ask the readers: how can I avoid making friends at work?

I throwing this one out to readers to weigh in on. A reader writes:

In a couple of weeks, I’m transferring to another office within the same company where I currently work. I was hoping you could give me some advice on how to politely not make friends in my new office. Here’s the thing: I am friendly and people tend to like me. I don’t want to change that. I just don’t want to get personally involved with any more coworkers because I think it will save me a lot of heartache. I often end up knowing too much about these people, disliking them once I get to know them, and then I’m stuck working with them and disliking them. If I had just remained professionally cordial, I may never have learned enough to dislike them, and my professional life would be so much more drama free.

At the same time, I don’t want to be that jerk who sits in the corner with noise cancelling earphones and refuses to go out to lunch with the group (I don’t think behaving like this is good for me professionally, but I also just don’t want to treat people in an aloof manner because I think it’s rude). How can I be professionally friendly without developing friendships? I want to be respected and liked, just from a distance. Does that makes sense?

Two important points that may provide context:

A large part of my problem is that I just don’t like very many people once I get to know them. I’m not saying this because I see it as some kind badge of honor or anything; it’s actually a character flaw that I struggle with on a daily basis and I’m very often lonely because there just aren’t many people I can tolerate spending time with. I’m mentioning it because I think it’s the main contributing factor to why it’s not a good idea for me to make friends at work. And as much as I try, it probably just isn’t going to change.

My husband and I don’t live near family or close friends, so work has always been the most obvious way to meet people we can hang out with on the weekends. At this point, I’ve kind of made peace with the fact that this just doesn’t work for me, but that’s why I’ve always kept giving it the old college try in each of my jobs.

Readers, what’s your advice?

{ 293 comments… read them below }

  1. UKAnon*

    I think the first step is to stop hanging out with coworkers outside work. If you remain friendly at the office but only in the office that implies a professional separation that enters naturally into relationships.

    1. Lanya*

      This. It’s perfectly acceptable to be cordial in the office without being too familiar. If people ask you to hang out, always be “busy” and eventually they will get the hint. Not all offices have such a familiar atmosphere, so you may luck out anyway.

    2. Dovahkiin*

      100% agree. Fill up your social life outside of work, (or don’t – it’s also completely ok if you just wanna go home and read a book and drink a glass of wine, but maybe come up with a tiny white lie about a book club – no one has to know it’s a book club of 1).

      What works for me is to politely keep refusing with an outside commitment “Sorry, I can’t go, I volunteer after work.” “Sorry I can’t go, I have to pick my dog up from doggy daycare.”

      I do go to happy hour sometimes – a couple times each season – I’m the only woman in my tech company, and I just can’t risk possibly losing out on advancement because I’m not seen as “one of the guys.” I stick to talking about tv shows and cool things happening around town, and avoid politics like the plague. (I’m also the only gay person in my office.) Like, I will literally get up to go to the bathroom when someone starts saying something bigoted, and when I come back – I use the momentary distraction of my re-entry to change topics. Being a hispanic lady-loving-lady in a very white, straight male dominated industry has made me an offensive conversation dodging ninja! Use this trick! It works like a charm.

      People usually know what I’m doing, but because it’s not confrontational and doesn’t put them in the defensive as a bigot, they go with the change in conversation. And eventually it conditions them to just not bring that stuff up around me entirely. (You can totally train people with social cues like you can train a dog not to pee in your house). A last resort is, “I’m not comfortable talking about this,” but it really is a conversation killer and labels me as a feminist killjoy (a label I wear with pride outside of work, but the kiss of death in my industry), so I only use it when things get really hurtful.

      1. MommaTRex*

        You sound like the kind of c0-worker I would enjoy hanging out with! I love your offensive conversation dodging ninja tactics. And I think I’m going to start my very own book club of one.

      2. SLG*

        Dovahkin, you sound like an awesome person and I would love to work with you. And I’m totally copying your tactics about dealing with offensive conversations.

      3. OP*

        I love this method for avoiding dreaded/inappropriate/infuriating conversation topics. I will definitely be using it!

      4. M-C*

        Excellent advice all around Dovahkiin :-).
        I also like to lay the accent on thick and combat-boot through bigoted remarks, holding them up as anthropological examples of weird American mores. Since tech is positively stuffed with foreigners, I can usually let the rest of the audience rush into cross-cultural discussions of bigoted attitudes without any further effort. Conversely, if it’s a foreigner who starts that, I can have a really good time, as I can start the critique with ‘as another foreigner myself…’. Much more effective than speaking as a mere woman, and parallels to racism and xenophobia open foreign males eyes much easier.

      5. AnonyMiss*

        I definitely second you. Dodge the topics you are uncomfortable with, or the topics that may lead you to information that you don’t want – talk about neutral stuff like what’s on TV, what’s happening around town, the last movie you saw, and avoid anything else.

        I’d even say go for a group lunch once or twice a month, otherwise decline politely – bring your own lunch, have a lunch date with a friend (even if that friend is a book that you just need to hang out with), and use polite conversational breaks when necessary.

        Other than that, really, just don’t hang out with coworkers after hours. Be pleasant and polite during work hours, and detach immediately upon walking out the front door after your day.

        Side note: love the username. Feim Zii Gron. (That is, for the uncomfortable conversations, ha!)

        1. DB*

          This is a great idea. Until that one annoying co-worker asks to join that book club!

          1. CoolColor*

            I’m sorry but we’re not currently accepting new members. If there are ever any openings, I’ll let you know.

      6. WorkingMom*

        Great advice! I would add that when you do have the polite chatter with coworkers – don’t let it turn to personal. Use these amazing conversational ninja skills to move conversations away from personal topics to those other topics mentioned – tv shows, things around town, movies, etc. As a side note – I have always utilized the get up and go to the bathroom – works especially well when a male colleague is monopolizing my time and he’s not catching my cues – he can’t follow me into the bathroom, so bathroom break and then back to work is a nice tactic!

      7. Connie-Lynne*

        Dovahkin — hurrah for being a feminist killjoy!

        So sorry you have to reign it in at work; hold fast to the dream that some day we won’t have to!

      8. KH*

        Where do you work? I’m in tech and it’s extremely diverse, although it’s true there are more men. You might be happier moving to a more diverse region? (Not that you aren’t happy.)

      9. Cynthia*

        I’m afraid if I get up from the table to avoid bigoted conversation that I might never come back to the table. X’D

    3. M-C*

      I completely agree with not hanging out with coworkers outside of work, unless it’s in a group and at an official work event.
      The corollary of course is putting some effort into developing your own networks. Surely there’s something else than work you could be interested in, whether it’s paragliding or needlework :-)? Plenty of good advice out there on how to make real friends, which works well in my experience.

    4. LizNYC*

      Just want I was going to come say. I definitely have “work friends” (and I have never hung out with them outside work functions) and “friend” friends. Never the two shall meet, unless a work friend shows promise.

      I really get that you don’t tend to like people once you get to know them. I really do. Since you said this is a character flaw you recognize, I hope you are working with a professional to help you understand how you can separate the “I don’t like this person because of the choices they make and I can’t stand to be around them at work” with “I don’t care for this person’s choices, but I can carry on a work relationship with them since those choices don’t have work ramifications and I don’t see them out of this context.”

      As for having no nonwork friends, try looking on Meetup or going to a gym (I met people through a spin class), or just talk to people you have daily interactions with, like at the library. Joining a cause, like a local 5K for a specific charity, can help too.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I second the Meetup thing–hanging out with people around a common interest can bring you close to people, but it also creates a natural buffer if you need one. You’re not just there because of them but because you both like doing X activity. Plus, people drift in and out of meetups all the time; there’s no obligation to attach yourself to a group forever and ever.

    5. Henry*

      Exactly this. I’m perfectly capable of finding my own friends; I don’t need to hang with coworkers after work. I spend 40+ hours each week with them, and that’s more than enough. Also, this conveniently draws boundaries … It is a very rare occasion (I can count them on one hand in a job where I’ve been nearly nine years) that I spend non-work time with coworkers who aren’t my friends.

  2. R10Tact*

    I think you have to employ what I believe is called professional friendliness…i.e., be polite; be kind; be helpful but leave out your personal life. Don’t share…or more importantly over share…
    I think we all tend to attract people in our lives – its a matter of being self aware at what point we are crossing the line from professional friends to besties.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      This is pretty close to what I was going to say. Consider your coworkers internal clients or customers of your work, and treat them like clients or customers: extremely civil and nice, but professional and arms-length, too.

      1. OP*

        I love the idea of treating them like internal clients because it’s something I can wrap my head around and I certainly have a very cordial and professional “face” for my clients.

        1. Lisa*

          Just be friendly, but you don’t have to ever see them outside of work. Some people like the whole ‘drinks’, buddies’, go to each other’s weddings stuff, but others hate it. You can be friendly and talk about some personal stuff (what did you do this weekend), and just be without spending time outside of work with them. Work cultures that encourage camaraderie like hanging out and being besties can be brutal to people like you. As long as you excuse yourself the first few times, then they will stop asking you to hang out.

        2. Bwmn*

          This for sure – and along with the idea of “internal clients” – I would see happy hours, coffee breaks, and lunches the same way. Sure it’s a good idea to make an effort periodically to have those lunches and “socialize” in the spirit of good networking, but things like joining a daily lunch group are best to avoid along with extra socializing after work.

          Based on the new team you’ll figure out exactly what that means in terms of frequency, but I find that anything you mentally schedule in a work context (i.e. I want to be in touch with X once a quarter, Y team monthly, etc.) it helps keep it in work brain but also gives you permission to say no.

          1. The Cosmic Avenger*

            Right, you want to have a good relationship with them, but maybe not a particularly personal one. Just like clients/repeat customers, as long as your interactions are pleasant and communication is smooth, that’s all that is really necessary.

            1. Bwmn*

              Agreed. I also think it’s one of those things where you build a mind around what is good “work chit chat”. Maybe it’s local sports, maybe it’s a popular tv show, maybe the weather (I live in DC – the weather is an easy source for hours and hours of conversation over the year) – but you have that list of “this is what I talk about at work that’s not work”.

              And as long as you tailor it appropriately, it’ll prevent ever having to hang out with coworkers. I have a close friend who works for an arts organization – and we like to go to a lot of plays together. We have ended up befriending a number of her coworkers who are also (not surprisingly) interested in plays. However, for me talking about seeing plays is something I can tell coworkers about for the ‘what are you doing this weekend” that gets the polite “oh gee that’s nice” – but is never seen as an invite or point of interest.

              All of this comes down to a know your audience issue, but you can end up still being plenty personable and friendly with coworkers without ever having it go further.

        3. Blurgle*

          You know, you don’t actually have to go to lunch with your co-workers. Many people never lunch with colleagues and have no issues with it. I never have in thirty years (for medical reasons) and it’s never been the tiniest micron of an issue.

          1. Bwmn*

            I think with all of these things, industries and organizations matter. Where I currently work, if I never had lunch with anyone I don’t think it’d be a huge deal. However, because I try to about twice a month, I’ve become friendlier with a few coworkers who are excellent sources of general office knowledge, knowing what’s happening in other departments, as well as some gossip that I wouldn’t have had the same chances to get otherwise. Also because we’re “friends” – at least at work – that’s provided a variety of positives to me professionally.

            In my previous job, it wasn’t as important – but doing the occasional after work drink was. Most importantly, I think that industry and environment are huge factors in whether or not it’s a factor. And if the goal is to be friendly, without being friends – my suggestion was more an idea on how not get sucked into an overly close relationship (i.e. having lunch every day) but maintaining friendly work relationships (i.e. once a week/once a month).

    2. bridget*

      +1 to not being a sharer. Friendship, in my opinion, most directly springs from two-way sharing. Most people will match the level of sharing that the other person engages in (there are certainly some people who are oversharers whether or not the other person is participating, but I think they’re in the kind-of-irritating minority). If you keep information about your personal life out, don’t inquire about theirs, and don’t encourage it if they start to talk about their personal life (some non-committal response like “hmm, that’s too bad” when they start complaining about how the person they’re seeing is ignoring their texts), you’re very unlikely to graduate from friendly and pleasant coworkers to actual friends.

  3. LBK*

    Get really good at deflecting and not asking follow up questions. When someone asks you about your weekend, give a simple “It was good, just relaxed” and don’t ask them in return how theirs was. Just quietly go back to your work. I think in an office setting, avoiding being seen as someone that likes to engage in small talk is the best way to avoid being pulled into longer, more personal discussions – it won’t open up the avenue to build relationships or to allow your coworkers to get to know you. Most people won’t offer up info about themselves if they aren’t getting it in return.

    1. Kira*

      I think LBK has good ideas, especially since it sounds like your goal is to not learn too much about your coworkers.

    2. OP*

      Thanks so much for the insight (I’m the OP). I’m just wondering if brushing off small talk like this appears rude? I guess it varies by office. In the office where I currently work (I haven’t transferred yet), brushing off questions about your weekend etc would raise eyebrows and appear overly aloof.

      Maybe I just need to recalibrate what I think of as rude vs what is just keeping a sphere of professional cushion between myself and coworkers.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        No because you have a polite response. If someone thinks that’s rude, she needs to reevaluate her demands of you. (Sigh but they never do.)

      2. Hellanon*

        I teach young adults, and one of the tricks I learned was to share bits of info about unimportant topics. The goal was to seem friendly and accessible without crossing over into the personal. “Professional cushion” is an excellent term – thus, when it’s anecdote time, my students/coworkers hear about my cats, my sister when she was six, an article I read on the internet, my dislike of Ernest Hemingway- I want to participate, I only say things that are true, but I don’t talk about anything that’s really sensitive or fraught for me. Most people catch that cue and so ongoing relationships stay friendly but not over-sharey… and when people do, repeatedly, over-share, well, that’s good info to have & I manage those interactions a little differently.

        I also think this works for me because my mind is a little odd – if I’ve classified something as shiny I’ll hold onto it forever. The vast majority of what people tell me doesn’t quite hit that bar, so I find it easy to let the nitty-gritty details of confidences from acquaintances go.

        1. Lisa*

          Yeah, talk Game of Thrones. Bond over a show so that you are not talking about yourselves.

        2. Elysian*

          I agree with this. With coworkers I want to keep at arms-length, I just scratch the surface of friendly topics and don’t let the conversation go too deep. It might help to come up with a list of superficial conversation topics – weather, traffic, generic weekend plans (chores, etc), maybe restaurants if you’re into that, books you like that aren’t controversial, tv shows, the group class schedule at the gym… Whatever works for you that you don’t really care about. This is also how I manage my parents, who are extremely difficult people and who I never want to give more information than necessary about my life/hear anything about theirs. Before a family event I’ll brainstorm a list of really superficial stuff to talk about, and then if the conversation starts to go deeper, change topic… Mom: “Oh, your brother just got a raise at work! How much do you make now?” Me: “Oh, enough, I don’t really remember. Did you hear that Jean Tirole was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics? Actually, the economics prize isn’t strictly a Nobel prize, it is only in Nobel’s memory. Isn’t that odd?”

          1. Three Thousand*

            Yeah, I have to do that kind of self-protection around my family as well. It gets easier once you get familiar with the kinds of topics that are productive to talk about with them and will bring up decent conversation.

        3. LBK*

          See, this is weird to me – maybe we have a different definition of personal, but talking about your hobbies and your family sounds pretty friend-esque to me. Being friends with someone doesn’t mean sharing the salacious, secret parts of your life. Most of the people I’d consider my friends don’t get that kind of information – those details get saved for my therapist.

