new coworker thinks she’s my manager, being honest in an exit interview, and more

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

1. My new coworker is acting like she’s my manager

I am a writer at a small digital marketing agency (less than 20 people) and a new person was just hired as a “senior copywriter and digital strategist.” This would place her above me in the hierarchy, except we don’t have any real hierarchy … and she doesn’t have the writing experience to be a senior copywriter. And my boss told me before she was hired that he wasn’t trying to make someone my manager. Except, she is acting like my manager. She is often checking in on projects I’m working on and wants to meet every afternoon to see where I’m at. She hasn’t been here for a week yet!

I have a feeling the owner of the company has told her that she is in charge and then has told me that there is no hierarchy just so he can avoid confrontation. It also is highly possible that I’m just reacting badly to having an authority thrust upon me after several months of being my on my own and managing my own projects. And I don’t think I would feel this territorial if I knew she had writing experience and could actually mentor me. I know she doesn’t have the experience and instead I’m feeling micromanaged.

I’m trying to let go of feeling territorial and welcome her to the team. She is very nice and I like her as a person. I want to sit down with her and basically define our work relationship because it’s increasingly frustrating to not know exactly how we are supposed to interact. But I’m not sure how that conversation should go. Do you have any advice for me?

Talk to your boss first! Tell him that you’re getting the sense that your coworker thinks she’s supposed to be managing you (and be specific that she’s checking up on your projects and asking for daily status meetings about your work) and that you want to confirm with him that that she’s not in fact your manager before you talk to her. If he’s actually told her that she should manage you, this will hopefully prompt him to tell you that yes, she’s actually supposed to be doing these things. (And if that’s the case, boo to him for not telling you that earlier.)

But assuming that he says that no, you don’t report to her, then you can talk to her and say something like, “Hey, I normally manage this stuff on my own and report directly to Bob on my work. I checked with him to make sure he doesn’t want to change that and he confirmed that it’ll continue that way.” You could add, “I’ve gotten the sense you’re interested in me updating you on my projects the way I might with a manager, so I wanted to make sure there wasn’t any confusion there and you know I report to Bob.”

It’s also possible that she knows she’s not your official manager but thinks that as the “senior” copywriter she’s supposed to be in a sort of team lead role (and your boss may have told her that). If that turns out to be the case, there’s room for you to talk about what you would and wouldn’t find helpful (for example, you might propose a weekly meeting instead of daily ones, and if there’s something she could do that you’d welcome — like running interference with Bob or with clients — this is a good place to mention it and it might redirect her energy in a way you’ll be glad about).

Read an update to this letter here.

2. Should I be honest about my bad boss in my exit interview?

I recently put in my notice for a job that I have had for 17 months. Ostensibly I am leaving my position to pursue graduate work but I am primarily leaving because I do not get along with my boss. I have found him to be unprofessional in the way he communicated with subordinates throughout my time in the office, which is a sentiment that previous team members and some current team members have also expressed. Most of our issues center on the fact that he seems somewhat insecure in his position, and he tends to explode at communication issues.

As some background, he joined the organization 15 months ago to a team of four members. Within three months of him joining, all original team members had quit, each of whom had spent several years at the organization. We have also lost some contractors since then, and they cited him as a primary reason for leaving. In short, he has lost eight team members over 15 months for a team that was originally composed of only four team members. For a company that has low turnover, I believe that these are truly bad statistics. Is there a way to articulate to HR in the exit interview that she is not easy to work for without coming off as unprofessional?

If he’s losing people that quickly, HR knows, or at least they know if they care to know. This is not exactly hidden.

Whether or not to be honest in your exit interview depends on what you know about your company, and about the person doing the exit interview or the HR team in general. Do you know them to be able to handle sensitive information discreetly? Do you trust that what you share with them won’t end up impacting the reference your manager gives you in the future? If so, it could make sense to say that like others who have left recently, you found your boss difficult to work with and that you think it would benefit the company to look into the reasons for the turnover on your team.

But unless you’re positive they’ll protect you from any repercussions, I’d stick to saying that you’ve enjoyed your time there and are leaving for grad school. Because really, at that rate of turnover, if they want to know what’s going on, they can find out, and it doesn’t need to be at your potential expense.

3. My coworker says she’s dating a cartoon character

Someone I work with thinks she is dating a Japanese cartoon character. She was hired in the fall after finishing college last spring. At first she mentioned having a boyfriend in conversations, but there was nothing strange about anything she said. But now she has a photo of the cartoon character on her desk. In our work both the public and our clients come into our offices. It is weird and has caused a stir when people see the photo on her desk and she tells them the cartoon is her boyfriend.

I honestly don’t care what my coworkers do in their personal lives but the fact that she tells everyone she is dating a cartoon character is causing people here to talk and weirding out our clients and the public. Our boss is seven months away from retiring and does the bare minimum amount of work. She knows about this but hasn’t done anything. I have been thinking of going over her head to her boss even though I’ve never met him before. Am I out of line for being concerned about this? Should I go to our boss’ boss or mind my own business?

Eh, leave it alone. This is weird but it’s not such an outrage that it warrants going over your boss’s head. Your boss knows, and you don’t need to intervene.

(It’s also possible that she doesn’t truly believe she’s dating a cartoon character. Some people refer to, say, Chris Hemsworth as their boyfriend, but they don’t actually mean it. It’s strange to do that with a cartoon, yes, but quirkiness is not the end of the world, even if your boss should tell her to stop saying it to clients.)

4. My interview was rescheduled the day it was supposed to happen

I currently am interviewing for a position within my department. Today I had an interview, however, one of the directors on the interviewing panel, “Jane,” is not here due to her child having strep throat. So they canceled it today and moved it to tomorrow.

I’ve been doing job tasks for this position since the person left four months ago, and I’ve been told by directors that I’m basically a shoo-in and they wanted to just transfer me into the position instead of posting it on recruitment sites to interview. However, Jane expressed concerns about my qualifications and insisted on having an interview. I have always felt that this person has had negative feelings towards me while the other directors have been positive. Jane has a strong history of taking off for various reasons. She does have a strong support network at home with a husband that works near their home and extended relatives, but she is always the one taking off time. She commonly is discussed as not being as involved as she needs to be in her job responsibilities.

Is it right for me to feel upset or put out because this process has been delayed for months, only to have it drastically moved to the next day? Would this be acceptable to do to an external candidate? Should Jane have worked harder to make this appointment, or should the hiring panel continue without her?

If Jane is the person on the hiring committee with concerns about your candidacy and the whole reason they’re doing the interview, it makes sense to wait until she’s back at work and can be part of it. That’s actually in your interest if Jane has the power to veto your candidacy, since without a chance to interview you, she may simple be a “no.”

It’s true that rescheduling an interview at the last minute would be a bigger deal if you were an external candidate … but you’re not an external candidate, and that does matter. You didn’t have to arrange to take time off work, travel, etc. You’re at work today, and you’ll be at work tomorrow, and this is more like a business meeting being rescheduled than it would be for an external candidate.

We don’t have enough info to know if Jane is being overly cavalier about rescheduling, or if she’s purposely delaying the process. It’s in your best interest to assume neither of those are the case, though, so that you can go into the interview with a reasonably positive outlook.

5. Employer can’t reach my references

I applied for a job recently and when they reached out after the first interview, they asked for three references. I provided the names, relationship info, and phone numbers for all three. Later that week, the HR person emailed me to say that she could not get in touch with two of the references. I then provided emails for those two. (I also went through a second round interview and have now scheduled my third round.) When she still could not get in touch, I offered information for two MORE references.

I am clearly one of the final candidates for this position, and have provided information for five references and yet HR still contacts me to say “I haven’t heard from X.” Is this my responsibility to track down? They have all agreed to be references in the past so they shouldn’t be blindsided. Keep in mind this whole process has taken about two weeks.

Yeah, it’s definitely in your best interests to help track them down. If they can’t reach them, it can look like a bit of a red flag — like the non-response might be deliberate (because sometimes people do that to signal “I have nothing good to say about this person”). It’s actually good that HR is keeping you in the loop about what’s going on, so that you’re able to provide other references or more context, or nudge your references, rather than HR just making their own assumptions about why they’re not hearing back.

Sometimes busy references are more likely to respond if you nudge them and say something like, “We’re at the end of the process and they’re concerned that they haven’t heard from you, so I’m hoping you’ll be able to call them back by tomorrow if at all possible. Can you let me know if you won’t be able to so that I can try to find other references to use instead?”

Also, you said that they’ve agreed to be references in the past, but how long ago was that? If it wasn’t within the last six-ish months, that could be the problem and it’s definitely worth contacting them again to reaffirm that … as well as to make sure they’re not out of the country for a year or something like that.

{ 731 comments… read them below }

  1. OP 3*

    Hi Alison. Thank you for answering my letter (#3). I will take your advice, not go over the head of my boss, ignore the gossip that’s spreading here and not say anything to the public or clients who express being weirded out. I appreciate you answering my question!

    (The cartoon is definitely her boyfriend. Besides the photo on her desk, she talks about him as though he is real, shows photos of the dates they go on (usually food in front of a photo of him), gets upset if anyone talks badly about the cartoon or says anything that doesn’t fit the image of him and has shown us photos of her holding a large body pillow with his likeness on it. There is no doubt she thinks they are dating and are in a committed and exclusive relationship)

    1. Alldogsarepupppies*

      If that is the case and she honestly feels like she is dating a cartoon, I feel bad for your coworker. Having that big of a break from reality must be tough. Please treat her with compassion and don’t feed the gossip, because ultimately there is more at play. I’m not a therapist/phycologist and I don’t play one on TV so I have no advice on how to help your coworker going forward, except to kindly shut down others on your team that laugh at her.

      1. Close Bracket*

        The whole “dating an anime character” thing is, well, a thing. Men and women both do it. See the conversation started by LadyL, below.

        1. Mookie*

          Yeah, I come from a generation where, in elementary school, all my straight female friends were Hot and Heavy with the fox-y Robin Hood in the Disney adaptation. Most of them ended up in whirlwind romances with David Bowie’s trousers in Labyrinth. I wonder what they’re up to now?

          1. JLH*

            I’m a few years behind that generation but found myself in those same relationships. Looking at it now…would still entertain the notion.

            1. SKA*

              I’m not alone! I don’t know that I ever called him my boyfriend, but he was definitely ~*~*my fav*~*~. I even went as him for Halloween when I was 7 or so!

          2. Fergus, Stealer of Pens and Microwaver of Fish*

            I’m still in a whirlwind romance with David Bowie’s Labyrinth trousers.

                1. Zynx*

                  She lost her virginity to Jimmy Page first, before she lost it to David. So there’s that…

                2. Zynx*

                  Oh, let me be clearer on that, not defending an adult having sex with a 15 year old because he wasn’t ‘first’ – there seems to be plenty of evidence of relationships with Page and others, but nothing that she and Bowie ever even met.

          3. Kali*

            I was born in 1988 and my middle name is Jareth, so that’s what happened to at least one of those girls.

          4. Anion*

            Oh, fox-y Robin Hood…sigh.

            I didn’t think I was “dating” him, but we were pretty hot’n’heavy in my imagination (I was a kid, lol, so it was Very Romantic conversations).

            1. Your Weird Uncle*

              Yes, I had the same crush on Robin Hood! Also, Justin from The Secret of NIMH.

        2. Allison*

          I spent many years in high school and college involved in anime club, and going to Anime Boston, and it is a thing but it’s considered bonkers by most members in the community, sort of a “lowest of the low” otaku fangirl stereotype. When high school girls do it we roll our eyes internally but ultimately leave it alone, high school kids are allowed to be silly, but after high school? I want to joke that it depends on the character (I mean have you seen Yuri on Ice??) but no, no no no, definitely not, that nonsense needs to stop when you reach adulthood, and you definitely don’t bring it into the workplace.

          1. Luna*

            Totally agree, OP can treat her with compassion while also explaining that this behavior is not okay at work (especially in front of clients!!). OP, I would talk to your coworker first and frame it in the way others have suggested, to make it about “no one talks about relationships much at work” rather than her specific relationship. Give her a chance to self correct. If that doesn’t work, you might need to say something to your boss, but do tread lightly. Make sure the conversation is as judgement free as possible, and focus only on the negative reaction from clients and your concerns about the potential business implications of her behavior at work.

            1. Half-Caf Latte*

              This only works if it’s actually true at that office that “no one talks much about their relationships.”

              I’ve been in plenty of environments where it is normal (even expected) that you’d talk about the show you saw this weekend with your spouse, the activities your kiddos were in, the upcoming trip with your new boyfriend/girlfriend, or the cringeworthy tindr date you went on.
              The conversation is ostensibly about how much you loved Dear Evan Hansen, but the relationship is pretty present there as well.

              Those conversations are pretty normal among coworkers IME. The public/clients thing is definitely over the line, but it’s not clear if this is more “Hi, welcome to burgerama, do you want to see my boyfriend?”, or “Oh, what’s that photo of?” “Oh, he’s my boyfriend”. The first is much more straightforward to address, the second might not be. (I.e., if someone else has artwork from their child up, and clients say “what a cute megalosaurus, did your child make that?”)

            2. Specialk9*

              Yeah I like this advice – keep your personal stuff within work appropriate borders of content and frequency of reference.

              And then maybe look at some low key training for the other coworkers- ‘it may seem odd, but this is a thing that some people do, it’s harmless, and our job here is to work together, not judge others’ personal lives’, lay out the expectation that nobody gossip with customers (and maybe give them a script like ‘yes it’s a bit unusual, but it seems to work for her, and she does good work’).

              1. Anion*

                I get saying that to co-workers if the subject comes up, and I agree with asking them not to gossip about their coworkers with customers, but I think “training” is a little much, assuming the co-workers are older than nine or ten. Other adults are under no obligation to coddle this girl’s delusions, however harmless they may seem–especially when they are not in fact harmless, since they are creeping out/making uncomfortable both customers and the general public.

                IMO this is something that should be mentioned to a manager, frankly.

                1. Specialk9*

                  Oh I thought she was their manager? If not then it could be recommended to the manager.

                  But absolutely there is training to be done for unusual situations. I have had to ask for training at my kid’s school for something that was sensitive and could have been handled poorly without guidance on how to handle it kindly. It doesn’t seem that odd.

          2. Nea*

            Alas, I’ve seen Yuri on Ice and thus know two basic facts:
            1) Yuri and Victor are hot, hot, hot, hot…
            2) … for each other, exclusively

        3. Middle School Teacher*

          I learned… a lot from that thread. More than I expected to learn when I got up today!

        4. Annabelle*

          Yeah, this is defintiely A Thing. I don’t know a ton about anime, but I have friends who are really into it and apparently this is a pretty well known thing.

    2. Casuan*

      OP3, is there any possibility that her boyfriend is a human who is the character in live-performance productions and she’s just having fun with it? Of course, that wouldn’t say much for her professionalism…
      Or could she be dating someone who dresses as this character in cosplay?

      1. OP 3*

        Hi Casuan. She’s not dating a person or anyone who is real. She’s dating a 2D fictional cartoon character. She says won’t consider dating a real person because she is in a relationship with the cartoon guy.

        1. with a twist*

          That makes me sad. I thought maybe it was just a silly thing, like the Chris Hemsworth example, but this is so much worse. I still agree with Allison’s advice, though. Although it’s weird, try to have some sympathy for her. There is obviously something going on if she truly believes they are in a relationship ( I won’t speculate what), and although she should keep it out of the workplace and definitely not mention it in front of clients, I would certainly feel sympathetic that she’s broken from reality in this way.

      2. JessaB*

        But wouldn’t she then have live action pictures of the human she’s dating? Either the cosplayer or the actor? I mean if I were, for instance dating an actor who played a costumed character in a play or even at a stadium or something, I would have pictures of me with the person in the costume, or doing a cosplay. If I dated the person in oh, let’s say the Leprechaun costume at the Boston Garden, I’d have pictures of me and them, and possibly pictures of me and them and the Celtics, or the Celtics dancers.

