselves its also not odd someone would feel the need to converse or acknowledge their co-worker for the sake of not being socially awkward.

    If the second, I definitely think some sort of boundaries need to be drawn. Telling the co-worker not to wait because you recently have had more to do in the mornings so you will be leaving earlier or later or that you have to make additional stops as a means to get them not to call or wait for you. This definitely has potential to become really creepy really fast so I could understand the OPs concern more.

  16. Anonymous*

    She’s asking for advice because she expects that a simple, straightforward and honest explanation will go poorly.

    If you think that he’s taken a romantic interest in you, then the only way to start dealing with that is to cut back the contact immediately and be strictly professional with him. Yes, he’ll get upset when you don’t want to walk with him. Yes, you’ll have to stand your ground, be insistent that you want to walk alone, offer no further explanations, and deal with some awkwardness.

    If you think that telling him you want to walk alone will backfire for other reasons, the advice is still pretty much the same. State what you’re going to do. Don’t be hostile about it, but do not waffle and do not make excuses and do not feel like you need to justify yourself. Do not make up silly games to convince him that walking together is a bad idea – be direct and be firm and deal with whatever problems arise in the same way.

    He’s probably a sane and normal person who will back off. Just make what you want clear and unambiguous.

    If he’s not sane and normal, then you’ll likely have to go to some effort to reclaim your independence from this co-worker, but it’ll be worthwhile. That may simply mean tolerating a bit of awkwardness at work. That may mean getting a backbone when confronted with a whiny, rejected suitor. That may mean, in an extreme case, changing your work hours, walking route, address, or even getting the cops involved.

    Either way, better to deal with it sooner than later.

    1. Lisa*

      This is basically what I pictured too. I think OP expects any reason she gives isn’t going to be good enough for this person.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        What worries me there is that so, so often people feel that way for no reason at all. They just assume that the act of asserting themselves will make the other person respond poorly. Very often, that’s not the case.

        I wish I could mandate that when someone worries the other person will respond badly, they have to include their reasons for feeling that way. If they don’t have any and it really boils down to “I’m uncomfortable asserting myself,” then the message they need to hear is “it’s okay and normal to assert yourself, and most people will respond just fine.” It’s not helpful for them to hear “oh, he’ll probably freak out and things will be tense” when we have zero evidence supporting that. And indeed, most people do not react like that.

        1. -X-*

          “What worries me there is that so, so often people feel that way for no reason at all. ”

          Great point. And I’ll add that it would be helpful to those of us who are blunt in what we say to other people if more people were also blunt. Then we wouldn’t stand out as much.

        2. Data Monkey*

          “What worries me there is that so, so often people feel that way for no reason at all.”

          It could be that the OP wants to be prepared in case it goes badly. Most likely, he’ll react reasonably and she won’t need to refer to everyone’s advice, but perhaps knowing what to do in case he reacts poorly gives her more confidence to initiate the whole conversation to begin with.

        3. Ellie H.*

          Also, even if he thinks it’s weird, the chances are he’ll still react normally (unless he is exceptionally unhinged, which, as established, the chances are he is not). There are many “weird” things others have done that I’ve reacted normally to and I’ve done some things I know are “weird” that others have reacted normally to, even though I could tell that they probably thought it was weird and maybe discussed it behind my back or something. And basically the only point is for him to react normally and even if he briefly thinks it’s weird (not that it is), things will go back to normal.

    2. lucy*

      I really don’t think that she knows (or even has a good idea) that the honest explanation will go poorly. She asks if she should be honest, so she’s not shutting that option down. She also says that there’s a possibility that he will feel the same way. If he was hitting on her the whole time or some other sort of awkwardness, I don’t think she would have the impression that he might feel the same way.

  17. Diane*

    Did anyone else think of the “Better off Ted” episode when Ted tried to avoid talking to the chatty security guard and Linda realized she was the annoyingly chatty person? Anyone?

  18. perrik*

    So many fans of Carolyn Hax here, and so few offering the advice that she might…

    “I need some quiet time to transition to work mode, so I’m going to walk on my own to work from now on.”

    But why?

    “I need some quiet time to transition to work mode, so I’m going to walk to work on my own from now on.”

    Was it something I said? Why don’t you want to walk with me anymore?

    “I need some quiet time to transition to work mode, so I’m going to walk to work on my own from now on. See you at the office.”

    Repeat as needed. Be nice about it, but don’t back down to avoid hurting feelings or that other BS we females are socialized to do. If you want your alone time, take it.

    Please don’t be passive-aggressive by “accidentally” showing up late and being all apologetic about golly gosh you just can’t stick to a schedule. ESPECIALLY since you work closely with this person – do you really want to get out of walking by portraying yourself as disorganized or unreliable in any way?

  19. Anony*

    I’ve had a similar thing happen to me except it was walking to and from the train station. But I’m trying to picture how you would bump into him most or every morning when you leave your apartment. Does he wait for you? I think a good excuse would be that you have changed work times and you now start 15 mins earlier or later. You can still leave around your regular time and still get to work on time.

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