          1. Green*

            Having a lot of good work-related questions/discussion topics at hand would probably accomplish OP’s goal better. That will keep work the only thing you have in common.
            “Did you see the flowers coming in out front? It’s nice that they replanted those this season.”
            “Did you see the news article about [competitor]? Sounds like they’re having an interesting environment over there.”
            “Just got off the phone with [supplier]. She’s always so friendly to talk to.”
            “Thanks so much for your help on Project X. I really appreciated it. How did you do Y?”

            And on that last one: freely give out sincere compliments and people will like you, even if you don’t talk about your mother-in-laws over wine.

            1. LBK*

              Yeah, this was going to be my other suggestion – if you still want to appear friendly and talkative, keep it strictly related to work topics.

            2. NutellaNutterson*

              I love these! Being positive will be seen as super friendly and warm, while still staying away from personal stuff. Since not-aloof is important to OP, let colleagues think “OP sure is a kind person, and really knows their stuff about XYZ work.”

              And when the inevitable small-talk about weekends, summer vacations, etc. comes up, it doesn’t have to be personal, either. Connecting things back to work in any way will get it back on track.

              The one caveat I’d have to LBK’s advice above is that if you’re not going to ask “and how was your weekend?” finishing with “thanks for asking” completes the conversation a bit more naturally.

          2. Bwmn*

            I think that is all in the way it’s managed and talked about at work. For a number of my workers, the way they speak about “family” actually super cuts down on more in depth conversations. To questions about “what are you doing this weekend?” – saying “The family is going to see blockbuster film” or “My brother’s in town and we’re going to hang out” is actually a great way to answer the question without any further details. Follow up questions can be pleasant but short “family enjoyed the film, but maybe it’s no Oscar winner” or “brother and I got some good food which was nice”. It can also be great code to imply “I’m busy and we won’t be hanging out and you don’t have to feel badly that I’m all alone on the weekends”.

            There’s no need to mention that the family erupted into a screaming match at the movies or during brother’s visit there was heavy drinking and you’re just now over your hangover. Either way, it’s about setting boundaries with who you work with so that you’re not sharing more than you want. But those surface stories/discussions can be really easy ways to chat without bonding.

          3. Beezus*

            I think there’s a level of sharing that you can engage in to be friendly, that doesn’t rise to the level of friendship. I stick with positive things that I might share at a dinner party of strangers – very basic social getting-to-know you stuff. I have a son in the third grade, I am married, I currently have no pets, I like to read and garden in my spare time, I have two sisters, I have no family in the area, I live five minutes from work, etc. I might talk to a coworker about her birthday plans, or ask where she takes her car to get worked on, because mine is making a funny noise. I do not talk about my problems, encourage other people to talk about theirs, or ask for/give advice on deeply personal things. Telling someone my basic family structure and my hobbies doesn’t make that person my friend, or give them an inside track on the deeper parts of my personality.

        4. Xarcady*

          This. I’m very, very selective about what I reveal about myself at work. Not for the OP’s reasons, but because I’ve been bullied/teased/criticized for everything from liking Star Wars/Star Trek/sci fi in general, having 2 cats (as opposed to 1), living alone, drinking tea and not coffee.

          So in a new office, I go very slowly and reveal very little until I know the people. I just don’t talk about major parts of my life at work–relationships (I found out after leaving one company that everyone had interesting ideas about my sexual orientation/proclivities because of this, but who cares?), serious family problems and the like.

          I do have a picture of the cats on my wall–people tend to think it is weird if you have nothing on the walls, and I mention fun things, “Oh, this weekend I visited my brother and his kids. What did you do?”

          Mostly, people want to talk about themselves. If you remember who has kids, who has grand-kids, who has a dog/cat/horse, and ask about those every so often, you seem friendly and not stand-offish. You do have to look at a lot of baby pictures, but there’s worse things in life.

          1. Revanche*

            I do the same for the same reasons as OP and found that many people would fill in the blanks I left. For ex, I never ever mentioned my partner to anyone except my boss: single people assumed I was single, married people assumed I was married. Don’t know if there was speculation about my orientation but it was pretty funny since I wasn’t emotionally invested in any of the work people.

            1. NutellaNutterson*

              I had a boss (!!!!) make fun of my lunch. Because some people don’t get over junior high? IDK.

        5. simonthegrey*

          Yes, this. I tutor at a community college and have a pretty firm rule that students and teachers/tutors cannot be friends. It becomes hard to give legitimate criticism and instruction if you blur the lines. However, many of my students want to work with a tutor they consider a “friend.” So I tell little things -that I am married, but nothing about my spouse’s job. I have a picture of my cats so that if they ask about kids, I can deflect to my “babies.” I pay attention to what netflix shows they say they watch and ask about those. If I’m invited out I always have a commitment. It’s very gentle deflection that doesn’t feel like shaming or like I’m “too good” to spend time with them, but it doesn’t put me in an uncomfortable position of being too close to someone I have to evaluate.

        6. Rene UK*

          I also think this works for me because my mind is a little odd – if I’ve classified something as shiny I’ll hold onto it forever. The vast majority of what people tell me doesn’t quite hit that bar, so I find it easy to let the nitty-gritty details of confidences from acquaintances go.

          You could be describing my mind too! If I ‘classify something as shiny'(excellent description-totally stealing it) I also get very enthusiastic and know much much more about it than the average person really wants to.

        7. JB (not in Houston)*

          Yes, this is exactly what I do. I talk about those kinds of things but nothing too personal. And it’s totally ok to say, “I really didn’t do much. Just kinda hung out.” to a question about what you did over the weekend. It’s not rude to not go into details of specific plans. If you follow up with, “how ’bout you?” most people are happy to talk about what they did.

      3. bridget*

        I don’t think you need to brush off small talk – it can be totally innocuous not something that helps friendships form. I think the key here is that you be a pleasant and very boring (to your coworkers, at least) person to have in the office :) By that I mean your small talk always seems to veer into stuff like how beautiful the weather is lately and how it’s a pain that traffic is so bad during this construction, and work-related topics etc. etc.

      4. LBK*

        I think it depends how you do it. I’ve found this technique successful with one particularly nosy coworker that I don’t really want to get to know me (he squicks me out and has a habit of being too personal, so it’s better to just keep him at arm’s length). If you put a friendly tone in your voice often the person won’t notice that you gave a bland, non-committal response.

        Having a water bottle or coffee mug you can get up to refill is also invaluable – if you feel yourself getting drawn into a chatty coworker’s tractor beam, going to get some water or coffee is an excellent out. I use that technique all. the. time. when trying to subtly make it clear I’m returning to my work isn’t effective.

      5. Formica Dinette*

        I disagree somewhat with LBK about not asking questions. I am well-liked by many people at work, but only friends with a handful. I will ask “How is your weekend” and let them talk, but won’t ask follow up questions to elicit more detail. When someone asks me about my weekend, I respond simply just as LBK suggested. Then I say something like, “Well, I better get back to work now,” and I’m off!

        I also do what Hellanon and others suggest: keep conversations on unimportant topics. If you’re not out to be BFFs, there’s nothing wrong with making stereotypical small talk.

        I disagree that not liking many people once you get to know them is a character flaw–but then I’m the same way. :)

      6. DM*

        You can engage in small talk and be general rather than specific. I am not great at small talk and also tend to be private, so I don’t like to share a lot of details about my personal life (but I have opened up more lately because I really do like the people I work with and it does tend to make me more approachable, I think. I find it is true that it’s better for one’s career to be a professional but a little bit open (not too open, but just not completely closed off). So, if I’ve done something with my weekend, I don’t go into details, but I may say, “Oh, I went for a walk with the dogs, had lunch with a friend, and just did the usual errands and chores…. How did your weekend go?” and the person is off talking :)

      7. Nea*

        There are ways of brushing off and ways of brushing off. The rude way is to show zero interest or to let your discomfort with others slip through. I’ve always found the easy way is to be so weird that nobody *wants* to talk to you in detail, but then, I’m a geek in an overwhelmingly sports fan office, so it comes naturally. Mention cooking over an open hearth in a 18th century costume or hanging out with 700 Sherlock Holmes nerds just once and it’s surprising how rarely your personal life will never get asked about again! And then you can just say “Thank you, but I have a thing” to any invitations outside of work.

        I do recommend, if you are looking for weekend hangout friends, that you look for groups that follow your interests. Then you have one set of people for the weekend and one set of people for the week, and if either set annoys you, you have a built-in break from them!

      8. Sunflower*

        It also helps to ask people about themselves. People LOVEE to talk about themselves. That’s a way of getting close without revealing information.

      9. LMW*

        I think it can appear rude, but doesn’t have to.
        I live in a part of the US where “How are you doing?” “Fine/Great/Okay. How are you?” “Good” is so standard it’s basically replaced “Hi!” in many context. If you didn’t ask back here, it would be a little weird. But the most you ever get is a little more detail, e.g. “Not great. Got a cold!” or “Fantastic. Had a great weekend.” If you don’t probe beyond that, the conversation ends and you don’t seem rude.

      10. LizNYC*

        Coworker: “How was your weekend?”
        You: “Not long enough.”
        Coworker: “Did you do anything weekend?”
        You: “Nothing too special.”

        Follow up both: “How about you?” Brings it back to the inquirer and lets you answer without appearing weirdly cold.

      11. Melissa*

        Not rude, no. Some people might perceive it as standoffish, but that’s kind of what you’re going for, right? After a while you’ll just be the friendly person who obviously doesn’t want to hang out around coworkers that much or has a lot going on in their personal life or whatever. I’ve got a coworker who’s sort of like that and it’s totally fine – like him fine, don’t resent him, we still have work chats.

    3. Rebecca*

      This is good advice, I give pretty vague answers about life outside of work and don’t ask many (if any) follow-up questions. I have started using my lunch break to run errands and eat lunch at my desk when I’m back. It provides a good “out” if I’m invited to lunch with a group. I do occasionally accept group invitations to lunch/happy hour for a birthday or something like that. But I’m usually out after one drink at happy hour and keep the small talk very light.

      What’s funny is that I have actually made some very close friendships at work, but those have happened more organically and we socialized much more outside of working hours than during work.

  4. Job-Hunt Newbie*

    Well, there’s no reason to make “friends” at work, and I personally think you shouldn’t feel pressure in doing so. Being professional at work and sharing how your evening was/what your plans are for the weekend/ect does not automatically translate to needing to be friends. It’s okay to set those boundaries; I have plenty of people I shoot the breeze with at work, but we aren’t connected on Facebook, and don’t have eachother’s numbers. Our relationship is strictly at work.

    I think finding balance with what you want from your colleagues with what you are comfortable with is going to be key. And reminding yourself when you find yourself being overly critical of a colleague, to take a step back and evaluate whether it’s justified; based on the character flaw you mentioned. Going out to lunch with the group occasionally, or dropping by someone’s desk to chat can be a great way to step out of your comfort zone and away from your desk. You aren’t obligated to do it all the time, and shouldn’t feel pressured to make it a friendship if that’s not what you want.

  5. illini02*

    I used to always make friends at work (my best friend is a former co-worker), but I decided at this job that I’ve been at for the last year, to draw a hard line between work and personal. It doesn’t hurt that I’m kind of the black sheep at my office in terms of my interests (I’m more ball games and sports bars, most of them are more theater types). I’m very friendly and get along great. I even go out with people for lunch quite often. I think it really comes to how much you discuss your personal life. I’ll discuss things like what I did this weekend, and that type of thing. But I don’t talk about my dating life or my friends too often. Plus, I never invite anyone for drinks after work (which I used to always do). I think there has been one time that there was a non-work sanctioned outing where I’ve hung out with people. Mainly it was a beautiful Friday and a couple of us who lived close decided to grab a drink on the way home. A couple others joined. It was perfectly pleasant. But after a couple beers, I “had to leave”.

  6. YandO*

    Be polite and friendly, go out to lunch sometimes ( not every time), give general answers to “how was your weekend?”, politely excuse yourself when conversation gets too deep, and above all, do not accept invitations to out of work personal activities (baby showers, birthdays, weekend picnics).

    As long as you are smiling and have genuine positivity about you, you will be fine.

    Side note: I am the same way. I don’t like most people once I get to know them, not because there is something wrong with them, but because I am that kind of person. I am not proud of it, but I have accepted it and treasure people I do like that much more.

    It’s ok not to be best buds with your co-workers, unless you work for one of those start-ups, but it does not sound like you are.

  7. Partly Cloudy*

    To touch on other ways of meeting people: join a meetup group or a club; attend a church/synagogue/house of worship of your choice; volunteer for a cause that means something to you (children, animals, elderly people, etc.); practice being friendly and outgoing with people you meet out in the world instead of at work.

  8. fposte*

    What is it that you mean by “developing friendships”? It’s pretty easy to be the person who’s got a friendly demeanor but is too busy to do stuff out of work, for instance, or who says a cheerful greeting and a platitude but never stops to talk more deeply. You’ve probably worked with people like this and maybe not noticed it, because they’re pretty common; if you can think of people like that, you can use them as models.

    I would say the thing to avoid is longer uncontrolled contact–you can stop by the party for a minute and raise a cupcake with everybody but then you have to go back to work. Usually people don’t open with a “my skin condition is really troubling and my mother-in-law is making me crazy!” in conversation but work up to that, so if you’re out of there before they work up to that, you’re good.

    But have you thought about exploring this in therapy? This seems like something that’s only going to make you lonelier as time goes by, and I suspect the longer you go on like this, the tougher you’ll find it to adjust to other people.

    1. Well*

      Yeah, I agree with your final point.

      OP, phrases like “If I had just remained professionally cordial, I may never have learned enough to dislike them” speak to a pattern in your relationships with other people that concerns me. What kind of stuff are they telling you that makes you dislike them?

      Many (if not most) professionals are actually pretty good about not oversharing. Everybody’s got That One Colleague who tells you way too much, but in general if you find yourself disliking people after they talk about their PG-rated weekend activities, or their kids’ school plays, or whatever, that’s an issue that’s going to impede your ability to connect with other people.

      I don’t think the solution is necessarily to figure out ways to keep them from telling you that stuff. It’s to work on being less judgmental/bored/annoyed (or whatever emotion these people are triggering in you that makes you dislike the experience). Dealing with colleagues showing you baby pictures/telling you about their volunteer work/bragging about the marathon they’re going to run is the social grease that lubricates professional relationships, at least in my experience. You will be less effective at work if you try to minimize that stuff.

      1. Nichole*

        Agreed. Not wanting to have a million friends in general and not wanting to make friends at work is perfectly ok and normal in my book. However, you (OP) indicated that you just don’t like most people and that this is something you would be interested in changing, so a few sessions with a therapist to look into the reasons why may help you have a better quality of life, even if you still ultimately don’t want to include coworkers in your friend circle.

      2. OP*

        Personal things (details about marriages, sex lives (ew), problems with in-laws, health info, POLITICS (argh!)) are all things that get overshared with me and that I hate. I wonder (and this could be totally off-base, but I’m just throwing it out there), if I’m encountering these things because I’m a millennial often working with other millennials and our generational personal boundaries are different? My personal boundaries are much more old-fashioned. I know millennials get a bad rap, so I don’t want to contribute to that, but I do wonder because I find older co-workers are way better at keeping the professional cushion intact.

        1. YandO*

          I am a millennial and I honestly have not noticed this to be true. I work with people more than twice my age and they over-share in life and on the internet way more than me or my friends.

          1. Lefty*

            THIS. I’m also a “millenial” who is often perplexed by the sheer volume/level of detail shared by coworkers that are not in the same generational pool.