        I wouldn’t have a picture of the team logo on my desk as my “partner” I’d have a picture of them. And yes they might be in the costume, because a lot of companies don’t want their mascots going around without the costume heads on as it breaks the fantasy for little kids. But there’d probably also be pictures of them without the costume at all.

        So I guess my point is if there’s a living human involved in this, it’s odd that there are no pictures of the human.

        1. Mookie*

          I don’t doubt the LW’s handle on this, but I do know someone who carries around their spouse’s avatar in their wallet (but not a photo of the spouse theirself). So it was a question worth asking, I think, on the off-chance that’s what’s going on here.

      3. Kriss*

        I was going to ask the same thing. my brother is an occasional voice actor & I’ve had pictures of his characters on my desk as a joke which then turned into conversation starters coworkers & clients.

        but she thinks it’s real. oh my, indeed.

        kind of reminds me of the episode of What Not to Wear with the woman who was into Lolita/ Otome Kei style & was upset that it wasn’t considered work appropriate.

    3. LadyL*

      Would it be inappropriate to ask which cartoon character it is? Just for my own curiosity.

      The whole dating a body pillow/cartoon character is a Thing, so your coworker isn’t alone. There’s even a word for it: waifu. I don’t know a whole lot about it, I just know that it was talked about a lot a few years back (30 Rock even had a plot about dating an anime character on a body pillow).

      1. OP 3*

        Hi LadyL. Unfortunately I don’t know which character it is. I don’t follow Japanese cartoons and have no idea about any of it. I have heard her say the word waifu before, but mostly she uses a word that sounds like husband (but doesn’t mean husband, means you are in a relationship with a cartoon)

        1. LadyL*

          Ah, so she’s definitely part of that scene then. All in all pretty harmless, and it probably feels pretty normal to her if she is part of the crowd that’s into it. At least you know her SO is unlikely to get drunk and cause a scene at the company holiday party!

          1. Marcel*

            If the public and clients are complaining about the weirdness and she’s showing around pictures of her holding a body pillow with the character on it and saying it’s her boyfriend I would not hall it harmless. I think the higher ups need to know the persons they serve are being made to feel weird by someone who works from the company. If she was just telling coworkers I would say OP should leave it alone but she is bringing clients and the public into it. If I went someone and the employee showed me a body pillow and said it was her boyfriend I would be really uncomfortable.

            1. LadyL*

              I guess I don’t get why it matters that it’s a cartoon/body pillow. I absolutely think there’s boundary issues in making a big deal out of your personal life at work, and that’s a valid thing to be concerned about. But the fact that she’s an anime superfan doesn’t really make it any worse for me than any other form of getting overly personal at work. What’s she’s doing isn’t that abnormal in the right crowd, her mistake is in failing to keep proper boundaries around her personal life.

              1. Catherine*

                Anime body pillows are frequently used for sexual purposes so I do think those photos are over the line of what’s office-appropriate. Even if she’s not personally using it in that way, the connotation remains.

                1. Catherine*

                  Further clarification (I used to work at an anime merchandise wholesaler and retailer): body pillows tend to feature “pin-up/centerfold” style art with suggestive poses, facial expressions, costumes, etc. This is what pushes the pillow photos into inappropriate territory (whereas “photo of cardboard cutout character at restaurant” is weird but generally inoffensive). To me it’s the difference between showing coworkers a picture of the teddy bear you sleep with vs sharing a centerfold pic with them.

                2. LadyL*

                  That’s fair. I guess it just seems to me that some are getting caught up in the weirdness of her dating life as opposed to the fact that it just doesn’t belong at work at all. If her boyfriend were human I still think it wouldn’t be great for her to be talking about him so much at work, or showing clients pictures of them on date night, or whatever. I think “We find your personal life super weird,” is a hard battle to win because weird and normal are fairly subjective. Whereas, “Your personal life shouldn’t be the forefront of your work life, and we expect that discretion from everybody” is much easier.

                3. My Anonymous Alter Ego*

                  To me it’s the difference between showing coworkers a picture of the teddy bear you sleep with vs sharing a centerfold pic with them.

                  I will never look at my teddy bear the same way again. Although I think my cat sometimes looks up fish porn on the computer.

                4. Close Bracket*

                  Ok, there is no body pillow at OP 3’s coworker’s desk. This is a straw man

                5. mreasy*

                  To be fair, my husband is often used for sexual purposes but I still have a photo of him at my desk.

                6. Marvel*

                  There needs to be a word for when you want to both scream and laugh at the same time. Scrafing? Leaming? We’ll work on it.

                7. Elemeno P.*

                  re: mreasy’s comment
                  It is really hard not to laugh super loudly in my quiet office right now.

                8. Specialk9*

                  Close Bracket, there are photos of the body pillow that are shown around.

                  “(The cartoon is definitely her boyfriend. Besides the photo on her desk, she talks about him as though he is real, shows photos of the dates they go on (usually food in front of a photo of him), gets upset if anyone talks badly about the cartoon or says anything that doesn’t fit the image of him and has shown us photos of her holding a large body pillow with his likeness on it. There is no doubt she thinks they are dating and are in a committed and exclusive relationship)”

              2. Falling Diphthong*

                To me, constantly talking about her human, or pretend-in-Canada, boyfriend, and constantly talking about her anime show, would fall under yesterday’s attempts to convert people to religion, Game of Thrones, and Crossfit. The pretend boyfriend being a 2D drawing takes this into “oh dear I have met a delusional person, try to keep them calm” territory. Which is not appealing as a customer, if I can go other places.

                For yesterday’s thread–most of the proselytizers were going after their coworkers. It was when they trapped customers on a one hour call about the True Way (I think this was to watch Breaking Bad) that it got too disruptive and they were fired.

              3. Penny Lane*

                It’s abnormal. The crowd who finds it “normal” is equally abnormal.

                Look, if I’m 3 yo and I talk to my imaginary friend/play date Barney that’s developmentally appropriate. It’s not developmentally appropriate for a 30 yo.

                Everyone on AAM is sooo concerned with being Non-Judgmental and Diverse and Woke that they won’t even call delusional delusional.

                1. GG Two shoes*

                  I think the distinction is “is it delusional? yes. Is it harmful to anyone? No. Does it hurt her professionally? Absolutely. Is it causing problems at work for her? maybe.” And it’s that last one that the OP it actually worried about.

                2. Jesca*

                  Yeah generally it goes along the lines of “Is it hurting anyone? Is it hurting the person themselves? Is it preventing them from having a fulfilling life?” The last one here can actually be argued because it is likely an obsession if she is forcing it so openly on other people. It would be weird for her to bring up her husband to every stranger who walked past just as it is weird she brings up her imaginary boyfriend as everyone walks by. The fact that it is clearly a delusional issue could mean she is just a fanatic or could mean there are other serious delusional issues at work, but the fact is that it is affecting her life and in a way she does not seem to be able to discern. In that sense, yes, it is concerning and not really acceptable. But again, that is only because it is affecting her and it is affecting the companies she works for. But even then, you could say that about anyone who has faith in anything. It is the behavior of fanaticism that is the actual issue.

                3. caryatis*

                  Agreed. Of course, a person who thinks she’s dating a cartoon is mentally ill. But that isn’t really OP#3’s problem. You can’t argue someone out of a delusion, so best just to ignore it and be pointedly silent when she mentions the “boyfriend.”

                4. Nita*

                  So she’s delusional. That’s not the point. There are probably several people in OP’s office that are delusional in some small way (just my suspicion, I know too many “mature adults” that believe truly insane things). The point is, whether it’s appropriate that the anime fan is discussing this constantly in the office, and if it’s not, what can be done about it.

                5. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I haven’t seen anyone here say that this is “normal,” so I think that’s a straw man. But we’re not here to talk about how delusional she is. We’re here to give work advice to the letter-writer. The absence of a big focus on the delusion is because it’s actually not that relevant to what the OP should do.

                6. Annabelle*

                  It’s weird, but in the grand scheme of things it’s mostly innocuous. I do think that the weirdness makes it a little more important that she has better boundaries at work, but I think the lack of boundaries is the root of the issue here.

                7. Autumnheart*

                  It’s weird in the same way that any other kink or fetish is weird (which is to say, ranging from “who cares” to “quietly alerting authorities”). Do what you like in your personal life, but having a picture of, and talking about, your waifu relationship with an inanimate object is like putting a couples photo on your desk of the two of you dressed in bondage gear, or that letter about the coworker who wanted everyone at work to refer to her SO as “Master”. That’s way TMI and is inappropriate for the workplace.

                  Since this person is a coworker and management has decided not to do anything about it, I’d just be like, “You really need to stop telling our clients that you’re dating a cartoon character, because it makes you sound crazy and will hurt our company’s reputation.” If it hurts her feelings…well, so what. She’s clearly not considering anyone else’s comfort level with her oversharing, it’s not like management is going to do anything, and it’s not like you want to be professionally linked to this person in the future. Management might tolerate this behavior at this job, but I don’t see many other companies tolerating Mrs. Cartoon behaving this way in a client-facing position.

                8. I See Real People*

                  I agree Penny Lane! It’s common sense! It is abnormal behavior at work. I would not be comfortable working with this person, nor managing her. Mentally ill is as mentally ill does.

                9. Koko*

                  I See Real People, 1 in 6 Americans has a diagnosed mental illness. I can almost guarantee you work with mentally ill people, you just don’t realize it.

                10. Bea*

                  Wow, you’re so unPC and real, how Donald Trump of you.

                  Nobody says it’s normal. I’m sorry mental illness scares you so much that you have to be so vile towards strangers.

                11. Ice and Indigo*

                  There was a now-deleted blog by a former Otherkin called Melted Snowflake that said something that may be relevant to this.

                  MS said that her experience of being Otherkin was that she might have seemed delusional from the outside, but that in fact it was more like trying very, very hard to convince herself of something that she really wanted to be true, and shutting down the nagging little voice in the back of her head that said, ‘You know you aren’t actually a snow goose.’ Calling it delusional, in her view, actually validated the idea that people really believed it, when the real problem was that they didn’t but were trying to ignore that fact. (Please note: I know very little about Otherkin culture, so if she doesn’t accurately speak for everyone in it, fair enough.)

                  One of Melted Snowflake’s posts observed that if you have a real-life hobby, you don’t need to do anything to convince yourself that it’s going well, but that if you’re building your life around trying to convince yourself of a fantasy because you’re unhappy in other areas, then there’s no tangible evidence you can reassure yourself with … so you talk about it, a lot, because that’s the closest to evidence you can get.

                  In other words, a possible explanation is that it’s neither a delusion nor a mental illness, but a coping method for dealing with some unhappiness about one’s own life.

                  That, I think, would explain Mrs Husbando’s behaviour: she’s talking to coworkers and clients as a way of convincing herself, by dint of convincing other people just how convinced she is. And it’s understandable they wouldn’t want to be a part of that, because, delusional or not, it’s uncomfortable to be in a ‘conversation’ where you aren’t actually there, the other person is talking to themselves at you.

                  However, if you take the Melted Snowflake line, her view was that the best way for people to move on from a trouble period of this kind was to get happier and have more fulfilling things in their life, so aggressive confrontation is unlikely to work, whether it comes from OP3 or a boss. Any addressing of the issue would need to be sympathetic if Mrs Husbando isn’t just going to double down on it because her stress levels have gone up so she ends up clinging harder to her coping mechanism. It sounds like the current boss isn’t prepared to make the considerable effort it would take to deal with the situation constructively, so if I were OP3 I’d just record that I’d raised it, wait and see what happens, and if Mrs Husbando tries to talk to OP3 about it, just be boring. Say:

                  Mrs H: ‘Look, here’s me and Husbando on a date!’
                  LW (blandly): ‘Hm, that pasta looks tasty. Now, can I talk to you about the parcels we have to get ready by this afternoon?’

                  And, if that works, you can use it to stay out of office gossip: ‘Yeah, it’s her thing, but I find if I say something neutral and move quickly on, it doesn’t turn into a big deal. Speaking of, do you have those parcels for me?’

                  If it’s going to go bad, I think the main the OP3 should do is to stay as distanced from it as possible. She’s raised it with her boss, so it’s on record that she didn’t encourage Mrs Husbando; raising it with the grandboss means taking a very definite side, and factions or workplace bullying seem like one way it could go bad. Steer clear, I say.

                  From now on, I’d just do everything possible to keep out of it so that when the new boss comes in, you’ll be established as one of the people who remained professional despite a difficult situation.

              4. eplawyer*

                Which is what needs to be addressed. Whether her boyfriend is a real person or an anime character, clients are being weirded out. That affects the business. Higher ups need to know even if its just a “hey, btw, clients are being bothered by Cersei being so upfront about her personal life.”

                Clients would be weirded out if she showed them pictures of her snuggling with a real live human being too. It’s the “no sex life in the office” thing.

                1. Yam#*

                  I am not sure about all this ‘not normal’ and ‘should not be at work’ stuff.
                  It just sounds to me a lot like what used to be said about cross dressing and other things that are now (at least in my country) legally protected.
                  Sure I do not understand why people do it at all, but I accept that there is nothing wrong with them just because they are into something that I do not understand, and they have a right to express themselves.
                  This seems more like expressing her identity than bringing sex into the workplace. People often have pictures of their SO with arms around shoulders or similar at work without it being about sex.
                  I could be wrong, that is just how it feels to me.

              5. Annabelle*

                I think your last sentence is kind of why it matters, though. I think a lot of working professionals have niche interests that they manage to keep out of their work lives.

                Constantly talking about a human partner would surely be a bit much, but if a customer doesn’t realize that it’s an anime fandom thing, they’ll probably think she’s lost touch with reality. I mean, look at some of the comments from folks who have never encountered this type of thing before.

            2. CM*

              I would say passing along complaints to OP’s manager or HR is the limit of what should be done. At that point it is up to the manager what or what not to do. If the manager already knows about the complaints and has decided not to do anything, then that just has to be accepted.

            3. Anion*

              Exactly what I just said above (I should have read farther down first!).

              This is affecting the public image of the company. If I was a customer, and was apparently, as part of purchasing products from Company X, expected to pretend an employee of Company X was in a real relationship with a cartoon…if “You must accept being creeped out by Employee Y’s fictional relationship” was a condition of doing business with them…I would search for another supplier of whatever product(s), and quit doing business with them. And if I was in the market for Product Z, and being creeped out and pretending was part of the “Buy from us,” package, again, I’d cross them off my list and look for vendors who wouldn’t force me to be creeped out and uncomfortable by their employee’s weird romantic delusions–not to mention that I’d wonder just how well said employee could do her job and if I could trust her with my business, because if she is that distanced from reality and social/professional norms that she not only believes that is her boyfriend but believes it’s perfectly acceptable to discuss it with all and sundry, who’s to say she’s going to properly handle my professional needs?

              Having to deal with it from a co-worker is completely different. I once worked with a man who thought he was the Second Coming (yes, seriously). None of us minded or argued with him (we joked that we were hedging our bets just in case, lol); he was a nice man and it was no skin off our noses. Management felt the same way. But when he started mentioning it to customers, you bet they stepped in and told him that his “truth” was just too much for the clients so he should refrain from mentioning it.

              1. DogG*

                Totally hitting the nail on the head, anion! The animal shelter I work at once got a kibble contract with a local producer…who wore a chicken suit every day. Not as a gag. As his real, earnest outfit. You can’t make this stuff up! I think we accepted this contract on the phone, lol. Every time he came for delivery, my pit bull would be jumping and growling, totally terrified and on edge. I don’t know why an animal food professional would want to act that way, but I can say we did not renew his contract.

                1. Anion*

                  Eek, yeah. Nobody (especially not an animal shelter) wants to work with someone whose mere presence terrifies animals. That’s…that’s just too much potential for trouble. And it makes you wonder not only what exactly is in that kibble, but what exactly he does with it when nobody’s looking.

          2. Lissa*

            Ooh, I’m not so sure. I know a bit about that scene, and a lot of really strong fans of things in general, though I’m not super involved (full disclosure so I could be wrong) but it seems to me like taking pictures of “dates” including food in front of the character, at work, seems like it’s going a bit beyond the regular waifu/husbando stuff. It seems like she isn’t treating this like a regular superfan but is expecting this character to be treated by her coworkers and clients as though it were a regular relationship.

