I feel bad that I’m the second choice for a job offer, what “not enough applicants” means, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. I feel bad that I’m the second choice for a job offer

I was just offered a job at a different company, and I’m really excited about it — it’s a huge step up in my career, I think my skills are a great fit, and the benefits and salary boost are a life-changer for me and my family.

I had felt awkward even in the interviewing process, because I knew a good friend of mine also was interviewing for the same position. We just avoided the topic, and I never knew if he even was a finalist … until a mutual friend told me that he was actually offered the job first, turned it down because he wasn’t ready to relocate for the job, and they chose me second (or third, or fourth, or fifth).

Now I feel embarrassed. I don’t have such a bruised ego that I’m not going to take the job — I’m still excited about that! But I can’t shake this crummy feeling of getting my friend’s sloppy seconds. How can I think of this differently so that I don’t feel so humiliated, especially around him?

Don’t feel embarrassed! There are often multiple great candidates who an employer would happy to hire, but when there’s only one slot, that’s not possible. When that happens, sometimes the final decision comes down to really tiny things, simply because something has to be the tie-breaker.

From my experience with this on the hiring side, I can tell you that I’d never hire someone I wasn’t excited to hire — if I offered the job to my second choice after the first choice turned it down, that would be someone who I really wanted to accept the job. If I felt like I was settling, I’d go talk to more candidates, not settle for someone who wasn’t right.

Plus, it’s really common to be the second choice. There are lots of stellar employees out there who were “second choices” and never knew it — and whose managers don’t even remember that was the case, because no one thinks about that once the offer is accepted. Once they decided to offer it to you, you became their first choice.

2. My coworkers are obsessed with talking about their kids

I am wondering what I can do about colleagues talking constantly about their children and nothing else. I am in my early 30s and have never had any desire to have children. I have also never been around children much and have nothing to contribute to discussions about children. Yet every single one of my colleagues in my office of 10 (men and women) has children and talks about them constantly. I always get asked the same thing – Do you have a partner/kids? Are you going to have kids? This is as far as the personal questions go, and when they see how different my life is from theirs, it’s as if they have nothing to talk to me about. This is the first job where I have outright said that I do not ever want children and I never have (instead of just smiling, nodding and walking away as I would previously), but no one seems to take me seriously. One particular colleague has been very aggressive about it, repeatedly telling me I will change my mind.

I have been in this job for five months and this is making me miserable because I feel like I have nothing in common with the others even though they are all around my age. They all appear to bond over sharing stories about children, whereas I have nothing to contribute to discussions about squirting breast milk or violent vomiting bouts. Some of the talk is uncomfortable for me, like open discussions on their toddlers genitals (rashes, the names the kids give their body parts, and so on). Even for social events like the office Christmas party people, will bring their children with them. There just doesn’t seem to be any escape from it (I am unable to wear earphones) and I feel like the odd one out. Never before has my choice to be child-free made me feel like an alien as it does now!

I spoke to my manager about it and she was apologetic that I have to deal with this but hasn’t really done anything. How do I handle this when even just saying I don’t want children seems to be offensive?

Well, the person condescending to you about how you’ll change your mind about wanting kids is being a jerk. And you can certainly ask people to tone it down when the conversation veers into the inappropriate. You can also try introducing your own conversation topics — interesting local news, a new recipe you tried, the weird thing you found in the elevator, etc.

But the rest of this sounds like it’s just a culture fit issue. It’s not that different than if you’d joined an office where everyone talked about sports all the time and kept asking you if you saw last night’s game, and you had no interest in sports.

Your best bet is probably to try to build relationships with people one-on-one. Ask the person you have the most rapport with to coffee, and get her talking about non-kid subjects — ask about her work, what she did before she came to this company, favorite places to go in your city, anything not kid-related. Do that with a few people, and you might be able to start connecting with people in ways that make more sense for you. Hell, you could even mention to one or two of them that you’re finding it hard to find common ground with people because of this and ask for advice.

But I don’t think there’s much you can do about the fact that this is an office where kids are a frequent communal conversation topic. That’s what they’re into, just like some other offices are obsessed with soccer or food. You might end up deciding the culture isn’t a comfortable fit for you, but I’d try to build some individual relationships first before concluding that.

Read an update to this letter here.

3. Telling an employer I’d drop out of grad school to work for them

I have just started a master’s program a few weeks ago which is closely related to my bachelor degree. However, I am not too interested in post-grad studies and the only reason why I am taking them is as a last resort because I could not obtain a job related to my bachelor degree. Since I am only taking post-grad studies to improve my chance of finding a job, I am still applying to any relevant job posting I can find because I would rather drop out of my master’s program for a full-time job.

My question is how a hiring manager/interviewer would feel about me if I told them I would drop out of my master’s program to work for their company. Would this give them bad signals about me? If yes, should I omit the master’s degree education out of my resume and not reveal that I am taking it? If I should not leave this part out of my resume, how should I present it? I am afraid of a hiring manager looking at my resume and wondering how I plan to work for them when I just started a master’s program (resulting in my resume being tossed aside).

Yeah, it’s not likely to help you, and since you’re not trying to frame your program as part of your strengths as a candidate, I’d leave it off your resume altogether. Saying that you’ll drop out to take a job is likely to make some people concerned. They’ll either feel uneasy being the reason that you’re abandoning your program, or they’ll worry about your judgment in dropping out of a program you just started a few weeks ago.

4. My manager won’t stop saying I’m on a two-year job interview

I am working as a post-masters student at a national lab. My position is technically a temporary one: a one-year contract with an option to renew once. When I started this job, I was given the impression that I would be converted from a student position to full staff sometime after my first year. However, it seems that my boss would like to keep me as a student for as long as possible (possibly because my pay is doubled once I’m staff). This does not bother me.

What bothers me is that since I started working here, she has said “Your position here is a two-year interview!” What I thought was an offhanded remark during my entrance interview has become something that gets repeated at every meeting (not just to me, but to every student). What I would really like to say is “Hire me or don’t hire me. If this job is two years long, fine! Tell me it’s a two-year job when you hire me. Don’t just sit there and try to hold the job I already have over my head for two years.”

I think this is a power play on her part. I’ve been told by my colleagues that unless I mess up royally (and really even if do) I’m going to get hired on full time. And while I’ve come to basically ignore my boss when she says this, it still gets under my skin. Is there any way to tell her to stop or should I just continue to ignore her or is there another way?

Well, you could say, “That goes both ways — I consider it a two-year interview of you and the company too.” But she sounds out of touch enough that that probably won’t go over well.

If you happened to have a really strong relationship with her, you could sincerely point out to her how this comes across by saying something like, “I’m sure you don’t realize this, but it can be grating to hear at every meeting that this is a two-year job interview. I understand your point, but it can feel a little odd to hear it at every meeting we have.”

Or you could approach it this way: “You tell me at each of our meetings that this is a two-year job interview, and I’m wondering if you keep repeating it because you’re concerned that I’m not getting a particular message. Is there something you’re worried I’m not understanding?”

Really, though, she’s being obnoxious, and the easiest option would be to keep mentally rolling your eyes and ignoring the comments.

5. What does “not enough applicants” mean?

What does it mean when a job “doesn’t have enough applicants?” Why does a specific number of applicants need to be reached before interviewing/hiring someone?

Sometimes it means “we have internal rules that we interview X number of candidates for every opening, and we don’t have X people who are strong enough to interview yet.” Sometimes it means “we only have one person who’s plausible for the role and that’s not a healthy applicant pool so we’re going to do more to build it up because we want to make sure we’re hiring the best person we can.” Sometimes it means “we’re not thrilled with our applicant pool in general so need to do more to generate applications.”

{ 385 comments… read them below }

  1. Feathers McGraw*

    #1 I get why you feel like this, but it’s not ‘sloppy seconds’ because this is one way in which hiring is not like dating.

    In dating it’s not really possible to have a ‘second’ choice you’re just as into. In hiring? If totally is! It’s not that one person gets chosen and everyone else sucks, try to remember this and not let it spoil your excitement.

    #2 I think there are two issues here. Blithering on about their kids is annoying but asking you personal questions is categorically not okay. I’m really sorry you’re having to put up with this, I don’t have any advice but wanted to say I understand you wanting the record to change. When they ask questions just say that personal and change the subject. Every. Time.

    #3 Yeah, don’t do it. Understandable though it is, in a hiring situation it is bound to reflect badly on your attitude – it will also make you sound desperate. I hope you find something soon!

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yeah, OP#2 gave me flashbacks to an old job where not only did everyone talk all the time about their children, they also structured all travel and work responsibilities so that my unmarried coworker and I had to carry the load because “we didn’t have families” (of course we had families and family obligations, but apparently those didn’t count as “real responsibilities” unless they involved a spouse and children). So the good news is at least the lameness is somewhat restricted to workplace culture and not work responsibilities.

      But I agree with Feathers that there are two distinct problems, and the one where you have greater leverage is your jerk coworker who keeps saying you’ll change your mind, and to a lesser extent, the coworkers who ask about your reproductive plans. [Aside: It’s amazing what people feel comfortable telling people about their reproductive choices—I had a classmate berate me for 2 years saying I “owed it to society” to procreate, no matter how bluntly I shut him down. Uh, no thanks, and also, wtf?].

      If there’s a firm but polite way to tell the jerk coworker to stuff it, I think it could be helpful, and I think there are similar 1-2 line things you can say to your more well-intentioned but also misguided coworkers. Captain Awkward has some good scripts on this in the context of romantic relationships and parents/in-laws, but I find that a lot of those scripts can be applied in other contexts.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          When he sees me (like at alumni events—we’re not friends) he still says it and thinks it’s “charming” and now tries to enlist his wife. I have left no room for him to think that, but it seems to be a heavy mix of mansplaining and general belief in his personal brilliance.

          1. Artemesia*

            Have you tried ‘Do you realize how truly obnoxious that comment is? I really never want to hear it again.’ I have had dunderheaded acquaintances and alas, relatives, who literally do not stop with it unless you are that blunt.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Oh, I am not shy about being blunt. I’ve told him it’s not up for conversation, that he’s out of line, that I don’t appreciate it, that I never want to hear it, etc., etc., but he thinks it’s still debatable. Some people are just unwilling to conform to social norms.

              1. Annonymouse*

                I’d also add
                “Have you really got nothing else going on in your life that you have to butt into my personal reproductive choices?”

                You can add your own touch of snark at the end or leave as is. Touches of snark include:

                “I pity you.”

                “Unless you are volunteering it is none of your damn business. Are you volunteering? (No being the answer you’d expect here). Then I don’t expect we will need to talk about this again.”

                “I’m open to giving you career advice.” And proceed to pester him with it the way he does with you.

                If he splutters that everything is fine:
                “Then I’d love to hear more about that. Tell me about how things are going at work? I heard important thing X.”

                Or you could always lie and say “I thought about what you said and I saw a doctor. It turns out I’m infertile. But please, by all means, continue this very personal and hurtful topic of conversation.”

          2. MassMatt*

            I would be awfully tempted to retort “you owe it to society NOT to reproduce!”. What a jerk!

          3. Jadelyn*

            I might really be tempted to respond with “If you say that to me one more time, I will make sure you CAN’T reproduce.” But then I’m kind of a jerk about that kind of intrusiveness, and as a childfree person who’s gotten plenty of that kind of BS I’m already super over it and have a low tolerance.

      1. Mr McGregor's Gardener*

        How about you tell jerk co-worker to give you (significant amount of local currency). Then when you change your mind, you’ll give it back?

      2. Jeanne*

        Captain Awkward gets recommended so much. I went over there and it seemed like a different world over there. Just saying I don’t think it’s the one size fits all help that it is touted as.

        1. aebhel*

          It’s definitely not going to be a good cultural fit for everybody, but I think in this particular case there are some good scripts for shutting people down politely.

        2. Not so awkward*

          I agree. While it’s undoubtedly a great resource for a lot of people, I don’t really get the love for Captain Awkward: when I visited, the tone of the writing just didn’t appeal to me at all.

          1. Telly*

            I agree, and the website was burdensome to navigate. I tried reading it for a few days and gave up. It just didn’t interest me.

            I’d love suggestions for other non-work advice blogs, though, that are more like AAM!

              1. an anon*

                Yes, Carolyn Hax is very AAM-y. She balances a no-nonsense approach with thought-provoking questions and well-worded scripts.

                1. Artemesia*

                  Oddly the earlier Miss Manners books before her flippant children took over the column had excellent advice that fits a number of these type situations.

        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I don’t think folks recommend it as one size fits all. The writing is much lengthier and a little more cumbersome than Alison’s writing, but the scripts are usually really helpful when it comes to people who have trouble respecting personal boundaries. This is actually my first time recommending it, but I did so because there are specific columns about shutting down people asking about your reproductive, etc., choices that I thought were particularly relevant/helpful for this specific question.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            Yep, I’m not an ardent fan of the site, but she does have some very useful scripts for exactly that, and it’s one of the first places I recommend to people looking for that particular kind of advice.

        4. Anon for this*

          I like the advice there and the Captain’s advice is great for learning to set boundaries. But the comment section is very different.

      3. Grumpy*

        If it helps I’ve found, without exception, that the people who say things like that (and also the people who insist you need to be married or coupled) are absolutely miserable in their own relationships. Not sure why this is and
        YMMV but I’ve found that to be constant, which sort of changes the way I view them and their opinions.

        I’ve often wondered what would happen if I said that to someone mid-sermon: “You know, if you’re unhappy with your life and need to talk, we have an EAP program available to help you… “

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Ha! Oddly enough, I’ve found that to be the case too. People that are happy and content with their own lives aren’t worried about what other people are doing.

        2. sssssssssss*

          OMG. When I was part of a couple but no kids yet, I had a coworker who would ask me repeatedly, if I had kids or wanted kids and the answer would never change (no and one day eventually); she would never remember. And she would go on about her kids, mostly about the constant medical ailments. And I also felt that parents like this shared constantly so that someone else could share in their misery of raising toddlers and preschoolers. Another childless coworker said listening to her made you not want kids.

          And yet, she was so clearly in love with her husband.

          OP2: Don’t be afraid to change the topic and talk about current events, Hollywood, politics, the weather, travel, aging parents, anything to detract. Nothing says that once the topic of kids come out, that it must dominate the conversation until the end. Most parents do get better and stop talking about their kids (usually after the toddler/preschooler age and may start up again with teenagers).

          1. Emi.*

            I also felt that parents like this shared constantly so that someone else could share in their misery of raising toddlers and preschoolers.

            I think a lot of times, they are looking for commiseration, and for space to say that taking care of children is not all sunshine and snuggles. Our culture does “Family life is magical” and “Having children is hell,” and not much in between, which is a shame.

        3. Mallory Janis Ian*

          I think it’s not a coincidence that there is a higher rate of unhappiness among people who believe that there is a specific life script for where they and others are “supposed to” be at each age milestone and according to gender. I imagine a fair number of them ended up in their current situation only through a series of choices that they were “supposed to” make.

        4. I am a tailors apprentice*

          OMG…YES!! I know a woman who is constantly bragging about how wonderful her family is, how great her husband is, how happy she is. Her kids are mean and nasty to her, her husband has cheated on her several times (even hitting on me while at a family BBQ – I was standing there holding my own child in my arms while he did so!), and when asked directly if she’s happy she quotes bible passages as proof which is really not answering the question.
          I am married. Happily. With kids. It’s not for everyone. I get that. Not gonna lie…there have been moments (more than a few) where I’ve been eaten up by jealousy of my unmarried, childless friends. They always have time to do fun things and money with which to do them.
          As to OP#2 – it just strikes me as sad that the people in your office don’t see themselves as more than parents. I love my kids and could talk about them at length, but I want to be known as more than just another persons mom. Being a parent is an important job, no doubt, but it’s not who I am. I have interests, hobbies, and goals – most of which do not include children I parent. I’m sorry that this is happening at your workplace.

          1. Former Retail Manager*

            “Being a parent is an important job, no doubt, but it’s not who I am. I have interests, hobbies, and goals – most of which do not include children I parent.”

            I could not agree more with everything you said. Even when my daughter was very young (she is 17 now) she was never a “go-to” topic for me. I personally don’t think kids are all that interesting and they certainly should not be what defines who you are.

            1. SJ*

              Yes! My brother and I went to a very academically competitive school district, and parents were constantly bringing up their kids to brag about this or that and one-up each other… my parents never did. They were just like, “We know you’re great, your teachers know you’re great, and that’s what matters. We love you, but honestly, talking about kids all the time with other parents is boring.” I always appreciated that, especially as someone who’s now almost 29 and doesn’t really have any interest in kids. I never feel pressured by my parents into any kind of kids or marriage talk — they’re interested in my friends and life and career.