          2. LBK*

            Agreed. The most oversharing people in my office are all 40s and 50s – I’m shocked to hear some of the stuff my office neighbors share so freely in a relatively open plan! Cube walls are not soundproof, people!

            1. SherryD*

              Haha, sometimes that’s true! Sometimes I think I’ve heard more ‘raw’ stories about my coworkers kids than I know about from my own siblings!

        2. fposte*

          It could be your field or your region, too. I don’t have that information about most of my colleagues (I don’t know about any of my colleagues’ sex lives, thank God, save for what pregnancy might suggest), regardless of their age.

        3. Well*

          Gotcha. This sounds more like a lot of uncomfortable conversations by anyone’s standards!

          Some of this does depend on your field, region, etc like fposte said – some subjects that are taboo in one place are totally accepted in others.

          What I’d suggest is practicing deflection and redirection. When someone says they’re in the middle of a messy divorce or their health issues, responses like “I’m so sorry. That must be really difficult. Ugh, and you’ve been putting in all that overtime on Project X, too – I know that’s been a beast. How’s that going, by the way – end anywhere in sight?” can serve you very well here. Deliver with sympathy.

          I am still a little concerned that your response is “how do I keep people from getting close to me at all.” I think that’s kind of sad (not sad-pathetic, sad-sorrowful). It sounds like you’re someone who people generally feel comfortable opening up to, and that’s actually pretty cool, and can be a great asset in a lot of situations. I think you’d be better served to see that as an asset most of the time (and work on how to manage conversations when it gets taken too far) rather than trying to keep it from happening.

          1. Malissa*

            Interesting point about being somebody people like to share with. I’m going to guess this comes from being a quiet person and the people sharing things because they think I won’t tell. Chances are they are right, because I’m going to try to forget that they just told me that very personal thing as soon as I possibly can. Maybe it’s the soundboard effect?

        4. LizNYC*

          This could be your region OR this could be because the people in your office are uncommon oversharers (there’s always one) OR it could be because you’ve hung out with them outside work / in a “friend” context in the past, so they think the “professionalism” barrier doesn’t apply/isn’t necessary.

        5. 24*

          I’m a millennial and I totally find this to be true. I also work with all girls in their 20s and early 30s, and God, it’s horrible. I learn so much about them that I don’t like them any more. They are every bad stereotype of women out there: catty, dramatic, backstabbing. I learned that they are desperate for attention, needy, will throw you under the bus for their own gain or if the queen bee decides you weren’t cool enough, etc. If they didn’t overshare or try so much to win approval, I find I can like them, but as it is, I just say hi and goodbye to them now.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Boomer here. I remember seeing a lot of that with my own age group. I am getting to dislike this millennial label more and more because it seems to side-step reality. I suspect that every group out there has been through this.

            It is a bit better in my 40s and 50s. Lots of reasons: People change. They “get a life”, their days fill up with kids/cars/houses/dogs and the things they talk about changes to reflect that.

            And I made a few decisions about me. One thing I do is if people want to dump their problems on me, I subtly let them know I am not their dumping ground. I expect them to get plan and use their plan. With some people this goes over very badly, they don’t want a plan. They want to wallow. I don’t do weeks/months/years of “my sister is making me miserable” or similar complaints.

            When people start telling me an ugly story, I stop them. Real life example: “I skipped paying my income taxes, screw the government!” ME: “Don’t tell me this type of stuff, I don’t want to know. I pay my taxes and I always will. Live as you see fit.”

            See, I realized that, in part, I was causing my own problem with how people were annoying me. I allowed conversations to go on and on that never should have even been started. Clearly, this is not the magic fix for all situations but it is a good running start.

            While it is true that once you get to really know some people it is disappointing at best, all you can really do is role model the behavior you want to see around you. Treat everyone with an equal level of professional friendliness and be willing to help anyone who needs work help. Be consistent each day.

            Lastly, if people are getting under your skin a lot, then question that. I found that I was running extremely tired and I needed help with that. I also found that I was running short on patience because I had lost track of my goals. You know what a job with no goals is? It’s a hamster wheel. We become little robots that go in every day and run the hamster wheel. We absolutely have to have personal goals/personal plans that we are working on or all of the work madness is for nothing. It’s just a hamster wheel.

      3. QAT Contractor*

        Some of the comments that were made higher in the thread indicate that OP should not ask follow-up questions, should only give short and detail depraved answers and just not go to many events. But I have to agree with Well here, it’s going to come off a cold and as though you don’t care to have any sort of relationship at all with these people.

        I also wonder what kind of information is making you dislike the others and how that dislike manifests itself. People in general do like to share information and do like to have information shared with them. Completely shutting down any sharing at all will usually label that person as distanced, cold, unfriendly, aloof….

    2. Mints*

      Yeah, I think it’s not that hard to be always cheerful for one sentence at a time.
      “How was your weekend”
      “Good and relaxing, how about you?”
      “So much fun! Jr won a soccer tournament…blahblah”
      “Wow sounds amazing! Okay I have to jump on this call”
      The key is big smiles and tone, and super busy

  9. Kira*

    I wonder what types of activities you’re currently doing that lead to you getting closer to coworkers than you’d like. At first, I thought you might try to avoid overly personal conversations at lunch, since that’s where I socialize the most with my own co-workers. But then you mentioned hanging out on weekends. Do you get along fine with just-work coworkers, and have more issues with people who you socialize with outside of work?

    And, in addition to non befriending coworkers, it sounds like you’re also hoping to find some other people to hang out with on the weekends. Maybe some of the other readers will have ideas for that. My social groups right now are either people from church, family, or my husband’s coworkers.

  10. YandO*

    one more thing
    no matter how much you resist getting to know people on a personal level, it is unavoidable at work. Over time personalities shy, so the next step for you is to figure out how to separate your personal feelings/likes from your professional engagement.

  11. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Treat your coworkers like you would an ex with whom you’re forced to interact.

    The easiest way to avoid friendships is to not reveal anything about your personal life.  Keep it to work-related subjects and fluffy topics.  Don’t give on anything because that’s an invitation for the other person to share, which creates the expectation you’ll share too.  Accept lunch and happy hour invitations but keep it to once a month and don’t stick around for more than an hour.  Don’t see people outside of work unless it’s work-related.

    This approach doesn’t make you the “jerk who sits in the corner with noise cancelling earphones” but others who have unrealistic expectations will label you as such.  If that happens, ignore it.  You’re not conforming to their expectations, which have nothing to do with work, making it their problem.  Not yours.  As long as you’re friendly but not friends, you should be okay.  If they ever complain about you, heh, what are they going to say?  “Jane doesn’t open up about her personal life, and she doesn’t want to do Sunday brunch.”  

    Maintain a level of intimacy that’s proportionate to the duration you’ve known them and professionalism.

    For everyone else who thinks this is mean,  you have to understand: workplaces are not familial replacements.  You want close relationships, go develop them elsewhere and don’t punish people who don’t conform to your expectations.  Your coworkers are not your family/friends; therefore you do not have license to treat them as such.

    The sooner we stop putting heavy relationship-based expectations on people we were thrown together with by chance (not by choice!), the happier we will be in the workplace.  (The happier the OP and I will be too!)

  12. Lucky*

    The LW admits that part of the problem is on her – she doesn’t like most people once she gets to know them. I think she should try to unpack that, and figure out what it is that leads to this. If it’s that she doesn’t like people who vent and complain about work, then she needs to avoid those conversations. If it’s that she gets turned off by people talking about how had they partied on the weekend, or how they killed it at the gym, etc., avoid those conversations. Maybe once she figures out what her triggers are, she can recognize that some of them may not be rational reasons to dislike people.

    1. OP*

      This is such good point. I never really thought about the specific things I don’t like about people; I just always assumed I was overly judgmental (and to an extent, that is certainly part of it). But when I break it down, there are specific things I hate hearing about/knowing about from other people, and I really just need to figure out ways to minimize exposure to those things.

      1. fposte*

        And sometimes at work it’s easiest to be drawn into the orbit of the most outgoing and share-y people, and maybe as a result the people you’ve ended up passive friends with are the people you’re least compatible with.

        1. OP*

          I think you hit the nail on the head here. I’ve long understood that people tend to pick me for their friend, rather than me picking them. And the people who pick me are usually overbearing, pushy, over-share-y etc and like having a “friend” like me who doesn’t talk much about herself and just let’s them dominate. This is probably a huge reason why I don’t like a lot of the people I get to know.

          1. Formica Dinette*

            Yeah, I have fallen into this trap many times. I’m getting better about setting boundaries, but it’s still a struggle sometimes. Not only are those dominating “friends” annoying, they sap so much of my energy I don’t have any left to seek out better friends.

          2. Cath in Canada*

            Oh, this makes a lot of sense! Hopefully you can use a lot of the excellent advice others have already given you for keeping a friendly, professional distance from this type of person. And then, outside of work, maybe you could try a variety of meetup groups, or other ways of “trying on for size” some groups with whom you might share more interests and be more compatible.

            I’ve been to a couple of meetup events, and they’re really low-risk, casual, low-commitment ways of experiment with meeting various groups of people. It’s normal in most groups for people to show up for a couple of meetings and then quietly disappear, which might be a good match for you. And maybe you’ll find your “bee people”, like the kid in the Blind Melon video :)

            Good luck, OP!

          3. fposte*

            That would certainly explain a lot. And if you manage to avoid being sucked in as a satellite to one of those people, that might give you more room to see if there are more restrained people that you could actually like.

          4. Jaune Desprez*

            Developing a reputation as someone who’s cordial but super-focused on work can be helpful. You might want to come up with a few “redirect” scripts that you can deploy (and rehearse in advance, if needed, until you’re comfortable using them). I used to discourage one particularly chatty coworker by asking her a work question as soon as she wandered into my office on her daily perambulation around the department. “Oh good, I was just going to call you, Hazel. What’s the status of the new lid engraving designs? Has Wakeen looked at the silicone handles? What would you think of adding a Greek key motif to next year’s lineup?” I used to think out my question of the day on the way to work so I would never be caught flatfooted. Since she was much fonder of gossiping than of working, it only took a few days before she started skipping me on her rounds.

            This also works when someone has just shared something especially personal or offensive, although it takes a little more guts to pull it off. Just remember that they’re the one who’s crossing a line, while you’re remaining polite and professional.

            Hazel: “Mr. Big Boy and I — I’ve told you that I call my husband Mr. Big Boy, right? — we took a bottle of wine to bed with us last night, and well, let’s just say the sheets are a mess and we didn’t get much sleep!”
            OP: “Huh. Oh, something you said just reminded me…” (follow with a work question)

            Hazel: “I read on the internet that Obama was born with a vestigial tail that was removed when he was a baby. That’s why he wears mom jeans, so he won’t accidentally show the scar if he bends over.”
            OP: “Mmm. Oh, I’m sorry, I was thinking about (work project) and got distracted. I think I’ll go make a note of that deadline before I forget it again.”

            Hazel: “I’ve had seven thrombosed hemorrhoids during this fiscal year alone!”
            OP: “I’m sorry, I just remembered (urgent work thing). Talk to you later!”

            1. LBK*

              I’m hoping the name choice here is a reference to notorious oversharer and aggressive friend-maker Hazel Wassername.

            2. Well*

              Excellent examples on so many levels, and I love the redirection of always being ready with a work question.

          5. Not So NewReader*

            This is a very important life lesson that will serve you well. There are certain types of people that look for “push overs” or “passives”. (I am lacking a better term).

            Friendships are reciprocal. There is a back and a forth; a give and a take. Friends should enrich our lives. Insist on it. All the while, realize that you are doing things to enrich their lives.

      2. Engineer Girl*

        This is a huge problem because everyone has flaws. That means all your friendships are ticking time bombs because it is only a matter of time before someone does or shares something you don’t like. I do think that you need to seek good counsel on this. It’s important to gently draw boundaries. It’s important learn how to forgive others failures (including your own). This will impact you more and more in the work world as relationships are key in success.

      3. Chickaletta*

        I’m with you here, OP. Haven’t we all had that friend or acquaintance who we were just fine with for years until Facebook came along and then we found out what they really thought politically? And then we wish we could go back to not knowing that about them because they were so much more likable before? The old advice not to discuss religion or politics stands true, and if you find other topics turn you off then yeah, avoid them.

      4. Lucky*

        One thing you might try (and yes, this may be overly-therapy-y) is to recognize when you’re making one of those judgments and say to yourself “yep, that’s me being overly judgmental again” as a way of letting the thought go. It’s an Actual Thing done in acceptance and commitment therapy, a way to acknowledge and diffuse a negative thought.

      5. J_Mo*

        I can relate. I just have interests that differ from those of most people I encounter on a day-to-day basis or in situations (like work) where I have no control over who I’m around. I also admit I’m a little bit of a snob. I try to stay very aware of that and aware of when I’m just being a snob, and I make an extra effort to really HEAR people.

        I guess what I’m trying to say is try not to sweat it. There are a lot more people like you out there than you realize.

    2. Scott M*

      Yes, I think that this is more of a problem than the ‘work-friends’ thing. The OP might benefit from talking to a counselor or therapist to find out why they have such a hard time getting close to most people.

    3. Manders*

      It might also be worth thinking about the kind of office you work best in–I’m one of those people who likes almost everyone in small doses, but sitting in a room with someone day after day makes me focus on their flaws after a while.

      Some people are also perfectly fine for small talk, but you don’t want to hear certain details of their lives (I am one of those people who gets judgy when coworkers overshare about personal drama). I’ve found that it’s better to stay professional and polite, while gently redirecting conversations you don’t want to hear, than to let people believe you’re their confidante. You can be friendly without being friends.

    4. Anonsie*

      I don’t know, do most people like most other people once they know a lot about them? I sure don’t. For me this mostly comes from having very strong feelings about just a couple of sort of social-justice things that easily come up a lot at work, either because it dips into the typical family small talk or it comes up a lot due to the nature of our work (usually the latter). I don’t think it shouldn’t burn my grits a little when a coworker has a little Speak American Or Get Out grump after dealing with an very nice client who has limited English skills (you also may or may not be surprised at how many people do this when I mention my immigrant in-laws don’t speak English very well. SPOILER: a majority of people find this to be an appropriate thing to say to me when they learn this). I don’t go around in a cloud of hate for someone after they do that, it’s not a huge deal, but my overall opinion of them is going to tip from “fine” to “kind of a wad” for everything like that they say.

      1. OP*

        This is such a great point. People are really, really complex when you get to know them and that can be overwhelming and a little disappointing (but when I do meet someone who I genuinely like, it is a wonderful feeling!). I think I often get down on myself for “not liking people,” but when I start thinking back on the reasons why I’ve decided I didn’t like people, those reasons were really legitimate. I’ve spent most of my adult life (10 years) in a part of the country where it’s still culturally acceptable to publicly make inappropriate/insensitive/derisive comments about race, religions other than Southern Baptists, sexual orientation, and anyone more liberal than, say, Ted Cruz. Maybe I need to just realize that I’m not going to and don’t have to like people whose fundamental beliefs offend me. I do have to work with them though, so that’s why it’s really important to me to keep my personal distance and not encourage oversharing of such topics.

        1. Manders*

          This may be a huge part of your problem! If you’re not close to a big city, you may not be able to find that many people you have common ground with. When I was growing up in the south, I thought I was the kind of person who didn’t make friends easily, but when I moved to a northern coastal city it turned out that wasn’t true at all. Is there a big city close enough to you than you could go to meetups and make friends there instead of looking for buddies at work?