            It reminds me more like something I saw a few years ago, a person online who believed they were married to a long-dead historical figure and had photoshops and long descriptions of their time together.

            Regardless I do think that the fact that clients are upset is something that should be dealt with. Not sure how OP could go about that though seeing as boss doesn’t seem to care – does boss realize clients are becoming bothered? She may not get the extent of it.

            1. Elemeno P.*

              Oh, like the lady who married a pirate ghost? That story was fascinating. (Link is in my username for people who want to read it)

              I have to admit that I would have trouble interacting professionally with someone if I knew they had that sort of delusion. It might be unfair, but I would have a hard time trusting their judgement.

              1. Jesca*

                Yeah definitely just saw the thing about the spirit marriage thing.

                I think it can be hard in general to interact with people who have sort of separated on some level from reality, but luckily for the pirate ghost lady, it seems like her relationship is kind of accepted in her line of work as a fringe medium. In a regular work place, I am sure it would be quite different.

              2. Kelsi*

                Agreed. I run…if not in the circles where this is a thing, at least adjacent to them, and I certainly have plenty of my own fantasy-related weirdness.

                But I’d feel like if she can imagine interactions with this cartoon character so vividly she believes they’re real, I wouldn’t trust that she would, for instance, correctly recall professional conversations we’d had or instructions she’d been given (vs. an alternate version that she WANTED to hear). We all do that to some degree, interpreting things through the lens of what we want to be true, but that’s far beyond the usual.

                It wouldn’t give me a lot of confidence in her ability to perform normal job duties.

            2. paul*

              Yep. I watch anime, have since the blockbuster in my county got a section of it on VHS and the waifu crowd’s always weirded me out. You’ve got grown adults carrying on a romantic relationship with make believe people–some of them basically treat it as a giant in-joke but others are pretty serious about it.

              This is a step beyond even what’s normal within that crowd (mostly because she’s pushing it into people that aren’t into that scene). And I absolutely don’t blame clients for wondering about her judgement or her connection to our shared reality if she’s presenting a relationship with someone that does not exist as a serious ongoing thing. I think your boss should have shut that down, but since they haven’t there isn’t much you can do.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                I can absolutely see having a crush on a fictional character. I’ve met people online who had crushes on Severus Snape from the Harry Potter books. It’s no different from having a crush on Batman or something. I’ve had a huge crush on Roland Deschain, Stephen King’s Gunslinger, for years, but that’s pure fantasy and a love of the character AS a character.

                There’s nothing wrong with this kind of thing on the surface, but it doesn’t really belong in the workplace. And at this level, I’d be concerned.

                You’re right–management should be handling this, but since they’re not, I’m not sure what to advise the OP.

                1. paul*

                  Who *hasn’t* had a crush on a fictional character? I think that’s really pretty normal, particularly in early puberty.

                  But yeah…not the same as acting like you think they’re real.

                  I feel like there’s a hope in some of the commentators that there’s stuff that’s just easy to pin as “oversharing” regardless, and some of it is from the OP’s further descriptions.

                  But a lot of it really wouldn’t be in most offices–having a picture of your SO on your desk probably isn’t that abnormal at a lot of workplaces and casually mentioning plans with the family is 100% normal in a lot of places. Those types of conversations wouldn’t be oversharing; they’re only weird for coworkers because the person’s wrapped up in a delusion. And it will impact her professional standing and I’m not sure it shouldn’t. But I’m also not sure what a good course would be the manager to do either. Tell her she can’t talk about husbando Kenshin at work and deal with the fallout? IDK.

                2. Tardigrade*

                  My first love was Robin Hood from Disney’s animated Robin Hood. He was a literal fox.

                3. TardyTardis*

                  I have sometimes invited characters to come into my books after I’ve run them through the Universal Witness Protection Program. But they’re almost always popular archetypes as well (the Rogue Adventurer, the Kid Too Nice for His Own Good, the Hero Who Doesn’t Suffer Fools Well, etc.). Of course, I fail to tell them that I’m about to murder their families, burn their house down, and otherwise makes their lives a living hell until *after* they’ve signed on the dotted line. Oops…

            3. Annabelle*

              I’ve met some people who take the waifu/husband thing to this level. But they’ve also explained that they feel attracted primarily to animated characters as opposed to humans. That’s probably kind of rare and idk if that’s the case for OP’s coworker, but it would explain the insistence that this character be regarded as her actual partner.

        2. Tiger Snake*

          Husbando. The male equivalent of a waifu.
          Generally the people using these terms understand perfectly that the character isn’t real and its all in fun. These shows can be very mature and with deep and complex characters, so its easy to develop emotional attachments and empathy to them.

          There’s this whole sub-sub culture around having fun enjoying the game of pretending to date a character for real and, as LadyL pointed out, there is a group inside that group that date these characters committedly and seriously even recognising that. Its a Thing. And some fans can be really protective about insults against the character, because of how those character’s struggles resonate with their own.
          With what you’ve described here, I would still assume she knows the character isn’t real, but doesn’t have very good professionalism or boundaries.

          1. OP 3*

            Hi Tiger Snake (I like your username btw). She says the cartoon is real to her. She won’t consider dating a real person and has no interest because she’s honestly told us she thinks they might get married one day. She was upset that a person from the public told her the cartoon was fictional and not real. She takes it really seriously and thinks she is dating him in an exclusive relationship.

            1. Cat owner*

              Yeah, this is a common part of that subculture – she will likely have a supportive community on the internet somewhere on reddit or tumblr that are commiserating with her over people telling her that he isn’t real.

              A while back there were a bunch of articles about a guy who sent a letter to another guy who made fan art of Twilight Sparkle from My Little Pony to please stop because he was engaged to Twilight Sparkle and she was someone’s fiancee.

              Don’t look that up unless you want to be overexposed to the whole “grown men into My Little Pony” subculture which really isn’t for the faint of heart.

              1. Detective Amy Santiago*

                Well, let’s add bronies to the list of things I never expected to see discussed on AAM.

                1. Hellanon*

                  This is what I love most about this site. (Also, I keep expecting someone to bring up Snapewives. But I think that subculture never made it to Tumblr.)

                2. Not that Anne, the other Anne*

                  I attended a professional conference that shared a convention center with the bronies. Very entertaining.

              2. Falling Diphthong*

                I learned from reading Savage Love: For some topics, if you don’t know what that is? You will be much happier if you don’t google it.

              3. Katniss*

                Do, however, Google the terms “the AV Club the internet finally reaches it’s apex” to read the most hilarious thing ever written about the dude dating Twilight Sparkle.

                1. Jesca*

                  Ya know, I’m just going to glaze over the fact that Twilight Sparkle and the other ponies’ personalities and characteristics are meant to be pre-pubescent and thus this guy, in all his glory, is stating he is basically engaged to a child, and say yeah that article was pretty entertaining.

                2. with a twist*

                  Jesca, I actually think once a pony gets its cutie mark (that picture on their flanks), it’s representative of them going through puberty and starting their menstrual cycle. I kind of always thought of Twilight Sparkle and the gang as high schoolers almost (which is still weird for that dude, but I’m trying not to think about it too much). If you’ve ever watched the episodes with the “Cutie Mark Crusaders” (the smaller ponies who don’t have their cutie marks yet), it very much strikes me as a metaphor for them waiting to start their cycles and being jealous of the girls that already have.

                  That being said, bronies are super weird and I only know this all MLP stuff because I have a younger daughter who used to watch MLP all the time. I took her to the theater once when one of the movies was released theatrically, and the bronies were out in full force and made it very uncomfortable for all of us!

                3. Elizabeth West*

                  Oh mah gaw that is hysterical.

                  It strikes me that these folks are extremely insecure and avoidant–like the ones who buy the Real Dolls and don’t have any kind of relationships with actual people (like Ryan Gosling’s character in Lars and the Real Girl, which is an excellent movie btw). I’ve seen a couple of tv shows about them and it’s both funny and sad at the same time.

                4. Jiya*

                  Holy crap, MLA! I feel like I’m meeting a celebrity. (I *feel* like I posted a lot on AVC, but I’m fairly sure I didn’t really form a reputation.)

                5. Elizabeth H.*

                  Eeek! I was Ellie (which I was on here too before there was another Ellie commenting, but now I think there are more Elizabeths here…)

              4. Allison*

                “A while back there were a bunch of articles about a guy who sent a letter to another guy who made fan art of Twilight Sparkle from My Little Pony to please stop because he was engaged to Twilight Sparkle and she was someone’s fiancee.”

                Oh no. Oh no. Oh nooooooo. Absolutely no.

                Look, I’m a quirky nerd, I like anime and other such stuff, and I’ll try not to judge these “she’s my waifu!” “he’s my boyfriend!” people too harshly since I don’t know them and it really isn’t fair, but I will say this is far outside the norm that you don’t bring it up in the office and you don’t drag people you don’t know into it.

              5. Chameleon*

                Hey, MLP is actually a pretty good show. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with grown men or women enjoying it. (But that’s “enjoying it” the way you’d enjoy Agents of Shield or Game of Thrones. Definitely there are people who take it too far.)

                1. with a twist*

                  I just commented above that we used to watch a lot of MLP in my house when my daughter was younger, and I actually kind of liked it! It was 10x better than a lot of the other annoying kids shows out there – fun characters, entertaining plots, catchy music. I can understand why adults get into the show, but there are always those who take it too far!

                2. Elizabeth West*

                  @with a twist–That’s why I enjoyed SpongeBob and Rugrats. They’re hilarious in a slightly deeper way than a kid would even get. Or they were–once they got really popular, they got dumbed down quite a bit. :(

              6. Kheldarson*

                My husband is a brony. The subculture has a lot of layers, and most don’t cross into furry or fetish.

            2. Julia*

              She sounds like me when I was 13. Frankly, my imaginary anime boyfriend was one of the only things that kept me sane during middle school (as ironic as it may sound). I didn’t really tell anyone about it expect one friend with similar interests, and I met a real guy and got married in my twenties, but if my life hadn’t turned around for the better, I might still be dreaming about him.

              I definitely wouldn’t tell any non-involved people about it, though.

              1. Clare*

                Yeah but you were 13. And even then you had the sense to not tell most people. This coworker is exhibiting really bad judgment.

                1. Julia*

                  No, I’m just saying that we don’t know what’s going on in her life that causes her to need this. I don’t think she should flaunt it, but if you think about it, what’s the big deal? The only weird thing is that she talks to client about it, and I mean, I don’t even talk to clients about my real (as in, he has a passport) husband because it has nothing to do with work.

                2. Clare*

                  What I mean is she is showing bad judgement by talking about this at work, not just to coworkers but to clients.

              2. Recently Diagnosed*

                Kyo Sohma was basically the love of my life until I was 18. I wore a replica bracelet matching his from the show. Granted I never would have mentioned it at work, but I get ya, Julia.

                1. Julia*

                  Thank you! I never read all of Fruits Basket, only what was serialized in the only German shoujo manga magazine. Mine was, ahem, Taichi from Digimon.

                2. Recently Diagnosed*

                  BS Fangirl, I had a type! Were they full of emotional turmoil? Did they yell a lot? Occasionally act on emotion before thinking things through? Have a secret heart of gold? *swoon* Kyo, Inuyasha, Edward Elric, Prince Vann (from Escaflowne)…my IRL husband can call them now before I even say anything.

            3. Tiger Snake*

              Do you know the name of this character?
              A lot of anime involve school-aged protagonists, so depending on who it is management might be able to say that the picture can’t be displayed because they can’t allow it to appear that one of their employees is dating an underage student – even if the character’s birthday now means their an adult, the fact that the material online and the images used makes the character appear a teenager means that the possibly impropriety is still too much.

              That’s really going to be 100% dependant on who the character is though. There’s a lot of characters that aren’t underage in their stories. Even then, it would have to be a conversation from management rather than a peer, and it really feels like its way too much for the situation.

              1. sap*

                This is a really good way to tackle the issue without criticizing the coworker’s emotional attachment or preference that her relationship be treated on equal terms as others’ relationships.

                1. Specialk9*

                  Yeah actually it is. I’m finding this one really complex. I think people can have A Thing, especially around sex (and it seems like this could be about sex or about withdrawing from sex/intimacy, or about immaturity in relation to sex), and I try to be respectful about that. I have my own Things in life! And I try to be kind. But I dunno on this one.

                  The only thing I’m sure of is that the coworkers shouldn’t gossip to clients.

              2. Guest*

                To be honest that’s one of the few ways this situation could get even more ridiculous.

                “Boss, you know how Cecilia tells people how she’s dating a cartoon character, has a photo of him on her desk, and says she doesn’t ever want to date a human? Well, you have to do something, because that cartoon character might have been underage at one point!”

                1. Guest*

                  Bother, hit post too soon. I meant to say that if people are weirded out by Cecilia’s astral boyfriend, they’re gonna be weirded out because he’s a cartoon, not because he might be a highschooler (and with anime, how would they even tell?). I’m positive no one will be like, “Oh that’s really odd but it would be all fine and dandy if only that cartoon were an adult.”

                2. Penny Lane*

                  Yes, feed into her delusions more by acting as though the only issue is that her “boyfriend” is underage.

                3. Guest*

                  Ohh, I didn’t catch on that it wasn’t supposed to be earnest but rather just a line to feed the coworker so she’d stop. In which case, yeah, it’s not gonna do anyone any favours to pretend like her behaviour is a-okay but the public might be concerned about the age gap between her and the anime dude, lol.

                4. Plague of frogs*

                  Penny Lane, please understand that it’s not her coworkers’ job to fix her. Nor can they. They do need to minimize the impact of her delusion on her workplace.

                5. Tiger Snake*

                  Oh, I realise the whole thing is ridiculous. Its just that if the photographs and discussion of a cartoon boyfriend are legitimately that harmful to their interactions with external clients, then this is the only way I can see of addressing the issue while avoiding the whole “But he’s not real” argument that the OP has indicated are clearly a trigger.
                  Its a line to try and shut this down without actually “engaging the crazy” as the saying goes in my part of the world.

            4. Q*

              Honestly, if one of my friends said this, it would not be strange to me at all, and I would believe that they still knew the anime character was fictional. In high school, I saw some girl get married to a picture of Inuyasha in the bathroom.

              Where it gets weird is that she’s not posting these pics on twitter or something, she’s bringing them to work. It’s not a joke that translates very well. I have anime merch all over my cube at work–but I’ve never acted like they’re real even if I might joke like that online or at a convention.

              I don’t think your coworker is necessarily delusional. She’s just not putting a professional facade over her personality and she needs to.

            5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I think the only reasonable solution is to address the boundary crossing elements. Her delusion is uncomfortable and, imo, really sad.

              1. Specialk9*

                Out of curiosity, was that the key point you took from that? I was in happy tears at a whole village going along with the fiction he needed in order to work through his issues. It seemed really beautiful to me, especially the frozen moment when everybody waited to see how the priest would react to Lars bringing a sex doll in a wheelchair to church, and the priest visibly sorts through options, and then welcomes her, and then everyone followed his cue.

                It wasn’t work, but it was church… Though it also wasn’t real life.

                1. Former Employee*

                  I didn’t see the movie, but this was a village, so everyone knew everyone else and knew that Lars was having problems. From what I read, it’s as if the doll was an adult version of a transitional object, which Lars needed so he could move on to relationships with real people.

          2. mrs__peel*

            Reminds me of the Baker Street Irregulars and “the Great Game” (i.e., hardcore Sherlock Holmes fans who believe/pretend to believe that Holmes was a real person and actually wrote all the Conan Doyle stories).

      2. PABJ*

        Waifu(i.e. Japanized form of wife) is for female characters only, and most of the people who have one understand that they aren’t actually dating one. They just really like that particular character, basically.

        1. Nox*

          Yeah I was gonna say waifus and whatever this person on about dating a character aren’t the same.

      3. Marie B.*

        I just googled ‘waifu’ because I had never heard that term before. All I can say is wow. I think the coworker could benefit from counseling. Her fixation on the cartoon character doesn’t sound healthy.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          Not our job, and not OPs either. At most, OP needs her to stop discussing it at work, but even that’s not really established.