            2. Dolorous Bread*

              This is so refreshing. Thank you. This cultural shift about parents having to be 24/7 entertainers and playmates to their small children baffles me. I remember it being a rare treat when my (SAHM!) mother played a game or something with me. Usually I was left to my own devices.

            3. TootsNYC*

              Even when my kids were a topic for me, it was always about “I learned something interesting about myself through an interaction with my child” or “I learned something interesting about how we learn language from something my kid did” or “I learned something about our society through being a parent.”

              There are ways to talk about your kids that aren’t boring!

              also–my kids are 19 and 22. Being an involved parent is OVER, and in the ways that I’ve neglected my own interests, I find it really hard.

          2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            This. I’m very happily married and I love my kid. But there are times when I wish we’d never had the kid, because international travel, impromptu weekend backpacking trips, and going out for drinks on a whim are all things of the past. And there are times when, to be perfectly frank, I find it stifling that I’ve been with the same person for ten years. I’m occasionally – sometimes frequently – bored with my life and wish for adventure, spontaneity, and novelty.

            That’s just what being 34 years old and in a long-term, monogamous relationship with offspring is. And if someone isn’t prepared to cheerfully admit to all those feelings, they’re in denial and they’re unhappy.

            1. fposte*

              I think what you describe certainly isn’t uncommon, but you’re making the same error there as the people talking to the OP by assuming that your experience is universal. People can have a different experience than you without being in denial or unhappy, and when you start to believe they can’t, that’s when situations like the OP’s start to occur.

              1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

                My point was really that if someone presents a summary of their life without nuance, and without mentioning the types of frustrations and pains and ambivalence that everyone who’s being honest about their life has about their life, they’re probably papering over a hole in the wall. I don’t think you can get to your adult years without a little discontent – and that holds true for any life situation, married or not, kids or not, even if the particulars of that discontent vary.

                My experience is not universal, but nobody is 100% happy with their life 100% of the time, and if they try to tell me they are, I’m pretty comfortable drawing the conclusion they’re in denial.

                1. Former Retail Manager*

                  You come off as cynical…I LOVE IT! I agree with you to a point. No relationship is all rainbows and unicorns all the time and the people who present it that way to everyone they encounter are exhausting. I can’t maintain friendships with people who can’t “keep it real.” I don’t believe that your marriage is great all the time, your kid behaves perfectly all the time, you are perfectly on track with your financial life based on the advice and benchmarks of experts, etc. We all have challenges and should be able to look to others for support and reassurance about those challenges, and commiserate to a degree, rather than be met with “well…my life is awesome so you must be doing something wrong.” Puhlease!

              2. TeacherNerd*

                +10000, what fposte wrote.

                We don’t have kids (not by choice; just didn’t happen for us), but husband and I have been together no small amount of time and we’re not bored or unhappy. If something makes us unhappy, we Fix It, and if we’re bored, we Do Stuff and/or Go Places.

                1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

                  And that’s easy to do when you don’t have a small person dependent on you for most things.
                  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not arguing that everyone is unhappy and angsty. But don’t tell me your life is completely free of the occasional twinge of ennui or discontent.

                2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

                  And in context, I’m arguing not against people who are generally content, but against those who never shut up about “hubby hubby hubby kids kids kids see how happy my life is it’s really HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY.”

                3. GH in SOCal*

                  “And that’s easy to do when you don’t have a small person dependent on you for most things.”

                  My brother and his long-term partner traveled all over Europe with their small person. I get that not everyone can do that, but it’s not very scientific to take your unique experience and universalize it to every person in the same demographic. There are too many variables. It doesn’t make sense to say :”this is what being 34 in a couple with kids has to look like.”

                  Maybe it has to look that way for you — I don’t know if your circumstances would allow you to travel with your child, or to take a trip on your own without your family, or none of the above. But there are other possible versions of “34 with a kid” that other people may be experiencing.

                4. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

                  And I traveled to Brazil and Argentina with said small person. I said it was easy to do when you don’t have a small person, not that it was impossible if you did. It’s just a layer of additional complication, logistics, and planning that makes it more complicated for me to “Do Stuff and/or Go Places” when I’m bored than it is for you. And I’m comfortable generalizing that.

                5. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

                  I feel like you’re trying to hard to gotcha me with all the “variables” that you’re not actually paying attention. I already talked about how impromptu backpacking trips and going out on a whim were things I missed. That’s the point: that I miss the spontaneity and mobility I used to enjoy, simply because it takes more planning and effort to make stuff happen with a two year old in the family.

        5. Artemesia*

          I am not sure this is true. I know I really wanted my son to marry because I think a good marriage is particularly meaningful and valuable as one ages; I didn’t want him to grow old alone and unloved. Of course I never told him he should, I know where those boundaries are — but I certainly thought it. And for me it came from knowing how much better my own marriage got year by year. It was good when we were young but it is enormously comforting as we face the challenges of aging. Wanting other people to marry doesn’t mean your own relationship is bad — it can, but it can also mean it is good.

          Of course it is inappropriate and annoying to say it to people, particularly people you don’t know well and even if you want to encourage relatives or friends, ONCE is the limit with unsolicited advice. (it is also a bit pointless; who ever married because someone told them they should marry?) I was thrilled when my son found his life partner; she and he are great together. Yes I should never have said anything when he was single and I didn’t, but if I had it would not come from wanting him to share the misery.

          1. Kate*

            Whoa! Not getting married doesn’t mean you will “grow old alone and unloved”, and I find it sad and offensive that you think it does.

            1. Alienor*

              Not only that, but getting married is no guarantee that you won’t. Divorce happens, and women in particular will almost certainly be widowed at some point, so people really can’t get married at 25 (or 35, or 45), dust off their hands and say “Well, there’s my old age taken care of.”

              1. KP84*

                I probably will never get married but I know I will be surrounded by my sister, brother-in-law and good friends as I grow older. I will not “grow old alone and unloved”.

            2. Marisol*

              She wasn’t making a blanket statement about every single person in the world, or about you specifically. She was expressing her fears about her son. You’re thinking in absolutes, and taking something personally that in reality has nothing to do with you. I make this criticism because I find this sort of outrage to be a real hindrance to communication. It’s very easy to find fault, rush to judgement, and become offended. It takes more skill to honor someone else’s point of view. Do you have children? Can you imagine what it is like to contemplate your child’s life trajectory, with all the potential for heartache, and to feel some fear about what the future holds? That is, I believe, is Artemesia’s frame of reference for her statement. It was not a pronouncement on single living, but a description of her own experience. You misinterpret what she says for your own personal reasons.

              I wish more people would try to see the nuance in what others write and say. We’d all learn more, and have more pleasure.

              1. Kate*

                She made a blanket statement implying that life without a spouse = growing old alone and unloved. I responded.

                If she had written with nuance I would have responded as such, for example if she wrote that her son had trouble making friends and without a spouse she was afraid he would grow old alone and unloved. She didn’t.

                1. Analyze All The Data*

                  Except it wasn’t a blanket statement. She specifically said she didn’t want HIM to grow old alone and unloved. There was no mention of anyone else’s experience or her thoughts on anyone else’s experience, just her fears for her son.

                  If she had said “I wanted him to get married because old, single people are alone and unloved”, then it would have been a blanket statement.

          2. Former Retail Manager*

            I see what Kate and Alienor mean, but I took your comment to mean that marriage can greatly enrich one’s life, from a young age long into your golden years. I feel the same about my own marriage and would love to see my daughter find someone to do that with eventually. However, I also want everyone to be happy, so if marriage isn’t “your happiness” and instead that is traveling the world as a single guy or gal and having new experiences and making an array of friends and planning to spend your retirement cruising the hotties in the retirement community, then that’s what I want for you. And of course, there are no guarantees in marriage or in life so do what makes you happy.

          3. Jill*

            Artemesia you sound like my mom. “But I just want you to be haaaaapppy!” But happiness and love don’t come only from marriage. And marriage isn’t the only way to find happiness and love. I had a very wonderful life that was full and made me happy as a single person. My husband is but the icing on what was already an incredible cake. But a well made cake is fabulous without icing, too.

            1. Ilex*

              THIS. SO much this. I have been with my partner for over 8 years and we’re not interested in marriage. I know we’re not the only ones!

              1. Retail Lifer*

                My boyfriend and I have been together for a while and just bought a house. We’re happily and purposely childfree. It’s not like marriage is a requirement to have kids, but if we wanted kids then it might seem more beneficial to us. I’m not ruling out marriage forever, but we’re perfectly happy with things being the way they are and really don’t need to/want to at this point.

      4. Adlib*

        Nobody asks my husband & I much, but sometimes we have to make our answers uncomfortable for people to realize they are making it awkward. Recently someone asked me in a very respectful way as a getting to know you question so there are times when I don’t mind, but some people just have no boundaries.

    2. tigerlily*

      The way I read OP2’s letter was that (other than the one jerky guy who said she’ll change her mind about kids) she was annoyed that her coworkers WEREN’T asking her personal questions. That once they’d ascertained whether she had a significant other or any children, they weren’t asking her about her hobbies or interests or anything else in order to get to know HER, and since they know she doesn’t have/want kids all the constant baby talk is making her feel left out and ostracized. With that in mind, I agree with Allison’s advice. If you can turn the conversation away from kids – especially in a one on one setting – and try to get to know your coworkers outside of their children, that may help them broaden their conversation topics in the actual workplace.

    3. Not Rebee*

      I am a personal fan of telling people I don’t want kids because I promised my first born to an evil sorceress and am not particularly inclined to make good on that particular promise. There’s not really much you can do to respond to that one, because it’s not like (if this was true) that’s the type of thing you’d change your mind about, and it’s also a pretty clear dismissal of the topic.

  2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#1, please don’t feel humiliated! I went up for one of my first jobs against a good friend (and had actually encouraged that friend to apply, even though I knew it might hurt my chances). I was rejected, and the good friend got the gig, but we both landed exactly where we wanted and needed to be. And the bonus was that it meant that there were going to be more people in the world doing excellent work but from different organizational (and regional) vantage points. The rejection did not diminish, for even a second, how awesome and exciting my first job was.

    Seriously, how awesome is it to get to pursue something that’s a “huge step up” and a “life changer” for your career and family? You shouldn’t feel embarrassed at all, and you should rest assured that the employer was into you. At least in my experience, sometimes your top 2 candidates come in very closely to one another. But as Alison noted, I would never offer the job to someone I wasn’t excited about. Your new employer is excited about you, and for all you know, you and your friend may have been neck-and-neck.

    1. VioletEMT*

      Yeah, OP1 – anecdote: a friend was in the exact same situation about 20 years ago, hired by a small company in a niche industry. He came to find out that he was the company’s second choice; their first choice had received the offer but had changed his mind about the cross-country relocation. My friend took the job and is now a really big deal in the company and the industry, both of which have grown exponentially since. He said the whole thing makes him really appreciative of the role of luck and chance in people’s success. If some dude he’s never met hadn’t gotten cold feet about leaving his home state, my friend wouldn’t be anywhere near where he is today.

      1. OP1*

        Thanks, all, for the reassurance! I’m definitely no longer feeling embarrassed about the manager’s decision in this situation, at least.

        1. Jaydee*

          I wasn’t hired for a job right out of school and according to the rejection letter it had been a down to me and one other candidate. Fast forward 11 years, and I am about to reach my 10 year anniversary with the company (I was hired for a position in a different office the following year). The person who was their first choice? Quit not long after I started. Hiring decisions are often a gamble. I’ve seen people who looked great on paper turn out to be really bad fits for the job and people who I wasn’t sure about at first really shine.

      2. LAI*

        First, I’m currently hiring for a position and would love to hire all three of my top candidates if I could. The only thing that’s distinguishing candidate #1 from #2 is more experience with the system we use.

        Also, when I was interviewing for my current job, I knew I was going up against someone who had previously beaten me out for a different job. They ended up hiring us both. Now I know, we’re both strong workers but with different strengths.

        1. Formica Dinette*

          I have been in the position you’re in, thinking, “Argh! Why can’t I hire both of these people???”

      3. MashaKasha*

        Me three! I was the second choice at OldJob. The first choice took a counter offer and stayed at his then-current position. I didn’t know the guy (although I met him in a mutual acquaintance’s home years later), the person who told me about me being second choice was my recruiter. I took the job, stayed there for a while and did fairly well. Then a few of the managers left to start a new company and brought me over, and I’m again doing fairly well. None of them probably even remember that I was their second choice. BTW the first-choice guy seemed really good at what he does, and I would guess that he was indeed a better choice than I was (though I was a pretty darn good choice myself). When I met him and it came out in our conversation, I thanked him for the job! And then we added each other on LinkedIn and that was the extent of that conversation. In no way did I feel humiliated. It is completely normal for more than one candidate to be a good fit for a job.

    2. Ann Furthermore*

      I’m chiming in to agree here too. I’ve been in my current job for 4 months now. When I interviewed last fall, my boss ended up offering the job to someone else, because this job includes some project management duties, which I didn’t have, and I was very up-front about that during the interview.

      When my boss let me know she’d offered the job to someone else, I thanked her for her time and wished her and the company well as they moved forward. A week and a half later, she emailed me and said that person accepted another position and left them high and dry, and asked if I was still interested. I was.

      It’s been going great so far, and has absolutely been the change I was looking for. And as an added bonus, my boss has told me many times in the 4 months I’ve been there that she’s very happy with my work and that I’m doing a fantastic job. It still sometimes feels like I’m in uncharted waters, because I was at my last company for 12 years, and this new job and the company are very different from what I was doing before and where I came from, but I’m still convinced that it was a great career move for me. I haven’t had any regrets — other than missing all the friends I made at my last company.

      So jump in with both feet and don’t feel bad!

      1. Adlib*

        Great story! I’m kind of in the same position with my current job. I sometimes feel like I have no idea what I’m doing, but it’s a good learning experience. I think once I get through this major project, I’ll be in a good spot!

      2. designbot*

        It’s also really great to know why that person was the first choice, what skill or experience they had that put them ahead of you. That’s a great opportunity to go into the job knowing exactly what areas you could focus on strengthening.

    3. Bonky*

      One of the teams I oversee and was involved in hiring is made up of five people. Two of them – the absolute superstars – were second choices when we hired; in both cases the first choice dropped out after the offer was made for culture fit reasons. I wouldn’t swap either person for the world; they’re superb at their jobs.

      Very often when we’re hiring we’ll get more than one outstanding candidate. Sometimes I’m able to offer positions to more than one, but very often I will only have budgetary approval for one. A few weeks ago I was in a horrible position where two really, really excellent candidates emerged at the end of a process, and I had to pick one. I ended up with the candidate with more experience in a part of the field that we hadn’t advertised for, but knew we could use on top of all the other skills they both had. She’s turned out amazingly well. I didn’t have approval to take number two as well, but I have offered her freelance work as well; I have also encouraged her to apply again when we advertise a similar position. It’s simply not the case that there’s only one brilliant candidate for every role.

      1. CM*

        +1. I’ve also been in a situation where I had two or more candidates that I would be perfectly happy to hire and think would excel. I have to pick one, but that doesn’t mean I think any less of the others. And if I do have to go to the next person on the list, I’m less likely to think “This person is my second choice” and more likely to think about the strengths that this person has, which the first person may have lacked.

      2. Mabel*

        I was in a slightly different situation because the person who was originally offered the job had more experience than I did. I don’t know how many people applied for the manager job, but I had the impression there were two of us as finalists. They offered her the job, and she accepted. When she changed her mind and took another job instead, they offered it to me, and I accepted. I spent several months working long hours to catch up with what the job required (I had very little in the way of hand-off from the previous manager – she already had one foot out the door months before the job was posted), and it was very stressful. I remember at one point thinking that I was either going to succeed or get fired; oddly, that realization took a lot of the pressure off. Fortunately, it turned out that I was a good fit for the job. I enjoyed it, and one of my direct reports said that I was the best boss he had ever had. I think this is because I listened to my staff and went to bat for them. I praised them publicly as much as I could and gave them credit for their work and their contributions to the team’s success.

    4. Bwmn*

      Speaking as someone who was once a “first choice” and turned down the job because of not being all that into the idea of moving…..while during the interview process I may have been the first choice, going through the moving/relocating realities that were a concern of mine at the time – I probably would have required a longer transition time to actually hitting my potential at that job.

      I’m not going to say that I couldn’t have ultimately done the job well – but the fit from the start wouldn’t have been as good. And to be honest, the new city might have always been a struggle for me. “Life Changers” are not what everyone is necessarily ready for or wants – no matter how well they may interview for it or think they’re ready for it when it’s theoretical.