        2. fposte*

          I was wondering if you were in the South–not just from a political standpoint, but from the frequency of offices having difficulty with people who don’t meet a pretty high “friendliness” bar. While you can find offices like this all over the country, I suspect you’d have an easier time finding a polite but distant formality in other regions.

          denken below has a good point about workplace culture, too. You’re not job hunting right now, so it’s not something you can factor in, but next time you start looking it might be worth trying to find employers that are a little more on your wavelength as far as office intimacy.

          1. Malissa*

            Same for small towns anywhere. When everybody has known everybody’s everything their whole lives and you’re not sharing your details, it’s awkward.

        3. Anonsie*

          This is funny because I grew up in a conservative southern area and now live somewhere that’s considered a bastion of progressive liberalism and I don’t find people to be any less inappropriate at work when it comes to things like that. I actually think I hear more of it… I think a lot of coastal liberals just assume they’re not bigoted so whatever they think is what everyone reasonable thinks and it’s totally cool to just say whatever to whoever at work. I get a steady stream of racist, xenophobic notes out of people when I try to make small talk about my family and I don’t think I’m under any obligation to work towards not finding those things extremely distasteful and the people who say them to be crummy. Doesn’t change how I act towards them.

        4. I'm a Little Teapot*

          “Maybe I need to just realize that I’m not going to and don’t have to like people whose fundamental beliefs offend me.”

          And there’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t think politics are an abstraction without moral implications; when I learn that someone I know believes that, for example, anybody who can’t pay for health insurance or private care should die in the street if something happens to them, or all Muslims/Arabs are terrorists, or Latin@s are dumb lazy thugs who should be deported, or gay people threaten the existence of marriage and the family by existing, or something equally vile, I lose all respect for that person and start avoiding them as much as possible. In fact, I try to avoid even working with those kinds of people. Whenever I have, I’ve been unable to keep my mouth shut for long.

          Maybe moving to a different part of the country, or at least a different part of your state, would help. Even changing jobs/industries might, depending on where you’re working now. Not to say that there aren’t people who say offensive things everywhere, but you’re more likely to run into more of that kind of crap in some places than others.

          1. Cath in Canada*

            Right! There’s a difference between disagreeing on, say, fiscal policy and disagreeing on social policy. I have friends in the UK and Canada who identify as fiscally conservative but socially liberal, and even they struggle with trying to reconcile some of the anti-marriage equality and anti-immigration policies of some of the fellow members of their parties.

            1. I'm a Little Teapot*

              Fiscal policy has moral implications too – sometimes just as much as social policy. I would not be friends with someone who, for example, opposed employee protection laws – I would find that just as repugnant as a racist rant. Anyone who is essentially the enemy of the majority of the population is someone I don’t want to associate with.

        5. Not So NewReader*

          There’s lots of really offensive folks out there, that is for sure. And you are right, you do not have to like them. But you do have to have some semblance of a working relationship with them.
          When I have hit desperation levels of trying to work with a person, I have tried to make myself find ONE thing they do well. I find that one thing and cling to it like a life preserver. “Sue always has her work done on time. I can count on that.” So when Sue is running her mouth for the millionth time, I force myself to think, “At least, her work is always on time.”
          Overall, I remind myself that not everyone is for everyone and not everyone can provide a meaningful conversation every day.

          I will say this, I have a friend that is baffled by my comments. I tell my friend, “Please, don’t talk about other people like that around me.” I get responses such as, “I did not say anything wrong.” I repeat my request, “I am just asking you not to talk like that about others around me.”

      2. Myrin*

        Yes, I feel exactly the same way!

        It also really depends on what exactly the things I get to know about someone are. I’ve been casual friends with a woman I already went to school with and recently learned that she is very judgmental towards women with undercuts/parts of their heads shaved. I realise this could be a sign of a general “I’m close-minded and want everyone to be and think like me and others are not allowed to do what they like” attitude but I know her well enough to know that’s not the case, she just really seems to dislike the hairstyle on women. I was a bit surprised by her harshness and made it clear that I don’t mind that hairstyle in any way and really think we shouldn’t be so nasty about things like that and, well, that was that. It didn’t cause me to dislike her because it’s not really a big thing that’s indicative of a general bad attitude.

        But so many people (seriously. So. Many.) reveal themselves to be horribly sexist or racist in my presence and my feelings on these topics are strong enough to immediately dislike someone after having been privy to a conversation where these attitudes revealed themselves. As Anonsie said, I don’t walk around exuding “hate hate hate” towards these people but it’s certainly caused a dislike that wasn’t there before I got to know someone better.

      3. Mints*

        I know that this isn’t going to help the friend-factor, but it might help the sanity-factor. A lot of times I keep a mental tally when someone says something questionable or outright offensive. If they’re normally friendly, you might kind of forget why you disliked them. “They’re so nice, why do I feel squicky when they approach me? … Oh that’s right, he made that homophobic rape joke last month. And he said the misogynistic thing about his wife a couple weeks ago.”
        If you can isolate it, it’s easier to weigh whether you’re being overly judgmental or have valid reasons to be a little distant.

    5. The Strand*

      OP, have you visited Captain Awkward before? That’s a nice site where people, as Lucky says, unpack some of these issues and concerns that aren’t merely professional in scope.

  13. AndersonDarling*

    I think the OP may be thinking too hard about this. There are friends, then there are work friends. Because you show interest in how a co-worker’s family is doing doesn’t mean you need to see a concert with them.
    It really depends on who your co-workers are. If you work with lots of single people, there may be more invites to hang out after work. But in offices where the employees have families or other activities that occupy their time, the bonds remain at work.
    You just need to see how the environment is. The OP could be walking into a group of really awesome people.

  14. RG*

    I don’t really advice about not making friends at work, but if you’re looking for ways to meet people, you can try Meetup of you’re in a larger city.

    1. Laurel Gray*

      Normally, this is good advice. However, the last and second to last paragraphs of OP’s letter lead me to believe she could possibly have similar issues meeting new people through Meet Up. I think the OP should try to figure out what it is about her that tends to be judgmental (her word) and not like people once she gets to know them. Those two attributes working together will make it hard to make friendships/acquaintances with people outside of work.

      1. RG*

        Actually, I disagree. While Meetup is great for meeting people, it’s also great for providing a directory of activities. It sounded to me like OP also just wants to
        get out of the house some weekends, so it could be useful for that.

  15. kristinyc*

    I’m kind of that jerk who sits in the corner with noise cancelling headphones o when I’m at my desk. I’m definitely an introvert, and the work I do often requires intense concentration. I used to work at very loud open-concept offices, where I had to use the headphones to be able to focus. I’ve been at my new job about 6 weeks now, and while I’m friendly with people, haven’t made an effort to actually make friends.

    But, to compensate for that – I’m extra friendly/outgoing/ cheerful in meetings and when I run into people in the elevator, hallway, etc. That way people don’t see me as standoffish – just someone really focused on her work! And even though it kills me, I stick to small talk for these interactions, usually some kind of commentary about the weather or elevator or wherever we are. (Like this morning, someone was running in as the elevator door was closing, and we managed to get it open. I babbled about how I’m always afraid I’ll accidentally hit the “Door close” button when that happens and that the person will think i was trying to stop them from getting on the elevator. We laughed and it was pleasant, but hardly a friendship building conversation.)

    As for lunch – one way to avoid eating with people is to bring your own lunch and eat it at your desk, and make it clear that you’re either working or reading something. Or, you know, go out by yourself and say you have errands to run. Show up for “official” team lunches/events so you still look like a team player.

    1. Helen of What*

      Keeping your personal life quiet and not asking much about personal topics helps a lot. Neutral, pointless topics (food is my favorite, because everyone eats) or work-related topics. My answer to “How was your weekend?” is almost always “Good, pretty quiet.” or “Got a lot of Netflix in.”
      I put on headphones and read by myself at lunch, but smile big at everyone I make eye contact with. And of course, I go to work events and smile/nod lots.
      My bosses have all described me as “reserved”, and I am introverted. But I’m kind of obnoxious and sassy with my few close friends. >:)

      1. AdminAnon*

        Helen, we might be the same person. :)

        When I first started at my current job, the culture was for everyone to eat lunch together and chat on a daily basis, which I hated. After the first month or so, I started picking a day or two each week to eat at my desk and read. When no one seemed offended, I increased that to three days a week, then four. Now I eat alone at my desk (very happily) every day except for payday Fridays, when I go out with the group. It worked well for me in the sense that it allowed me to establish myself as a friendly person who just happens to enjoy downtime. I am consistently described as “friendly,” “sweet,” and “helpful,” but it is well known that I like to spend my lunch alone. Developing that habit also allowed a couple of the other introverts in our office to feel comfortable eating on their own as well, so it seems to have worked out for everyone.

    2. Dasha*

      Yes! Bring your own lunch because “you’re trying to save money” or “your special diet.” This will also help with the lunch requests from co-workers.

      If bringing your lunch isn’t an option, I’d suggest going to lunch a little earlier or later than everyone else (if that’s possible with your position). This will also help because you can use the, “Oh, I can’t go to lunch until X o’clock” or “I’ve already eaten at 11” excuse.

    3. Suze*

      This is pretty much exactly what I was going to say. I work in a tiny office, and there are days when I pop on the headphones and straight ignore the people sitting 3 feet from me. I just make sure that if they have a question or (in my boss’ case) and assignment, I don’t make a big deal of taking the headphones off.

      And yes, bring your lunch most of the time, and only attend the team outings or the occasional group lunch. You don’t have to make a big deal out of it, just say that eating out a lot isn’t in your budget.

    4. Mints*

      +1 to this whole tactic

      Also to the lunch bit, you could say something like “I’m saving for a big dinner tonight/tomorrow/this weekend” which implies either diet or budget without specifying

    5. BeenThere*

      You are doing exactly what I do, I was really relieved to come to this thread and not see anyone complain about their coworker who always wears headphones.

  16. Dan*


    Sure, there’s a *couple* of people I dislike once I get to know them, but your description suggests far more than what is statistically likely. You indicate you know you have a character flaw that causes you to actually dislike people once you get to know them.

    Have you thought about seeing a therapist to get to the underlying issues? It might be worth trying to understand why you feel the way you do, figure out what it takes to change that, and then decide if it’s worth the effort.

    FWIW, I’m friendly with many of my coworkers, but only with a select few do I spend any time at all outside of work.

    1. Bee Eye*

      I think it may be worth checking out the “Mental Health” section of the company’s healthcare plan. This person has some serious issues.

      1. OP*

        Ouch. I hope that admitting to struggling with something that other people obviously struggle with also doesn’t qualify me as someone with serious mental health issues. Seems a bit harsh.

        1. AndersonDarling*

          Yeah, that was harsh. I was thinking that you may be going through a time where you just don’t want to interact with co-workers on a friendlier level. And that is fine. It sounds like you may have been burnt by some past co-workers.
          Or if you just don’t want to have relationships at work, and want to keep them at home, that is fine too!

        2. K Anon*

          Way too harsh, and to me evidence of the general US cultural bias toward extroversion.

          I could have written most of your letter, OP. I’m grateful that when I was in my early 20s an older friend observed that I had already realized that I didn’t like most people — something she thought most people don’t figure out until well into middle age. That validated my (until-that-moment) unconscious feeling that I shouldn’t waste time befriending people I didn’t really connect with. I enjoy a small circle of close friends, and I participate in a few activities outside work that have a social component and introduce me to new people, a few of who I really like a lot and have ended up becoming friends with over time. I am also mostly at peace with my judgemental tendencies — I trust my gut about whether or not I like people, and while I’ve revised judgements now and then, in general I find trusting my instincts is a great and quick way to decide who to get to know and who to let go. I do find it more challenging to strike a balance of friendliness at work (and that’s part of why I went freelance!), and wish I’d thought about treating co-workers as internal clients and also having a bunch of smalltalk topics (food, etc.) ready to exchange pleasantries. Over time I did get good and giving very general responses to questions about my holidays or weekend, and got good at asking how people’s weekends, etc were as I was just finishing up making my coffee and on my way out of the kitchen as a tactic for keeping the conversation short. Good luck. I hope you report back here if you decide that any of the advice on this AAM post is worth trying!

            1. Bee Eye*

              Sorry if I came across as harsh. Believe me there are people I work with that I can’t stand, either. However, the way you described things seems to be a little more serious than having to deal with one or two annoying co-workers. You seem anxious over the idea of getting to know anyone because you’ve already convinced yourself that you won’t like them. Good luck to you and I truly wish you all the best. Just know that there is help available.

          1. Engineer Girl*

            This isn’t the definition of introversion. Introverts LIKE people. They just can’t handle all the energy that comes with interacting with them.

            1. frequentflyer*

              I think because introverts have a limited energy store, they tend to be more selective with the people they like and hang out with. Extroverts can afford to hang out with all types without fearing that their ‘social battery’ will run out.

          2. A Bug*

            Agreed. It’s okay to not like a person. You don’t have to be friends with everyone, and someone not being your friend doesn’t mean you’re somehow deficient. This was a tough lesson for me to learn and I still struggle with it regularly.

            But being able to interact respectfully with people you don’t personally like? That’s a fairly basic life skill, especially important if you are a person who doesn’t like most people once you get to know them. You really cannot reasonably expect to keep those walls up forever with all people, so you need to learn how to continue working with folks after you learn something you don’t like about them.

            Start putting some thought into what constitutes a genuine dealbreaker for a professional relationship, and treat the rest as simply hazards. When you learn that Sally is an unrepentant double-dipper, you don’t eat from communal dip bowls when she’s around. When you learn that Jim is a huge fan of something you viscerally despise, you don’t chat with him about anything related to that thing.

            1. OP*

              “But being able to interact respectfully with people you don’t personally like? That’s a fairly basic life skill, especially important if you are a person who doesn’t like most people once you get to know them.”

              To clarify: I am friendly and respectful to a fault. I don’t share with the people I don’t like that I don’t like them. Being outwardly respectful of other people is not a problem for me. I do, however, think it’s alright to want a work environment where I don’t have to constantly hear my coworkers’ political opinions or blow-by-blow details of their pregnancies. Since I can’t change others’ behaviors, I am asking for advice on how to change my own so that I remain respectful, but don’t invite oversharing.

              1. fposte*

                Yeah, it sounds like your problem is the other way–that some people have been liking you too much.

              2. Kiwi*

                Some people have a “face that invites confession”. In other words, you seem like a safe pair of ears into which to drop their latest problems/life events.

                Could this be the issue here? I’ve experienced the same myself – it’s amazing the weird, uncomfortable and sometimes downright creepy information people feel safe imparting.

                You could try looking on it as a gift – keep it confidential and this information is power (people will trust you, like you, and you have extra back story information which will help you to better interact with people and succeed in the office). That’s the upside. Of course the downside is knowing the messy medical details and creepy private life info. Swings and roundabouts eh?

        3. Merry and Bright*

          Yes, that was harsh.

          I’ve just felt like I was reading about myself. Not mentally ill, just uncomfortable know too much information about coworkers. And enjoying that bit of downtime in the day.

        4. J_Mo*

          Personally, I just think you haven’t found “your people”, and that’s perfectly OK. It hardly makes you “mentally ill” or whatever. It simply means that your social needs right now are at an ebb.

        5. Not So NewReader*

          I am not sure that not wanting to find out how racist (and other prejudices) someone is, qualifies as a MH issue.
          I think that is what I am getting out of what I have read so far- you are surrounded by people who hate and you’re sick of it. Is this the number one problem you are seeing, OP or is there more that also impacts here?