          I do think, OP, you might have a beneficial discussion with her about ‘we don’t usually discuss personal relationships or interests with our clients / the public. It’s not professional. If someone asks about the picture, the professional response is to just name the character and not discuss your relationship with him.’

          But I do agree with Alison about not taking this up the mgmt chain.

          1. Annabelle*

            Yeah, I think the only thing OP can really say is something like, “Please don’t share details of your love life with clients. It’s not professional and talking about personal matters can make people uncomfortable.”

    4. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

      I spent too much time in the Harry Potter fandom back in the day, which means I distinctly remember the Snape Wives. They were a group of ultra-dedicated fans of Severus Snape, who all claimed they were married to him on the astral plane, where apparently it is possible to marry fictional characters. And for said fictional characters to marry multiple women. They were deadly serious, and had many fights over which one he loved more.

      After that, nothing surprises me.

      1. all aboard the anon train*

        I was going to make the same comment! It’s the first thing I thought of when I read the comment.

      2. Knitting Cat Lady*

        When I was in 7th grade various of my class mates married various of the Backstreet Boys. That was in 1995.

        Wouldn’t be surprised if this has been going on for much longer than that!

        1. Nekussa*

          Not so much married, but definitely me and my school girl friends would “divide up” our favorite band members and TV show casts so that everyone had “their” favorite. Let’s just say this was an era when Duran Duran would have been one of the bands being distributed in this manner. ;) But we were kids, not working adults, and we knew it wasn’t any kind of real relationship.

          1. Mrs Sulu aka Mrs George Harrison*

            It’s fun to know this behavior continues! On the other hand, looking back it seems sad that we little girls could only imagine ourselves being part of those universes by getting attached to a man there. (I shouldn’t say “only” since we played other games of imagination there.) as an adult, I still love my Georges but I don’t fantasize they love me back.

            1. Kathleen_A*

              Ahhh, George has always been my favorite, too! *Always.* But I’m perfectly willing to share. :-)

          2. Kathleen_A*

            Listen, way back in the Jurassic, groups of teenage and pre-teen girls would gather in groups of four all over the U.S., the U.K., and elsewhere to listen to their little hordes of Beatle records and swoon over their favorite Beatle. The unspoken rule was that each girl in the quartet had to swoon over a different Beatle, so you couldn’t have two Paulites in the same group. Which was fine with 9-year-old me because I am and have always been a Georgian, so I didn’t mind if the Daniels girls called dibs on Paul and John, but I’m not sure that my younger sister really wanted to be a Ringoite. But that’s how it worked out.

            So it’s been going on a very long time.

            The thing that’s so hilarious – and interesting – to me is that these little quartets of girls were all following the same “rules,” and since this was pre-internet/Snapchat/chatroom/etc., we were all completely unaware that this was a Done Thing until many years later when we read about it or talked about it with other former Beatle swooners. It seems to be something that’s sort of built in to the relationship between little girls and non-threatening pop culture figures. :-)

            1. Penny Lane*

              Fandom is one thing. None of those little girls swooning over cute Paulie or quiet George or intellectual John or puppy-eyed Ringo actually *believed* they were married to them. They KNEW that these were a bunch of adorable Liverpudlian singers that they WANTED to marry, but they weren’t delusional that they were actually MARRIED to them.

              And generations before that it was Frank Sinatra and Rudy Valentino.

              Normal fandom has absolutely nothing to do with this scenario, which is weird and delusional.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                I suspect coworker knows she’s being weird and delusional, but she’s talked herself into normalizing the delusion. Denial is powerful, and sometimes fantasy can be, too.

                It’s alarming, but because it’s not harming anyone except her, it makes sense for OP to focus on fixing what’s within OP’s universe of fixable things (i.e., how OP deals with it, but not trying to get her coworker to fix her delusions).

                1. Big Heavy Sigh*

                  Without getting too specific, my sister was very delusional – increasingly so as the years went on. She swore she was best friends with a very popular male actor and their families, then a few others, then…engaged to a former MLB Hall of Famer. The reason he retried was because she broke off their engagement… Those are the top of the crop – there are other things as well.
                  I know there’s nothing that the OP can do re: coworker’s mental health, but my fear is that, as w/my sister, these delusions – at those lucid moments when she realizes they aren’t real – rare as they may be – (usually someone confronts or taunts her – makes a statement she knows down deep is true) make her very, very, very, angry. Like, as delusional as she is, on a scale, that’s how angry she gets. Harmful in the workplace…for everyone. She is a person who would mean to me: If you see something, say something. I know that’s supposed to be about drugs, but it’s also relevant to mental illness, as sadly, we all know. . .

              2. Kathleen_A*

                Penny Lane, my apologies for going a bit off-topic. I actually didn’t intend to imply that those little quartets of Beatle lovers are really comparable to the behavior the OP describes. Because it really isn’t the same thing at all. I agree that this scenario is weird and delusional – and if she insists on discussing it with people who aren’t part of that scene, it’s creepy. But I also agree with PCBH that aside from getting her to quit discussing this with clients, there isn’t much that can be done here. So long as the coworker tones her fantasies down at work, that’s about the best that can be expected.

            2. Alienor*

              I think for 99 percent of girls, it’s exactly like that, just something harmless and fun they do with their friends. It can slip over into weird territory sometimes, though–I’m thinking of the Parker-Hulme murder case in New Zealand, where part of the girls’ fantasy world involved them being married to then-popular performers like Mario Lanza. (Peter Jackson’s 1996 film Heavenly Creatures was based on the story–it’s amazing and creepy and everyone should see it.)

              1. Lora*

                I love that movie so, so much.

                The heck of it is, a HUGE part of my job actually revolves around being able to visualize things and imagine quite vividly how they might work (or not-work, as the case may be), and some of those things (e.g. recombinant protein structures) are indeed very very weird and only shared by a tiny group of people. So I really understand the value of a powerful imagination with a lot of visual aspects, I do. But…there’s a place and a context for these things. And you absolutely must compartmentalize, even though spending a lot of time in your imaginary world makes it seem very real indeed, because it just isn’t, and one thing can bring the whole deal crashing down (in my case, if my client decides not to cut a check for the new facility / next stage of development, that’s it, game over – on to the next thing). That compartmentalization and ability to detach emotionally from something I built in my mind was a critical part of developing as a professional, which lots and lots of my colleagues don’t really get, and suffer from.

          3. Soupspoon McGee*

            I got Simon Le Bon because my friends were much more passionate about the other band members. Most of us have moved on, but one high school friend is still obsessed with the drummer. I find this baffling.

            1. miss_chevious*

              I don’t find it baffling at all; Roger Taylor is hot. :)

              Seriously, though, as a Duranie myself, I do think that there’s a level of obsession that should only be entertained among others of like mind, once you reach adulthood.

          4. Jules the 3rd*

            My parent’s generation did this with Beatles, but yeah, for me it was ‘well, not Simon because Susan likes them”.

            I actually just decided to bypass it and crush on a Beatle. George Harrison was just my type.

          5. Geillis D*

            It takes a bit of maturity to properly divvy up the potential fictional husbands.
            For example, my fellow Outlander fans are surprisingly diverse – not all of us are married to Jamie Fraser as some, like myself, prefer Dougal, Ian Sr. or even Lord John. We get along.

          6. Anion*

            I was a Simon girl, until Simon got married and I switched to Nick.

            My walls were covered pith posters and pictures, and I kissed every Nick goodnight before I got into bed.

            But as you said, I was ten, and I knew it was just a poster image of an adult male who would not date me even if we did meet.

          1. Scrooge McDunk*

            My sister and I had some pretty epic fights about who was going to be a Jordan-ite and who was going to be a Donnie-ite. Because, OBVIOUSLY, we couldn’t both be in love with the same New Kid.

      3. Chaordic One*

        Back in the day, my GBF had a photo of Brad Pitt on his desk. (This was back when Brad had long blonde hair.)

        Suffice to say, it didn’t work out.

          1. Julia*

            Yeah, “I’m gonna bully kids because your mother wouldn’t date me after I joined Wizard!Hitler and called her the magic equivalent of the n-word” is not so hot…

            1. Jesca*

              Haha. A lot of women add Heathcliff to their “hottest literary characters” list, who was actually a totally effing nut job. And yes, that is a thing. Normally you have Mr. Darcy and Mr. Rochester fights. Snape definately has emerged on these lists. The misunderstood, broody, heart broken man who still watched over his childhood enemy’s son because he loved his mother thing. And really, don’t ask me why I know this haha.

              1. Kathleen_A*

                LOL! Sting (I think it was) has been quoted as saying how inexplicable he has always found it when people tell him that “Every Breath You Take” is their favorite romantic song – that they have it played as “their” song at their wedding and so on. I mean, jeez, it’s about a freakin’ stalker! Which is not romantic at all, except in a song or novel or TV show about sparkly vampires, I guess.

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  That song and “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” are creepy af. The sparkly vampire thing also disturbs me for the stalking-level behaviors, but a lot of children and YA lit normalizes abusive and controlling behavior as “romantic.”

                2. Specialk9*

                  Super creepy. Heathcliff was a scary angry abuser – I walked around with a WTF face for a week after reading that book in high school. Well, that and belting out “HEATHcliff, it’s ME, your CATHY, I’ve come HOOOME”.

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                I had so many high school friends who were in love with Heathcliff. He is seriously bent. Even Mr. Rochester is bent. I find the whole thing kind of alarming, but I get that it’s harmless as long as there are reality parameters still at play.

              3. Geillis D*

                Creepy, Schkreepy, who cares as long as the British accent is hot and strong, amirite?

      4. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Oh my god, I was just sitting here thinking “You know, I’m vaguely surprised we haven’t had a letter about Snapewives already.”

      5. brightstar*

        I was thinking about “Snapes on a Plane” on Fandom Wank! I remember one lady lived in Texas, and another in Europe who made her family set a place for Severus at the dinner table.

        Man, I miss Fandom Wank. I wish there were archives.

        1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

          A lot of it is on the Wayback Machine! You can still find the MsScribe saga on Charlotte Lennox’s LJ, too, although it doesn’t have all the awesome comments.

        1. SpaceNovice*

          It’s amazing how many transplants from LJ I find on this site.

          But seriously, Snape Wives. That was a train wreck! Brings back memories….

        2. lawyer*

          I miss LJ so much. Although I’m also old enough to miss my favorite usenet groups, so…

      6. Sylvan*

        IIRC there has been a similar …phenomenon? with Loki, both the mythological character and the Marvel comics and movies characters. I have kind of wondered if there was any overlap between Lokiwives and Snapewives, and if so, how that works out.

    5. Catherine*

      Unless she tries to loop you into her fantasy life (a la Andythanfiction or the Final Fantasy House), there’s really nothing you can do except smile, nod, and change the subject as quickly as possible. With clients there’s especially no good answer–you can’t really disagree with them, but it’s hard to agree with them without coming off as though you don’t respect coworker.

      1. Casuan*

        A good response to clients would convey that OP3’s company has a diverse staff who can respond to the clients’ needs.
        eg: Jane is creative & can think outside of the box.

        although the box could have stickers of her boyfriend all over it…

        1. Yada Yada Yada*

          I feel like this is a step too far. There’s norms in work environments. I can’t have a picture of Brad Pitt on my desk in a frame and tell clients “oh, he’s me husband!” and expect my workplace to be cool with it

          1. Casuan*

            My suggestion was meant to be only if a client seemed to be questioning the propriety of the photo or any other he’s-my-boyfriend behaviour from Jane. It could help if OP4 has a ready answer in case this happens so it puts a positive spin on the company & not on Jane.
            Really it’s a know your company & client thing & I can just as easily think my suggestion is a bad idea. :)

            1. Yada Yada Yada*

              If they’re going to let her keep talking about it with clients, then I agree with you that your language is the best (if not only) way to explain it. But I don’t think it should even go that far, they should nip it right in the bud, no need to accommodate this

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Eh, I think I’d call her eccentric, but I wouldn’t represent her delusional “relationship” as a net good.

          2. Anion*

            I had a mousepad with a space for a picture at my desk at work, into which I inserted a picture of Sid Vicious.

            But clients didn’t see it, and I didn’t claim he was my husband or boyfriend. And it was a mousepad, so it was covered up for the most part.

        2. Penny Lane*

          Yes, and before that girls divided up as to whether they liked John, Paul, George or Ringo. But they knew that they weren’t ACTUALLY married to a Beatle. This kind of schoolgirl crush thing has absolutely nothing to do with this situation here so I don’t see the point of bringing it in.

          1. Lissa*

            Yeah I’m a little bit surprised by how many people are treating this as similar! If it’s on the same spectrum it’s waaaay down the line, IMO. The thing is even if OP is wrong (and I don’t think she is) the way coworker is working is making multiple think she *does* believe she’s really dating a cartoon character. I don’t think this is just “she’s a really big anime fan.”

            1. Anion*

              Agreed. It’s not really similar at all.

              (Even if it was just “normal fandom” stuff it would be odd. At the same workplace where I had the Sid mousepad, a woman who worked there had covered–*covered*–her cubicle with pictures of N*Sync. We all thought it was immature and bizarre, given that she was not thirteen but almost thirty.

        3. Specialk9*

          “eg: Jane is creative & can think outside of the box.

          although the box could have stickers of her boyfriend all over it…”

          I snickered. Which was unfortunate given the big mouthful of seltzer, which went up my nose.

      2. LNZ*

        I know about Andythanfiction (and how the heck did my phones autocomplete know that one?) But Final Fantasy House?

        1. Catherine*

          If you google it, there’s a Vice article, plus victim testimonies on demon-sushi. It’s the same kind of “channeling” plus emotional abuse plus sleep dep and gaslighting that Andythanfiction used.

          1. LS*

            Yes, he’s a well-known abuser and committer of, at the very least, fraud. He started in the Lord of the Rings fandom and moved on to Harry Potter and Supernatural.

              1. Sylvan*

                fposte’s link below has it covered, I think, but to make a long story short: Andy had a strange cult-like group of people who lived with him, as well as some people connected to them all online. Some of the people who were in it have told their stories online.

                In one of these stories, this person rescued a really young sparrow while with Andy. When she left him, she took the pet sparrow with her.

                So after that, Andy told a story about how he’d raised an ex’s child as his own, and it was all very sad, and she took her son – HIS son! – away from him without a chance to say goodbye!

                He was talking about the freaking sparrow.

                1. Julia*

                  Thank you for the explanation. I looked up some of the people involved, but this looks like it would take days to fully understand.

        2. here goes*

          I couldn’t find anything on this Andythanfiction guy other than a tumblr post and a forum post saying he runs a cult, is there any actual… proof here?

            1. Catherine*

              Kumquatwriter and Turimel, two former victims, have both blogged pretty extensively about it.

            2. LNZ*

              I can’t remember the website but i have seen victim testimonials. He is also a conman and set up basically fake charity conventions that scammed a lot of people out of their money.
              Every now and then he pops back up in a new fandom and basically starts the same cult over again.

          1. MsSolo*

            Most of it was recorded on fandom_wank, which has sadly ceased to be. “When the fan hits the shit” was a book that covered most of the LotR stuff, especially the failed convention, but I don’t know far into the cult stuff it went.

    6. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Ah, that’s definitely more than just having a photo on her desk and saying he’s her boyfriend. So yeah, I see your concern more. Does your boss know that clients are getting weirded out? If you’re not positive she knows that part, you could mention it to her. But if your boss clearly knows, I don’t think this is in “go over your boss’s head territory,” not unless you have excellent rapport with your boss’s boss and could mention it organically. Otherwise, this one is on your boss to decide how to manage, and it’s on her, not you.

      1. Jesca*

        I agree with this.

        And I would likely never offer this as explicit advice, but I would honestly just sit back at this point and time and enjoy the show, so to speak. I mean obviously you want to make sure that things aren’t getting way out of hand – attacking people who point out that it is not real – because it honestly makes a good story. Like reverse the “omg this is beyond and annoying and definitely entering creepy type thing” (which btw is not bad of you,OP, because delusional behavior can lead some strange places) and move it to “I cannot WAIT to see what happens today!”