      And not to nitpick you for the dating metaphor – there are so many people who have immediate strong positive reactions to Person X being their #1 choice due to a strong initial chemistry…..that ultimately doesn’t work for a long term relationship or maybe even a second or third date. And Person A may come along second (or third or fourth) – but ultimately is a better relationship choice for 101 potential reasons. If all of us were stuck with the first person we ever dated or really wanted to date because no one else wanted to be a “second” choice……the horrors that would bring…..

    5. Uncivil Engineer*

      I was once a second choice and, in the end, it turned out better for everyone.

      A former co-worker and I both interviewed for a job in another Department. It wasn’t really what I wanted to do but I wanted to move to that Department. I didn’t know if I’d accept the job if it was offered to me but the other Department ended up hiring my coworker. Three months later, they called me again. Another job (at the same level) had opened and they offered it to me. This job was more in line with what I wanted to do and I accepted the offer.

      It wasn’t that they didn’t like me. They just had to make a choice and they chose my coworker first. That’s okay. In the end, the Department got two great employees and we each got a job we really liked.

    6. Venus Supreme*

      Yes, I would never think of this scenario as anything bad. I come from a theatre background, and it reminds me of auditioning: the director sees a ton of ridiculously talented people and it’s more about how the actor/actress will mesh with the production team, with the cast-mates, with the script, etc. There is no perfect person to fill this role/this job, and so the distinction between “first choice” and “second choice” is slim to none. You’re bringing your own unique set of skills and your employer is confident you’ll excel at this job– otherwise you wouldn’t get an offer. Also, hey, your friend WASN’T the “perfect candidate” because he didn’t want to relocate!

    7. Kate*

      Agreed! I’m an administrator at a small boarding school, and we hired for two other senior admin positions last year, both of our first choices turned us down and 2/3 of the way through the school year, I can tell you it all worked out for the best. Both of our second choice candidates are excellent, and until I read this letter, I had totally forgotten that we’d once had other top choices — seems crazy now.

  3. an anon is an anon*

    #3: Please, please reconsider your grad program if you’re incurring a lot of debt for something you’re not interested in. A master’s degree does not automatically increase your chance of finding a job, and sometimes it can hurt more than help, especially if you’re in a field that doesn’t require post-graduate work.

    People should go to grad school because they truly need it for their job (like a doctor, for example) or because they really love the subject they’re studying. I know it can often look like a last resort if you can’t find a job, but it really shouldn’t be. A lot of people don’t realistically need a master’s for their job and it just causes them to spiral further into unnecessary debt.

    I say this as someone who has a master’s, but I went because I truly loved my research and pursued the degree because I wanted to learn more about my chosen topic and gain access to materials for my research. It hasn’t helped in my career, but I also knew it wouldn’t help going in. I received more interviews when I left it off my resume.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      Yeah, when I was reading this I thought, “I really hope OP has scholarship or grant money or a really wealthy relative paying for these classes.” I can’t see sinking my own cash into something I don’t even care about on the off chance that it may land me a job, but I do tend to be more risk adverse than most in this area after being burned during undergrad.

      1. an anon is an anon*

        Exactly. I was lucky enough to get a lot of funding for my master’s and I had a full-time job that paid for a portion with the guarantee that I’d stay there a year after they reimbursed me, so my out of pocket expenses were far lower than undergrad and completely reasonable. I never would have done it otherwise, even though I loved my research.

    2. Nic*

      I agree whole heartedly. I got a masters in teaching to “hold me over” until I figured out what I wanted to do. I feel like it was a waste of my time, money, and energy because 7 years later I’m not using it a bit, and haven’t since about two years out of the program. It doesn’t provide any benefits to my current job or job searches partially due to not being related to my current field and because it is so far in the past.

      Getting an unrelated job that allows you to show achievement is, in my experience, a better use of that time.

      1. an anon is an anon*

        I also had the trouble of employers seeing my master’s on my resume and thinking I was overeducated or that I’d expect more money or a higher position because I had more education (which wasn’t the case). I know a few people who thought having a master’s meant they could skip the entry level work or that it counted as X years of experience. In my experience, I found that my particular career path cared more about work experience than education.

        Honestly, I went for my master’s so it would give me a better opportunity for publishing my research and working on a book. All the jobs I’ve had since ungrad don’t even relate to my master’s OR bachelor’s.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          What field are you in? I’ve certainly never had that experience in the environmental consulting world, even at the entry level.

          1. KTB*

            @Scientist, the environmental consulting world is unusual on many levels, and doesn’t really extrapolate out well to other fields. My sister and I have both been environmental consultants, and I have definitely seen Nic & an anon is an anon’s experience in several other fields like healthcare administration, nonprofits, and government.

      2. Parenthetically*

        This is EPIDEMIC among my peers who got walloped by the GFC — “Well, I’m un- or under-employed right now, I don’t have a career path because there’s nothing out there for me, guess I’ll just go back to school and incur another 40 grand in debt.”

    3. H.C.*

      Agreed, if you are not truly invested in your Master’s program, do consider dropping out. It is a lot of debt to incur for a vague promise of better career prospects, and you’re taking up a slot for a person who may be more interested in the program and get more out of it.

    4. Sam*

      So much this. Grad school because you can’t think of a better plan rarely seems to be a smart – or even useful – move.

      1. Justme*

        It also seems disrespectful (maybe that’s too strong a word, but I can’t think of anything else right now) to the program and fellow students.

    5. Bwmn*

      I got my first master’s degree because I really loved what I was studying and assumed the job stuff would sort itself out later – long story short, the job stuff did not sort itself out later and when I ultimately did find what kind of career I actually wanted, I ended up going back to grad school for a second masters.

      Provided you do not have the money to pay for these kinds of experience, my path is truly NOT something I would recommend. It did ultimately get me the kind of job I wanted and I have come to terms with how I got there, but wasn’t financially savvy at all and from a career standpoint I’d leave the results at 50/50.

    6. Mike B.*

      Yes! My MA was one of the worst choices of my career–it’s ranged from unhelpful to actively harmful. Go back if you ever get a better idea about what to use it for.

    7. Cinnamon Owl*

      Around a decade ago I was in an online discussion about educational debt, and there emerged a strong generation gap between those of us in our then-30s–who viewed it as something you take on after looking at a balance sheet and figuring its benefit to a few specific jobs with higher salaries–and people not long out of school, who viewed it as just what you do, with the number that was handed to them to repay on graduation a surprise.

      It’s one of the most visible areas where trying to apply a broad statistical rule to one individual case doesn’t make sense.

    8. Artemesia*

      This. A masters program can be a good holding pattern when unemployed but only if it is inexpensive and you can pay for it. Few masters degrees are tickets to jobs; those that are tend to be the sort of thing that is highly technical e.g. accounting. Many masters degrees make you less employable if you are not experienced in the field. Getting into debt for a program that makes you less employable would be nightmarish.

      If you can take night courses in the degree, then you might let them know that the program is flexible and does not interfere with taking the job. Otherwise don’t mention it.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        Or a STEM-related field. I couldn’t hold my current job without at least a MS or MA.

    9. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      Many grad programs, especially in STEM, offer teaching- and research assistantships to most or all of their grad students. Mine included a full tuition waiver and a monthly stipend, equivalent to pay, and I got out of grad school without owing a cent.

      Also, STEM-related fields generally do require a masters’. Almost everyone I work with has one or a PhD, or needs to get one to advance in their career. I’m a certified wildlife biologist, and it’s basically not possible to get that cert without graduate work.

    10. TootsNYC*

      “sometimes it can hurt more than help, especially if you’re in a field that doesn’t require post-graduate work.”

      Over my years in publishing, more than once have I had to talk someone out of the idea that their master’s degree makes any difference to their career prospects. It just doesn’t.

      And that’s happened to me enough that I might hesitate when evaluating someone who had a master’s. It might not shut them out, but it would make me probe to see how much they were relying on that to advance their career. Your work is what moves you ahead in my field.

      1. all aboard the anon train*

        When I was slogging through manuscripts earlier in my career, there were a lot of query letters where the writer would mention their MFA degree or program, as if that would get them pushed to the top of the pile. Most of the time their manuscripts weren’t extraordinary, and my editorial department ended up making a bingo card of MFA query letter tropes.

        A master’s in creative writing is not an indication that you’re a good writer. There are plenty of amazing writers who never shelled out a ridiculous amount of money for a creative writing degree. I always wanted to tell those types of people that their writing should be what makes me want to pass on their manuscript, not their degree or alma mater.

    11. LC*

      Agreed. I have a Masters that was fully funded (living expenses included) by a fancy fellowship…and it still did more harm than good in the hiring process. I loved my Masters because I loved my research, but if I had to do it again, I would’ve first worked for a few years and gotten a professional degree with the potential to advance my career.

      A graduate degree is ultimately a branding document, and if your Masters doesn’t fit into a larger narrative about your interests and skills, employers will be wary.

    12. SometimesALurker*

      Adding to the chorus saying “don’t do this if it’s not for you.” An MA because you’ve hit a ceiling and can’t advance in your career without it can be a good investment of your time and money. If you are struggling to get a job in your field before your MA, though, it’s likely you won’t be seen as a competitive applicant after your MA, because you may be competing with people who were already working in the field before they got their degrees. So, in the long run it’s less expensive to keep trying for jobs that will build related skills, then get your degree if it’s still looking like a good idea.

      (Naturally, I’m speaking from my experience in my own field (cultural nonprofits and education) and this may not apply to others.)

    13. SimonTheGreyWarden*

      This. I have a MA, and when I started the program I was really interested in working in that field (I don’t want to say what it is but it is a field where this degree was necessary for the organization I wanted to work for doing the role I wanted to do; it wasn’t a MSW but think something like that, where I had to have it to get the job I thought I wanted). It was a 3 year program (2 if you went full time but I needed a job) with assistance; the organization paid half the tuition as long as I agreed to work for OR volunteer for them for 2 years either concurrent or after completing. I was volunteering while doing my classes. By the start of my third year I knew I did NOT want to work for the organization, I was no longer in love with the program, and that if I had really thought about it before I jumped in, I would have realized that earlier.

      Because I have a MA, I am eligible to teach at the college level and that is what I do, but I don’t qualify for any of the full time positions that come up because it isn’t an actual MA in communications, English, Humanities, etc. so I will never be qualified for that unless I get a second MA and frankly, I am not interested in that because the chances of getting a FT tenure track position are STILL vanishingly small even if I did get that second MA.

  4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#3, please don’t tell employers you’d drop out to work for them—usually this reads as flighty/flaky and noncommittal instead of passionate and focused. People certainly do drop out of grad programs to work for their “dream job,” but they usually don’t advertise that they’re not interested in their graduate program.

    But if your grad program is a “last resort,” do you want to accrue educational debt and forego work experience for something that doesn’t interest you? I don’t mean to push you, but coming from a field where many people pursue postgraduate education because they weren’t sure to do with their bachelor’s degree (or worried they couldn’t get a job related to their bachelor’s), those phrases sound like red flags to me.

  5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    Ugh, OP#4, I’m sorry. The “one-year” or “two-year” job interview language seems so common in research positions (particularly in research labs and academia), and it’s obnoxious and mildly menacing/stress-inducing… and also just a jerk thing to say to someone repeatedly.

    Is there a chance your boss keeps saying this because she’s not sure she’ll have funding to bring you on after your two-year fellowship? I don’t say this to freak you out, but I wonder if she thinks she’s telegraphing job-security signals to you (but is doing it in an unhelpful and unclear way).

    1. Pineapple Incident*

      Yeah.. I don’t like the language OP 4’s boss is using, but it may be that the student designation is beyond the boss’s control. It kind of sounds like you’re in a government lab.. if that’s true, your designation might have been the only pathway the administrative staff could use to make sure they got you there/using a certain kind of fellowship means you can’t be converted into a permanent position until after 2 years or more. If you’re federal, whether you can be converted to a full-time permanent position may be impacted by the hiring freeze (if this is the case, your boss(es) might not have known that when they originally hired you, so they gave you the impression that you’d be converted in good faith).

      Again I don’t know if any of the above is true, I’m kind of extrapolating. Even if it is (honestly no matter what the circumstances), your boss should have sat you down and explained how this was going to work for you, rather than leave you in the dark and call your position a “2 year interview.” That’s crappy.

      1. Margaret*

        Hi! I’m OP#4
        The hiring freeze doesn’t affect us. Really, in my mind there should be no reason she keeps talking about the “2 year interview”. I might use AAM’s line of asking if I’m missing something since literally none of those things you mentioned are an issue where I work! After I sent in this question, I had a sit down with a different boss (I had 4 at the time I wrote this) who actually laid out what my path forward is. And the second boss is the one who really decides if I stay or go, so it makes the first boss look out of touch if they don’t actually have a say on my staff position!

        1. Caity*

          I’ve heard people describe all of grad school that way, too–“this is a five year job interview! every seminar, every hour of lab work, every meeting is your chance to make a good impression on people in your field!”–which is fine, if that helps people differentiate graduate school from undergrad or whatever, but like you I find it annoying. I think it’s just a way of framing it, and your supervisor obviously thinks it’s conveying something that she would find useful or someone might need to hear, even though for you it’s not. My strategy has been to ignore that comment, but I hear it much less often than you seem to!

    2. Margaret*

      Hi! I’m OP#4.
      The thing is, it’s not really her decision whether or not to bring me on. I have a different boss who will be making that decision (after I sent this question in, the second boss actually sat down with me and actually laid out a path forward for me). The boss in question just keeps saying it like I’m not going to get the job. She also has had wildly different requirements for the students she’s converted: one student will have to send in a letter of req and a resume while the other will have to send in 6 letters of req, a resume, and a list of everything they’ve accomplished while working for the lab. I really think it’s just a power play, but if there’s nothing I can do but roll my eyes, then I guess I’m just stuck with that!

      1. ChelseaNH*

        If you want to say *something*, and you can trust yourself not to sound snarky, you could try a bland “Yes, so you’ve mentioned.”

      2. Observer*

        Why is anyone letting her get away with the wildly different requirements? That’s just asking for trouble.

      3. Teclatrans*

        Before I read this, I thought it sounded like she felt powerless over a hiring decision she wouldn’t get to make (due to norms over keeping someone in your position on) and was trying to assert her power passive-aggressively. Now that scenario doesn’t seem to fit, but I do still wonder if it’s a way for her to manage her insecurities by putting you in your place, as it were.

  6. Kiwi*

    OP1, a couple of years ago, my first choice turned down a job offer. The guy I gave it to instead has been absolutely brilliant. Of course, my first choice hopefully would have been brilliant too, but I am so glad the second guy is in my team. When you do well at the job, that’s how your manager will feel about you too.

    1. Mary*

      Exactly #1

      My third choice candidate (out of 4 I interviewed) took the job, #1 and #2 turning it down for different reasons. She is a superstar! I am very happy and just question why I did not choose her as my #1 choice at the beginning.

    2. AMPG*

      Right – I’ve been in more than one hiring situation where my main reaction when my “first” choice turned down an offer was something like relief. Now I don’t have to disappoint anyone!

      Incidentally, this is one reason I’m wary of telling people to use another job offer as leverage to push your first choice employer to speed up their process. I know lots of people have had it work for them, but my response has often been, “Great! It makes my choice easy!”

  7. notquitebatman*

    OP # 2 – I feel your pain. I’m about the same age as you and working in a team who all have kids however, I can’t have kids naturally due to health reasons (and not something I want to mention to my co-workers). Some days the “‘when will you have kids?” comments kill me and make me feel like a failure and want to cry (yes, I’m dealing with this professionally). My strategy is to respond with, “I’m foccusing on my career right now” and turn back to my work or, I change the subject to something work related, like “… which reminds me, where is the data for X and Y”.

    When the topic gets to TMI subjects, just say “woah guys, I just ate/am about to eat” or for the stuff that seems wildly innapporriate for the work-place, maybe say something in a friendly tone about people/clients/the person on the other end of the phone etc. over-hearing them and misconstruing the conversation, so they should keep their voices down or discuss elsewhere.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I’m so very sorry, notequitebatman—that’s awful. I don’t know if it’s helpful, and it may be TMI based on what you’ve written, but I liked Bigglesworth’s anecdote downthread about calling that nonsense out.

      You’re not a failure. I know you probably know this, but people tend to be careless about sensitive topics like this until they’re faced with someone in their life who’s struggled with fertility or the loss of a child. But their insensitivity doesn’t reflect on your worth or capacity as a person. I’m sending warm thoughts and support.

    2. Here we go again*

      This is so horrible! People just do not think before they speak.

      I hope as childfreedom by choice becomes more common, it will help de-stigmatize it and help those in your position. I don’t want kids and get irritated when people give me crap about it. I can’t imagine wanting them, not being able to have them and having people pry like that.