      2. YandO*

        This rude and uncalled for. She does not “serious issues”. She is honest with herself and us about her personal preferences. which are hers to have, as long as she does not harm others ( and she obviously is not harming anyone)

  17. Joey*

    keep your interactions with them friendly but short. It’s pretty hard to get to know someone well or get into an in depth conversation if you’re focused on getting back to work after a few minutes.

  18. Allison*

    I’ve found it easy to chat with my co-workers during the day, but keep our relationships strictly professional. I don’t hang out with these people on weekends, I’m not even Facebook friends with them. I talk to them at work, and at the occasional work function I do attend, but that’s it. If they invite me to do stuff, I decline their invitations, usually citing some conflict – which is usually true, I keep myself busy with dance stuff, and between that and errands I don’t have a lot of free time, and what little free time I do have is either spent alone or with very close friends.

    If you’re really looking for people to hang out with on weekends, or just stuff to do on weekends, take up social dancing (lindy hop, west coast swing, salsa, blues, etc.), join a church community, or try one of those outdoor adventure groups now that the weather is nice.

    1. Meg Murry*

      I was suprised no one else had mentioned this –
      NO to Facebook/otherwise friending on social media. That person who is so nice to have a 5 minute hallway conversation about the food in the cafeteria becomes unbearable when you find that all they do on Facebook is post political/pro or anti-vaccine/pro or anti gun/Grumpy Cat/whatever 100x a day. There are a few people I did not friend until after I left my last job, and I have since hid them from my news feed, because I’d rather remember Jane the nice lady from accounting than Jane who posts pictures of herself in far too few clothes and racist rants.

      Also wanted to add, is it possible you feel like you start to dislike everyone because you live in a part of the country where you are in the far minority with your personal viewpoints, and once people show that they are pro- everything that you are anti- you lose respect for them? I come from a very liberal area, and it was really hard for me to bite my tongue when I moved to a conservative area, and we wound up not staying there very long for other reasons, but “these people are not my people” was a big pro for us to move elsewhere. Or do you work in an industry that tends to be very fiscally conservative which may also attract social conservatives while you are very liberal (or vice versa)?

      1. OP*

        “I come from a very liberal area, and it was really hard for me to bite my tongue when I moved to a conservative area”

        YES. I’ve never specifically broken it down like this, but political conversations are the first to make my head nearly explode and I am in a very, very, very conservative part of the country (I grew up in a very, very, very liberal part of the country and am myself quite moderate).

        1. Meg Murry*

          To make friends outside of work, could you join a group related to your political cause or one aspect of it? You might be able to meet the handful of blue-leaning people in your very red area that way.

          And I would avoid mentioning your politics specifically until you hear how others react – at some places, saying I was the opposite side of the political spectrum shut down the politics talkers, but others thought it was fun to try to argue their side with me all the time, even though I wasn’t interested in having political/idealogical arguments at work.

          If you are in a very, very conservative area, consider that although you may consider yourself moderate, you may very well be the most left leaning person in the group in a super conservative area.

          Last, for friends outside of work – is your husband ok hanging out with his co-workers? Maybe you could try that as a way to make friends instead of your own coworkers.

        2. MissLibby*

          I find it fascinating that we have gotten to the point in our society that we cannot be friends with people whose political views differ from our own.

          I do agree with other commenters’ advice to avoid talking politics at work.

          1. fposte*

            Yeah, I think that’s a bad thing; the farther apart we get the easier it gets to demonize each other.

            1. MissLibby*

              I agree 100%. And how do you even find people that you agree with all of the time on every issue? I would definitely be lonely if that was my standard for relationships. Plus how boring and limiting it must be to only surround yourself people that are just like you. How would you ever grow as a person?

            2. I'm a Little Teapot*

              I’m not sure it is a bad thing. As I remarked above, political views are not without moral weight. I don’t want to be friends with people I consider bad people.

            3. Pennalynn Lott*

              I can’t possibly see myself ever being able to be friends with someone who thinks that all women – not just the women who subscribe to their narrow religious beliefs – need to to “submit” to men in order to be happy and fulfilled, and that’s why women should never hold elected office. Or someone who thinks gays are abominations who should be stoned to death. Or who thinks all black people should be shipped “back” to Africa. Or who celebrate when women’s health clinic workers are killed.

              Why, yes, I live in the south and have worked with people who have espoused each of these views, and worse. And, hell no, I cannot be friends with them.

              1. I'm a Little Teapot*

                WORSE? What’s worse, “Heil Hitler”?

                Vile people deserve to be socially ostracized.

              2. MissLibby*

                That is a very extreme example though. While they try to make it about politics to justify their beliefs, that is just plain hate, not a political view.

                That is not what I was talking about at all in my comment above. Many of the people I work with vote for the opposite party than I do, but it doesn’t make them or me evil and would not preclude me from forming a work friendship with them. That is what I was talking about that I find fascinating…that someone would not even bother to get to know a co-worker if they voted for someone different than you did.

                1. Pennalynn Lott*

                  I’m a liberal living in Texas. If I didn’t bother to get to know people because they voted for someone different than I did then, hell, I’d never talk to another human being again. :-)

                  I just thought I detected a whiff of hate speech in the comments of the OP’s co-workers. Or even the rigid, “Everybody *must* believe like I do.” Or, heck, just the ignorant, “Everyone *does* believe like I do.” And those folks can be hard to stomach. I can certainly still be friendly toward them in a work environment, but they’ll never be my *friend*.

          2. OP*

            I can be friends with people whose political views differ from my own, but I just don’t like people who won’t shut up about politics, religion, and/or money. I think I’m old fashioned in that way, but I’m fine with that. Those topics are so, so, so personal, and my ideal friendship involves almost never having to talk about them. For example, if I’m friends with someone who adamantly opposes gay marriage, fine. I’m sure they have their reasons that I don’t understand and don’t need to understand. But hearing about it from them constantly isn’t enlightening, fun, or comfortable, which is what I want friendships to be.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Maybe you need a little one liner when these topics come up.

              “OH, you know what they say about discussing politics, religion and money!” Then quickly change the topic. People can be trained.

              I think if you had 2-3 one liners that you just keep reusing that would be a big help for you.

          3. MissDisplaced*

            Well, but it’s true though. I’m friendly to most people and respect different political views, but when I hear some of the nasty, and oftentimes racist comments some people make as part of their “political viewpoint,” I decide pretty quickly I do not “like” them or want to be friends with them. You would think they would be ashamed to broadcast this kind of thing , but many are not.

        3. Malissa*

          I hear you. I worked in a very conservative office when a vote on Gay marriage was on the ballot. Some of the things said really made me lose respect for a lot of coworkers. While I tried to avoid the conversations I was always honest about my views when asked. That actually curbed most of the conversations after that. Well at least the ones I could hear.

      2. Allison*

        And you never know who might tell the boss if they see something even mildly objectionable on your timeline. Last thing you want is to get called into the department head’s office and have a conversation about your professional attitude because your status last night said you had a rough day at work. Or, god forbid, you posted anything while at work. And don’t think about calling out sick unless you can’t walk away from the toilet or get out of bed, because if you post anything that might make someone question the validity of your sick day, you could get in trouble.

        1. Dana*

          I have been at my job for 11 months and just got my first Facebook friend request that I ignored. Not gonna play that game. Between the recent letter of the punished breast cancer survivor topless photo and my co-worker divulging her judgement when a co-worker she is Facebook friends with is WFH and posting updates when she is waiting for him to get back to her about a project…yeah, no.

        2. Malissa*

          I actively block anybody related to work on Facebook. They don’t need to know about what I post and I certainly don’t want to see what they post. When I change jobs, the ones I like get unblocked.

  19. Oryx*

    I am professionally friendly with my co-workers, but I am not friends with them. I do not get together with them outside of work and while I’ll eat lunch in the break room with them, I always have a book with me so I have the option of reading if the conversation they are having is a little too personal for my liking (I also avoid most political conversations because my opinions are in the minority and I have been…not ganged up on, but prodded for information when they found this out). They are all Facebook friends with each other, I’m not FB friends with anyone. (So far, only one has tried to friend me — I declined it, she never brought it up and we’re still perfectly pleasant with each other.) I am a listener who asks lots of questions but won’t volunteer information unless specifically asked and in a direct way.

    They know almost nothing about my personal life and what I do share is carefully cultivated. But I think I balance it well as I’m pretty sure if you asked my co-workers if they feel like they know me, they would say yes. Even though fact is they don’t really know anything about me.

  20. Becky*

    I follow a very similar philosophy. Close relationships at work can make life complicated, particularly if you’re in a position of responsibility – but most of us still want to have a good bond with our co-workers, so it’s a case of where you draw the line. I typically limit myself to going for lunch, usually with my team, where conversation usually revolves around what we’re working on at the moment and weekend plans – neither of which involve being too involved with each others personal lives. If there’s a company event (e.g. Friday drinks), then I’ll also show my face and socialise with colleagues, but I always leave as soon as it is reasonably polite – typically after a couple of drinks. I work in a very friendly environment, where most of my co-workers are under 30, work relationships are common, and going out for drinks isn’t a big deal. Some co-workers have pulled me up on this (“why don’t you hang out for drinks after work?”), but overall I’ve found this leads to a much more positive relationship with my colleagues. I’ve gained noticeably greater respect and promotion opportunities than colleagues that follow a different code of behaviour.

    1. Dasha*

      “I follow a very similar philosophy. Close relationships at work can make life complicated, particularly if you’re in a position of responsibility – but most of us still want to have a good bond with our co-workers, so it’s a case of where you draw the line”

      Yes, yes, and yes! I think some of us have had to learn the hard way. I have really tried to keep quiet and to myself at work at new job. I’ll admit that I’m kind of lonely sometimes but I am a lot less stressed out.

  21. AnotherAnon*

    I worry about the political implications of not acting friendly with coworkers though. If you try to ignore/minimize interactions with coworkers who have strong relationships with management, you might acquire a negative reputation in the office that might not bode well for you in terms of raise and promotion prospects. If your coworkers view you as standoffish and uninterested in them but only responsive to management, you might be seen as a brownnoser. (I.e. the whole “perception is reality” paradigm.)

    1. OP*

      Yeah, this was my initial concern. I’ve worked with people who were friendly and polite but always declined work lunches and even more “important” events like holiday parties. They were looked at and treated differently by management. So, although I absolutely get their motivations, I don’t want to end up in the same boat. I think a lot of the suggestions on here will be really helpful though in maintaining a balance.

      1. Suze*

        I think the key is to accept occasional invitations to outings. Go to lunch with your teammates once a month, but keep the conversation to tv shows, sports, etc. Do the happy hour every couple of weeks, but leave after 2 drinks. That way you won’t be seen as aloof or standoffish, just more of a homebody.

      2. AlyIn Sebby*

        So glad you submitted this question OP!

        I have been working on this too and it’s…a complicated dance and I need all of the opinions and ideas here to help formulate and maintain my plan.

        Agree with so many others – Do not FB with work people, especially the boss and if the boss is FB friends w co-workers, I don’t want to work for that boss.

        FB and social media is still in it’s toddlerhood and NSFW full stop, for me :)

  22. The German Chick*

    Reserve one lunch a week for colleagues and stick to whatever you like to do for the rest of the week – if someone asks you if you want to join for lunch, you can easily say “during the week, I like to to to activity X, but I’m always available on day X”. Don’t participate in after-work activities (“I am not a big fan of activity X, but thank you so much for the invitation.”).
    Be friendly in conversation, but don’t overshare. If someone asks me how my weekend was, I like to tell them about something enjoyable I did. “The weather was so nice, I spent an hour in the park and just relaxed”. What I am not telling them about: Who I was with, and how I felt about it.
    Don’t talk about your relationships beyond basic information. One of my colleagues asked another colleague if he was dating anyone and he simply responded: “I don’t like to talk about that at work. But thank you so much for asking.” If someone overshares with you, simply ignore the TMI part and concentrate on a friendly detail of the story. Example: Colleague tells you about his relationship problems he experienced on the weekend. You answer: “Yeah, that sounds like a really difficult weekend. I heard that next weekend, the weather is supposed to be really nice. [change subject].”
    Good luck!

  23. Beancounter in Texas*

    In my previous office environment, it was somewhat toxic with a ton of gossips who loved to spread rumors, so I didn’t share much with anyone, particularly since I was the HR/payroll/accounting person. I couldn’t afford to be seemingly too close with anyone.

    In my current office environment, I like to know my coworkers beyond just name and job descriptions, but I also respect the boundary that we are not “friends” and do not socialize outside of work. We’re acquaintances at best. This means we’ll share details of our lives – “I took the family to the zoo this weekend and the otters splashed water on my son” – but we don’t share intimate details or very personal problems – “My husband is cheating on me and I’m pregnant, but I haven’t told him.” Typically, subjects off the table include political argument, anything remotely sexual, proselytizing any religion and specific income figures.

    While we have each other’s cell phone numbers programmed into our cell phones for work communication, we don’t text each other outside of work asking “Did you see tonight’s episode of Game of Thrones? Someone poisoned Joffrey!” We’re like neighbors who chat when we see each other about light topics – the weather, the local sports teams, and current events. We connect on LinkedIn, but not Facebook, private email or other social media. The boundary is that we’re acquainted, but we’re not friends.

    And finding friends for the weekend? Try or find local groups on Facebook. Get out and be friendly to people you see outside of work. I’ve made friends by buying stuff locally (Facebook, Craigslist) and chatting up the seller when we meet. Good luck!

  24. Lanya*

    OP, I feel your feelings on friendship may somehow benefit from the wise words of Billy Joel:

    “You may love them forever, but you won’t like them all of the time.”

    I think it’s normal to have somewhat of a love-hate relationship with everyone we become close with – something will always drive you crazy about them. And vice versa! I hope you don’t lose faith in friendship.

    1. LizB*

      This! You don’t have to be friends with people at work for any reason, but you also shouldn’t expect people you do want to be friends with to be perfect 100% of the time, because nobody is.

    2. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

      There’s also Jane Austen’s comment, through the mouth of Elizabeth Bennet:

      “There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well. The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense.”

      But the way Elizabeth coped with her dissatisfaction with the world was being (mostly) polite and friendly, and laughing at people instead of getting irritated with them. Alison has often said that when dealing with difficult people, she pretends she’s a character in an Austen novel and sees them as an amusing Mrs. Bennet or Miss Bates. If you try to see the humor in people’s weaknesses and foibles, it makes it just a bit easier to keep from hating them. Doesn’t always work, but it works often enough that it’s worth a shot.

  25. some1*

    This is very hard to wrap my head around because I have actually stayed friends with people who I didn’t like and weren’t good for me because of times of loneliness. My fear was that I wouldn’t have anyone to hang out with if cut people out.

    Have you had trouble making friends for awhile? Is it possible that you end up not liking most people because it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy? If you reject most people as friends, is it possible that you are doing it so they can’t reject you down the road?

  26. KT*

    I’m very big on separating personal life from work. I need that separation for my own sanity. When friendships have bled over, it has led to stress and anxiety and discord.

    As other have said, you don’t need to be rude or avoid interaction, just keep a strong boundary. I am lovely and sociable…at work. But I do not see people after quitting time or on weekends, we are not Facebook friends–they are my work friends, that’s it. I will have lunch or share break time, but I am always busy when there are post-work happy hours or baby showers.

    I also keep conversations away from anything too personal. TV shows, books, etc are all safe topics I rely on. If someone asks about my husband or my family, I give quick answers but then turn the conversation by asking them a question…(“What does your husband do?” “Oh he’s a cook. OH! before I forget, did you see the teaser for next week’s GoT?”) by the time they answered it, they don’t realize that I quickly shut it down :)

    If people start oversharing or gossiping, that’s when I have to run to a meeting.