      2. Jules the 3rd*

        Do you think there’s room for OP4 to discuss this with coworker under ‘professional boundaries’? As in, ‘It’s a little unprofessional to discuss relationships and personal interests with clients / the public. If someone notices your picture, the professional reaction is to say their name, and maybe the show they’re from, and then change the topic to the client’s needs.’

        1. Elizabeth West*

          This is good wording.

          If the culture at the job is to discuss relationships/personal stuff, and the coworkers are at least tolerant of this, that’s one thing. But whether she talks to Coworker or their manager, the OP needs to emphasize that doing it with clients is over the line.

    7. Meh*

      Yikes. Does she think work is her personal anime con or something? That and the internet are the only places where behavior like this would even be remotely appropriate. Kind of reminds me of that letter where the coworker tried to get everyone to call her boyfriend her “master.” She’s dragging everyone into TMI territory. Heck even at the cons , this kind of behavior is more seen as a “joke” to anyone above the age of 14. Though I’m not sure there’s much the OP can do about it other than refuse to play along. They may want to mention something to someone about the clients getting weirded out, but if the boss doesn’t care, there’s not much that can be done. (I know the OP said they didn’t know the character, but for some reason my gut tells me it’s probably someone like Sebastian from Black Butler. Maybe I just knew too many fangirls of that character.)

      1. Mad Baggins*

        Yeah, I was reminded of the “master” letter as well. OP, instead of getting into whether the husbando is real or not, I think you should just take the stance of “we don’t talk about relationship details at work” and just refuse to engage/discourage her from discussing her relationship with clients.

        She is clearly getting something out of this fictional relationship, whether that’s validation, comfort, fulfillment… maybe understanding that part of it will help you deal with the awkwardness, so you can say, “that’s nice” and turn back to your work.

      2. Traffic_Spiral*

        Yeah, we’re gonna have to update the Green Eggs and Ham poem to include anime spouses now.

      3. Half-Caf Latte*

        I thought of the “master” letter too.

        I feel like there’s a difference in that with the “master” thing the coworker was crossing boundaries by trying to involve her coworkers in the inner workings of her relationship, which isn’t necessarily the case here: showing pictures, talking about dates, thinking they’re going to get married- all of that is fairly bland when you take out the context of the character. There’s an element of oversharing with clients/the public, although the extent isn’t exactly clear.

        I’m a little stuck on this one- I think telling her to cut it out with clients/public would clearly be within the boss’ prerogative, but if I can have a picture of my spouse/kids/pets, and talk about them at the water cooler, I don’t know how you tell her she can’t as well.

        1. fposte*

          The additional complication here is that the boss doesn’t care, so the co-worker is wondering what she should or could do.

        2. oranges & lemons*

          In a way, I think she is involving coworkers in her “relationship” by tacitly asking them to validate it. I thought of the Master letter as well.

          1. fposte*

            But the same could be said about any relationship where people have pictures at work and mention stuff to co-workers. That’s not “involving”; that’s just discussing stuff in your life.

            1. Annabelle*

              Yeah, but a lot of people consider attraction to animated characters — on this level, at least — to be a kink. So in a way, by expecting them to listen and validate the relationship, she is forcing her coworkers to participate in her fanstasy. And I definitely don’t think that’s work appropriate.

              1. fposte*

                I absolutely think she shouldn’t do it, and if I were her manager I’d require her to stop. But I don’t think it’s involving other people any more than having a work-appropriate picture of your Master on your desk and telling people you two went to dinner is involving people.

                1. Annabelle*

                  That’s fair. The things she’s taking about would definitely be in the realm of small talk if she were talking about a live person. I think the fantasy aspect just feels really private to me.

            2. oranges & lemons*

              I suppose it depends to what extent the coworker literally believes that her relationship with the character is real. I feel like, as with the “Master” letter, there is likely some element of wanting to be provocative and/or to seek validation of the relationship in her wider life. Even if she doesn’t realize the “relationship” isn’t normal, it’s not exactly typical to bring photographic evidence of dates to work to share with coworkers.

              Either way, I still think this one is above a coworker’s pay grade, and if I were the LW, I would just make it as boring as possible to discuss this subject.

    8. YoungTeach*

      From someone who has been in the anime fandom for many many years: It’s a joke. A joke she has taken pretty far, sure, but still a joke like saying a celebrity is your Significant Other (which I’ve also seen people take to this extreme; it simply is easier with anime). It’s really not an uncommon thing, but she shouldn’t be as open about it at work.

      1. Eliza*

        Well, 99% of the time it’s a joke. Based on what OP3 has said, I wouldn’t say for sure her coworker is in the 1% for whom it isn’t, but I wouldn’t rule it out, either.

        On the other hand, I’m not sure it changes much either way, since the OP isn’t really in a position to do anything about it.

        1. Specialk9*

          You REALLY don’t know that.

          People get irrational and hung up on all kinds of things. You can’t possibly know 3rd hand what is inside this person’s head.

      2. Marvel*

        As someone who has also been in anime fandoms for many many years:

        …It’s not necessarily a joke.

        1. Marvel*

          Whoops, hit submit before I was done: I meant to add, see various commentary about the Snape Wives and similar phenomena above and below me. Others are, thank god, explaining it better than I can. I’ve had some run-ins with dissociative mental illness myself and the whole thing skeeves me right out.

        2. Nonnon*

          Yeah, for most people it’s a joke/tongue-in-cheek way of expressing affection for a character (I have occasionally referred to various video game characters as ‘my husband’ or ‘my son/daughter’ online) but there are definitely people who take it to weird levels.

          Many of these people are like, twelve, so there’s a bit of wiggle room for weirdness. (Also, given the average teenage boy, I really can’t blame a kid that age for wanting to date an anime boy instead.) And then there are those who are fully grown adults, presumably with jobs/partners/kids/whatever, and it’s just. I’m trying to be nonjudgemental here, but. Yikes.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        If I’m a random person attempting to purchase tea pots, I don’t want to have to solve the Big Joke of the clerk’s obsessive fandom. Just like I don’t want to do the entire transaction in the guise of characters from WestWorld (which I don’t watch). There’s a complete inability to recognize any boundaries here that would be very offputting–you shouldn’t expect everyone you encounter to take part in a running joke (or is it?) based on shows they don’t watch.

        1. Lissa*

          Yes, this is what I was trying to say above! Either it’s not a joke, or she spends most of her time exclusively with people in this subculture who play along that she has stopped realizing that to most people, this is going to come off as extremely offputting. (not putting a picture on your desk of a celebrity or cartoon. Getting upset and insisting he/the relationship is real.) At a certain point the joke starts being *on* the people (in this case, coworkers and clients!) who aren’t “in on it”.

          1. Redtail*

            If anything, that furthers the joke -I’d bet she’s going home to howl with laughter at the latest ridiculous thing she claimed with a straight face and wondering how far she can push this anime boyfriend thing before a coworker stops being too polite to say anything.

            1. Bekx*

              I’ve met a few people in this subculture that act like OP’s coworker and….it’s not a joke. They seriously believe this stuff.

      4. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I think it crosses the line of being a joke when she’s talking about it extensively at work. In front of the public/clients.

          1. AvonLady Barksdale*

            Right. Someone above mentioned it was not ok to have a photo of Brad Pitt on one’s desk and insist he’s your husband; I would say that it’s fine to have a photo of Brad Pitt on your desk and say, “Oh, I just have a giant crush on Brad Pitt/I’m a huge fan.” I have known a few women who put Rick Springfield on their computers (it’s always Rick Springfield! Unless it’s Ryan Gosling) and it’s a funny conversation piece. None of these women believe they are in a relationship with Rick Springfield. If someone were to insist that Rick Springfield is her husband to the point of getting upset about it, I’d be pretty turned off. If I were a client? I wouldn’t want to have a business conversation with that person, because the line’s been crossed from quirky to unreasonable.

            1. Penny Lane*

              Really? Having a picture of Brad Pitt on your desk and talking about him as your crush would only be appropriate if it were evident that it was highly ironic in nature and you talked about it in a self-deprecating way and it was kind of a running joke. Otherwise — yeah, kind of weirdo.

              1. fposte*

                I’m in academics. I probably wouldn’t bat an eye, though Neil de Grasse Tyson is likelier.

              2. Jules the 3rd*

                With co-workers, I think the appropriateness would vary with company culture.

                With clients / the public, it’s just not appropriate, really.

                Though I now want a picture of Neil DeGrasse Tyson for my desk.

                1. Penny Lane*

                  I had a former coworker who loved all things Elvis, had a bunch of Elvis tchotchkes at her desk, and if ever there could be an Elvis reference, we would make it so that she could hear it. But we’d all laugh. We all knew it was a joke, she was self-deprecating about her kitschy love for Elvis memorabilia. Still, she was fully in touch with reality. This woman isn’t.

                  I suppose the bigger question is – what do you do with coworkers who are not in touch with reality?

                2. fposte*

                  @Penny Lane–it depends in what way and how much it affects their work. It’s not work’s obligation to ensure that everybody is in touch with reality in every way, just to get the work done.

                  There’s a letter and an update from a few years back by somebody whose clearly troubled co-worker believed she was pregnant (it wasn’t pseudocyesis, either; she just believed, despite medical contradiction and her age, that she was pregnant); I thought that office negotiated the situation really well. They didn’t make it their mission to convince her she was wrong, because that didn’t really matter.

              3. AvonLady Barksdale*

                The receptionist at my veterinarian’s office is one of the women with the Rick Springfield love. I tease her about it, she laughs, we move on with our business. I’m talking about, “Oh yeah, I adore him, I’m a huge fan”, not, “Yes. He is my one true soulmate and he will leave his wife for me and we will run off into the sunset together and you must believe me or you are wrong.” I honestly don’t think the former is super weird, and in this case, I’m the client.

              4. Autumnheart*

                I work at $Household_Name and right now we have a wall that used to contain nicely framed photos of various work-related interactions, that were mysteriously replaced with nicely framed photos of meme/Instagram cats (Grumpy Cat, et. al.) It’s obviously meant to be ironic and funny. If someone went around saying they were married to Grumpy Cat and getting upset when people called BS, and telling vendors and clients that Grumpy Cat was their spouse, that would be A Problem(tm) and HR would be involved.

            2. Pollygrammer*

              Feel like this situation seems closer to having a picture of Brad Pitt taped to the ceiling above your bed, and sharing that information, which is deeply inappropriate no matter how tongue in cheek you were about it.

      5. Clare*

        Honestly if it is a joke I find that more inappropriate that she thinks it’s okay to bring this joke into the workplace, in front of clients, and in that case the LW has way more room to shut this down and complain.

      6. Runner*

        While I understand the OP, I’m also more than a little put off by how obsessed the OP is with this. Seeking advice I get. But then she’s also the very first person to post in the comments — and it’s aggressively passive aggressive (if that’s even a thing), hostile to AAM’s answer to such an extent that I wish Alison hadn’t come back in and appeased the OP to any degree because it’s clear the OP isn’t actually interested in advice and is going full-bore ahead.

        1. Thursday Next*

          I don’t see this at all. She thanked Alison and said she’d follow her advice. The parenthetical information she added is in response to Alison’s comparison to having a picture of Chris Hemsworth, and this information shows that what this coworker is doing is not like Alison’s example at all.

          If clients were being negatively influenced by a coworker’s behavior, I’d be concerned too.

          1. Lil Fidget*

            What I don’t understand is, how can Chris Hemsworth be other people’s boyfriend, when he’s clearly *my* boyfriend??

        2. Q*

          It does seem a little, “No really this person is crazy let me tell you how.” Of course I’m far from unbiased on this one.

          1. Scarlet*

            Hum, I perfectly understand that kind of behaviour in a teenager. But in an adult, that’s definitely crossing the line into delusional and disturbing. I’m generally considered “eccentric” or “weird” and I totally understand fandom, but that’s really far off. It’s not that different from people who believe they are Jesus or Napoleon.

          2. fposte*

            I’d be desperate to tell people both from a “Holy cow” standpoint and a “What the hell do I do?” standpoint. And I have to say that I think the OP’s main option is to settle back, wait it out, and collect the anecdotes–if the boss doesn’t care, the limited intervention possibilities afforded to the OP aren’t likely to make a difference.

            I would, however, be prepared to tell whoever takes over from the boss, and I’d plan that communication to be as professional as possible–no “OMG we have to tell you about Jane’s ‘boyfriend,'” just “I wanted to let you know that I raised a concern about Jane previously and I thought you should know the situation still exists.”

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              This is a good point. You don’t want your first impression with the new manager to come across as “OMG the drama here!” (Reflecting the situation–this husbando stuff would be fine at a con but not at your office; therapeutic venting about how crazy this is is fine with your friends but not at your office.) I like your last line as a script.

        3. Myrin*

          Huh? That’s very unkind think to say of (and to!) an OP who is kind enough to interact further with us in the comments – not to mention an interpretation I find quite astounding!

          OP thanks Alison for answering the question and says that she appreciates it. She also says she will follow the advice as given, which is basically the exact opposite of being “hostile to AAM’s answer”, so I’m not exactly sure where you’re getting this from?

          OP also doesn’t appear “obsessed”, neither in the original letter nor in the comments. She explained the situation in two paragraphs and has written three or four comments to answer people’s questions to her; that’s it. As for her being the first comment, well, so what? Timezones are a thing, as is knowing AAM’s posting schedule and emails Alison sends to the OPs that their letter will be printed. I’m really not sure what you’re basing your readings on.

          1. Annabelle*

            Agreed. I appreciate it when OPs add more context in the comments. I don’t think OP seems obsessed with this at all, but even if she was fixating on it, I can’t say I’d blame her. This is unusual behavior to see in the workplace and people tend to be mystified by unusual behavior.

            1. Anion*

              Yes, I’m not getting “obsessed” from the OP at all, and I’m certainly not getting “aggressively passive aggressive” or “hostile.” The OP sent in a letter about something very odd; of course she’s interested in seeing what others say, and is providing context and information in an attempt to get the best advice possible. And Alison isn’t “appeasing” her, which is a pretty lousy way to look at it.

              You may think the OP should just ignore and/or be okay with the fact that her co-worker is creepily pushing her sexual fantasies on her, her other co-workers, and the general public, but many of us disagree.

              1. Anion*

                Sorry, didn’t get to finish my comment: …many of us disagree. You seem to think it’s mean or unfair of OP to be creeped out by this and to discuss it, but again, many of us disagree. She is not being judgmental (which seems to be the gist of your complaint?) in *wanting* to talk about a difficult situation and how to deal with it. And it is definitely not mean-spirited, gossipy, obsessive, or passive-aggressive for the OP to take the opportunity to *actually* talk about said uncomfortable situation anonymously.

              2. Specialk9*

                I don’t really agree with your opinion on the husbando coworker being creepy (I feel kinda sad for her), but I definitely agree that the OP is 100% fine in their responses and comments (actually I had been thinking that they sound nice, and I appreciate the extra detail).

                1. Anion*

                  Eh, the OP says she’s creeping people out, so I take that as “creepy.” I don’t know if I would find it creepy or ridiculous in person, though.

        4. boo*

          I don’t think that’s really fair-Alison’s answer was based on the premise that the coworker wasn’t being disruptive and it was just a bit quirky. The OP was giving more information. The information isn’t terribly flattering to her coworker, but it was necessary to understand what was going on.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yeah, she added more information that really changed my understanding of the situation!

            And there’s nothing wrong with being first. I ask letter writers to interact in the comments if they’d like to, and as Myrin notes, I send them a link ahead of time and tell them when it will be published.

            If we want OPs to interact in the comments, jumping on them when they do is not a good way to make that happen.

        5. Triumphant Fox*

          I also don’t see this level of obsession. Even looking at all OPs responses throughout the thread, she only reiterates what she mentions in the first comment, which is really to clarify the point. This is affecting clients, which adds a layer of complexity that may not have been as clear early on. There’s lots of speculation as to whether or not the coworker thinks this is a joke and OP clarifies the extent to which coworker has displayed that belief (anger at being contradicted, pictures of dates, stories of her boyfriend, pictures with the body pillow). None of this is in a “BUT YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND THE CRAZY” tone – more of a firm, “No, from what I’ve seen, this is more of a delusion than a joke.”