      You are not a failure because you cannot have children. The people asking you are because of their insensitivity… (at least in this arena).

    3. Parenthetically*

      Oh my goodness, this sucks so much, notquitebatman. I’m constantly telling my students that one of the reasons you don’t ask personal questions is not just because it’s nosy, but because you never know when you’re going to be poking at a sore spot.

    4. Bonky*

      I wasn’t able to have kids naturally either, although it took us longer than it should have done to find out. Once we embarked on IVF, which is *monumentally* stressful, things still took several more years to work out, and we had some tragedies – and spent a lot of money – along the way. (Things looked up eventually – I’m nearly eight months pregnant at the age of 41 and have just been signed off work to start my maternity leave.)

      In the years when I firmly believed that we were never going to be able to have kids, I was also very upset by the people – almost always well-meaning, or at least not malicious – who asked whether we had kids, when we were going to have kids, why we didn’t have kids, and all the rest of it. I started by wanting to change the subject, but my approach evolved, and I ended up very firmly saying to those people that we very much wanted children, had been trying for many years, and believed it was unlikely it would happen.

      They were always mortified when they realised, and I sincerely hope that my being open with them and embarrassing them gently means that they subsequently never tried doing the same to other women.

      1. Artemesia*

        Congratulations and what a service you did by dealing with it this way. The casual do you have kids thing once as part of getting to know a colleague is to be expected but it is never appropriate to inquire about future plans — so often it can be painful.

      2. notquitebatman*

        Thanks so much for your comment, you’ve brought tears to my eyes. I can’t even imagine the stressful and emotional journey you’ve been on, but you’ve done it, so a huge congratulations on your pregnancy! I hope the rest of the pregnancy goes well and all the best for the little one.

        I like your idea of mentioning the elephant in the room, people don’t always realise it’s a very personal question, so education might be the best method.

    5. Agnodike*

      I had significant medical barriers to pregnancy that took a long time to overcome. It was incredible to me how many colleagues would say things like “You guys have been married for ages! When are you going to have kids?” I finally started just flatly saying “When the doctors figure out how I can get and stay pregnant without dying,” which put an uncomfortable end to the questioning. Not everybody is comfortable with that approach, and nobody should feel obliged to discuss their private medical information with coworkers, but boy does it work (and boy is it satisfying sometimes)!

      I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. It sucks so much. Your coworkers are being insensitive clods.

    6. SCORM Hacker*

      notquitebatman, I am in a similar situation (don’t have kids, can’t have them) though I’m a bit older so would like to at least think people can do the math that I’m 43, don’t have kids and therefore probably won’t be. I’m relatively new to my job so people ask if I have kids, and I’ve learned to just answer “No” and leave it at that. And if someone asks why (and a few have!), I try to counter with “why do you want to know”? That shuts down a conversation quick!
      I’ve had a long journey with the whole no-kid thing (sounds like you have too) and I figure only people who have earned the right to hear that story from me get to hear it. And those people are not anyone I run into in the company break room. It sounds like you are handling it great (and most definitely are not a failure!), just remember how those people behave with this says way more about them than about you.

      1. Annonymouse*

        I work in a child filled environment and parents often ask me how many I have (because I’m really good at dealing with children) and I politely say none yet.

        In conversations IF it comes up I’ll ask someone if they plan on having children (if they clearly don’t have any). Simple yes or no answer that they can elaborate on if they want and lets us change topics.

        One of my coworkers never plans on it and another is a super clucky 22 year old. I don’t bother to them about it cause work.

    7. notquitebatman*

      Thank you everyone for your kind comments, you have made me tear up a little. It’s nice to know that strangers on the internet can be pretty awesome!

      It’s hard some days, but like you all mention, I’m not a failure, it’s just a quirk of life. When the time comes, there are other ways of having kids such as adoption/fostering, which are just as rewarding and important. And who knows, I may decide kids aren’t for me afterall. Who knows what life will bring, for the meantime I’m foccusing on being awesome at my job and making peace with the situation.

  8. Mike C.*

    Re #2: I have a picture of my car on my phone just for those times when folks won’t stop talking incessantly about their kids. It worked surprisingly well!

    To others reading this and wondering what the big deal is, it’s something like this. We get that your children are important to you, that they’re a major part of your lives and much of your time and energy will be spent on them. What’s creepy is when a parent never ever talks about anything else. When you don’t know what’s going on in the news for extended periods of time or in general stop acting as though you aren’t an adult human being with thoughts and autonomy of your own. The whole living vicariously thing when it comes to things like ultra-competitive private sports clubs is another example of this. Or all the crap the OP mentioned.

    Seriously OP, you have every right to shut that talk down. I don’t need to hear that crap about what a small child happens to name their genitals. WTF. It’s also ok to tell that one jerk in particular that your body and your personal decisions of none of his business and to never speak of them to you again.

    Talk about your kids like any other topic? No one is going to be weirded out.

    1. Myrin*

      Nothing substantial to add but I laughed out loud about the children naming their genitals part! :D

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Even worse (IMO) are the people who make their email address “braedynsmommy” and use it on job applications. Is that your sole identity?

      1. Freya UK*

        Oh sweet heck yes, this. The email address, their instagram handle, their Facebook picture is of their child(ren)…

        1. Former Retail Manager*

          Oh…don’t even get me started about the Facebook profile pics and the people that dominate my feed with pics of their kids. I am aware that the child exists. I need no additional information or pictures of the child. And you are now unfriended. Maybe little Timmy or Sally can be your friend. AAAAAHHHHH!!!

          1. Freya UK*

            Yep, unfollowed or unfriended depending upon how otherwise interesting they/close we are.

          2. MillersSpring*

            Amen. After this past fall, I can tell you two things I definitely do not give two s–ts about: homecoming and cheerleading. FFS

          3. Clumsy Ninja*

            Ha! I’m the weirdo who won’t name my children online and who only sometimes puts up pics of them. My late cat and my dog, however – their names were freely used and their pictures were frequent offenders!

    3. Purest Green*

      I have hundreds of cat pictures on my phone, if anyone begins oversharing with me.

      1. Cookie D'Oh*

        Same. I can talk about my cats like they’re kids. But I don’t think kids sleep in boxes or lick their butts in the middle of the kitchen floor. Although they probably both puke on the carpet.

        1. paul*

          (TMI): I had to tell my younger that biting people is bad and biting people on their privates is worse. I don’t think he was even aiming, they were just roughhousing a bit then my four year old started crying…

      2. Pebbles*

        Husband and I have one cat and one dog. My phone case has their pictures on it, and yes, I will tell and show you ALLLLL about Pecan’s squeaker ball if you let me! (Or Hazel’s cat shrub, whichever is more or less likely to glaze your eyes over depending on how I feel about you.)

    4. Gaia*

      Exactly. I don’t have or want kids but I understand and am fine with parents talking about their children just as I talk about things that are a major part of my life.

      However, people would think it really freaking weird if I only ever discussed my dog. Ever. In extreme detail. And showed zero interest in ever talking about anything else on any topic ever. It is just as weird to do with your kid. You have an identity outside of “parent.” Don’t forget that and if you do, at least pretend to remember it when communicating with me.

    5. In Lou Of*

      I frequently tell people I have two four-year-olds, and then I show them the picture of my two cats.

      1. Elemeno P.*

        “I leave them home alone all day. Usually they just sleep when I’m not there- much more trouble when I’m home! I wish they’d stop trying to walk on the stove while it’s hot.”

        (I have three cats- can you tell?)

      2. Michele*

        I have a 10 year old and a 4 year old. They each have 4 legs and a tail, and far cuter than any kid I have ever seen.

    6. Mazzy*

      I like talking about kid kids but lose interest when a coworker talks incessantly about everything their twenty year old is doing. I’m like, I didn’t talk to my parents much at that age to give them so much information on what in doing

      1. Dolorous Bread*

        That could also be a front. I know when I was 24-25 and barely talking to my mother (we’re now totally estranged), she would tell me she always bragged about me to her colleagues. It was really because she saw me as an extension of herself instead of my own person. So she was both overcompensating and seeking narcissistic approval for my/”her” accomplishments.

        Not saying that’s the case even most of the time, but these parents going on and on about their adult children may not be as in the loop as they want people to think they are.

    7. Malibu Stacey*

      That’s a nice PSA, however, I can’t imagine someone who never talks about anything but their kids having much interest in a workplace blog :)

    8. pescadero*

      “When you don’t know what’s going on in the news for extended periods of time or in general stop acting as though you aren’t an adult human being with thoughts and autonomy of your own.”

      Truth is – there are times when you have small children in the house where you aren’t an adult human being with thoughts and autonomy of your own.

      1. It's Business Time*

        I always respond to people talking about their offspring by saying – Cats not Kids! They are not impressed, but then again, I do start going on and on about my cats and how hilarious and pawesome they are.

    9. SimonTheGreyWarden*

      My husband and I had essentially accepted that we couldn’t have kids (and now, surprise, we’re expecting one, and has taken a LOT of adjusting to), so my phone is full of pictures of my cats and my snakes, and anyone who asked about my kids got enthusiastic slideshow presentations of my scale-babies and fur-babies. No one ever asked more than once. I didn’t mind being known as the crazy one with the cats, since that at least felt like a choice whereas being childless for us was not.

  9. Bigglesworth*

    Op #1 – You didn’t get sloppy seconds! You got a job that’s a huge step up and that’s something you should be proud of. I was the 2nd place choice for the position that I’m in right now. The #1 choice was hired, royally screwed everything up, and quit after two months. I was still looking when I was called in for another interview/job offer and am now coming up on my 2 year anniversary. My current boss has told me multiple times that although I was her first pick, she wasn’t my manager at the time. Hopefully, they’ve learned so that when my position needs to be filled this summer/fall, they’ll be better prepared.

    OP #2 – Ugggg… They’re being gross. I’m in my mid-twenties and had someone at work always asking when I was going to start a family and blah blah blah. He did it with all of the young ladies in the office. I finally got him to stop last summer when the zika virus was going around. My partner and I were leaving foe a two week camping trip and he told me (in front of an office full of women) that we females needed to be especially careful of the zika virus because if we got pregnant it would be horrible. My response was something along the lines of, “That’s great advice for those who can get pregnant.” This was also said in front of the office full of women, some of whom I know are trying to either start or expand their families, and it completely shut him up. I don’t know if I can or can’t have children, but i don’t think that matters when someone is so far over the line of what’s appropriate. It’s been almost a year and he…hasn’t really talked to me much since my ability to procreate is off the table as a topic of conversation.

    1. Bigglesworth*

      Btw, I went to the different women in the office later and apologized for losing my temper like that if front of them. None of them cared and a few thanked me for shutting down that talk. It’s hard when you want to start a family and can’t and apparently he’d been asking them too. All I can say is that he doesn’t ask those questions any more.

      1. Corky's wife Bonnie*

        Some of the people that you mentioned were either trying to start or expand their families may have appreciated your comment. I don’t have kids, it just never happened for me and my husband and I decided to let nature decide and we weren’t going to jump through hoops. We’re in our mid 40’s now and we are very happy. However, I know it can be extremely painful for those wishing and hoping for a baby and it can consume their thoughts, and some ding-dong bringing it up every five minutes is a constant reminder of their worry. You did many people a favor.

      2. Observer*

        I’m with Corky’s wife – some of the people who were having issues were probably the most glad that you lost your temper that way. For one thing, it shut the man up. For another, it’s a sign that SOMEONE gets it.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      It astounds me how invasive people are about other people’s reproductive choices. As soon as a couple gets married, people are like “SO WHEN ARE YOU HAVING BABIES?!” and it’s like… do you realize what you’re asking? Why do you care if people are having unprotected sex? You don’t need to know that.

      1. Dolorous Bread*

        Yeah, and honestly when people tell me they’re “trying” I get TMI vibes too, since you’re pretty much telling me you are, or have been, having a lot of sex.

  10. Jen RO*

    OP1 – Two stories from my recent job history.

    1. Three candidates, whom the interviewer liked to various degrees. In the end, we hired the third choice (I forgot why). The candidate ended up being one of the best I’ve had on my team! On paper, the other two looked better, but the one we hired proved to have the exact mix of skills and work ethic we were looking for.

    2. The interview panel liked candidate 1, but the boss (the decision maker) liked candidate 2, so we made her an offer. I was a bit worried (my coworkers on the interview panel were not thrilled at all with the decision and I was supposed to train this employee)… but candidate 2 started this week and it looks like she had an off day in her first interview, because she seems great so far (as in, better than 80% of new hires)!

  11. Silence & Money*

    LW2: As a fairly militantly Childfree woman in her early thirties, and about to embark on marriage no less, I feel you.

    Perhaps Google-image ‘Breeder Bingo’, play it at work, and look forward to being asked what you’re talking about when you stand up and shout ‘BINGO!’ in the middle of the office.

    1. Michael*

      Ugh, ‘breeder?’ I don’t have kids or want them, but that’s just a really nasty way to talk about other people.

      1. ZTwo*

        I really don’t think women who are pegged as “moms” tend to have a lot of power or respect in society, although they definitely get positively contrasted to women without kids in a “fulfilling expectations” sort of way. But the contrast is based on a lot of sexism and, frankly, a lot of our cultural language around moms and motherhood is as likely to be negative or harmful (to all women) than it is positive.

        Not saying that people without children/no desire for kids shouldn’t push back against what’s going on–OP #2’s work place sounds awful and she has my sympathies–but parenthood being so tied to gender means that sexism deeply affects how much power and respect it affords.

        1. Malibu Stacey*

          I would disagree as woman without children. A lot of people see having kids as a rite of passage to “real” adulthood and think of me in the same vein as one might think of a 35-yr-old who’s never learned to drive.

      2. Recruit-o-rama*

        Just because some people are ok with the term “breeder” doesn’t mean it’s ok. It’s not really “punching up” either since parenting can hold women back in the work place in a way that it doesn’t for men. While I certainly think that the OPs co-workers are being insensitive and jerkish, I don’t think turnabout is the right way to deal with it. I am a huge advocate of leaving people to make whatever reproductive choices work for them without judgement. That includes not telling child free by choice people that they will change their minds, not asking people personal questions about when/how many/ why not AND not calling parents an intentionally derogatory and dismissive name like “breeder”. I’ve also seen children referred to as “crotch fruit” which is equally gross, rude and dismissive. I don’t understand the mindset that it’s not ok to judge a person’s totally valid choice to not have children but it IS ok to mock another person’s totally valid choice TO have children by calling them “breeders”. It’s gross.

    2. Undine*

      Amazing. Sometimes I think I live in an alternate universe, because I’ve only been prodded to have children once or twice in my life. I know all these phrases exist, but no one has ever said them to my face.

      1. Freya UK*

        OldJob was working for a party supplies company – my fiancé’s brother once called to order some things for his son’s party, and was asking if we had things with certain cartoon characters on. I didn’t know most of the ones he was talking about (all new/current ones), and he throws in the ‘ol, “You will soon enough” (is that a threat?!), and I reminded him that I hate children, and he started on the whole “You’ll change your mind” bollocks. There I was, sat on the phone at work with everyone in the office able to hear me, having to berate him and tell him how utterly disgusting it is to suggest that a grown woman does not know her own mind.

        Thankfully my mother has accepted her grandcat and has now stopped with that kind of talk.

      2. Myrin*

        Yeah, same. I feel very lucky and privileged. (Somewhat unrelated, but I’ve also only been catcalled three times in my entire life (not that that wasn’t already three times too often!). My sister constantly comments that I must live on some kind of mystical plane of not-quite-reality.)

        1. Gandalf the Nude*

          I suspect some of us unintentionally exude a “Do not f*** with me” aura that only really egregious offenders will attempt to breach.

          1. Artemesia*

            This. I rarely got asked to take notes or plan parties or clean up in office situations because I apparently exude a don’t mess with me you sexist pg vibe or something. I am not strident or rude about such things. I have been catcalled but not often for I think similar reasons. I used to get hit on continuously at professional conferences by peers during the early years when there were few women but never got expected to do ‘girl jobs’ in professional situations.

        2. Lissa*

          Yeah, I’m the same on both accounts! I think at least some of it is regional, my best friend also hasn’t been catcalled much, and the one place I did work where I got bothered about having kids was a different area of the country.

          I’m not going to lie, I do sometimes find the “all women experience this” to be a bit alienating. Something being common doesn’t mean that somebody is lying to make a point if it hasn’t happened to them!

      3. SansaStark*

        I’m in my mid-3os and me too…..until we bought a house. For some reason I’m not allowed to want a third bedroom, driveway, and backyard just for myself. I don’t know what it is about buying a house, but it has opened the floodgate of “baby” remarks that even getting married didn’t open.