    1. The Toxic Avenger*

      This, X 1000. It’s totally OK to keep things friendly, but separate. Come in, do your work, be friendly and respectful, and go home to your husband. :-)

  27. CaliCali*

    This jumped out at me:

    ” If I had just remained professionally cordial, I may never have learned enough to dislike them, and my professional life would be so much more drama free.”

    I think the crux of your question is not how to avoid people at work, but how to create boundaries between the personal and professional so that your emotions about people don’t factor into your work life. There are people I dislike at work, but it doesn’t create drama, because despite my personal feelings, I need to interact professionally with them (and in the past, I’ve been successful in doing so). Just by nature of proximity and time, you end up knowing more about anyone you work with, no matter what — so it’s about learning how you work with people you dislike (the first step) and then probing more into why you tend to dislike most people (the second).

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Yes, boundaries books for OP. It will help you feel better about all this, too, OP. I think that basically you are figuring out where your professional life boundaries are. Yeah, it’s not without pain. And definitely not without some inner examination of one’s self. You’ll be okay, hang tough and keep following this boundary topic.

  28. Malissa*

    I completely understand the hating people thing. In general I’m not a need to know every little personal detail person. And people who are like that irritate me.But over time I realize that the motivation behind most of it comes from a place of caring. And realizing that really helped frame the way I interacted with people. I’ve also learned to forget and/or disregard most non-work things I hear about coworkers. If you tell me that Susie got drunk and slept with the entire offensive line-up of the local football team I’m likely to reply good for her and forget about it in 10 minutes. Because I’m not Susie nor do I care about how she runs her personal life as long as the TPS reports get on my desk in a timely manner.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      This is another great comment, OP. Sometimes we care too much and we have to remind ourselves to step back. I have worked with people who routinely shoot themselves in the foot. It is very hard to watch and so easy to get emotionally invested in their lives. It’s time to take a step back.

  29. Ellen Fremedon*

    LW, I am the same way. I think of it as my generation ship manifest– I have a running list of people who I want on my ship when we evacuate the planet, and if you don’t make the cut you don’t make the cut. I can be really friendly and interested in people for as long as it takes me to assess someone, but once I’ve gotten to know them well enough to know that they’re not on the list, I immediately start resenting all the time and energy I need to spend on them, and if I have to maintain a closer relationship with them than polite collegiality, I will really start hating them for all the social energy they’re taking away from people I do like.

    Trying to give people a chance and be friends anyway has never, ever, ever worked to turn this around. What has helped with the resentment has been recognizing that my dislike isn’t the other person’s fault, and that they’re not being not-my-people AT me. They can be on someone else’s generation ship, and I can wish them well. Acknowledging that my dislike is all my problem, not theirs, makes it a lot easier for me to pull back and be cordial without trying to make friends.

    The other thing that’s helped has been to make peace with the fact that exposure isn’t going to turn a not-friend into a friend, and that if I want more friends I just have to feed more people into the hopper. I got very used to taking up a hobby long enough to assess all the regulars, cherry-picking the people I wanted to be friends with, and leaving the hobby group. This is a totally okay thing to do. Think of it like blind dating, since that’s a situation where most people find it easier to that sort of quick screening and quick rejection.

    1. 2horseygirls*

      Does anyone else remember an episode of “ER”, where Doug Ross (George Clooney) was talking about his mom, and how he asked her one day why she didn’t have pictures of him at work, or talk about him with her co-workers?

      Her reply was: “My work life and my personal life are separate” (or something to that effect).

      “The sooner we stop putting heavy relationship-based expectations on people we were thrown together with by chance (not by choice!), the happier we will be in the workplace.” LOVE THIS!

      A friend has a phrase for it: ‘church polite’. You’ll ask how they’re doing, but once you walk away, you have nothing personally vested.

      I’ve been very close with co-workers, but honestly? As I get older (mid40s), I prefer keeping my distance. I don’t need to know about the minute details of your son’s lithium withdrawal, your dog peeing on your bed, the fight you had with your husband (or his ED), etc. etc.

      Mostly I think I’ve determined it’s sour grapes on my part, because when I’m talking about what I do, or my volunteer work (which (not to be snotty) has a wider societal impact than just me), people immediately glaze over or cut me off, and then proceed to ramble on about their dogs/dislike of in-laws/minute-by-minute recounting of their vacation, which I’m conversely supposed to be enthralled with.

      So if I keep to myself, it seems to discourage those discourses.

      However, Folklorist – I would TOTALLY be interested in hearing about that!! :)

  30. kvaren*

    It might help if you drew a line between office acquaintances and full fledged friendship. You could engage in the former but not the latter.

    Hanging out with co-workers after work hours or on weekends means, “Yes, I want to be your friend, and not just your co-worker.” This is different than going to lunch with co-workers during work hours, which is more like “Yes, I’ll go to lunch with you because I work with you.” Lunch with a co-worker only requires association of working together, doing the same sort of work, for the same company. You can rest assured that this doesn’t result in or imply actual friendship. During conversations, try to steer towards work-related subjects, or things outside the personal realm like celebs or sports. Keep personal details to brief comments.

    I consider myself a loner in some professional regards, but that’s just because I have a lot of kids and I relish the alone time that comes with working in the office. When invited to lunch with the group, I go, because of our shared work interests, and also because I do find it mentally refreshing to spend a little time with my co-workers outside of the normal office setting. To me, it helps me to avoid growing tired of where I work because I feel connected to who I work with.

  31. Pink Panther*

    The thing that keeps me from getting too chummy with my co-workers is remembering the time I became close friends with a co-worker, then got into a miserable situation where I had to choose between doing the right thing as a friend and doing the right thing as an employee.

    After LOTS of personal turmoil and soul-searching, I chose to do the right thing as an employee. I feel good about my choice… but it cost our friendship and his job. I never, ever want to have stakes that high again.

  32. Snarkus Aurelius*

    This whole comment thread is really disappointing.  I understand that we live in an extrovert-centric society, but PLEASE STOP classifying anyone who might want to keep to themselves as needing therapy.  Mental health assistance needs to be saved for the people who actually need it.

    I’m an extrovert myself, but there are situations where I want to be anti-social and work is one of them.  I understand that this approach might make some uncomfortable, but, again, it’s not my problem and it’s not the OP’s problem either.

    Just because the OP demonstrates a personality that’s frowned upon in the working world doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with her.  Maybe there’s something wrong with idea that we all have to be BFF all the time.

    1. LBK*

      There’s a difference between wanting to be introverted and generally disliking the majority of the people you meet. In fact the AAM crowd tends to skew highly introverted, so I don’t think anyone here is responding to that element – disliking people is not a trait of introversion. Disliking *interacting* with people for an extended period of time would be more in line with introversion, but just flat out disliking others for who they are is not related.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        Considering the population of this planet, it’s unsurprising that we don’t like and/or enjoy interacting most of the people we meet.

        Whatever her issue is, the LW also said she made peace with it and it’s something she feels she can’t change.

        Given those two facts, I fail to see how therapy is relevant. Not only that, but who wouldn’t think therapy is an option, especially considering it’s such a common suggestion?!?!

        1. LBK*

          The cynicism of this comment is really unnecessary – I find it hard to believe you genuinely don’t like most people you meet. Also, part of therapy is about regaining agency over the negative parts of yourself that you feel you can’t control. Finally, there’s such a huge stigma about any kind of mental health issues or mental health treatment that many people don’t realize they could still benefit from therapy even if they’re not a 10 on the depression scale – a 4 or 5 can still dramatically improve their quality of life by having someone help them talk out their issues. I sure did.

          1. YandO*

            “I find it hard to believe you genuinely don’t like most people you meet.”

            If you meet people who share a similar trait/belief (religions, political, social, ethical, etc) that you feel strongly about, it is not unreasonable or strange that you would not like most people you meet.

            As OP says above, she is in an ultra-conservative environment, when she is moderate herself. he fact that she starts to dislike people upon hearing their believes that may be simply different or even offensive to her is not a reason for her to seek therapy.

            Figuring out that I don’t have to like most people to be happy was a huge “light bulb” moment for me, which is why I feel a bit protective of the OP.

            1. Sunflower*

              I think that’s different though. If OP doesn’t get along with people because they have different beliefs than her, that’s totally different than ‘I don’t like most people I meet’. I got the impression that this was a long ongoing thing and she was meeting a lot of diverse people and wasn’t getting along with any of them.

              Also I tend to not like ANYONE who tries to place their beliefs on me, whether I agree with them or not.

          2. Sunflower*

            I agree with this. Not everyone is going to benefit from therapy but I think it’s worth a shot at trying it. I got the impression from the letter that this is something that affects her outside of work too. The majority of people I know in therapy are stable and functional and looking to improve parts of them self. I also think the people who benefit from therapy best are those who are not having serious issues.

            1. LizB*

              +100000. Therapy isn’t reserved for people who are experiencing severe mental illness — it’s also for people who just have something going on in their life that they’d like to change or cope with better. If the OP doesn’t want to change how she deals with people or the fact that she dislikes most of them, that’s fine, but she mentions that these reactions lead to her frequently feeling lonely. Therapy isn’t an unreasonable option in that case.

      2. Allison*

        I understand that the OP dislikes people, but I’m still not convinced they need therapy for it. It would be one thing if OP wanted to make friends at work and couldn’t do it, and was frustrated with that, then therapy might help them resolve whatever issue is getting in the way. That’s really what therapy is for, helping people who want to change in order to better their lives. OP is content with not being best buddies with their co-workers, and wants advice on boundaries and balance.

        1. LBK*

          I guess I just don’t understand the strong reaction to suggesting therapy. It’s not a diagnosis, it’s not a condemnation, it’s not anything – it’s as much a suggestion to potentially help improve the situation as anything else here. We frequently give advice on how to think about the bigger picture rather than answering the exact question the OP asked, I don’t see how this is any different. No one is saying she needs to go in for electroshock therapy because she clearly has a severe disorder or something. Therapy is literally just talking to someone. I don’t see why that suggestion merits such distress.

          1. Allison*

            It’s tough to know, when someone’s merely suggesting therapy but not specifying why, if the person is implying they need therapy because there’s something wrong with them and they need to figure out the root cause and fix it, or get a diagnosis and some drugs, or whether the person is merely implying that it would help to have someone to talk to.

            Either way, the suggestion isn’t really the type of advice the LW is asking for. They want to be able to be friendly at work without forming friendships, it’s a boundary issue. Implying, even inadvertently implying, that the real issue is that the LW has mental problems that should be fixed, isn’t helpful right now.

            1. fposte*

              Aside from the one person who said that very rudely, I don’t think anybody’s suggested there are mental problems. “Going to therapy” doesn’t equal “mental problems.”

              But I think we may be getting into a significant difference on the cultural meaning of therapy. I’m really sad that some people here see it as an apparently uniquely insulting suggestion–it seems like buying into and contributing to the stigma about getting professional assistance. And EAPs are filled with people talking about problems with their co-workers, so I don’t see why this situation is considered so different.

          2. Nea*

            Because suggesting therapy is suggesting that the OP is somehow broken and needs to be fixed, no matter how gentle that therapy is supposed to be. As someone who is deeply out of step with the culture in my office, I would find it insulting to be told that it would improve my relationship with my officemates to have therapy. There’s nothing wrong with me and there’s nothing wrong with them, it’s just that they and I have extremely different interests and to be blunt, I don’t want to hear about stuff that bores/offends me and they don’t want to be bored or offended by me. Drawing a strict line between personal and professional lets us all work together in a very functional, friendly team that focuses on the project.

            1. LBK*

              By her own admission the OP feels like she struggles with this issue. Therapy isn’t about fixing something broken, it’s about helping with something that’s difficult.

            2. fposte*

              “Because suggesting therapy is suggesting that the OP is somehow broken and needs to be fixed.” No. It most certainly doesn’t. Why on earth would it? Would suggesting they go to a lawyer, or a dentist, or an accountant mean they’re broken and need to be fixed?

              If somebody’s talked about finding something a problem, it’s logical to suggest going to the professional whose job is to help with solving that kind of problem.

              1. Beth*

                But her problem is not “I want to like my coworkers”, it’s “I want to have firmer boundaries with my coworkers”.

                1. fposte*

                  But that’s a perfectly legitimate thing to use therapy to sort out too (I was actually suggesting it because she said she’s lonely and struggling, but your suggestion works as well).

          3. Dana*

            I didn’t know where to stick this in, but here works. I am a new reader of this blog, and you guys seem nice on the whole, but it has definitely struck me as…odd, I guess…that many of the posts suggest therapy as if everyone has spare hours of their lives and money in their pockets to spend talking with a professional. Maybe it’s because most of the people here seem to be in comfortable professional jobs, but I can’t help but feel alienated when that suggestion comes up. And absolutely there are times I wish I had a therapist to talk to! So I don’t think it’s buying into a stigma about mental health, but I work an office job and have responsibilities outside of work and I struggle with getting everything done that I have to do. There just isn’t time, money, or energy to take on more appointments. Perhaps I’m the only one in this situation…

            1. OP*

              Nope, I’m with you! I’m a huge proponent of therapy and have seen a couple of therapists in the past. They’ve been really helpful. But I don’t have the time or funds to do it right now. This thread has been therapeutic in itself though, because commenters suggestions have been great jumping off points for me to explore where my feelings are coming from.

            2. fposte*

              Well, I do think terms like “broken” are buying into a stigma about using therapy. However, you’re making a different and, I think, more legitimate point about access. I agree that a lot of people can’t afford therapy (that’s why I also often post the link about ways to get low-cost therapy in hope that might make it more accessible). But I don’t think that makes the recommendation inappropriate, any more than it makes the recommendation for a lawyer, which we also make sometimes, inappropriate, even though people similarly may not have the time or money to do that either.

              I also think you’re right that the dominant workplace here is office-style work (though not necessarily “comfortable,” if you’re referring to pay). But there are also plenty of people who aren’t doing that work, and it’s really useful to have the different perspectives. So I hope you’ll stay and keep weighing in.

            3. LBK*

              The possibility of the suggestion being pragmatically infeasible doesn’t mean it’s not worth making. You’re right that some people don’t have the time or money for it, but plenty of people do and could take advantage of that suggestion. FWIW, therapy is also covered under most insurance plans as far as I know – I only pay a $20 copay per session. I acknowledge that not everyone has good enough insurance and that $20 could be a lot, but we’re not talking thousands in medical bills here.

    2. CaliCali*

      I don’t think it’s that she wants to keep to herself; it’s more that she says that she tends to dislike most people upon learning more about them, which is something she doesn’t particularly like about herself! I feel like most people are supportive of the idea of maintaining personal boundaries.

    3. YandO*

      Thank you for this.

      Not needing or wanting to be friends with everybody at work or otherwise is not something that needs a mental health professional (unless they themselves see it as a problem).

      I think it is incredibly harmful that the society keeps telling us that being a social butterfly is inherently “better”. It took me years to figure out that I don’t have to beat myself up over not fitting into this social mold.

      Not to mention, that maybe OP is an environment where she stands out. For examples: everyone is religion A and she is religion B, everyone is from region Z and she is from region X. While these differences should not prevent people from being friendly, they can prevent from really enjoying a deep connection and there is nothing wrong with that.

      1. LBK*

        You’re reading things in the comments that aren’t there. People are responding to the OP’s statement that she generally dislikes people once she knows them; not a single person has said she needs to suck it up and learn to be friends. In fact the majority of the comments are advice on how to do exactly what she’s asking and supporting the idea that you don’t need to be friends with coworkers. The suggestions for therapy are generally targeted towards improving the OP’s quality of life, which she herself admits is a struggle.