    9. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Honestly, there’s no point in debating whether this is healthy or not, as it’s none of our business (“our” including the OP). Unfortunately, she’s making it the business of everyone in the office, much like the person who wanted everyone at the office to refer to her boyfriend as “Master”. It’s possible these are both healthy, harmless preferences…or not. But either way, there’s no reason to discuss them in the office, and both people seem intent on forcing people at the office to actively acknowledge and validate their relationships, and that’s not the LW’s problem. Just actively ignore it, and divert the conversation. (And maybe talk to a supervisor about how she is oversharing her personal life, but try not to sound judgmental about her, or it’ll just hurt your case.)

      1. Boredatwork*

        LOL you beat me to that comment! I agree that this is too personal for the office, since it’s very far outside vanilla.

    10. Boredatwork*

      OP – Sometimes you have to just let crazy be crazy. I do think this falls into the category of you don’t have to play along (like the woman who wanted people to refer to her husband as master). I agree with Alison that you shouldn’t escalate this to your boss’s boss and her additional comment to make sure your boss knows how weird and creepy this is.

      If this bothers you, I’d just comment that you don’t follow anime and change the subject. Repeat as often as necessary. “Me and “BF” went to the movies” “Oh that’s nice, I don’t follow anime, about that expense report…”

      1. Q*

        That might be a really good way to handle it, actually. I was trying to think about how to derail it when this person has taken her fandom this far into the workplace and clearly doesn’t understand that this isn’t okay.

    11. apopculturalist*

      Oh my gosh! I was about to chime in and wonder if it was a drawing of a real person, in the same way I have a pic of me and my boyfriend in the style of Rick and Morty, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Wow.

    12. boo*

      There goes my original thought, “Maybe it’s a cartoon-style drawing of her live human boyfriend and she doesn’t realize people are misinterpreting it.”

      I guess people aren’t misinterpreting it.

    13. Spooky*

      I mean, at least it’s not that date-a-horse game that’s going around tumblr where the horse has a human face stuck on its nose.

      1. Nonnon*

        I think most people are sharing that because it’s hilarible.

        I sincerely hope most people are sharing that because it’s hilarible.

        (The concept, that is. I am not willing to risk my sanity actually playing that game.)

    14. Oilpress*

      There is weird, there is quirky, and then there is someone who I would never trust in a professional environment. This person just cannot be trusted to make good decisions. But what can you do? Talk crap about her and hope someone cans her? I think you have to keep your distance and hope someone with more authority sees the light.

      1. Penny Lane*

        So what happens if you go to her and say, “Jane, I’m sorry, but you really can’t talk about [whoever this character is] as if he is your boyfriend. He’s not real. It’s inappropriate for the workplace. If you like to indulge your fantasies, great, but do it on your time.”

        So she becomes upset. So what? Why should she be “protected” from being upset by something which is, after all, the truth? It’s like “being upset” is the worst thing, or something.

        1. fposte*

          I’m with you on “being upset” not being the worst thing in the world. But what you’re describing might be appropriate for a boss but it isn’t for a co-worker. The OP doesn’t have the authority to tell her co-worker how to behave in the workplace.

          1. Autumnheart*

            Well, the OP doesn’t have the authority to enforce a standard on her coworker’s behavior. But OP can certainly tell the coworker her opinion.

            1. Eliza*

              Would it help the situation in any way, though? It seems like since there’s nothing the OP can actually do to change things, the best option is to engage less, not more.

            2. fposte*

              We can *all* tell our co-workers *all* of our opinions. I’m not sure I want to live in that world :-).

        2. Anion*

          Once again, agreed. Just because she *has* a delusion doesn’t obligate you or anyone else to feed it. What’s she going to do, complain to management that you refuse to behave like her pretend boyfriend like is not pretend?

          You can’t tell your co-worker what to do, but you can, every time she brings up her “boyfriend” or what they did together, ask if she means the fictional boyfriend and if that means she took a drawing of him to dinner/the movies/the amusement park with her. Ask if he paid for dinner, and if so, with what. Ask if he ordered for her.

          Odds are high that she will just stop talking to you about it, once she sees you won’t feed her fantasy and thus give her what she wants. It’s worked for me before.

        3. Totally Minnie*

          This is 100% not a good plan. If the OP were to say that to her coworker, the next thing that will happen is that it escalates into a fight. And then the boss will likely be mad at OP for causing a scene in the workplace, since boss has made it clear he’s not going to intervene. OP calling this out that bluntly and harshly can only end badly for OP, and nobody wants that.

          1. Anion*

            That’s possible. But it’s also possible that co-worker will simply go elsewhere for the attention she seeks. That’s how it’s worked for me in the past; there’s no guarantee that it will this time, but there’s no guarantee that it won’t, and the alternative is that OP is forced to coddle a grown adult and let her include OP in her fantasy, which is not cool IMO.

      2. Specialk9*

        I’ve been doing the ‘how did I react to Lars and the Real Girl” comparison in my head this whole thread (generally making me feel kinder and more generous to Husbando than I might otherwise, because that movie touched my heart)… But actually, I’m not sure I’d trust Lars with weighty business decisions either. He was clearly having a bit of a breakdown of some sort. Hmm, interesting point.

    15. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

      I really think I’d lean towards going over your boss’s head if the company has or is in danger of losing business from her behavior. I think my concern is whether grandboss will be upset if they don’t know. I’ve definitely worked in places where it wouldn’t just be boss that would be in trouble for this not getting stopped, it would be a “why on earth did no one report this to me?” situation that would reflect poorly on everyone.

  2. Artemesia*

    #4. You are acting like you have the job in the bag; you don’t. Being annoyed because the person who can blackball you was out of work due to a sick child is bit where your head should be; that annoyance will show in tomorrow’s interview. It really feels from the tone of your letter like you are about to blow this opportunity; Jane needs to feel good about your attitude and presence in this interview.

    1. Casuan*

      Being annoyed because the person who can blackball you was out of work due to a sick child is bit where your head should be…

      Artemesia, did you leave out a “not”?
      oh, “bit” should be “not”?

      If so, +1.
      Kids get sick.
      OP4, I know the delay is a bummer.
      Be careful in your interview not to sound entitled for this job. Sometimes these positions can backfire. The good news is that when they do, sometimes the manager realises they chose the wrong person & that they should have gone with their original choice.
      Good luck!

      1. Artemesia*

        Yes I posted a correction to my typo but I don’t see it — ‘not where your head should be’ — I touch type and b and i are next to n and o and apparently I didn’t have the hand positioned right.

    2. Lars the Real Girl*

      Yea, OP, the disdain you have for Jane is dripping off of your letter. This isn’t as personal as you’re making it. Your interview wasn’t “drastically” changed because they pushed an internal candidate meeting by a day. And Jane’s work ethic has nothing to do with this.

      It also feels like you feel slighted because of the time it’s taken to “officially” get this role, but these things happen. And timelines like this get delayed all the time because when the work is being done, it’s not top priority to deal with the admin side of it, ie: giving you the offer. It doesn’t mean it’s not slightly unfair, but it’s also very normal.

      You could actively risk your new role by acting like you were wronged in some way or that they owe you something because of a 24 hour delay.

      Go into that interview excited, knowledgeable, ready to tackle any misgivings they may have. Don’t let any sort of chip on your should seep through.

      Good luck!

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, the words “drastically moved” and “to the next day” do not belong next to each other.

        1. Nita*

          Exactly. From the tone of this letter, it rather feels like Jane’s reservations are justified. Perhaps OP needs to spend less time taking apart others’ performance, and more time working on their own weaknesses. It sounds like OP has been doing the job in question for a while, and fairly well, but being overly critical and dramatic about little things (moving the interview by one day!!! because of illness!!! how dare she!!!) is a problem. Depending on what the job is, it may be a problem that can affect job performance.

          1. Chameleon*

            I think that’s a little harsh. I understand frustration at an exciting opportunity being delayed, and I don’t think it necessarily means that the OP is like this in other circumstances. It just seems like the OP is mishandling the frustration and using it in an unhelpful way.

        2. Sylvan*


          OP, if you’re reading, are there other issues with Jane? Sometimes I’ve found myself getting upset over relatively small issues with someone when there were larger ones that were harder to get a handle on.

    3. Jen S. 2.0*

      Not only that, but most of the details have nothing to do with the problem; they just serve to underline that OP resents that Jane is standing in the way of her new job … which, as Artemesia very rightly pointed out, isn’t her new job yet, and Jane’s opinion about that clearly matters. Thus, OP3, having an attitude about Jane’s schedule, work ethic, mothering, and marriage is not going to do your working relationship here any favors. You do not want that attitude to make others on the committee say, “Hmmm, maybe Jane has a point.” (In fact, speculating wildly here, but … I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that OP4’s attitude, and not her quality of work, is a root cause of Jane’s doubts.)

      It doesn’t matter what her husband and mother-in-law do or what illness her child has. That is all just noise. The fact is that she’s a critical part of the interview team, and she could not be there, so the interview was rescheduled. That’s it. Beyond that, either you care enough to make it to the interview, whenever it is, and be pleasant and professional and prepared and put your best foot forward, or you don’t.

      1. Samata*

        It doesn’t matter what her husband and mother-in-law do or what illness her child has. That is all just noise.

        yes, yes, yes! I was coming to give the same advice – all of the perceived support she has is not relevant to this at all. What is relevant is that she appears to have the most weight when it comes to interviewing and whether or not to bring you into this new position. Focus on making your best impression, not her home life.

      2. Oxford Coma*

        Literally, you are right in that it’s noise. The subtext I’m getting from that language is that the OP resents how much Jane seems to not realize how her overall actions inconvenience her coworkers on a regular basis, and that she feels Jane is insulated from inconvenience herself by having a large personal support network.

        I can understand being incredibly frustrated with someone who seems flaky and yet never reaps consequences for it. That said, OP needs to tuck that frustration way down deep in the sub-basement of her psyche, because it could hurt her chances.

      3. a1*

        I think the thought here is Jane didn’t need to take the day off, but did it anyway. And since she didn’t need to take the day off, it’s extra frustrating to have the interview rescheduled. I’m not saying I agree with that thought, just that I can see the OP’s thought process with that – connect the dots, so to speak.

        1. Jen S. 2.0*

          All true. I can see why OP4 is irritated, and how she got there, for sure. Part of the issue is that OP4 is in an awkward place as a combined colleague and jobhunter. As a colleague, she has a lot of background information and thus she is annoyed at the flakiness, and is drilling down into feelings that many of us have when we’re irritated with our peers at work. But as a jobseeker, she’s not a peer just yet, and needs to grin and bear it, with no hint of that irritation.

        2. Hera Syndulla*

          “I think the thought here is Jane didn’t need to take the day off, but did it anyway.”

          That is wat OP4 thinks, but that might not have been the case at all. So what if the husband works near their hown, so what if she has other relatives close by? If her husband needs to be at work, then he can’t be there for the child. Same with the relatives. It is not because she has a lot of them that they all have the time to look after her ill kid.

          OP4, one day is barely a hinderence. Don’t focus on Jane, focus on what you have done and will do with the job. Good luck! :-)

    4. CityMouse*

      That was my read as well. OP should just be careful about the attitude he/She is projecting with Jane. The interview has probably already passed, but just for future people in this situation: be careful.about the attitude you project. It can cost you a promotion.

    5. Triplestep*

      Yep, agreed. OP, you may feel that you are already doing this job, but the reality is there’s an open position, and some higher-ups might want to do more with the role than what the last person was doing, and more than what you are currently doing. There may be a debate about it happening that you are not aware of. It might be something like “Do we keep the current responsibilities and place OP#4 in the role? Or do we add X, Y, and Z responsibilities which call for a different skill set and advertise the role?” It it’s the latter, then it’s not something you can really take personally if X, Y and Z are not in your wheelhouse, although it would sting understandably.

    6. Tardigrade*

      I would also suggest that OP reevaluates how (s)he perceives a woman taking time off for her sick child.

      1. boo*

        Yeah, especially for strep! It’s most contagious before symptoms show up, so if Jane’s kid has it, and Jane doesn’t feel sick yet… now is the time you most want Jane to stay the heck out of the office!

      2. CM*

        I agree. Her kid was sick and she rescheduled an internal meeting (which happened to be an interview) by one day. That is not egregious in any way. Also, I doubt the OP knows the details of Jane’s support network for childcare. A lot of times there are many options for childcare for healthy kids that are not appropriate if you kid is sick (like grandparents who may have weaker immune systems or people with kids who don’t want to infect their own children).

        1. Lil Fidget*

          Yes, that part of the letter was a little concerning to me. It seems to be outside the norm of what a subordinate knows/worries about a senior person’s personal situation – usually I try to do don’t ask, don’t tell about that kind of thing. Really hope this person would end up being OP’s primary boss because I’d smell major trouble with that arrangement.

    7. Health Insurance Nerd*

      Absolutely this. Jane’s reason for postponing was completely legitimate, and even if the LW believes she is a shoo in for the job, the organization still needs to do their due diligence with regard to interviewing.

    8. Marthooh*

      Yes to the above comments! And: “Is it right for me to feel upset or put out…?”

      Feel the way you feel, OP4, but if you want that job, make sure your behavior is purely professional. It is for sure not right (or professional or useful) to let anyone see how much you resent Jane.

  3. just, wow*

    I usually always agree with Alison’s advice but in the case of Letter #3 I think it is way off. Google waifu and husbando. There is a whole community online of people who honestly and seriously think they are married to or dating characters from anime or video games. If the coworker is making clients and the general public feel uncomfortable and weird someone needs to make the higher ups aware. I know OP can’t make her go to therapy but that is exactly what she needs. If I was a client or member of the public and a company representative was doing this I would strongly reconsider doing business with them. Her personal life aside she should not be telling clients and the public about her game cartoon boyfriend. I feel badly for her and hope she gets the help she needs.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, I definitely did not know this is a thing. And the additional details the OP provided above make it more concerning too. That said, I do think it’s her boss’s to handle and doesn’t rise to the level that the OP needs to go over her boss’s head, weird as it is.

      1. Pollygrammer*

        Would “it’s making me uncomfortable to hear this much about your relationship” be appropriate? (I’m thinking about the body pillow OP mentioned above.)

        1. Washi*

          Yeah, I’m wondering if there is a way to raise it, one time, with this coworker? If OP is senior in any way to her, maybe the next time the coworker brings up the boyfriend one-on-one, she could maybe say something like “how do you feel about the reactions you’ve been getting when you talk about him?” And depending on the answer maybe note that it’s up to her how much she wants to share, but it is impacting her professional reputation.

          But I think it would have to be one-on-one and only if the OP is senior and already friendly with her.

          1. Temperance*

            If LW’s co-worker is rolling as deep with this as I think she is, she’s probably taking all the negative reactions as jealousy and people being against her relationship.

              1. boo*

                They walk, unquiet, on every rainy night, so say the country folks. Coworker and her Pillow, sodden and dark with the mud of the moors…

                1. fposte*

                  …beating on the window, like Cathy’s ghost, but with the thuds muffled by the soft downy cushioning.

      2. Elizabeth H.*

        Oh – I knew about the community/subculture/?? so that’s how I read OP#3’s letter and I assumed that’s what you had done too! I think the advice is still perfectly appropriate even knowing the extent to which the OP#3’s coworker is vocal about it.

    2. Chameleon*

      I feel like the “cartoon” part of this is what a lot of people are focusing on and that isn’t the problem. (I say as someone who has frequently developed crushes on fictional characters, including, yes, cartoons).

      If she had a picture of, say, Tim Tebow or Bruno Mars on her desk and talked about him, telling everyone that they were dating and getting upset at anyone saying otherwise, that would still be a major problem, even though they are both “real” people.

      1. voyager1*

        I respect what y’all are saying, clearly this person needs help, but if you tell your boss, then what? Like what do you do then? This person may seriously not be able to handle that she can’t talk about or display her “boyfriend” at work. I would honestly be concerned of what she might do or react once management informed her of reality.