      4. Temperance*

        I’m jelly. My mother and my husband’s awful grandmother, both women who resented every having to work a day in the lives and who have no ambition to speak of, as well as toxic, old-fashioned ideas about what women should be doing, will not let up. Although once I turned 29, my mother sadly told everyone in the entire world that I was “too old” and I “passed on my chance to Be A Mother”, so there’s that?

        1. Pebbles*

          Ugh to those comments! Although I would have been SO HAPPY had my mother given up when I turned 29. Oddly enough my MIL never bothered me about having kids (she passed a year ago) and her son was her only child, so I really was her only chance of getting grandkids.

          1. Artemesia*

            I had my first at 30; to my mother’s credit she never pressured me at all, although she was thrilled. My MIL had 9 kids and she commiserated with me when I told her of my second pregnancy; she assumed it was unwanted instead of the very much planned event it was.

          2. Temperance*

            Oh, she hasn’t given up, she just now laments that i’m SO OLD and not a Mother. It angers me that she thinks popping out a baby is the only thing a woman can do.

            1. Pebbles*

              Well, I’m not going to outright suggest this because it was hard on my relationship with my mother, but our last go-round I was just at the point of not.giving.a.f. She was haranguing me in a restaurant about not giving her grandkids and how she and Dad wanted to know once and for all when husband and I were going to have kids. I almost walked out but I was sitting on the inside and somewhat trapped, so no satisfying exit was to be had. I told her it was NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS. She protested (of course) and I replied that I was done with being reduced to having no other use in life. Was she not proud of all that I had accomplished so far in life? Was she not happy with who I was? Was it not enough that I was happy with my life? Was I not GOOD ENOUGH for her as I was? I detailed many of the times she had ambushed me in the last 15+ years with this question and I was DONE. I told her I had been a good student, did she really think I was so clueless as to how the reproductive system works but was able to do well in every subject? I went off on her and I’m sure I had a few tables looking our way. I concluded with husband and I would let her know if/when there was news on that front and my dad wisely changed the subject after that.

              SO…perhaps you would like to use some version of that? :) I haven’t had any baby comments directed to me in almost a year now outside of a mild concern of us traveling to a Zika zone soon.

    3. SharedDriveUser*

      Yes! Love the Breeder Bingo card and am now working on a “When Will You Retire” version for my own office! Thank you!

  12. OP2!*

    Thanks for the comments so far. A bit of additional information: not everyone is in the office all at once so sometimes there will be 1 or 2 others and sometimes there’s much more but I will be with everyone at some point during the week. I have a different role to everyone else and am the only one who is office based. When there are fewer people in it’s easier to talk about other topics however it never really lasts very long because everything reminds them of something child related. And I mean everything.

    I guess I could try harder but it’s incredibly difficult – it was easier in other jobs to change the subject, here the conversations stop after it’s revealed no I don’t have a boyfriend and no I don’t want children. They look puzzled and then tell me they had a friend like me once and now she has 4 children!!! I’m an introvert and still feel very new so I admit I struggle with finding the appropriate wording and kind of back down because I’m very much aware I’m the only one in the office who has an issue with the situation. I will check out Captain Awkward for sure.

    The really aggressive one is very popular with the group and is known as “the office mum”. When I started she would constantly tell me that I am beautiful therefore I should have a child for that reason alone. Yesterday she said to me that I won’t know real pain (emotional) until I have a child in school. I lost my father very very recently (which everyone knows) and so was just stunned into silence with that one. When I spoke to my manager about it she did say this had been an issue with this particular person in the past and that it had been discussed with her although admitted that she used a “jokey” tone. This colleague makes a lot of mistakes in the work which impacts on everyone but no one has ever addressed it with her so I get the impression from this (and many other things that have been said) that she is very protected.

    1. Jeanne*

      She’s protected because they’re afraid she’ll turn on them. It doesn’t matter if you do or don’t want children. She is a jerk. Next time she starts, tell her she is harrassing you and you want it to stop. She will prob babble about how she is just trying to be nice. Just repeat I am asking you to stop. Any time it comes up, tell her you will not discuss it with her and go back to work. Repeat until she realizes you are no fun. She is getting her jollies out of this. Take them away.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Or she might not be protected at all—I have a feeling this is a case of bad management. Frankly, given OP#2’s manager’s response (and that it was “jokey”), I suspect her manager is also dropping the ball on providing feedback and accountability measures to this employee. It’s amazing how long terrible employees stay on simply because a manager does not want to manage.

    2. Freya UK*

      I’m sorry about you dad, and that you’re stuck in such an awkward and rubbish position.

      I’m four months into probation at a new company and I too am suffering from being surrounded by People Who Are Not My People, while they’re all incredibly cliquey with one another. OldJob was all lovely, chilled, postive people, and NewJob is all negative, jaded, “martyrs” who have worked together for years… It’s been like falling out of Care-a-Lot and landing on Snake Mountain :|

      In the beginning I did try to turn conversations and perspectives around, but it’s not been well-received; they’re content (or rather, think they are!) in their gloom and ultimately, I shouldn’t have to. Along with other behaviours and company policies etc, I know this just isn’t the place for me and I have begun to job-hunt again.

    3. Czhorat*

      The crazy, pushy lady is crazy and pushy. For everyone else, you should be able to try to steer the conversation, but be aware that children are so central to many people’s lives that they will be the default topic – especially if many of your co-workers are parents. That’s just something you need to live with.

      1. Temperance*

        I really disagree with this. Most of my coworkers are parents, and very few of them talk about their kids constantly. I have a few coworkers who I didn’t even realize had children after working with them for months/years.

        I’m happily childless, and I’m glad that my friends with children are still largely interesting people who have things to think or talk about besides their kids.

      2. Mike C.*

        I really disagree with this as well. Most parents have the ability to act like adults who can talk about multiple things based on context and social cues.

        1. Czhorat*

          True, but if a majority in the group are parents that creates common ground. IN some workplaces, the only things I had in common with officemates were parenthood and the job. It’s also a much safer topic than, say, politics.

          1. Gen*

            Yeah I have many things I could talk about but there’s not that many people in my work place that are interested in the minuetia of Star Wars, tropical plants or knitting. Most of my coworkers like soccer, soap operas and mainstream fashion- kids are literally the only thing we have in common and the only subject that doesn’t get you The Look. (And frankly I loath talking about kids as we only have one after seven losses and coworkers have called me selfish for not risking my life to keep trying for another :/ )

            1. Hrovitnir*

              Oh my god, what is wrong with people? I’m so sorry for your losses.

              I was thinking that all your interests sound like fun things to talk about – threads like these male me happy that for all the dysfunctional places I’ve worked, at least it’s been a mix of interesting people with varied interests.

            2. Detective Amy Santiago*

              I am so, so sorry. The child that actually exists is far more important than any hypothetical children in my opinion.

            3. Observer*

              Look, some people really are nuts or so boxed in that they simply can’t see past their noses. But, lots and lots and lots of people manage to be parents without CHILDREN being the default conversational topic and without saying these kinds of seriously outrageous things.

              I have a lot of coworkers with whom the only thing I share in common besides the job is kids. And even so, we manage to make small talk other than kids. You know, when the drive into work was terrible or you have some craziness with the utilities or your landlord or whatever, these are good enough for small talk.

          2. Former Retail Manager*

            I see your point and I agree that it may be something that may not change much for OP, especially if the parents are all parents of children in a similar age range (say baby – age 5). When you bring that in, it’s a situation where someone has either gone through or is going through what you are with your kid so it strengthens that parental bond even more than if the children were in vastly different age ranges.

            If OP tries Alison’s suggestion and it doesn’t work after a few months of consistently trying, I’d resign myself to the fact that this who these people are and what they like to talk about and then decide if I can deal with that long term or not.

        2. Antilles*

          Exactly. There are *plenty* of non-child topics which people can discuss. Sports. Weather. TV/movies. Food/restaurants. Celebrities. Current events. Funny/crazy news stories (Florida man!). Gossip about your industry. Yes, you might not personally love some of these topics. But part of being an adult is being able to carry on a low-level discussion on these sorts of meaningless chit-chat topics for a couple minutes.

          1. Kyrielle*

            Yep. Do I have kids? I do. Do they come up at work (and in my comments here, and lots of other places)? Yep, they do.

            But they’re far from the only thing. I try to talk about other things for the sake of my sanity, my coworkers’ and friends’ sanity, and…my kids’ privacy. Some things are okay, and others (their privates!) are way, way off reasonable. I don’t care if they’re babies or toddlers right then, that’s not a discussion for others who don’t have to deal with said kid. (I mean, the day care that watches the kid? Yeah, may need to know what he calls his privates, especially if it’s not one of the standard terms. My coworkers? Nope.)

      3. MuseumChick*

        I second Temperance post. I worked in a place where four people shared an office. Me and another intern and our two bosses. The bosses were parents to very young kids and they NEVER brought up their kids unless we ask about them or occasionally a “My baby kept me up all night so I will not be at the top of my game today.”

      4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Clearly it’s possible for people with children to talk about something else, but it doesn’t sound like that’s OP’s situation, and it also doesn’t sound like it’s going to change or like her manager is going to try to police how much people talk about their kids. In light of those circumstances, Czhorat’s comment seems totally reasonable and like an accurate read of this particular group.

      5. aebhel*

        I agree with this. That lady needs to get shut down ASAP. I’m not sure how much luck OP will have in redirecting the general topic of conversation (groups tend to get stuck in a rut, especially when it comes to small talk), but she should give it a shot. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like these people are going to change topics without some effort on her part.

    4. Lablizard*

      Your manager really dropped the ball. When there is an issue with an employee it isn’t a joke and a jokey tone is inappropriate. If this kind of intrusiveness continues (as it will because management dropped the ball), approach your manager again and ask them to have a serious talk with the aggressive one. With the aggressive one, a polite but firm, “I’m not particularly interested in discussing my reproductive choices at work. Could you please drop the topic?” repeated as needed is the way to go. It won’t stop her, but it will make it clear to everyone that you have asked it to stop and she is ignoring a perfectly clear and reasonable boundary.

      As for everyone else, you might just be in a situation where you will not be part of the office chit chat and don’t talk to your co-workers about non-work topics at all. I have been in that position when I worked in a place where I had nothing in common with anyone other than work. They were perfectly nice people, we just had zero common interests and few common experiences. There are pluses and minuses to this kind of situation. Personally, I found that once I got used to not socializing with co-workers, it wasn’t such a big deal and spared me the awkward attempts at conversations.

      1. Michele*

        I wonder if since the manager is ignoring the situation, OP could put why it is a problem in HR terms. Say something like, “that is an inappropriate thing to say at work”. I am not saying that it has to be escalated to HR, but I have noticed that the word “inappropriate” reminds people that they have crossed a line.

        1. Lablizard*

          That is a good idea. “Inappropriate” might remind the manager that a co-worker’s uterus and it’s future may not be work appropriate. For the woman who is the actual problem, it might not be enough. She seems willfully tone deaf

    5. Sam*

      I’m sorry, OP – she sounds unbelievably insensitive. I think Alison has in the past recommended responding to inappropriate comments with a somewhat incredulous, “Wow.” It seems like a possible option with this woman – lets you signal that something she said was Not Okay without requiring you to come up with a response while gobsmacked. She may be too self-centered to get it, but it might be worth a try.

      1. GiantPanda*

        I think this extreme sort of insensitive comment allows a loud “FU”. Followed by a somewhat calmer “Do not talk to me about this ever again.”

        (Maybe not while you are still new / on probation.)

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I hate to say this, but there are almost no circumstances where it’s ok to say “FU” to a coworker.

          1. fposte*

            Yup. Anger is understandable, but it’s not a good plan to resort to behavior that would make you more of a problem than the person you’re responding to. (And also it loses you the moral high ground, so what fun is that?)

            1. Hrovitnir*

              I’m not disagreeing with this as work advice, but can I note that I think it’s really gross that swearing/expressing emotion is regarded as soooo much worse than being intentionally (or obliviously) cruel but hiding behind social niceties? Because I really hate the power that gives manipulative people. >:(

              1. fposte*

                It’s true that politely phrased bullying may not get the opprobrium it deserves. But you’re falling afoul of Hanlon’s razor here and attributing to malice what can be explained by thoughtlessness. There are people who’ve never realized other people’s emotions can operate differently than their own.

                And I mostly object because it’s strategically weak. If they are being mean, getting you to explode means they win. They won’t find the response scary, just satisfying.

            2. Artemesia*

              I agree. It is however occasionally okay to firmly say ‘That is really offensive and I never want to hear another word about this again.’

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Agreed. I am so sorry, OP—the absolute tone deafness of her comment is staggering in its ignorance and insensitivity. And I’m very sorry for your loss.

        I’m a bit of a jerk, and I’m a big fan of responding to ridiculous statements with a look that says “what planet did you come from?” and then an unexpected response like, “Wow” or “Why?” or “What an absolutely strange/inappropriate/horrible thing to say” or “how odd” followed by a disbelieving head shake and walking away. This takes a little planning and a mental shift, because otherwise it’s possible to be left gaping in stunned and incredulous silence, which the offending person almost always takes as an invitation to keep saying ridiculously insane things.

        Your boss needed to step up, and I hope she fixes how she handles these things going forward. But in the meantime, if you have a few “protocols” (i.e. responses) saved up that you can deploy so that you’re not stunned when your hellacious coworker says these awful and insane things, it might help you get by. I am truly sorry; she does not sound like a person with reasonable views or reactions.

    6. PB*

      OP2 – Your third paragraph makes me so angry on your behalf. The line about pain — when you’ve just experienced a serious loss — is (at best) thoughtless and (at worst) cruel. I am so sorry for your loss.

      As for your letter, I really do feel for you. I’m slightly older than you (mid-30s), married, and child free by choice. I’ve never wanted kids. If I had a dime for every time someone told me, “You’ll change your mind!”, I could probably retire. And why do some people with kids think it’s acceptable to tell disgusting stories? I was in a mechanic’s office a few months ago, listening to a mom tell her mother a disgusting story about her son vomiting. I really didn’t want to hear that.

      That said, avoiding kid-talk completely is probably going to be impossible. I hope that using Alison’s suggested script can at least steer the topic to something a little less gross.

      I am sorry you’re having to go through this.

      1. INFJ*

        I recently had a conversation with a coworker (outside of work) in which we discussed how we came to realize we didn’t want to have kids (we’re both in our 30s).

        Apparently a friend of hers said that she would never “feel the full range of human emotion” if she didn’t have kids. What. the actual f.

      2. Kas*

        It sounds like office mum thinks knowing “real pain” is a good thing. I’m gobsmacked. OP2, I’m so sorry that you have to deal with such an insensitive busybody.

    7. MuseumChick*

      Omg, my jaw dropped reading this. WTF???????????????? Your manager is majorly dropping the ball here. I would start writing down what this employee says to you with times and dates. This is so inappropriate. Does you company have an HR department or could you go to your grand boss?

    8. Lilmo*

      My condolences on your loss.

      “won’t know real pain (emotional) until I have a child in school.”
      That’s just a totally sick comment.
      By my early 20s I’d lost a high school age cousin and an even younger neighbour. One set of grandparents lost a young child. It’s near my cousin’s b-day so if that were my colleague I don’t think I could have not uttered the words “you’re sick, be thankful you actually get your child home at the end of a school day.”

      Could you take that latest statement to your manager? It’s crass enough to say it to someone who has not lost a child or a child close to them, but if she uses the same spiel on someone who likes to keep it private that they have lost a child…. :(

      I am really sorry about her and the others and that I can’t offer better advice.

      FYI – If you’re not my partner or likely to be, I don’t care about your reproductive choices.
      I’m childless by circumstances that dictate my choices. I’m lucky in that I’m happy to tell people about why no bio kids. (50/50 odds of passing on a crippling illness, that needs a baby / toddler to do the tests on — I love my non-existent bio kids enough not to play Russian Roulette with their health.) — I’d love to adopt a large sibling group (Even as a small kid, pre learning I’m a carrier of bad genes, the plan was 2 bio if possible, then adopt siblings), but don’t have the finance. So far that has shut people down. But I am more than willing to become all thrilled someone’s going to give me $1000s for my ‘adopt sibling group’ fund, if anyone continues to push. (I don’t have that, am not in a health / finance position to be getting kids).

      1. Lilmo*

        Cousin passed over a decade ago, so its not actually a bad bruise for me (so sorry again for your loss Op), my reaction is more out of protectiveness for my cousin’s / neighbour’s parents feelings. I’m sad because its near my cousin’s b-day, but the mere thought of what that woman crassly said to you is making me angry, especially given your recent loss.

        (If I’ve made no sense, apologies, am unwell and using AAM as a distraction, although now I want to ‘smash’ so think an action movie is in order.)