      2. Snoskred*

        “Not needing or wanting to be friends with everybody at work or otherwise is not something that needs a mental health professional (unless they themselves see it as a problem).”

        This is true. On the other hand, my psychologist really helped me through a tough situation with a co-worker which had me not even wanting to go to work at all when she was there, by coming up with strategies to deal with the situation.

        I knew at the time it began that it would limit how long I could keep working for that company, and I knew even if I cut my shifts right back I would likely have to interact with her on one every so often. But I managed to stay there for another 6 months while planning my escape and what to do next, and the coworker survived it without me throttling her which is an epic win as far as I am concerned. :)

        I think talking through this stuff with someone who is not involved in the situation and who can see things you can’t see at all while you are in the middle of it can be worth a huge amount, so I would always recommend seeking counselling to anyone.

        Here in Australia, you can get 10 free sessions with a psychologist if your doctor refers you via a “mental health plan” and most doctors will refer you for things like stress, anxiety or depression. I am not sure what the situation is in the USA but I am fairly sure there are low cost options available – and the low cost you pay might be priceless in what you can earn by talking this stuff through with someone.

        With all that said, I think OP that you need to learn to separate a person from their opinions, thoughts and beliefs, because I have found a lot of the time that their opinions, thoughts and beliefs are purely the result of never having thought, of never having to think, and of never having to defend their opinion with someone who believes the exact opposite.

        They might have freedom of speech and all that, but that does not always equal deeply thought out views. :)

    4. Laurel Gray*

      Seriously, get out of my head.

      Since when did having issues making or keeping friends equal issues with mental health?

      The only “issue” I see with the OP is that she admits that being judgmental is part of her problem in making friends. And that’s because I believe being judgmental in general tends to limit us. I think once she gets to the root of that, everything else will fall into place. OP’s “issues” are social, not mental. Period.

      1. LBK*

        I’m confused about why you think social and mental issues are mutually exclusive? Your actions are intrinsically influenced by what’s going on in your head. You don’t think having some sort of negative cloud that leads you to judge people or to end up disliking most people you meet could possibly be rooted in deeper issues?

        1. Laurel Gray*

          I never said they were mutually exclusive.

          The rest I agree with but idk if the OP is necessarily walking around with a negative cloud. I took her letter and subsequent comments as being someone who is introverted, judgmental and aware of the latter being part of her issue. So in essence, she may have deeper issues but in the context presented here, I take her as someone trying to figure out how to make friends with new people outside of work and diplomatically decline friendships within work.

    5. Anonsie*

      Well. I think people are responding more to the LW saying they feel that one specific angle of this is a personal issue that they do, in fact, want to address and change. I don’t think the implication is that someone who doesn’t want to be friends with coworkers needs therapy.

    6. fposte*

      “Mental health assistance needs to be saved for the people who actually need it.” Well, for a start, no, it doesn’t. It’s not smallpox vaccine. It’s not even a hospital bed. It’s usually not even that big a deal. You just talk to somebody for a little bit. It’s a pretty useful experience for anybody facing a challenge or a life change–i.e., everybody. It doesn’t have to mean you have a diagnosable disorder.

      If the OP had said she hates people and just wishes they would leave her alone in her solitary bliss, I wouldn’t have suggested therapy. But she didn’t. She said she’s struggling with this. She said she’s very often lonely. That sounds like somebody who might benefit from a bit of a hand in negotiating something about herself that she’s not enjoying the effects of. If therapy makes her happier not to like people, that’s cool too–a suggestion of therapy doesn’t mean sending her to extrovert school.

      1. W*

        Yes, thank you, this is precisely what I was trying to get at. Therapy doesn’t have to be with a psychologist with the aim of getting a diagnosis. Many people who find it helpful don’t have anything diagnosable other than general life struggles.

  33. Folklorist*

    I’m kind of going through this right now. I’m pretty new at my job still–been here almost 5 months now. I really like it, but got way too invested in my coworkers at my last couple of temp jobs and then feeling heartbroken when I didn’t get hired and the friends didn’t want to hang out anymore. I’ve decided to be more professionally distant here, but of course, all of my coworkers are really nosy and get right into your business! I’ve walked out of conversations where people are talking about their caloric intake/diets for almost an hour and being judgy about other people’s bodies (and sometimes mine) here.

    Thing is, I’m becoming super-passionate and heavily invested in my hobby–bellydancing while spinning fire and/or LED poi. I’m very boring at work and don’t even wear makeup, wear the same clothes every week, don’t call attention to myself. I came into work with an arm brace and a finger bandage this week because I was spinning so much over the weekend that I wore a hole in my finger and aggravated my wrist. I’m trying to be bland and deflect it (“Oh, I over-did it while working out this weekend. It’s really no big deal, just a precaution.”) But then they start asking about my specific workout routines (Me: “I swim some and do the elliptical.” (True, just not in this case.) Coworker: “Oh? How does that hurt your wrist? Where does it hurt? Have you tried…? If you lift weights, this often happens…” etc, etc, etc.)

    I’m not sure how to shut down these down, because I don’t want to be that wild-child weirdo who gets introduced as “The Crazy Bellydancing Fire-Spinner” instead of “Editor Extraordinaire,” as everyone was discussing yesterday. I also just don’t feel like answering a ton of questions about my hobby or feeling like I have to demonstrate stuff to them. But I also don’t want to be unfriendly and standoffish.

    1. aliascelli*

      Someone upthread talked about not asking coworkers followup questions; maybe you could flip that around here. “…I overdid it working out.”
      “Oh? What’s your workout routine?”
      PAUSE. Wave (good) hand. “I won’t even get into it, it makes my wrist hurt just thinking about it.”
      Change subject / exit conversation / exeunt, pursued by bear.

      I say this as someone who often gets stuck in the second or third layer of questions because I don’t pay enough attention to the direction of the conversation. “Oh, what did I write? Um…fiction…inspired by…sort of similar to that TV show I watch…’scuse me gotta go quit change my name and leave the country.” I’m terrible at it! Be better than me! :)

      1. Folklorist*

        Haha, thanks! I’m trying! I’m an attempting-to-reform-myself oversharer.

        It’s hard when I’m also really excited about doing this, but it’s just not totally appropriate for the office. You’re right about the third layer of questioning being where I get stuck, and I like your ideas!

        1. Snoskred*

          I struggled with this for a while back when my passion was scam-baiting the Nigerian 419 scammers. It is a long time ago now, back in 2004 was when I first got into that area.

          At that time, we were working with law enforcement in South Africa and they were giving us details of people who had been scammed, we would call and warn them. I had just warned an 80 year old nun in Melbourne who had sent quite a lot of her life savings to a “church” in Nigeria, and it turned out her money went to a criminal in South Africa who used it to buy a Mercedes and some lovely gold chains.

          I remember telling one person who was totally sympathetic with these people who were stealing money from the elderly and the disabled and the mentally ill and the hopeful and so many more.. I asked them – so, if you parked your car somewhere and it got stolen, would you be sympathetic with the CRIMINAL who STOLE it, because these people are simply criminals stealing money.

          That discussion did not go very well, and it was at that point I began to realise that I could not be “me” at work. And ever since, anytime someone has asked me to be “more myself” and I have actually done that, it has never ended well, so I have since learned to refuse to be me and just put on a reflective cloak for others, so they can see what they want to see rather than who I actually am. It is safer to keep me just for me. :) Sad though it is, to have to hide who you really are.

        1. simonthegrey*

          I spend a lot of time writing fanfiction. No one needs to know this about me. (And it isn’t under this name).

      2. Ellen Fremedon*

        I usually say “Nothing marketable,” and laugh as though I am actually sad about this. No one ever asks for details.

      3. Nea*

        May I just say I love the Shakespeare quote?

        Oh, and it’s “I’m part of an amateur writing group. Oh, no, I couldn’t possibly bring it to work to share; I’m nowhere near good enough yet.” Not that I’ve answered the same question or anything. ;)

    2. Nea*

      You have a very cool hobby!

      Last time I hurt myself and didn’t want to say why, I started making up blatantly obvious lies. “Well, when Prince Eduardo tried to hand me out of the Limborgini last night so we could fly to Monaco to gamble, my strand of pearls got caught in the door…” When asked for the truth, I just said with a smile “But the truth is SO disappointingly boring. Also, more embarrassing than I’m going to admit to at work.”

    3. OriginalEmma*

      I used to fire spin in college. There were quite a few in my dorm. I miss it!

      1. Folklorist*

        I started belly dancing in college and always wanted to add fire. Now, 10 years later, I’m getting into it! Never too late, although it is harder to get into the community now!

  34. Extronerd*

    This post and this thread do make me feel a little lonely, though, in that I wish I had this problem. People here don’t really go out for lunch much, or after-work drinks, or do anything social in general. Most people maintain strictly professional boundaries, which is probably better for workplace harmony, but it makes the day go by a lot slower when (as an extrovert) no one really cares about forming an interpersonal connection. Eight hours a day with me and my computer and light chit-chat make for a draining atmosphere. The last workplace I was at was extremely social — but also highly dysfunctional — and some days, I’m honestly not sure which one I prefer!

    1. The IT Manager*

      Me too! I am apparently a cold person and don’t invite people to want to be my friends and overshare like this LW. I may prefer it that way (I am an introvert), but it makes me sad and lonely that I don’t have the friendship option when I think on it like this discussion.

      I appreciate the LW’s desire though. I don’t want a dysfunctional office.

    2. Jen RO*

      I lean towards introverted, but I would be miserable in an office with no ‘human’ connection.

      1. jesicka309*

        I once worked in an office where it was dead silent all day. I would sometimes go home and my voice would crack from being used for the first time all day. It was utterly miserable.

    3. 2horseygirls*

      This. I was restructured out of my position, and moved from a business-services-end office to an academic division in higher ed. Even though it’s the same institution, COMPLETELY different atmosphere.

      Old Office: pretty much self-sufficient. A few consistent annoyances (e.g., please save your work on the shared drive instead of your user drive so it can be accessed if you’re not here one day) and petty/childish sniping, but the majority of the department meshed well, managed itself, and cranked out an enormous amount of work for the number of people.

      New Office: I know they didn’t have a choice because of union bumping rules, but almost a year later, I’m still ignored most of the day :/ A culture of silos, everyone is micromanaged within an inch of their sanity. I am continuously told to ask questions ONLY of the administrative assistant (not anyone else in the institution, EVER), who replies to everything I ask with “I don’t know”. Loads of whispering and the admin (who is retiring in 15 days) has done nothing but read books on her iPad since January, and thinks the new admin (who, miracle of miracle, was hired with a month of overlap) just “needs to learn everything herself” and is ignoring the poor girl. Hoping for a huge culture shift once the AA is gone . . . a negative Nancy who seems to rule the office and no one contradicts her, even her supervisor.

  35. Yoshi*

    My suggestion would be to always throw the small talk back in the work direction, in a super casual/ friendly tone. Things like “so what’s new in (your department)”, when said casually enough sound less like you’re asking for a debrief and more like the office version of “how bout them (enter local sports team here)”.

  36. denken*

    So much of this depends on the culture of the workplace. In my previous job, there were 5 of us who worked closely on a team who were all in our twenties, and though we weren’t really friends outside work we did overshare in ways that were not very professional! I think there was one person on this team who kind of set this culture (dude had NO boundaries) but most of us got sucked in. I remember telling my coworkers a story about my partner’s wacky behaviour when he came home super drunk one night — SO inappropriate! Makes me cringe like crazy in retrospect. But in the moment, and in that culture, it felt normal to share that story.

    Now I work on a team on which I am the youngest by 15 years, and everyone is very cordial but professional. We mention personal lives (vacation plans, partners/spouses, a niece’s birthday, etc) but it never veers in to the unprofessional or in to friendship territory, and i like it very much. I think the age barrier also stops me ever thinking of them as peers/potential drinking buddies so there’s no danger of forgetting that it needs to be a professional interaction. My colleagues know my professional history, my partner’s name, where i grew up, where we’ve vacationed recently, and that i like to read and garden — and that’s about it. This actually feels much more normal and comfortable to me, and it’s probably the approach i’ll maintain in the future even if i end up working with younger peers again.

  37. The IT Manager*

    I have friendly relationships with people at work, but I’d hesitate to call them friendships. I don’t have the LW’s problem. I have trouble making friends in all circumstances, but I will be friendly to people who are friendly to me since I need all the friends I can get.

    I think this is my problem/you solution. Don’t over share at work. Especially personal stuff. I think I’m friendly. I talk about work and rather impersonal things. I play sports. So I mention I have a game or am busy with that. I talk weather and how it impacts said sports. I talk about the local sports teams. No of that, though, is personal stuff. (I’m not emotionally invested in the local sports teams.) No one knows anything intimate about me. I talk about my family with facts, but nothing again personal, no arguments, no dislikes, no annoyances.

    So you don’t overshare and you need to prevent others from oversharing. If they start getting personal/oversharing on their own without you encouraging it go back to work, change the topic, look bored (?) Honestly I don’t know. Random people are not inspired to overshare with me so I don’t have this problem.

  38. Jaydee*

    I am the opposite of you. Any desire I have to try not to make friends at work is because I like people too much and get too attached and then have trouble setting boundaries or feel guilty if I think about taking a different job. Either way, there is a happy medium. I have many co-workers with whom I am friendly, but we never really talk in great depth or socialize outside of work or work-related social activities (lunch, happy hour, office party). In a pinch I could tell you 5 interesting facts about each of them – their kids’ names, what kind of dog they have, what their spouse does for a living, that one was an Army brat, one is horribly allergic to poison ivy, etc. I don’t know their religious or political beliefs (except on a fairly superficial level). I don’t know if they have a chronic illness or a family member with a drug problem or if they have ever filed for bankruptcy or had a car repossessed.

    Everyone has a “work-safe” version of themselves. They have some information they are comfortable sharing with others broadly, and other information that they only share with those closest to them. They also have a comfort zone as far as what they learn about other people and what is just TMI.

    I think it’s probably good for you to figure out where your boundaries are and then tailor your conversations and interactions to stay within those boundaries. If there are specific topics that really trigger your dislike of people, work on identifying those (whether that’s commonly problematic topics like politics or religion or whether it’s zealous veganism/paleo/gluten-free/organic foodies or parenting philosophies or people who are obsessed with football or baseball or Game of Thrones or Jamberry nails). Then you can come up with a strategy to remain friendly but deflect or avoid conversations that go out of your comfort zone. “Oh, Wakeen, I appreciate your gluten-free, paleo recipe suggestions, but that just isn’t my thing. I’m glad it works for you though! I’m just too heavily committed to ‘cake-itarianism’ to go gluten-free and paleo. Haha!” “Lucretia, I’m sorry to hear your fantasy football team isn’t doing well. Say, did you ever get an answer to that interesting question you had about Project X last week? I have been wondering how that turned out.”

    1. Jean*

      “Everyone has a “work-safe” version of themselves.”

      This is a great phrase! You’ve succinctly captured most of this thread. Thank you. I will carry this concept forward with me.

  39. Sunflower*

    How about making sure when it comes to work stuff, you’re really invested? If you’re the type of person who’s always willing to help out someone with work, that will for sure get you on the good side of people without having to really be friends with them. If you can really chat it up when it comes to work stuff, that can help too. It’s totally okay to not disclose any personal things, but if you make a point to be really involved during meetings, people can see you as a friendly person and you don’t have to really ‘be friends’ with them. I wish I had a better way to describe what I’m trying to say.