        (honestly this letter reminds me of the wheelchair letter from a few weeks ago, did we ever get an update on that one?)

        1. boo*

          I think I’d just treat it like she was going on and on about her actual live person-boyfriend: redirect the conversation when necessary, and tune out the rest.

          The one thing I’m not totally clear on is whether the boss actually knows that the coworker is bringing her boyfriend up to clients, complete with pictures, or if the boss just generally knows she has the picture and talks about it a lot.

          I would want to make sure the boss knew clients were involved, and again I think the boss can treat it like they would if the boyfriend were a live human person: she shouldn’t be going on and on about him, and she definitely shouldn’t be showing them pictures. Not because there’s anything wrong with having a live human boyfriend, but because, boundaries, dude!

          1. fposte*

            So far the OP hasn’t actually said that she’s bringing her boyfriend up to clients complete with pictures, though; she has a picture on her desk, and she gets asked about it. We’ve been leaping to interpretations that are suggesting a higher level than the OP is on this, and while it’s possible the level of oversharing we’re imagining–a level that would be a problem with a human partner–is true, it’s not what the OP has actually said.

      2. Temperance*

        Not quite! I used to work with a woman who had a framed photo of Maxwell and she would jokingly call him her husband. Here’s the thing, though … she didn’t actually seriously think he was her husband, and it was a pretty hilarious joke (she was in her 60s).

    3. MissDisplaced*

      I’m not surprised that this is a thing. But how/why would clients come to find out? Does she outright bring that up? I only rarely discuss my husband with coworkers beyond basic pleasantries, and almost never with clients or professional people I don’t know well.

      The only suggestion I might have is that if she is over-sharing about her cartoon boyfriend, it might be possible to suggest to her that she is indeed over-sharing, and that if asked she can say something like, “Yes, I have a boyfriend and his name is Youri,” or whatever the character’s name is and leave it at that.

    4. Bea*

      Even if it’s “My Strange Addiction” sort of thing, people should leave her alone. I can’t wrap my mind around why anyone cares unless she’s going into sick detail about their “sex life” or something personal.

        1. fposte*

          Sure, but flags for what? As a manager, I’d cut that off in client communication, but I wouldn’t worry about her filing or her being a danger to anybody. The problem for me is the damage to the business, and, secondarily, the risk that she’d become an office scapegoat or figure of fun. If the business damage is controlled and people leave her alone, I would consider it not to be a problem.

          1. paul*

            Is she in a position to make high stakes judgement calls? This absolutely would impact my perception of her reliability for something like that.

            1. fposte*

              I could see that; it doesn’t sound like that’s at play here from what the OP says, but I’d include that under “damage to the business” if so.

      1. Scarlet*

        Apparently, it has made clients uncomfortable, so there’s definitely some impact on the business… Honestly, if I was in contact with an employee who seemed to have lost touch with reality to that extent, I would probably start dealing with another company. I’m all for being tolerant of people’s quirks, but if someone really appears to be delusional, I’d probably have a hard time trusting her in a professional capacity. And that person might be 100% capable of fulfilling their duties, but if clients don’t trust her, it can really be a problem.
        If my accountant started talking about visions of the Virgin Mary, I’d look for another accountant.

  4. designbot*

    #2, if she is really the top reason you’re leaving, then I would say something. Some companies have an astounding ability to ostrich in these situations, telling themselves “well she left for grad school, and he left because of the commute, and she had a baby, so those ones really don’t count…”
    However, while I would say something, I wouldn’t make it directly a complaint fest about your boss. Examine the situation and figure out how your boss’s behavior impacted you specifically. For example I’ve said in an exit interview before, I’m leaving because I wasn’t getting the opportunities here that I needed to grow—I used to manage projects on my own before coming here, and somehow the longer I’ve stayed here the more my decisions are questioned and overriden despite management giving me excellent performance feedback and insisting they trust my judgement. When I put it that way, that it’s not about the boss’s micromanaging being annoying, it’s about how that affects my ability to take on additional responsibilities and grow in my position, I’ve gotten great response. Any good HR rep will dig into that and say oh, give me some examples of how that’s happened, or who makes those decisions, and will get to the bottom of it. But by focusing on how this interfere’s with your development goals, you show that you’re not just being petty and you’re taking the concern up to a business level instead of a personal one, and that’s something that’ll get their attention without sending up any behavioral red flags on you.

    1. Mary*

      Yes, I had a really good exit interview with HR at my last job and I was umming and ahing over whether to tell them just how bad my grandboss and the temp maternity-cover boss had been. In the end, the decision was easy because of th questions I was asked. “Did you receive regular one-to-ones with you manager?” Lol no. “Were team priorities clearly stated?” Lol no. “Did a lack of clear priorities impact on your work or your relationship with clients? Can you give an example?” Well, now you mention it… The interview was really well structured and clear so pretty much all the badness came out just by me answering honestly. I cane out feeling really positive, because I felt that I had been as diplomatic, fair and professionals I could, so I didn’t have that gross, “oh god, did I go too far” feeling, but the HR Advisor had proved really well and really got to the bottom of things. It was also SO gratifying to see his barely-concealed horror at some of the things I was stating very matter-of-factly.

      1. mrs__peel*

        From the sorts of questions they asked you, it sounds like maybe they were already aware that there were some significant problems in the department!

      2. Turquoisecow*

        That sounds like an excellent exit interview from an HR department that knows what they’re doing.

    2. LKW*

      All good advice – but if your manager is rude or abusive, it’s also good to give concrete examples. “At times he will discuss something with a co-worker behind closed doors and we can hear him yelling from down the hall”. “When I bring issues to him for escalation, instead of helping me resolve the issue, he tells me that I messed up and that I have to take care of it myself. Then I get yelled at for not being able to resolve the issue at my level and that I should have asked for his help.” Whatever specific non-supportive and abusive behavior, you can call that out with specific examples of overreacting. Especially if you’ve gotten vague instructions and then you’re being accused of “not doing it right”.

    3. Lily Rowan*

      When I had a terrible boss who drove everyone away, I ended up having an exit interview with my grandboss, the CEO, and I kind of tiptoed around the problems, but the CEO clearly knew what was up. Unfortunately, their solution to the high turnover rate was to not fire anyone, even the people who clearly needed firing, eg, my boss. It was super shortsighted, I thought, but ultimately not my call. I was glad to be out of there.

    4. Uncle Bob*

      No matter what you say the company will always side with a manager over a departing employee. I dont think that they take action on anything said in these unless it’s illegal or could open them to a lawsuit. And even if they did take action, you’ve left and you now have a higher ranking enemy in your industry. I just don’t see the point in saying anything that in any way could be construed as negative. Screw the good of the company – you’ve left. What’s in it for you? Nothing but downside.

      1. Irene Adler*

        Agreed. Nothing changed when prior employees left. Presumably they made mention of the bad boss at their exit interviews. So why bother talking about it during yours? I sure wouldn’t.

        1. the gold digger*

          When I left my OldJob 3.5 years ago, HR insisted I had to give them an exit interview. I refused.

          They said, “But how will we make things better?”

          I told them if losing five people from a 14-person office in one year, including one guy who just didn’t come back from lunch (these were positions that required a great deal of product knowledge and customer service ability, so not unskilled labor), and including my leaving after just eight months, was not enough information to figure out what was going on, then I couldn’t help them.

          They knew the CEO was a jerk. They just didn’t want to do anything about it.

          1. Hera Syndulla*

            “including one guy who just didn’t come back from lunch ”

            Yikes. That’s one way to let everyone know that he didn’t want to work there anymore

            (On the other hand, I do hope someone did check up on him to see if he is alright and that nothing happened to him).

      2. Lindsay J*

        I definitely don’t think that this is true of all companies. I haven’t experienced this at all, and there are letters here that show companies taking departing employees seriously as well.

        1. K.*

          Yes – remember, the “un-manager” and her entire team were fired as a result of an exit interview.

          1. Uncle Bob*

            But now you’ve made enemies. What did you gain from them being fired besides a piece of satisfaction? Most industries are actually pretty small and everyone knows each other and word gets around “K got a whole team fired, be careful in hiring him/her”.

            1. K.*

              In the case of that particular letter, the manager’s actions were so egregious that it was abundantly clear it was she who was in the wrong, not the departing employee. In fact, the departing employee was someone the company had identified as a specialist and the manager was deliberately using her below that level. It wouldn’t take much for the departing employee to clear her name in that case, should she need to.

              1. Autumnheart*

                I’m guessing that would be “We ditched Star Employee to go drink beer during work hours, also took photos of her behind her back and snarked about her on Snapchat. Now we’re all being disciplined and I want to know if I can sue her for getting us in trouble.” That letter was a whole theater worth of popcorn.

            2. Falling Diphthong*

              As I recall, the exit interviewee was doing fine professionally while the beer run bro-and-broettes were struggling. The exit interview of the first person to leave alerted management to the toxic team, and they took action. That was good management, and very fair exit-interviewing from both sides.

              If you are in Golddigger’s shoes, then I think it’s fine to smile gently and say “I imagine I am leaving for the same reason the entire team has turned over twice, and you already know what that is.”

              The people who reported Nassar got a reputation for complaining and getting a poor guy in trouble, yet I’m glad they did. My hackles go up high at “If you accurately report what Fergus is doing, then he will get in trouble!” Like keeping Fergus out of trouble should be the primary concern of everyone he torments.

            3. Kimberlee, no longer Esq.*

              Whisper networks don’t help people new to the field or who aren’t well-connected within it, though (aka, people with the least power). It’s not really a long term solution to say “word will get around, but in the meantime people who aren’t in the know will keep getting burned.” This is especially egregious in contexts like the MeToo movement, but it applies to any situation where a person is allowed to keep being terrible because either nobody has the power to stop them, or nobody exercises it.

        2. Uncle Bob*

          Let’s do game theory on this:

          Option 1: You’re taken seriously and changes are made. – You’ve gained: 0, because you have left. You have possibly made people upset, made people tell others that you are a troublemaker or that you quit your job instead of trying to fix issues.

          Option 2: Nothing changes, but your boss is told your comments. You’ve possibly now made an enemy or your boss just thinks you’re a complainer. He tells other people in his network not to hire you.

          Option 3: HR either doesn’t believe or doesn’t care. You are possibly labeled as disaffected or not believable. Maybe someone from this HR department ends up at the next place or places you apply to…

          There’s a reason athletes usually don’t badmouth their team when they leave…

          1. designbot*

            None of these were the case for me in my last job. Old boss was fired a week after I left, I’m now at the level she was at in another firm, and I have great relationships with my old coworkers and was able to hire one in part because they know I’m someone who cares deeply about employee growth and running things well. I suspect that Old Boss was never told about my comments specifically, because the problem was much bigger than just how she treated me—her priorities were just off in terms of how she assessed and valued staff, which was evident across the group. I’ve seen her since at social and industry events, and we’re fine.

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            I hadn’t seen this before I posted a reply upthread, but when you gave your example my mind immediately went to the USA Gymnastics doctor. Your game theory is exactly what abusers tell their victims about how they had better not come forward.

            1. Kimberlee, no longer Esq.*

              YES. Uncle Bob is wrong in their assessment of scenario #1. You’ve not gained zero, because changes were made that will make it better for the people who come after you. That’s a moral good on its own, but over time, being known a person who helps make positive changes for others despite small risks to themselves is a very, very good reputation to have.

            2. Uncle Bob*

              In the case of USA Gymnastics and anything that is illegal behavior it should be reported well before any exit interview. If you don’t then you may be legally liable, like I think we will find some MSU people going to jail over in the near future.

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Often true, but you can’t state as an absolute. I have definitely taken action with managers based on what people said in exit interviews (in fact, at one point I fired a manager based on info that I originally heard in exit interviews and that allowed me to investigate further).

        It’s definitely true that more often than not, nothing will happen. But you have to know your workplace and the people you’re dealing with.

        1. Uncle Bob*

          I guess my point is more that who cares if action is taken. That’s the absolute best outcome for the company – but for you and your career it can only be neutral to negative. You don’t get the benefits of the changes, because you quit remember? And you may leave a trail of people who are unhappy that you a) complained b) didn’t state your concerns before you quit or c) “caused trouble”.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Some people care because they care about the coworkers they’re leaving behind, or — in the case of nonprofits — they care about the organization being more effective at its work. If you don’t care, then you’re right, there’s no upside for you. But there are reasons that some people do care.

            1. Uncle Bob*

              Good point. I’ve never worked for a non-profit so the motives of the places I’ve worked has been “make money for the stockholders”.

              1. pancakes*

                That’s inordinately reductive. Even publicly-held companies often have motives alongside and beyond making money. If you want to read something on this subject, Lynn Stout’s The Shareholder Value Myth is probably a a good place to start.

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            You just cited game theory. Surely you are familiar with the finding that actual humans will pay dearly to punish people they believe acted unfairly. The econo-human model says “If I pay, then I lose, so no way” but actual real-life humans are like “Torch that bastard–I’ll give you 2/3 of my marshmallows to do it.”

            1. Specialk9*

              I didn’t know that but it makes sense. And psych experiments show that people will cry and anguish, but will hurt innocent others if someone with a tiny bit of authority orders it. So… Our species brains have some major glitches.

          3. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

            I agree with Uncle Bob on this one, and for a change, disagree with AAM. Having gone through this many times as an employee, I think the risk outweighs (a) any minor sense of validation that I may derive if changes are made after I leave, assuming I even hear about those changes, and (b) the momentary satisfaction that I may get from “venting”. And there is definitely risk of backfire. Oh yes indeed. Bad references, bad-mouthing within a small industry, etc. There simply isn’t sufficient upside (usually no upside at all) for me personally and too much potential downside. When the business arrangement is over and one is leaving a job, it is better strategy to make a graceful and gracious exit, without any finger-pointing or confessional. Keep it general: say you are leaving for a better opportunity or a better fit (whatever generic harmless phrase seems appropriate), and leave it at that.

      4. Coldbrewinacup*

        That was my experience too, and in giving an honest appraisal of my years at former job during the exit interview (bullying by a coworker, boss who napped in her car during the day, coworkers taking 2hr lunches, etc), I actually burned bridges. I feel now the best thing is to just move on. Clearly they have to know and are choosing not to act. Be positive in your exit interview and move on to the new place. Best of luck to you.

      5. pleaset*

        “No matter what you say the company will always side with a manager over a departing employee. ”

        This is not true of all companies. I might be the most common response, but it is not universal.

    5. Lindsay G*

      Completely agree with this, and slightly disagree with Alison on this one. I was in a similar situation in retail where Horrible Boss basically lost all of her part time staff and management team within a month period. The part-timers are ‘disposable’ so nobody really looked into why they left. With the management team (myself included) they didn’t do an exit interview for ANYBODY because Horrible Boss gave the typical “leaving to get into something more career oriented, closer to what they went to school for”. Which was technically true, but was NOT the reason we left en masse. I think upper management often will take the easy route if given that chance. Looking back, I wish I had directly requested an exit interview so there was no way that upper management could play ignorant about the situation, especially since Horrible Boss was verbally abusive to staff and customers

    6. Typhon Worker Bee*

      “Some companies have an astounding ability to ostrich in these situations, telling themselves “well she left for grad school, and he left because of the commute, and she had a baby, so those ones really don’t count…””

      My old org is going through this right now – I was the second of six people who left within a short time frame. It was a good job for the most part but had its flaws for sure, which don’t seem like they’re ever going to be addressed because of the mentality you just highlighted. (Although I heard that the most recent resignation has people freaking out, because that person was newer and more junior than the rest of the people who left and had been expected to stick around for a while).

    7. SusanIvanova*

      First software job I ever quit, after a disastrous merger and a clueless CEO caused a mass exodus of the engineering department:

      HR: If you were CEO, what would you do about the situation here?
      Me: If I were [CEOsName], I’d quit.
      HR: No, I meant if you were in charge, not if you were [CEOsName].
      Me: *after thinking about it* I never would have let it go this far.

      IIRC the HR person said my attitude was very common amongst the departing people.