        Best wishes op and I really hope your manager actually starts to do their job with this woman.

      2. Sunripe*

        I had a friend who once encountered something like this. She informed them that both grandparents were Holocaust survivors and that an uncle Who raised her like her father had been killed in a horrible fire. That shut the woman up

      3. Temperance*

        Seriously, that’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard. One of my friends lost both her husband and her toddler in a tragic incident. That was way the hell more painful than her daughter’s first day at preschool.

      4. Observer*

        you’re sick, be thankful you actually get your child home at the end of a school day.”

        Great response! Very true, and MUCH better said than what I think my first response would have been – either shocked silence or a gasped “How DARE you!”

        After the anger, though, I feel bad for anyone whose hardest day is the first day of their child’s preschool. Because I don’t believe it’s a result of having a “charmed” life. Any explanation I can come up with for such a comment speaks to emotional stuntedness, unhealthy enmeshment with the kid, and / or lack of people in her life with whom she has a genuine and strong emotional connection. Plus a heaping dose of stupidity and ignorance.

    9. Alton*

      I’m sorry for your loss. Your coworker is very insensitive and honestly, her comment sounds both insecure and really out of touch. I think parents who are really pushy about other people not knowing what real love is/not knowing what it’s like to be tired or busy/etc. are often insecure or bitter and are trying to convince themselves and others that that’s not the case.

      But that particular comment doesn’t even sound normal. It’s normal for parents to have worries or experience separation anxiety, but seeing having school-age children as being “painful” on a level that surpasses any type of pain a non-parent could experience is way over-the-top and doesn’t sound healthy to me.

    10. Lora*

      Ha. As as divorced Crazy Cat Lady, whenever someone says “you’ll change your mind” about any life choice I have made, I ask them if they are married. Yes? “You’ll change your mind.”

      What is it with the Spanish Inquisition people who demand that you justify your entire life history and your political leanings to them when you first meet them? I can talk about LOADS of other things, let’s change the subject to music or gardening or wine tasting or books or dog training or cooking or your last vacation to wherever…never works.

      1. mreasy*

        I am a married Crazy Cat Lady who likes to insist that people will change their minds about having cats! (TBH they often do.)

      2. CM*

        These alternate “you’ll change your mind” scenarios are great. They highlight how ridiculous it is to tell people that.

        I have voluntarily done the marriage and kids thing, so I haven’t been subject to this too much — except when I was an associate at a big law firm and was told “you’ll change your mind” about coming back to work after having a baby. This was my second child, and I had already been working there for a few years. I repeatedly said, “I already know what it’s like to be a parent and a lawyer, I will be returning to work after my maternity leave, and I will not change my mind,” and they would smile and say, “Okay, but after the baby comes, we’ll see!”

      3. tigerStripes*

        I’ve found that people also like to talk about their pets. If you can manage to switch the subject to that, it’s usually a painless thing to listen to.

    11. RVA Cat*

      So sorry for the loss of your father, OP2.

      “Office mum” is a mean girl, full stop.

    12. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)*

      I’d say “It’s inappropriate for you to tell me what to do with my body.” Icy cold.

      And as for Office Mum’s “you don’t know real pain” comment, I would just as coldly remind her of my recent personal tragedy. Possibly adding with sarcasm and a poisonous smile “But I’m sure a little thing like that doesn’t compare to little $KidsName being in school. Do continue.”

      But I strongly believe in not being nice to people who are awful to you. You wouldn’t be ruining a work relationship because, well, she’s already done that.

      1. Gandalf the Nude*

        You wouldn’t be ruining a work relationship because, well, she’s already done that.

        Oh, thank you for saying that. It makes me feel better about my response.

        Before the comment about emotional pain (and I’m so sorry for your loss, OP), I might have suggested ways to shut her down while trying to preserve the relationship. But I would personally have no use for someone who’s been both so rude and so cruel. That’s the point where every interaction with this woman would get a layer of ice over it.

        But if she’s protected, I’m not sure there’s much you can do but go for broke or GTFO. I’d become a broken record, like Jeanne says above, though I personally would be far blunter. “You are being unbelievably rude. Stop harassing me about my reproductive choices.” Maybe with a side of “Your obsession with my sex life is creepy and inappropriate.”

    13. paul*

      I’m not sure how it would go over in your culture, but sometimes a very blunt, borderline aggressive response can make people STFU.

      “I don’t plant to have kids, and sure as hell don’t want to talk to coworkers about my sexual health and reproductive planning. You’re being uncouth and obnoxious, stop it.” I don’t know your office so I don’t know what sort of waves that would cause.

      I mean, when we were trying to conceive I horrified a pushy family member by asking if they’d like video proof we were TTC and that *finally* got through to them that they didn’t need or want details.

    14. MashaKasha*

      She said you would not know emotional pain until you had a child in school? Like, a healthy, adjusted kid in a normal, decent-ranking, safe school? Is she out of her mind? I have two that went through K-12, both had mild LDs mind you, and I’m 100% at a loss as to what was supposed to be painful. They were both kids. In a school. Which we had picked for them ourselves and were mostly happy with. Where they did okay and sometimes got into trouble. Why I would use that to get into a pain-comparing contest with other people is beyond me. Good god. Some people just have no filter and no empathy, and make everything about themselves. I’m sorry. I promise not all of us parents are this much nuts.

      And I REALLY wonder why she is so well protected.

    15. Trillian*

      My mother died last year. My patience with everything was nil. I fear my response to that blatant bit of emotional one-upmanship would have been a flat, deadly stare, and raising my hands to play the world’s teensiest violin.

  13. Milton Waddams*

    #4: Do you work in a Right-To-Work State? Outside of fields that are unionized or boom-bust fields during the height of a boom, that’s how entry-level employees are often treated; like the job you have today is only because of how you “interviewed” yesterday, and how you “interview” today will determine whether or not a job will be offered to you tomorrow.

    This might be her version of the “facts of life” talk for interns — some managers feel that it is their duty to let college kids who maybe aren’t familiar with bargaining power dynamics know how the current marketplace treats entry-level employees. At the end of the day, a large company outside of the boom/bust or union environment doesn’t need any particular employee, let alone any particular entry-level employee, while, depending on the field, that company may be the only game in town as far as career-track work is concerned… and of course unless you have the social safety net of living with family rent-free, all entry-level employees will eventually do any job, no matter how unpleasant, for any pay — if the alternative is being evicted out onto the street to freeze to death in the snow. The bargaining power dynamics are grossly unequal nowadays, and it is best to be aware when you leave college that you are heading into the fire hoping maybe to land on a frying pan.

    (I can see it getting old if it is done in an arrogant rather than sympathetic way, though.)

    It’s a toxic dynamic, for sure, but it’s better to go into those environments aware of bargai

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I don’t know that this is unique to Right-To-Work states. All states have at-will systems in place, and of course the only limit or restriction on those processes are usually held in CBAs. But it also sounds like OP might be at a government/university lab, in which case there’s almost certainly a union (although it likely doesn’t include postdocs or term-limited fellowships).

      I live in a union-friendly state, and that doesn’t change the dynamic of “you can be fired for any reason at any time”—the only difference is whether you work for a compassionate and humane organization or boss. I don’t know that it’s accurate or helpful to describe all post-college employment as “heading into the fire hoping maybe to land on a frying pan.”

    2. Margaret*

      Hi! I’m OP#4
      I am in a right-to-work state, but I don’t think that affects this dynamic as much.
      I really do think this boss just really likes being in control. If you read some of my other comments, you’ll see that I recently found out (after I sent in this question) that she’s not even the one that will be making the decision whether I get hired on!
      I do get what you’re trying to say though: I’m sure there will be bargaining when I get to the end of my two years. But honestly, I’m in a pretty good position since I have good job experience and some of my team is nearing retirement. I’m not going to say I’m irreplaceable, but if they’re going to throw away 2 years of training because this boss wants everyone to know how much power she has, I don’t think I’d work here anyway!

  14. Mirax*

    OP2, I am also childfree and got a tubal a few years ago. Since then, whenever someone asks me when I’ll have kids…

    Well, I don’t cry. But I deliberately think about something to get myself a little misty very quickly, and glance away from the speaker, and say, “I can’t.”

    I’ve found that this is very effective at making sure the topic doesn’t get brought up again. (If you look like you’re going to cry, people generally don’t want to continue the conversation, even to tell you that Adoption Is An Option!)

    1. Notyouruterus*

      I am a woman who would DIE during pregnancy. I’m also adopted.

      When idiots tell me “when you have kids”….I inform them “I can’t have them.” They then bang on about “all the advances” in reproductive technology. I them tell them “It’s not an issue of getting pregnant, it’s an issue of how my immune system would respond. It would kill both of us.”

      Then they talk about adoption. I tell them I’m adopted and well aware how it works. Then I get “so you know how great it can be.” I respond “yes, but I also know how painful it can be for the child….It’s not always as rosy as you think.” even that doesn’t shut up a lot of them. They then talk about “rescuing” a kid from foster care.

      You’d be surprised how persistent people can be.

      1. Lablizard*

        I tell people that I would be a terrible parent and no kid deserves that. It kills the conversation dead

    2. Notyouruterus*

      Never worked for me. The hardcore bang on about ART, adoption, and foster kids.

      “Pregnancy will kill me.” Never shut em down for me.

      1. Elfie*

        Yeah, I can’t have children, and I got turned down to be an adoptive parent by my local authority (adoption works much differently in the UK than the US, I believe!!). I cannot have children. I would love to have children. I wanted children so badly that when my best friend announced she was pregnant with her second child, I cried non-stop for a day (when you believe that everyone else’s pregnancy reduces your chances of getting pregnant…). I’ve come to terms with my childlessness now, but it will always be my biggest regret, that I never had children. I sure as hell don’t need some random semi-stranger poking about my business, questioning my decisions, offering unsolicited and frankly unhelpful advice…No advice, OP, just commiserations.

      2. Michele*

        Same. I had my tubes tied. During the procedure, they found something indicating that it would be extremely difficult for me to conceive even if I wanted to. I tried telling people that I can’t have kids, and they either get invasive asking me why or they start telling me what my options are and what worked for their friend. Only middle age has gotten people to shut up.

    3. RVA Cat*

      I have a toddler and OP #2 makes me realize I probably talk about him at work too much – though I don’t get into the TMI details the OP mentions. Now people are asking me when I’m going to have another child. My husband and I are trying, but I’m 40 and had a miscarriage last year so…it’s awkward.

      1. Beezus*

        My son is 11. After he was born, we had a few years of “we’re not trying for another, but we’ll see what happens”. I had two miscarriages in that time. Now, if someone pushes me too hard about having a second kid, like Mirax, I let myself mist up a little bit and say, “we lost two, and decided to stop trying.” Shuts them right up. I don’t mind being the parent of an only child, and I’ve long ago come to terms with grief over my losses, but if someone is being a pushy jerk, I have no problem with using my loss to make them feel bad and maybe think twice about pushing someone next time.

  15. Nerfmobile*

    For OP1: I’ve knowingly been the second choice twice in my career. Both times, it worked out awesomely! Better than the jobs where I was the first choice, actually. In the first situation, they actually told me they had offered the position to someone else, and then came back later when that offer fell through. I was in that job for 7 years, had an excellent manager, got promotions and interesting projects, and only left because I decided to make a career change and left to go to grad school. The second situation was for my current job, where my manager told me some time after I started that I had been the second choice. I’ve been at this company for 6 years now, and have had two excellent managers, gotten promotions and done interesting work. So, I’d not be worried about that situation at all.

  16. Susan*

    #1 – Don’t be embarrassed about being the second choice! In my line of work, it’s common for companies to hire in groups (because it’es easier to train several people at once rather than one at a time). My department hires three to six people at once, and there is always one star candidate about whom the managers are really excited. Almost every time, the original favorite in the group actually ends up being one of the lowest performers, and sometimes a complete disaster. The real star of the group is usually someone the managers were unsure about hiring — someone who barely made the cut. What I’m trying to say is that just because you weren’t the first choice doesn’t mean you weren’t truly the best person for the job, and if you do a great job in this role, your manager will be glad she hired you — maybe even glad your friend turned it down so she didn’t miss out on hiring you.

    Also, try to think about how this works the other way around. You probably applied to several jobs, and maybe you didn’t get an offer for your “dream job,” but this job is still pretty great and you’re excited about it. Should the hiring manager be embarrassed that you’re only taking this job because you didn’t get your dream job? Should this company feel bad about hiring some other company’s sloppy seconds? Of course not! And you shouldn’t, either.

  17. Knitting Cat Lady*

    What is it with people that they’re so invested in other people’s reproductive choices?!

    I’m not not having children at you!

    And seriously, why are people so invested in persuading people who don’t want children into having them?

    I’ve met so many people who clearly weren’t wanted by their parents…

    1. Czhorat*

      It’s somewhat crazy.

      Your choice to have children or not is your choice. It really isn’t my place, or anyone else’s, to opine on it.

      1. Oryx*

        Except it’s not always a choice to not have kids, which is just another reason why it’s gross and innapropriate to ask when they are.

        1. Czhorat*

          Also true, but part of the problem is the insistence/assumption that children are a requirement for a happy, full life.

          1. Notyouruterus*

            Bingo. I can get pregnant. Easily. (According to my doctor). Pregnancy would kill me.

            That doesn’t stop people bc it’s not about the actual breeding. It’s about the assumption that you can only be happy if you have kids and the only purpose of life is to have progeny.

            So the suggestion that you can shut these people down by saying that you physically can’t have children really doesn’t work in a lot of situations. People who assume that children are essential to a happy life will not stop simply because you physically can’t have children

    2. blackcat*

      I think there are a lot of people who interpret someone saying, “I don’t want what you have,” as a criticism of their choices, rather than as a simple statement of fact.

      I have seen a conversation to the effect of:
      Person 1: “You should really get a sports car! They’re so much fun!”
      Person 2: “Meh, I’d rather spend my money on travel and keep my good, old, Civic around as long as possible.”

      1. blackcat*

        Oops, hit tab-enter and posted before I was ready…

        My point is that people do this with other things, too. It’s just particularly charged when it’s about major stuff: Marriage, kids, etc. My guess is some people who get aggressive in these situations are actually insecure in their own choices. In the case above, it seemed like Person 1 probably couldn’t actually afford that sports car and regretted their decision to buy it.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Agreed. I’ve found people who are happy with their decision to have kids, etc., don’t spend all their time bullying their (very happily childless) friends or coworkers about it.

        2. Anonygoose*

          Ahh I totally agree. Right now, my fiance and I don’t want to buy a house. We are not in the right place, mentally, financially, or even literally – we’d like to move somewhere new soon, as we don’t like the city we are in. We’re also just prioritizing other things at the moment – travelling and paying off student loans as quick as possible. BUT the amount of people who tell us that we need to get into the real estate market while we are young, it’s the best thing they’ve ever done, etc., is just exhausting. We aren’t judging other people for their choice to buy a house, but it’s not right for US right now. People get weirdly defensive about it, and seem to think that marriage=house=kids.

          1. D.A.R.N.*

            Ouch, especially with how many people have lost homes recently, you’d think they’d realize homeownership isn’t for everyone….:/

            1. Anonygoose*

              Yeah seriously annoying. It also ignores that some people LIKE renting, and that if done right, renting can actually be less expensive than home ownership, and if the savings are invested correctly, can be more financially lucrative and significantly less commitment than buying a house.

              I just find most people want everyone to live exactly like them when it comes to big life decisions.

      2. Princess Carolyn*

        All true, which is why I suggest phrasing like “I’m happy with my Civic!” (or, in this case, “I’m happy with just the cats!” or “I like things the way they are!”) rather than a Varsity Blues-style “I don’t want yer life.”

        1. Hillary Faye*

          I can’t see that phrase without hearing it in Van Der Beek’s terrible Texan accent and I’m cracking up picturing myself just randomly yelling that at coworkers who ask me about kids and marriage :)

        2. Rebecca in Dallas*

          Literal lol at “I don’t want yer life”! I might have to use that line the next time someone tries to convince me I need to have children.

      3. TheSockMonkey*

        I think you are right. Although I have to say that after having a child myself, I am even more of the belief that people who don’t want a kid shouldn’t have them. I love my kid, but he takes all of my time, and money, and energy. I can’t imagine telling someone they need to have a kid to feel fulfilled. But, I guess that’s why no one is writing in to AAM about me.

    3. Princess Carolyn*

      I think AAM is where I learned the phrase “I’m not eating a salad at you,” so it’s perfect that you’re using the same phrasing about having children. We would all be better off if we remembered that other people’s personal choices are generally made for reasons that have nothing to do with us.