    Be on alert and you might find there are people in your office who probably feel similar to you. I don’t mind getting into long conversations with people about work-related things but I really don’t want to discuss my personal life as I feel it can really quickly go from ‘laughs and I don’t mind talking about this’ to ‘i feel uncomfortable’

  40. Dasha*

    I’d also like to recommend if at all possible really look into where you will be sitting. Are you going to be in a cube farm, open desk layout, share an office, your own office?

    I know it’s going to depend on company/function/level/whatever but having your own office really helps with this sort of thing.

    When I worked at Teapot Financials we had an open layout and it was SO hard to keep to myself because whenever you looked up someone was right there! People were always talking and it seemed like you could never get away from anyone.

    When I moved on from that to work at Tealeaf Financial Corp most of us had either offices or large, private cubicles and it was so much easier to keep to myself.

    Personally, I think by distancing yourself from your co-workers you will save yourself a lot of heartache and stress. Also, don’t give too much mind to these “mental health issue” comments. You seem very self-aware, OP and by you asking for advice it indicates you have a good head on your shoulders. Do you think maybe you need to focus on the quality of people you meet? Coworkers are usually a big melting pot of people who are different ages, lifestyles, mindsets, etc. and while sometimes that allows your to learn more about someone you normally would never interact with sometimes you just don’t want to be friends with those people. Usually we like to be friends with people who are similar to us. Maybe you need to focus on meeting really like minded people?

    I second the MeetUp idea. Try a few different ones if the first one doesn’t work. If you feel up to, I would highly suggest starting your own group if you don’t see one you like.

    I’m not sure if you’re religious, but if you are trying to meet people outside of work that is also the way to go. Same thing, try several different places until you find the right fit.

    Good luck!

  41. Rachel B*

    I can relate to OP. I’m shy and pretty reserved. Early in my career, I found myself “making friends” with inappropriate coworkers. The type that took super long lunches, disclosed too much personal information, and drank too much at company events. If you limit yourself too much, it can hurt your career. But if you find yourself continuously attracted to people without healthy boundaries, it can be hard to identify potential new resource from foe.

    My rule is: if the boss is going to a social function, then I go and try not to leave on the early side. Otherwise, I’d hold off on lunch invitations, at least until you have a better sense of who your coworkers are. Alcohol can make things a lot harder, so try to limit your intake and being around coworkers who may be on their third or fourth. Decline invites for out of work events. Having a “good” excuse is very helpful, too, but err on the side of not disclosing too much information in the beginning. For example, saying you have to leave because of your long commute, when you live much closer than your coworkers, makes you look out of touch.

  42. k*

    Own it! Use the headphones, keep to yourself – be a loner. There are trade offs to anything so at least be yourself. You have the confidence to pull it off. If people start to reveal things you dislike, think of how you handle irritating traits, habits etc of the friends you do have. If you hang someone to talk to, see if you can learn about a time they knew someone who did not like you, but was discrete. It may be easier to learn coping strategies that way.

  43. anon attorney*

    I have worked at the next desk to the same coworker for the last five years, and I know absolutely nothing about her personal life, whether she is in a relationship, what she likes to do outside work, etc. She will sometimes mention what she has done at a weekend in general chit chat terms, but that’s it. Yet she is perfectly cordial and friendly in the office and we get along fine. I am not a particularly curious person and very cautious about being intrusive, so that probably has something to do with it. It’s perfectly possible and OK to be polite but reserved and I think the dividing line is not to go into detail about personal relationships. There’s a difference between “oh I had a quiet weekend, went out for dinner Saturday” and “went for dinner with friends Saturday, ran into this guy I had a disastrous date with last year, I was so embarrassed that I got loaded on margaritas and my BFF had to take me home”.

    tl;dr – don’t go into detail.

    1. The IT Manager*

      “oh I had a quiet weekend, went out for dinner Saturday”

      Ohh! This can to lead a pretty neutral topic (usually) about good restaurants in town again without getting into the personal.

      I just really feel like there’s a vast amount of “small talk” you can make with co-workers so that they think “he’s a nice guy” without them knowing anything truly personal, private, or embarrassing about yourself.

      1. fposte*

        I think this is something the Midwest is particularly good at, as in the legendary “Minnesota nice.” We talk in a friendly manner for ages without ever getting personal. It’s friendliness as a deflection rather than an invitation.

  44. Tiffany*

    I don’t have an answer for you, but I certainly know how you’re feeling! I really don’t like most people after getting to know them and if working in an office for the last year has taught me anything, it’s that the feeling doesn’t apply to just college students (I’m fixing to graduate, currently an intern) and people who work at call centers (where I’ve worked for most of the last 8 years or so).

  45. Saucy Minx*

    OP, I think you might find Susan Cain’s book interesting: Quiet! The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. If you google the title, it will take you to her web site for further info.

    And you might enjoy taking a workshop on the Myers-Briggs personality types. I found it most enlightening. It may well have answers for why you tend to judge (& why there’s nothing wrong w/ that aspect of a personality) & why you get overwhelmed & dislike it when people unload too much of themselves onto you.

  46. Three Thousand*

    One thing I always try to keep in mind is that you can be friends with someone, even genuinely love them and care about them, while disliking some parts of their personality and behavior. You don’t have to sign off on everything your friends do or say. You’re not responsible for what they say or do, and it’s not your job to police them or change them or even discuss any particular topic with them if you don’t want to.

    None of this is to say you’re obligated to be friends with anyone if you don’t want to be. This letter just resonated with me because I feel the same way about a lot of people, including people I’ve been friends with for years. There are just some people I enjoy spending time with even though I don’t agree with them on many important issues, and since I don’t make friends easily, I don’t have the time or energy to vet everyone I meet. Of course other people have different standards and priorities, and that’s fine.

    1. Snoskred*

      Three Thousand said – “One thing I always try to keep in mind is that you can be friends with someone, even genuinely love them and care about them, while disliking some parts of their personality and behavior.”

      Absolutely – this is 100% correct and I think a huge part of the OP’s issue here. :)

  47. HR Generalist*

    I think the issue might be that that you’re overly critical of the people around you. Make friends wherever you go. I’d suggest rationalizing why you don’t like certain people – maybe you’re being too hard on them, not giving them the benefit of the doubt, or holding them up to unattainable standards.

    It’s something I’ve been working on for a few years. I also find I have trouble finding people that I truly like (but the ones I do like I love HARD – it’s a weird character flaw). I found that if I try to ‘go easy’ on people it makes it better for me. For example, my sister’s boyfriend is a huge tool. Instead of repeatedly telling myself reasons why that is true, I try to think of reasons why to let him off easier. Things like, “He’s still young and has some growing to do, I did too at that age” and “He was raised differently that I was, it’s not his fault” and “He has a good heart and has never done anything malicious to me”. Focusing on more positive pieces makes it easier for me to be around him (and thus makes all of our lives easier).

    1. Three Thousand*

      I think it’s OK to acknowledge when people are tools. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s also nothing wrong with saying this person is a tool but I’m going to hang out with them anyway because I enjoy it or I can overlook their bullshit. It doesn’t mean the bullshit isn’t there, just that you’ve chosen to overlook it because no one is perfect and you’re getting something out of it yourself. But you shouldn’t feel bad about thinking people are tools when in fact they are.

    2. Snoskred*

      HR Generalist said “For example, my sister’s boyfriend is a huge tool”

      OMG, mine too. I can’t understand what his problem is, and it is made all the more confusing by the fact that when my Dad was seriously ill in hospital in Hawaii when we were on holiday and my sister and her partner flew in, he was incredibly amazing to us and extremely nice, and we had a really great time together.. and then the next time he came to visit while at home, he was back to his surly, combative, uncooperative, unfriendly, angry self.

      It has got to the point now where if he is going to be there, I’m not going to be. :(

      I can only assume the Hawaii behaviour was down to his being replaced by a lovely friendly alien of some kind, for the time we were away. :)

  48. _ism_*

    Fascinating. I’m getting pressure from my co-workers to “be more social” but it’s not my nature. I don’t want work friends, either. But my question would be not how to avoid making them… that’s easy for me, I’m not very chatty in the first place. My question would be how to let management know that I prefer not to socialize with work people without sounding like a complete asshole and disappointing their expectations. I definitely don’t fit in with the culture around here. We all get along with small talk and that’s plenty for me!

  49. ExJourno*

    This is all making me a little sad because I SO want to be irl friends with my coworkers! Ah well, what can ya do?

  50. Anonforthis*

    Honest question for the OP: does your aversion to liking coworkers have to do with how you view yourself or any underlying insecurities? I ask because I use to find reasons to instantly dislike people when I was younger and avoid building relationships. As I got older, I came to realize that much of this behavior stemmed from me worrying that I was boring, disappointing, uninteresting, etc, and to avoid allowing others to find fault in me, I decided to find fault with them instead and just shut them out. Unlike you, though, I wasn’t very good at remaining cordial and definitely earned a reputation. My rational was that I didn’t care if they liked me or not; as long as they couldn’t find any flaws or vulnerabilities in me, I didn’t give a hoot if they disliked me for being a cold b*tch.

    Of course, I am not saying this directly applies to you, but rather if there is something similar you can relate to. And regarding TMI employees: I think most of us cannot stand them, so there is definitely nothing wrong with you for not wanting to engage. ;-)

  51. Dr. Pepper Addict*

    First of all, there’s nothing wrong with not wanting to make friends at work. Some people just aren’t people persons.

    Here’s my advice. Always be cordial and even agree to go out to lunch every so often. But when the conversation turns to you, or your co-workers want to come to your desk and socialize, be short with them. I don’t mean rude short, just have your answers be short and don’t expound and give them more information than you have to. If they ask “are you married?” you can just say, “Yes, me and my husband have been together for X years.” No details on how you met. No details on your wedding, your honeymoon, kids etc. Make it short and sweet. And here’s the kicker, don’t ask them questions in return. If the above scenario plays out, don’t feel compelled to ask them “are you married too. For how long?”

    Also, try to be boring if you are forced to talk. “What did you do last night?” You can reply, “Oh I made a peanut butter sandwich and watched CSPAN.”

  52. Merry and Bright*

    One of the things about workplace relationships, of course, is that often the only thing you have in common with them is work – not how much you actually like them. This makes it so bizarre when you end up knowing personal stuff about them that you don’t even know about your own family. Can be hard to get your head round this at times.

  53. Not So NewReader*

    This is more of an aside comment but you might find it helpful, OP. Nice people will lead you to more nice people. This means take the relationships that are going well in your life and meet their peeps. Meet their families and their friends. Like attracts like. No, this does not work 100% of the time, but it does help. I have been doing this for a while and I am amazed at what I am seeing.

  54. Amarah*

    First off, full disclosure: my OP-works-in-my-office radar is pinging here. Could be a small teapot factory world after all… sure we all feel that from time to time at AAM!

    Second of all, congrats on your chance at a fresh start! Maybe some reading on assertive communication would be helpful to you — strategies for setting boundaries and knowing what your personal rights are. All that good therapy-ish stuff. Seems like that gets suggested a lot for more shy folks, but if you feel people are constantly pushing you for more emotional energy than you want to give, it might give you some ideas on how to shut them down respectfully without feeling guilty or rude.

    I lean headphones-heavy myself. Not that I don’t think my coworkers are overall kind, decent people. It’s just that I really have zero in common with half of them by way of age differences/life circumstances, and no real desire to join the high school clique vibe of the rest. I miss having a real office buddy, though! Maybe you could try a little experiment with just one or two folks. Practice letting go of little things that irritate you or put you off if there’s anyone you feel like, at core, could be your kind of person. Then you’re not putting the pressure on yourself of having to deal with everyone who wants a piece of your pie on the one hand, and you won’t isolate yourself into a corner on the other.

    Congrats again, and best of luck!

  55. Erin*

    A few people already touched on this – but say no to Facebook invites. My husband has a coworker I’ve met and liked, and I suggested having her and her husband over for dinner sometime or something – my husband let me know she has a policy of not being friends with coworkers, especially not Facebook friends. I was like, “Okay, that makes sense.” No big deal.

    I think it’s reasonable to want to keep your professional and personal life separate, and if you remain friendly (but not too friendly) at work, I can’t imagine you’d offend anyone.

    On another note, it does sound like you struggle socially – as do I sometimes, and many people! I would suggest, if you’re up for it, consider taking a cooking class or a yoga class, or something of that nature to meet people in your area that aren’t colleagues.

  56. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    OP mentioned her husband – meaning, she has a life outside of work.

    There were two occasions in my working life of over 42 years – where I worked with people who had no lives outside of their work. One, I was around 39-40 – and I worked with 20-somethings , including my boss, who was a charming lady of (around) 30. She tried to make the office one “happy happy joy joy” — now, the 20–types weren’t embracing me, but they recognized I had a family, a home, and outside interests. The youngsters spent 12+ hours a day, seven days a week with each other.

    Needless to say, I didn’t mind not being “in with the in crowd” – I had my own life.

    Another – a company I worked for – and loved working for – was going “down the tubes”. I was younger (35) but worked on a team of six. They seemed to resent that at 5, I went off, went home to family. I didn’t go for drinks, for lunch, etc. — just worked. When I resigned – one guy was upset – but – I told him, I had a career, a home, a mortgage, (at the time) a wife and daughter to go home to (now empty nest) and my job was a vehicle to take care of all that — not a social party and my job was not “my life”.

    Happy to say that the last 25 years – my work life is my work life, my family life is my family life and they are , for the most part, separate but fulfilling.

    Different work atmospheres have different cultures. You have to find one you’re happy with.

  57. Anna*

    I completely and utterly do not understand this. The job I’m currently at is the first one that I haven’t developed any good friends in. At first it was weird, but now I’m good with it. Two of my closest friends are people I got to know at work. The idea that I would go in to any new position specifically trying to avoid developing friendships is so foreign to me. Not that I go in to jobs wondering who I will get to be buddy buddies with, but I just don’t get this particular attitude at all.

  58. Marcy markerter*

    I know I’m late to the discussion, but I really don’t think its a character flaw that you dislike hanging out with a majority of people. I am the same way: I’m very gregarious and friendly–at first. Then as I get to know people, I start to discover that hanging out with them is really a chore. Either they are boring, or we just don’t click. I even have some old friends from college who are “proximity friendships,” where I hang out with them out of habit, and not because we have great conversations. I’m at the point in my life where if I prefer hanging out with my dog to hanging out with you, I’m going with the dog!

    Here’s the catch though. Out of about 10-15 people I open up to, one of them turns out to be someone I totally love hanging out with. Sometimes you just have to keep trying to be friendly and not get discouraged when it doesn’t work out. That’s part of getting older. You become more clear about what you look for in a friendship, and your time becomes more valuable so you don’t want to waste it on people you don’t get along with. I don’t think there’s anything not normal about this, unless you dislike people so much you can’t work with them professionally.

  59. Lisa*

    I just tell the basic truth that after work is me time & I’m not very social. I always thank any offers of meet ups sincerely & with eye contact, but leave it firmly at that. Keep it clean at work & don’t mix after hours.
    Work colleagues are like family, you’ll spend a lot of time together, so keep it where necessary & on track for good relations.

  60. Kelly*

    Just came to say that I wish I worked with all of you so none of us would have to explain this to each other. I enjoy keeping things friendly-professional at work and it often takes me YEARS to decide whether a colleague is a work-friend or a friend-friend. I get made fun of for not joining in the happy hours or gossipy lunches, but none of that interests me. I just want to do my job and go home to my husband and cat. :)

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