  18. MuseumChick*

    OP 2, as a fellow childless by choice woman, I feel your pain. Take this in chunks, first the jerk that keeps saying you will change your mind, be direct with them, “Jane, please stop saying that. I know you don’t mean it this way but it comes off condescending.” When she does it again, “Jane, we’ve talked about this before. Please stop disparaging my choice to not have children.” Third time, bring it to your manager, “I’ve spoken with Jane several times about this but it keeps happening, how would you like me to handle this?”

    Next, wait for the next time some inappropriate comes up in conversation, wait for a really work inappropriate word/phrase, “Oh little Jonny had the worst diarrhea last night.” You say “Ewww, can we please talk about something else?” In a calm tone.

    Parents, please know that not everyone wants to know about your kid’s poop or that fact that Jonny hates underwear, or that little Sarah think it’s just hilarious to shout at the anatomically correct names for body parts.

  19. Bolt*

    #1: also remember that your friend may be full of it. Your friend may be embarrassed that you were chosen and decided to lie that they turned it down to protect their own ego.

    I caught a friend doing this when she wasn’t hired at my company – gave me the story of why she declined the offer but it turns out an offer was never extended to her!

    1. OP1*

      Thank you for the comment! I don’t think he’s lying — they did, for example, take much longer to get back to me than they said they would if I were the top choice. But I’m glad you brought this up because it now occurs to me that it might say something about his own ego that he’s telling our mutual friends about this situation that I think I would have kept to myself. It’s very possible he wanted to make sure everyone knows I didn’t REALLY get the job over him.

      1. Czhorat*

        It’s interesting for your question to be in the same post as “not enough applicants”.

        That can also serve as a reminder – if they didn’t want you, they could have continued the search.

  20. Sunripe*

    Sometimes “not enough applicants” can mean that the company thinks they are to be getting better candidates than they are but they don’t yet realize that either the candidate pool is what it is or that they’re offering too low of a pay or bad terms so that they can’t attract who they really want.

    The underlying issue, though, is really what it means to your chances as a candidate. There are times where it means there’s nothing wrong with you and they might hire you, but in general I would take it to mean that you’re not going to get the job.

    Unless you know for certain that they have to have a set number of candidates before they can hire someone, it usually means they’re not satisfied with their choices.

    1. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)*

      Yes, it often means “Nobody we like wants to work for $12 an hour with no benefits. OMG there’s a *skills gap* and it’s terrible. Spoiled millennials are too good to work.” Or “WHYYY are we not getting great applicants for our $12 an hour job with no benefits, I JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND what we’re DOING WRONG *confused sad face*.”

  21. Enginerd*

    #1: Echoing above comments… When hiring for a position, if I’m not happy with the candidates, I’ll re-open the search since I’m not merely looking for a warm body to sit in a chair. If it’s the second (or third, or fourth, etc.) person I’m offering the position to, it’s because I believe they will be a great fit for it.

  22. Not Today Satan*

    #1 – In one of my favorite scenes in The Good Wife (a TV show about a law firm), Alicia complains to her boss, Diane, that the only reason she was invited to become partner was that the firm needed money from the buy-in. She thought it was humiliating and was having seconds about it. Diane told her that the first time she was made partner, her firm chose her only because they needed a woman. But she took the opportunity and made the most of it (in the show, Diane is pretty badass and super successful). Point being, the professional world isn’t perfect. Not everyone is going to love and respect you, so you have to just do your best and not worry about that stuff.

    Last year I was promoted internally. A while later I found out I was their second choice, and I’ll admit it stung. Meanwhile I’m about to get promoted again and the “first choice” isn’t. No one remembers or cares about a hiring round once it’s done.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      This is a very good point. I was promoted twice to make room for other people’s promotions. The first time, I deserved it, the second time, I didn’t think I was ready and I thought it was a stupid decision. However, because I am who I am, I took the new title, embraced it, and proved to myself that I deserved it (everyone else just assumed I did).

      To make another comparison… when I was a senior in college, I needed a car. I was working but I made very little money, and there’s no way I could afford a car. My stepfather loves cars and wanted a new one, so he gave me his 4-year-old Acura. This car was such a dream, amazing to drive, and way better than anything my friends had, but I have a deep-seated fear of coming across as spoiled or undeserving. I used to get accused of “driving like an old lady” because I was so careful with that car, and I took amazingly good care of it for the 5 years I owned it (my mother ended up being the one who “killed” it– long story, no accident– and I’m still pissed about that 12 years later). What I’m saying is that sometimes the circumstances aren’t what we would choose, so the best we can do is project to everyone else in the world– and ourselves– that we can take the job and do it well so that in the end, no one will remember or care about the initial circumstances.

    2. Sunripe*

      This goes not just for work but for life. There’s an old German proverb that states “it’s not the acorn, it’s the tree”

      We often get so hung up on whether or not we’ve earned our opportunities, that we forget to evaluate what we make of the ones that come to us. Much of life is serendipity and luck

    3. Uncivil Engineer*

      Your second paragraph struck a chord with me. I was once rejected for a promotion during an interview process that hired 8 people. I thought I was a better candidate than half of them even though I had less experience. I was promoted a year later and now, many years later, I’ve passed up all but one of those 8 people. I’m sure I’m the only one that remembers that… but it makes me smile inside.

  23. Almoa*

    OP1, please also remember that companies aren’t perfect in ranking candidates. We hired a couple of people recently (for two very different positions). The employee who was our #2 choice for position #1 has worked out fabulously and we feel lucky we ended up hiring her. The employee who was our #1 choice for position #2 has worked out okay, but not great. The hiring committee did their best but they’re certainly not infallible.

    1. Tuckerman*

      Yes. This. I think it may be especially true for entry level type work, when the candidates may not have so much experience in the field. There’s less information for the hiring team to use to make a decision. So we’re making predictions based on what we think may be transferrable skills.

    2. Former Retail Manager*

      Absolutely! My personal viewpoint is that at the end of the day, I don’t care if I was your 20th choice as long as you hire me. If you give me a chance, I’ll prove to you that I was a good choice by doing great work and proving myself to be reliable and dependable, which it sounds like you will do as well. And one hiring manager’s first choice may be another’s third choice. Hiring managers are not perfect and you obviously bring great skills to the table so try nt to focus on this. Go forth and show them why you were a great choice!

  24. Lady Julian*

    Just wanted to say that I feel for you, OP2! I work at a very family friendly workplace (kids attend our Xmas party, too) and I’m one of a small handful of unmarried women without kids.

    Incidentally, I haven’t been able to build relationships, either. Not that anyone’s been deliberately rude, but I think our outlook on life, the kinds of things we find pleasure in, are different enough that there’s not much there to build a relationship on.

    1. Michele*

      It can definitely get lonely. I think it is harder for women because mothers are expected to take their kids everywhere. There have been many times that I have tried to make friends with women who have kids (I do not), and they bring their kids along to lunch or shopping or whatever. I don’t know why the father can’t take care of the kids for a few hours on the weekend, but I don’t want to go to lunch with someone’s kid.

      1. Kimberly R*

        This may or may not be the case for your friends, but I have trouble with making plans on the weekend due to the nature of my husband’s job. He gets 1 weekend off each month and is basically on call 24/7 (or is working during the weekend) so my choices are to not see my friends or bring my kids. The grandparents live near by but are not very willing to watch the kids for a few hours on the weekends. Babysitters are out of my budget, especially if I want to actually order and eat food with you at that lunch. However, if a friend wanted to do lunch and I knew that I didn’t have anyone to watch the kids, I would let the friend know and give them the choice to reschedule or have the kids come with. It isn’t ideal but for some of us, there aren’t many options.

  25. Overeducated*

    Yes! It’s not always objective. I was offered a job a couple years ago that I didn’t take because during the seven month long hiring process, my spouse quickly got a new job and we were no longer able to relocate (baby in the picture, long distance not an option). A good friend from grad school got it instead. I was surprised because she actually had very similar experience to me, and MORE of it. It must have been something subjective in the interview process that put me ahead, nothing that made me “objectively” better. And now she’s in a better place in her career than me because it is a good job and I stalled in my career for a couple years being unable to relocate.

    Ps I never told my friend about the offer because I didn’t want her to feel bad like #1. It’s awkward for both of you…just move on.

    1. OP1*

      Thanks so much for your valuable perspective being on the other side of this! I definitely will do my best to just forget about this particular circumstance.

  26. Lola*

    OP2 I often join in my coworkers talk about kids and gross things (they talk about lot about poop) with stories of my cats gross habits. But I realize not everyone has pets either.

    There was once an uncomfortable long talk from my cubicle mate about how important it is to not wait for kids since she had trouble getting pregnant. (I always ask ppl who go that route if they just want me to get knocked up by a random guy and be single mom.) But what made the conversation more awkward was another co worker who was there who is past child bearing years, is childless and clearly living a full life without them. So it was really just her over sharing bc she feels so strongly about her child. I understand but awkward!

  27. OP1*

    Thank you so much for all of the perspectives from the manager side of things! I feel well-equipped now to walk in the first day without second-choice baggage hanging over my head. It’s been great to hear some experiences related to being in my friend’s position, too. My first (kind-of-immature and lacking-in-nuance) thought when I was told he turned it down was, “What? How was this job not good enough for him? I would never turn this down!” Much of my embarrassment stemmed from that.

    1. mreasy*

      From another angle – I was first choice for my current job, and I know the second-choice candidate well. He is fantastically qualified, and would have done a phenomenal job! So for the first six months or so, I felt pressured knowing how excellent the person they’d turned down in order to hire me had been. So it can work both ways. Mostly, though – congratulations on your new job!!!!

      1. mreasy*

        PS I just realize that that sounded humblebraggy, which is not what I meant. I honestly think the fact that I was the only qualified woman applicant & the company has no women in my exec-level role gave me an edge (sigh).

    2. Lily in NYC*

      It’s a normal human reaction!
      I was the 2nd choice for the best job I’ve ever had (but I didn’t even get the offer until the first choice failed in the role and got fired after a month).

    3. Allypopx*

      Relocating for a job is a big deal. It doesn’t sound like it wasn’t good enough for him, just that the two of you are coming at it from different perspectives and circumstances – and it fits yours better. Congratulations!

    4. Here we go again*

      Awesome OP! Until someone is physically in the job, the hiring manager/company really doesn’t know who their first choice would be. They are making decisions based on the limited information they have. First choices don’t always work out – sometimes someone rejected in the initial resume screening part may have been the best candidate. It’s all a gamble and it’s impossible to know all of the outcomes. You will do great!

    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Aww, I’m glad you’re feeling better OP! And I’m very excited for your new gig and all the exciting things to come :)

    6. Rincat*

      Just wanted to say thanks for asking, because I needed to read all these comments for myself as well! I started a new job a month ago, after being in the same position for 7 years, and my new position is one that I knew some other people in my department applied for. These other people had actually worked for my bosses years ago. So I had this nagging feeling when I was offered the job that I was second, third, or even fourth choice (no evidence for this, though). When I first started, I had a hard time shaking the feeling that they only hired me because they couldn’t find anyone else. I realized this was actually just my anxiety talking – it was a big change after being in the same place for so long, with new people, and new challenges. I’m now much more confident and glad I made the leap. My bosses are pleased with me and have given me positive feedback, and we get along well. I can’t know for sure, but it’s possible the other people were also not offered the job – maybe my bosses didn’t want to work with them again! I could have been first choice all along. But who knows. All I know is that I’m here now, and it’s working out great.

      I wish you the best with your new position!

  28. OhNoNotAgain*

    LW 1, this is an opportunity that you are able to take advantage of! That is fantastic! If they didn’t want to hire you, they wouldn’t offer.

  29. Felicia*

    #1 I was second choice for my job which I know because I was rejected first and then a week later hot a call that was like actually do you still want the job it’s open again?

    I was nervous about the initial rejection at first but I’ve been there 2 and a half years and have gotten nothing but glowing reviews and more than one very high raise. I’m the only one that remembers I was second choice.

  30. always in email jail*

    #5 Just to confirm what Alison said, many organizations have HR rules about hiring (especially local government etc.). An example of a rule applicable in this situation would be “you have to interview half of the qualified candidates plus 1” or have X number of applicants etc. Sometimes, even if there’s one great candidate, it’s difficult to get around these rules until more people apply

    1. Antilles*

      Good point. In government, it’s very common that laws/policies require a certain number of applicants under the theory that “we owe it to the taxpayers to get the best employee possible for the position” (read as: we don’t want to only interview 2 people and catch heck for it later). That said, since they do need to fill the job eventually, many of these policies have time limits if they truly can’t get the required 10 applicants in a reasonable timeframe.
      Really, the advice for OP#5 is this: Do not try to interpret this. There are so many potential reasons that you-an-outsider aren’t going to have any real idea what’s going on and you’ll just make yourself crazy trying to guess. Keep applying elsewhere and just mentally check it off – if it comes back, awesome, but don’t sit around waiting on it because it could be weeks or even months.

      1. always in email jail*

        My main advice to friends that are job seeking: I promise, it’s really not that deep. Exactly like you said, don’t try to interpret things.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yes—it’s also super common if there’s a CBA in place (have to interview a certain number of people with certain levels of quals). I think this is common in many places where nepotism or other concerns are at play—it’s almost analogous to the responsibility to take multiple bids for a contract as opposed to just picking someone you know. Both are ok approaches, but in some industries/sectors, one options is not acceptable for broader policy reasons.

        Which is a long way of saying, I wouldn’t try to guess why they’re saying this but to shrug and keep applying for other positions.

    2. Bonky*

      My organisation doesn’t have such a rule, but we’re re-advertised jobs before because the applicant pool has just been too shallow. In those situations, even if there’s one candidate who really looks pretty good, I’d rather start the round again or extend the window so I can have as strong as possible a set to select from.

  31. Czhorat*

    For OP5, it also depends on the size of the organization.

    If I were interviewing with a company of 1000 or more people, I’d be unsurprised if their hiring process required interviews of a given number of applicants meeting the criteria. If it’s a company with fewer than a hundred and my second interview was literally with the person whose name is on the letterhead, then I’d take “we didn’t have enough applicants” as a serious sign of disinterest.

  32. Adlib*

    OP #2 – I hear ya. I don’t have to deal with this much at work like you do, but I can feel at a loss too as I’m at an age where most people have children already if they’re going to so it can be hard to find things to talk about since I don’t and likely won’t have kids. However, I do have a lady I’ve made friends with recently in the office next to mine. She has 2 kids, but I’ve found we have a ton of other stuff in common besides work that really makes it easy to talk to her. I agree with Alison – make 1-on-1 relationships as much as you can.

  33. BioPharma*

    #3: Perhaps you can rephrase the grad program as “Continuing Education” on your resume, and list the courses you’ve taken. That way, you’ll get the positives of listing them, but won’t look like it’s something you’ll have to QUIT (or won’t be available until you graduate).

    1. always in email jail*

      I agree with this or some variation of it. You don’t have to share that your’e currently a degree-seeking student, you can honestly say you’re taking a little bit of graduate-level coursework to further your knowledge but that you can scale that back as needed.

    2. Caity*

      I agree. I would list it as “courses” or post-graduate study or something, instead of an actual MA program.

      I took two quarters toward a degree I wasn’t that interested in while I applied to other things, and I just list it now as “courses at University X, no degree.” It was interesting and fun, but ultimately just a way to keep busy until a longer-term thing came along. (I don’t remember now how I paid for it though… I hope it wasn’t expensive!)

  34. Tomato Frog*

    #2: This isn’t your main problem, but when someone tells me I’m going to change my mind about something in the future, I start setting the terms of a bet. If they don’t want to put money on it, I just say I’ll check back with them in [n] years, and we’ll see who was right. I do this very seriously, not jokingly, and it generally shuts down conversation.

    Right now I only have one going, which is that I told an old boss of mine that I would never buy a couch (futon is acceptable; getting a couch for free is acceptable). She said I would change my mind. I’ve got about 6 years left before I email her to say I told you so — unless, of course, I’ve bought a couch, in which case I may still email her because I am super fair-minded.

  35. LQ*

    Another anecdote for OP #1
    A friend of mine went after a life changing job. He didn’t get it. They hired someone else. A few months later they called him back up. The first guy really hadn’t worked out. They hired my friend. It really was a huge benefit for him. He got out of work he was frustrated by into something interesting and challenging. They promoted him several times over the next few years. He’s done incredibly well.

    You can too. Don’t let this hold you back from actually changing your life.

  36. mr mike*

    I hear you #2. As someone who has never reproduced, I know you are a magnet for those who will bore you to tears about their children. Why? Because they know you can’t do the same to them! Better yet are the ones who say they pity you for not knowing the joy of parenthood or that we are selfish for not adopting. Misery LOVES company!

  37. Christine*

    1. I feel bad that I’m the second choice for a job offer

    OP, you are not sloppy seconds. If they were not happy with the applicant pool they would reopen the job posting.

  38. slackr*

    It’s actually NOT the same culture as an office obsessed with the Final Four or the local college team. If you tell someone straight out that you never watched a single sporting event and have no interest, they will consider you strange but will generally be accepting. If you tell a parent of 3 that you don’t like kids and have no interest in starting a family they treat you like you told them you are a baby killer. And I’m a male in my 40’s – I cant imagine how much of this a woman in her 20’s and 30’s has to endure….
    A friend has her office convinced that she is unable to conceive, so everyone leaves her alone when it comes to children.

    1. Temperance*

      I notice it more with people who don’t have anything going on in their lives. Like once I got married, even after dating for around 10 years, older female relatives were like “ok, you’re going to have a baby now and never work”, even though I was getting a JD and graduating within a few months.

      I think there’s also a huge backlash for being a woman who isn’t kowtowing to the gendered expectation that women are wives and mothers first.

      1. slackr*

        Of course, it sure it nice to see the looks on people’s faces in the office range from envy to outrage when they Friday conversation in the office turns to what each of us is doing and I can state, “I’m unmarried with no kids – so I am doing whatever I want this weekend…”

      2. fposte*

        Yeah, there are pools of obsession about all kinds of things, and sometimes there’s a regional/cultural flavor, both to what they’re obsessive about and how intrusive people tend to be about it.

        1. Sunripe*

          Where I live now, it’s which of the two college level basketball team you support. Not caring is not an option. You have to pick one even if you don’t really care.

          People are tribal.

    2. Horse Lover*

      Oooo yes! Especially at church, they look at me like I just threw a newborn on the alter and slit it’s throat!

  39. Have kids, will talk*

    #2 – I’m going to admit I talk about my kids probably more than I should. However, I do not and would not ever ask any question past “do you have kids” because the reason is none of my business. But the reason I do talk about my kids is that I SUCK at casual conversation. Having children has made office chit-chat such a relief for me. I can mindlessly talk about kids when people [i]want[/i] to have small talk without much effort. Otherwise, I have no idea what to say to other people. Anything beyond, “can you believe how (cold/hot/snowy/etc) it is” completely exhausts my ability to talk about non-work things at work. I’m a fairly extreme introvert and talking to other people about trivial things is exhausting. I do have a couple of child-free coworkers and I’ve managed to bond with them over a couple of TV shows that we both enjoy. For me, it’s not that I don’t have interests outside of my kids, it’s totally that I am the world’s most awkward person and have no idea how to casually talk to acquaintances.

    1. Temperance*

      There are so many pleasant, neutral topics of conversation beyond your children, though. Local sports? New construction? Events in your city?

      There’s so much out there. I’m pretty introverted, but I deal with people well. Take with that what you will.

      1. paul*

        OTOH, if it’s not the *only* thing you talk about, why is it a big deal if we do talk about them? I get its annoying when someone yammers on for 20 minutes about whatever their kid/grandkid did while everyone wants to work but I don’t thinkt hey should be *more* off limits than sports or city events either.

        1. fposte*

          Agreed. I’ll also listen to you talk about your dog or your cat. Now that I think about it, most of my work small talk isn’t about common experiences.

          I think the big problem is when it assumes everybody needs to *share* those common experiences, whether it’s churchgoing, Star Wars, football, or food. You want to tell me what you did with your church group? Cool. You want to tell me how I should go to church? Not cool. OP might still have a smaller problem of feeling excluded, which people should be more socially sensitive to, but if they stopped insisting that she will become one of them in this way and only in this way I bet it would be a lot less annoying.

          1. Sunripe*

            The thing I loathe most about current corporate culture in the USA is this insistence on teambuilding activities that do not build team cohesion. I also loathe desired in force everybody to bond and become friends. Everybody needs to get along and be professional, but there are very few jobs where you need to be very close friends to accomplish your task. If I’m not in a foxhole with you on a day-to-day basis, I don’t really need to have an intimate relationship with you in order to work with you. It’s great when corporate culture has that develop naturally, but often it’s either forced we’re done in a way that excludes anyone who isn’t exactly like the group.

            I’m not a big fan of groupthink in general, but environments like the OP described can be hell for people who aren’t exactly like the group wants them to be

          2. Morning Glory*

            I didn’t see this before I posted, fposte, but I like how you said it better – the church analogy fits well.

          3. Gandalf the Nude*

            Yeah, we don’t have to like the same things to have a pleasant conversation. Jabber on about your cat for a bit, then let me enthuse about cosplay for a few minutes. You don’t have to have a thing in common to listen.

        2. Morning Glory*

          Kids are your personal life where as sports and city events are more public, so I think a better comparison would be talking about your spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend. Ok to say a statement of fact “spouse/child is sick” “spouse/child started a new job/school” “spouse/child likes apples”

          But if it would weird people out saying it about your spouse, it’s probably an overshare about your child: don’t talk about fights and feelings, and for the love of god, don’t bring up genitals or bathtime.

          1. Sunripe*

            If you wouldn’t be willing to let somebody see it directly, you probably shouldn’t be talking about it. I’m a visual person and I will have a film reel running through my mind!

        3. Temperance*

          I think it’s fine to mention your kids, and totally normal, but it’s really annoying and isolating when you’re childless and people just won’t stop.

  40. (different) Rebecca*

    #3, please reconsider what you’re doing. From the perspective of a current grad student and professional academic, I can tell you that degree completion rates are looked at quite seriously by the department and the university, and impact future funding, department and school ranking, and future acceptances of new students. Also, you’re taking the place of someone who would passionately excel in that MA program, and you’re wasting the time of your advisor and the other professors, and that’s not fair to them.

  41. Electric Hedgehog*

    #4 – I’ve worked at a national laboratory, and so has most of my family at some point or another. Your manager is right. They really re going to be assessing your skills and qualifications for the next two years in order to see whether you’re a good long term fit for the team. And yeah, most people do get hired on permanently if they don’t screw up majorly. Part of the reason that hey do this is at many labs, it is so, so hard to fire staff. Not impossible, just really hard. They’re not going to saddle themselves with someone who’s inept, or lazy, or hard to work with if they can possibly avoid it. I wonder if your manager is saying this to you repeatedly because he is noticing worrisome qualities in you. Ask, and if necessary, change your outlook and behavior.

    1. Michele*

      I also did a two year post-doc in a government lab. I left because I hated my boss, but it was a two-year long interview. The boss should have enough tact to not bring it up everyday, so I wonder if the boss is just socially oblivious.

    2. Margaret*

      Hi! I’m OP#4
      I promise I do get what she means when she says it’s a “two year interview” but she says it every meeting to every student. Once during the interview and maybe once during our semi-annual reviews, it makes sense to say it. But we hear it a few times a month! I want to bring it up, but no one seems to have brought it up with her before.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Ugh, this combined with the fact that she has no power over hiring you makes me feel like it might be worth escalating it to her boss. I mean, of course talk to her first, but if she’s terrorizing students by saying this at every meeting to every student, that seems totally unreasonable, hostile, and rude.

      2. Student*

        Tell her you’re keenly aware that a permanent job is at stake, so the constant reminders are causing you anxiety instead of being helpful. Ask her specifically to dial it back a little, and/or to give more concrete and personalized feedback about your career track instead of this. Ask her if there’s some specific reason she brings it up so often.

  42. Hannah Marshmann*

    OP #4 – You do realize that once you get the job, she will continually refer to you as the person who had to do a two-year interview, right?! Lol, you can’t win this one, so just roll with it.

    1. dappertea*

      Yeah, it just sounds to me like this is a joke the manager’s running into the ground until a small ditch appears.

    2. Electric Hedgehog*

      Nah, the two year “interview” is standard at most national laboratories for that sort f position. Once you hit full staff status, it ceases to be a thing to be discussed.

  43. Red 5*

    At my current job, I applied and heard nothing for months. Then suddenly, seemingly out of the blue, I got a call for an interview. There were lots of regulations for hiring at this company, and figured the delay at the beginning was just because of that.

    I was offered the job, and I was super excited, then when I started they admitted a day or two in that they had not just offered the job to someone else, but had hired them. That person worked there for a few days when he was offered something better and left. So they went back to the resumes and picked a few to interview for the second round, including me.

    At first that was a bit surprising, but I told myself it didn’t matter because I’ve got the job now and no matter how I got there it was my job to prove they’d made the right decision this time around. That was years ago now, and I’ve gotten good reviews every time and get along great with my co-workers. I love this job so much, and couldn’t imagine where I’d be without it. It’s turned out to be one of the best things that’s happened for me, and I’m actually really grateful to that guy for leaving because it made them decide to go back to the resumes of people they’d passed over in the first round and got them to think a little more differently for the next round of hiring.

    Being the second choice can sting, but the thing to remember is that any new hire is a bit of a question mark for people. So now it’s your job to show them that you are the RIGHT hire by doing your best and enjoying it as much as you can. Good luck! I hope your story turns out like mine.

  44. Avid reader first time commenter*

    “However, I am not too interested in post-grad studies and the only reason why I am taking them is as a last resort because I could not obtain a job related to my bachelor degree. Since I am only taking post-grad studies to improve my chance of finding a job”

    Kind of surprised you didn’t jump all over that, considering your previous posts and advice on this topic, Allison! ;)

  45. Michele*

    The bad thing about being in a situation where everyone has kids except for you is that you are also ostracized from activities outside of work. People get together while their kids have playdates, so they form stronger bonds and share information there. In many ways, it isn’t different than when the men go golfing and don’t invite the women, but make deals on the golf course. Something I see where I work is that our grandboss’s favor can be curried through her daughter. People whose kids are the same age as her daughter and play with her get a lot more promotions than those of us who don’t have children.

    1. Observer*

      Your grandboss is an idiot.

      But, if you really want to curry favor, it shouldn’t be too hard to do it, now that you know this fact. Put the daughter’s birthday in your calendar, and mark the birthday when it comes. Whenever GB (or someone else) mentions a milestone or (to her) major event, ask how it went or congratulate GB. Occasionally get a little gift for daughter – I’m not talking about expensive stuff, but little things. eg Daughter is into trolls and you see a really cute one for $2, pick it up and bring it in say “I just thought of daughter and had to get it.” Or you go on vacation – pick up a small item that looks like you chose it especially for Daughter.

      You should ABSOLUTELY not need to do this. But, if you are interested in currying favor, this should work.

  46. animaniactoo*

    OP2: If it comes up again, calmly, looking dead in the eye:

    “You know, it’s possible that I might. However, I feel pretty confident that I won’t and in the meantime, telling me that I will feels about as offensive to me as if I were to tell you that you’d change your mind and would regret having had children. Please stop.”

    1. Jeff A.*

      I have actually said something to this effect many times. And when the parent I say this to gets offended, I smugly smile and tell them that’s exactly the idea.

  47. Sue Wilson*

    OP1: I mean, unless the job was open because of a firing or the job was made for you, we’re all technically not the first choice. The first choice was to keep the person who originally had it.

  48. JennyFair*

    Re: #2…I once worked in a concrete plant, in the control tower. The dispatchers also work there and require quiet surroundings, and so we were not allowed to talk. Unless they feel like talking. And the *only* thing the dispatchers ever wanted to talk about was the Deadliest Catch ‘reality’ show. Day after day. /flashback

  49. Felicia*

    Another anecdote for #1, when we were hiring, there was one of the 9 candidates we interviewed we’d be happy to hire. She turned the job down. We didn’t really want to hire any of the other candidates, so we reopened the job posting and did another round of interviews. We could have chosen a second choice from people we already interviewed, but we didn’t because we’d only hire people we really want to hire.

    From another second choice, no one will remember the first choice after you’ve been there doing awesome, and no one but you will remember you were second choice at all.

  50. Kimberly R*

    Op2-I am a working parent (full-time) to 2 young children. To be honest, I don’t have much of a social life. I don’t get to see non-kid movies at the theater (when I can go), I don’t eat at restaurants without a kids menu, etc. All this to say-I get why some parents have nothing to talk about besides their kids. I don’t want to talk about my kids all day, but I also don’t have much to contribute to other conversations. It sucks and I’m sure its very boring and frustrating for you. I agree that getting to know people one-on-one could be the key. If you come sit near me at lunchtime and we start discussing TV shows, I will happily join in. But I might not think to introduce the topic. So please try! You never know what could happen-maybe you’ll start a revolution.

  51. Noah*

    OP2: If the 9 people you work with are repeatedly asking, “Do you have a partner/kids,” I suggest that you stop talking to them socially. They aren’t listening to you, anyway, if they keep asking this question.

  52. Brett*

    #1 I have been involved in several hiring processes where a position was also offered to two (or more) people simultaneously. If we knew we would have more hiring cycles later, but had more than one outstanding candidate right now, we would get the additional position approved and offer to both candidates at the same time.

  53. OP2!*

    Thanks for all the comments (& condolences), I don’t feel so ailen anymore. I will be talking to my manger soon so I will bring it up again and see what happens.

    1 quick note regarding terminology- I prefer the term child free rather than childless : )

    1. MuseumChick*

      +100 to the Child Free vs Childless. I do think there is difference. The Child Free have actively choose to not have children and have little to no desire for one. The Childless are those who do want children but for a variety of factors have not had one.

      I would write down some of things Pushy co-work has said to you when you speak to your boss. Especially the one about how you would never feel true lose until you sent a child to school, that is just so offensive. If you want to explain to your boss that you have gone through a significant lose and that makes the statement so much more offensive depends on how comfortable you feel bringing it up with her.

      1. Here we go again*

        I would take it a step further and say that being Childless can be a temporary state (haven’t gotten to it yet), whereas, childfree is considered more permanent.

        Still, I read your other comment above OP2!, and I just cannot believe how cruel people are. I am so sorry. I want to reassure you, they are the ones at fault. There is nothing wrong with you.

        1. MuseumChick*

          This might be nit-picking, so sorry in advance. I don’t like defining Childless as a temporary state since those who want to have children but are unable to for irreversible medical reason fall under the Childless category.

  54. Yet one more lawyer*

    OP2, I think (aside from the weirdly personal comments from that one guy), kid talk is often seen as an easy, non controversial topic at work. It’s hard, though, when that’s all people talk about. I’ve definitely felt awkward (female, nearly 40) when I get asked about a spouse or kids and say that I have neither. Because that seems to kill conversation. Or worse, I get the “well, you still have some time,” comment. The best solution I’ve found is to come up with a topic that is memorable and makes for easy conversation with me about me. For me, it’s that I take flying trapeze classes. It’s memorable and makes small talk easy. If you can come up with something that people know they can engage you on, maybe that will help with the small talk aspect.

  55. Sabine the Very Mean*

    When hired for my first job out of undergrad, the hiring manager called to say “the candidate we really wanted accepted a job at the high school and you were the only other qualified candidate”. I was young and naive so I just let it go but I fight the urge to call her and ask exactly what she was thinking fairly regularly. Who says that to someone?

  56. Jane*

    OP1 – I’ve been the not-first-choice offeree before and it really is just a matter of time before the thought will be out of your mind. Remember that they chose you! Yes, they offered it to someone else first, but a smart employer won’t hire someone they think is less than stellar, but instead will just keep on looking if their first choice says no. Generally if you’re not the first choice and the employer is worth working for and not terrible and dysfunctional or desperate for a warm body to fill a spot, it means you were thisclose and got edged out by someone else. Sometimes your credentials are even better but the other person had that extra something that couldn’t be quantified that they liked just a teeny bit more. The best workplaces should have really tough competition and several candidates coming through the interview process who could excel at the position.

    OP 2 – I have a rule that I try to stick to – I don’t talk about people’s reproductive behavior unless they bring it up first and want to talk about it. I also don’t bring up people’s children unless they bring it up first. I am in a work environment where it’s really the opposite – several people on my team don’t have kids and don’t plan to have kids whereas some do. I agree with the idea of deflecting to work topics or neutral non-work topics of conversation. I think it’s also perfectly fine to say that child-related topics aren’t something you really want to talk about. I think if you politely say that and do so consistently, people will get the hint. I think you may still have to deal with people talking to each other about their kids, but seriously people should be able to talk about other topics – there are plenty to choose from and you may need to lead the way in coming up with things to talk about when you have down time.

  57. Lindsay*

    #1 About ten years ago I was the second choice candidate who got the job – but I ended up being a great fit for the organization in ways they couldn’t have anticipated. Don’t sell yourself short. You have the unique opportunity to impact your new company! Your friend passed on that opportunity. That’s not sloppy seconds.

    1. Green Tea Pot*

      True! Sometimes the second choice is the best choice.

      Going in you may feel as you have something to prove. Let that motivate you.

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