  5. Middle Manager in Cray Cray World*

    To #4: While you experience a job interview as a major moment in your life, those on the hiring end may see an interview as just another day at work. Switching around times and dates to serve the needs of the search committee members is just not a big deal, particularly for an internal candidate. I would try to eliminate all sense of irritation over this before you get to the interview; that could leak out and it would not serve you well.

    1. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Yes to this. I’m in corporate staffing, and I know for certain that my hiring partners plan their interview schedules carefully for internal and external candidates alike. But their priorities can change, or things just happen like it did for you, OP. Interviewing isn’t always the most important thing a hiring manager needs to do.

      Please, OP, take a deep breath and look at this as a minor annoyance, and not a major plot to bar you from a job. And please keep us posted!

  6. Espeon*

    OP2 just the headline of your query had me mentally rubbing my hands together and laughing maniacally.

    There are ways to say EXACTLY what you mean, in ways that cannot truly be brought back against you. This is ‘My Thing’, and I am disgustingly good at it (fortunately I’m in customer service so it’s extremely useful).

    Personally, I’ve always been honest (using the skill noted above) in my exit interviews/resignation letters (bar my one retail job – no point there, I’d already said everything I wanted to during my five year employment xD ) – I just don’t believe in letting shitty people/companies get away without SOMEONE saying SOMETHING, but my duty is to my integrity and that’s my choice, I do understand why not everyone believes that choice is open to them.

    I hope you work out a way to say what you need to your satisfaction, without jeopardising a reference IF* you are going to need one in future.

    1. Sylvan*

      I’m sorry, I think I’m missing something, probably because I’m on the direct/literal side of things in communication. Saying what I mean with any subtlety is so not my thing. What do you mean here? It’s sounding kind of like snark or passive aggression, which sure can be satisfying, but probably isn’t what you’re doing?

  7. KWu*

    The “she doesn’t have the writing experience to be a senior copywriter” and “I don’t think I would feel this territorial if I knew she had writing experience and could actually mentor me” parts of the first letter stuck out to me. There seems to be some skepticism of the owner’s decision-making. Just in terms of getting along well with the new co-worker, it might be worth at least going out to coffee or lunch together to discuss their respective experiences. OP1 might find that the new co-worker has something else to offer that resulted in this title, or OP1 might be able to demonstrate their greater levels of experience as compared to the new co-worker.p

    1. MK*

      Frankly, I wonder if “not enough experience” is code for “someone younger than me has been hired for a higher position”. Especially since the OP focuses on experience, and not Jane’s lack of skills or qualifications.

      1. Lance*

        I’m a bit curious about that as well. If she was hired in spite of lack of experience, then presumably there must be something to her that made management think she’d fit into the role (or some form of nepotism or favoritism going on, but I would hope not). The daily meetings would be a bit… frustrating to me as well, if I’m to be honest, but on the other hand, she’s new to the company, so she may just be trying to get caught up, albeit perhaps in a slightly awkward manner.

        Mind you, I do still agree with getting the ‘manager, or not manager’ part clarified with your boss, but otherwise OP, if she’s easy to get along with as you say, it could very much be valuable to have such a discussion.

        1. Artemesia*

          I have seen more than once a new person charged to turn something around, get Fergus in line, shape up the department and then not have the clarity and support from the boss who hired her to do this. After all the boss didn’t manage to do it herself and thought passing it off to the new hire was a good idea. So maybe Jane has been specifically tasked with shaping up the OP and the boss still waffled when the OP raised the question of roles. To be a good copywriter is also not a matter of ‘experience’ so much as skill and knowledge. The question is not how old is she and how long she has been doing this, but is she any good at it.

          I was close to a situation once where a person was specifically charged with reining in an employee who was viewed as non productive, did so reasonable tactfully – the employee whined to the daughter of the chairman of the board who was a friend of hers and after much torment and ‘investigation’ (which did not bear out any of the charges levied by the non-productive employee brought to heel) was eventually forced out. He did precisely what he was asked to do and then those who asked it turned their backs and let him be maltreated and dismissed.

          1. Jennifer Thneed*

            I was there once. It was a lateral move within the company, because my boss wanted someone on the team with xyz experience, and the rest of the team had come from outside xyz.

            It was miserable. They were so cliquey, and I was so out of step with them at a personal/social level. We were all trainers who worked individually in different geographical areas, and I adored the job when I was actually doing the work I was hired for, but team meetings were horrible. I mean, honestly, it was to the point where I’d make a suggestion and the teamlead who was leading the meeting would ignore it – maybe didn’t even hear me? And then a peer who was on good terms with her would make the same point and get praised for it. It Was So Obvious. (The peer actually used, “Wait, Jennifer has a good point,” at least once.)

            Part of the problem was that they didn’t like or respect our manager, who was new, and who had hired me. I didn’t figure that out until later. My boss actually changed jobs away from this, and around then she apologized and said that she’d specifically brought me in to try to fight the clique dynamic — but then she didn’t address any of the actual behavior! (At one point mid-job, she said, “Well, I can’t make them like you” and I didn’t have the experience to say, “But you can tell them to show respect, can’t you?” OH it was SUCH a middle-school experience.)

            Of course, I didn’t know that was her plan. It might have helped if I did? I don’t know. But it was a truly horrible working experience. I’m a quirky person and I know it, and this just scarred me for awhile in terms of showing my true colors in a workplace or group of strangers.

      2. Mike C.*

        Or maybe it means what the OP wrote. I know I certainly get really irritated when managers without any mathematics experience start trying to micromanage my analysis work.

      3. Fabulous*

        “Not enough experience” doesn’t necessarily mean younger.

        For example, I once worked in a one-person department for 10 months sewing and cleaning theatrical drapery. I had about 15 years cumulative sewing and theatrical experience and learned on the job with lots of research and trial and error, etc. The company wanted to hire a department head, and the person they chose (who was about 20-30 years older than me) had probably 30 years sewing experience but had NO experience whatsoever with drapery. The topper was I had worked with this woman previously and knew she was fairly inept at sewing too despite her years doing it. And sewing drapery is completely different than anything else. I would have had to train her on literally, so in my eyes, she didn’t have enough experience.

    2. Maybe?*

      I was struck by the fact the new person hasn’t even been there a week yet. Is it possible the status meetings are for her benefit, getting used to the role and what it entails? If it kept going on for a couple weeks, I can see following the advice given, it just seems premature to me at this point.

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yes, it definitely sounds like the new hire may be overstepping but she objectively *does* have the experience to be a senior copywriter because she *is* a senior copywriter. If OP feels that her work is subpar in anyway that would be one thing. But nothing in the letter indicates that, just that she hasn’t been writing as long. There are lots of people who move up in a field quickly and that’s okay. And is a totally separate issue from if she is not your boss but is acting like it.

      1. Annabelle*

        Yeah, exactly this. Like with anything else, there are industry- and company-specific standards to learn, but at its core copywriting is, well, writing. It’s totally possible for someone to have the skills and knowledge necessary to thrive as a senior copywriter without having 10+ years of experience (or whatever figure OP1’s company uses).

      1. CM*

        Yep. The boss needs to be clear with both of them about what coworker is and is not responsible for. My guess is that the senior copywriter had previous work experience in which these types of meetings were expected between senior and junior positions. She likely misunderstands this position or the OP misunderstands the position. Either way, boss needs to get everyone on the same page.

  8. Matt*

    #5: Two weeks isn’t really that long … one can be on vacation or sick (or just very busy). I’m not a manager, but if I was and agreed to be a reference, that wouldn’t mean to me I was on call 24/365 for reference checks …

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Absolutely people can be sick or on vacation … but if you get contacted for a reference (and it’s not that you’re sick or not checking messages), two weeks really is a long time to let it sit. The hiring decision could be made long before that time period is up. In general with reference calls, if you want to help the person, you should return the call within a couple of days.

    2. KAZ2Y5*

      Two weeks is a long, long time. For my current job I had to have 5 references. 3 had to be managers, 2 could be coworkers. I contacted everyone via email (and got replies from everyone) the week prior and confirmed that they would be a reference. This was an online reference, so I put everyone’s info in the website and sent them a link to go to. I did this on Sunday evening and by Wednesday there were replies from everyone except my most current boss. I resent the link, but no answer still. So I texted one of my coworker references and found out that she was on vacation! Which fine, I didn’t expect her to change her life for me. But 1) – she could have told me she had vacation and it would take longer for her to fill this out or 2) – she could have checked her work email and spend 30 minutes filling out my reference. As it was I had to explain that yes, I had contacted her and no, I didn’t know what the problem was. Obviously I did get the job, but it’s not fun when your references disappear on you.

    3. fposte*

      We wouldn’t wait two weeks on a reference. We’d make the decision without it, and unfortunately it could weaken the candidate.

    4. OP5*

      OP5 here. I was mostly concerned that HR reached out after 1 day saying they hadn’t heard back. I would have waited at least 3 but the process is moving so quickly that I had to nudge some of my references.

  9. LW4*

    I might have sounded callus because that was the mood of the hiring committee (it’s two other directors). They were visibly annoyed and stated it to me as well. The big issue is if Jane wasn’t going to come in the next day (and it’s still in the air) then it would take another two and a half weeks before they could interview me due to conferences and vacations. This not only inconvenience me but the other person who was interviewed.
    There’s an ongoing problem in the office where Jane does not prepare for days off, leaving tasks for her reports to figure out and do. In addition, she becomes non-responsive to messages when there is an essential task like an approval that she needs to do remotely because she didn’t take any preparation for her absence. This is a common custom expected of everyone. This happens on scheduled and emergency time off for her.
    I don’t work under her currently and the new position isn’t under her either. I personally don’t think I have the job in the bag. It’s why in addition to being annoyed about the last minute change, I’m incredibly worried about not getting it. My whole life planning pivots around this job that others (directors, executive director) have been telling me I’m qualified for. Stakes are high for me.
    I’m sorry if anyone thought my tone was too entitled. I did discuss this matter with a trusted coworker to get perspective. She was also concerned about the professionalism Jane is presenting for the department. Perhaps the overall office attitude towards Jane is clouding judgment.
    Emergencies happen but I stand by my initial feelings of being highly inconvenienced and concerned about the professionalism of the department if this had happened to an external candidate. I don’t plan on dwelling on it during the interview that I hope happens today.
    Thank you for the input!

    1. Mad Baggins*

      Your concerns sound valid, but this sounds like a great opportunity for you to show how gracious and magnanimous you are, how you react to sudden changes, how you deal with stressful situations… consider this part of the interview!

    2. CityMouse*

      You may be a bit BEC with Jane at this point, so just watch out for that. With context it makes more sense, but on its own complaining you delayed an internal interview a day because someone’s kid was sick doesn’t seem reasonable. Acknowledging to yourself that you might be primed to dislike Jane may help you “fake it til you make it” with her and keep you focused on the real issues.

      1. Colette*

        Agreed. And it can help to remind yourself that you don’t know Jane’s whole story. Maybe she’s a slacker, but maybe she’s dealing with a chronic illness or a terminally ill child or other issues that her management know about but you don’t.

          1. Colette*

            You can’t, obviously. But right now the OP is telling herself (and having conversations with others) about how Jane isn’t doing her job. That’s not good for Jane, but it’s also not good for the OP – she is reinforcing the resentment, and that almost certainly shows, and the fact is that she knows very little about Jane’s circumstances.

            1. Artemesia*

              If I had a candidate who was stirring the pot and complaining about a key worker to others, my motivation to go outside for the hire would skyrocket.

    3. Millennial Lawyer*

      I would be upset and concerned as well! But ultimately that is a judgement call for the *company* and rest of the hiring committee – they are the ones who decided to postpone for Jane rather than go through with the interview without her. So as valid as your issues with Jane may be, this is a sign to you that they want to keep her involved despite those issues, and it’s something you might have to get used to if you are hired. Since you’re not hired yet I don’t think there’s anything you can do about it except show a gracious, patient, appreciative front and you’ll probably get maturity and professionalism points for it.

      1. The Supreme Troll*

        And, I want to add to what Millennial Lawyer was saying, although I am trusting LW4 with what she is observing with her own two eyes and from what her colleagues have mentioned (explicitly or tacitly) about Jane, there probably is a lot of background info that LW4 would not have access to that makes Jane so valuable to the organization despite what her shortcomings might be. I strongly suspect that there are things that Jane has successfully achieved in the company in the past or has very valuable skills that makes her opinion in hiring decisions respected and relied upon.

    4. Pollygrammer*

      It’s frustrating for everybody involved to let someone have a vote in hiring who doesn’t seem to take hiring seriously.

    5. LQ*

      Not exactly the same but I can really relate. (Waiting for a promotion, a person who others at a higher level who has some say in that who isn’t doing her job, my Jane took 6 weeks off which has managed to push the whole thing back months.)

      Assuming that the new job won’t report to her but you might have to work with her in that role, and assuming they aren’t going to fire her, because honestly if they haven’t, it’s unlikely they will and you have to proceed with the assumption you’ll have to find a way to impress her or move her out of your way. You have to find a way to be ok with this. Even when people above you are talking smack about her, don’t. (Don’t disagree either because chances are good that will look really naive, especially if it’s true.) But just listen and try to keep moving forward as best you can.

      I don’t think that it’s that big of a deal to reschedule an internal candidate. I have been rescheduled before (and by people who really liked me and I was a shoe in!) It’s totally different for internal candidates who are already at the office anyway.

      I really hope your interview goes well! Good luck!

    6. Mike C.*

      I totally understand your frustration. My last promotion was held up for months because HR lost the paperwork.

      1. Artemesia*

        I had that happen once too. Everything was complete on my boss’s end and we knew it would take awhile at the CEO level where approval was required and so we were patient. I finally got less patient and asked my boss to check on it and it was in some dead in-basket somewhere and if we hadn’t bugged them it would probably still be there. It came through in a few days after that.

    7. MCMonkeyBean*

      This provides a lot more context that sounds more reasonable on your end, though I still think that shifting an internal candidate interview by one day is far from drastic.

      I do have to wonder though–if everyone really has so many issues with Jane, why do they care so much about her opinion in hiring for a position that doesn’t report to her?

    8. CM*

      The situation is frustrating and your feelings are valid. You just have to be careful not to let that color your interactions with Jane. In isolation, rescheduling the interview due to a sick child is not bad. If she is not in tomorrow either (or is it today?) then you can ask if it would be possible for her to Skype in instead.

    9. Nita*

      Ah. That’s a lot more detail than was in the original letter, and your frustration makes more sense now. Hopefully your interview does happen today, and good luck!

      And the issues with Jane’s performance do sound pretty serious, but they’re for her boss to deal with. I imagine she can’t quite prepare for illness-related days off – I have family half an hour away, but when I realize a kid is really sick at 5:30 AM the day of, they’re not able to turn on a dime and come in. They either have jobs too, or are too old/sick to work = too old/sick to be trusted with a child. However, if Jane’s absences are happening often enough, she must always be prepared with a backup plan. If nothing else, hopefully she has a cell phone, with all her reports’ contact info in it…

    10. AliceBG*

      How were you “highly inconvenienced” by the interview being moved to the next day? You already work at that location, so you didn’t have to change travel plans, reschedule a day off, etc.

    11. McWhadden*

      I still think all that other stuff you know about Jane is completely irrelevant to this. Strep throat is serious. She took a day off for a child who had it. Those are the only real facts that should be in the equation right now. Whatever other unprofessional things she has done this isn’t one of them.

      It’ll be very unproductive if you bring these feelings with you into the interview.

    12. McWhadden*

      Also, I urge you to please not discuss this with co-workers anymore. That could very easily get back to Jane. Even if the co-worker is trusted someone could over hear. And even people who agree in spirit might think that’s not OK.

  10. Torrance*

    Re #3:
    It sounds like the coworker just needs a reminder that some things aren’t to be shared with mundanes. I’m honestly surprised she’s so open about this IRL; most of this is usually kept to communities where these types of relationships are either accepted or at least openly tolerated.

    I don’t think I can offer an objective comment on this because, as someone who also prefers fiction over reality, I’m completely biased in the belief that this should just be left alone. Mainly because I can’t see escalation ending well for the coworker and that saddens me.

    1. LS*

      This is an important boundary to learn, though: I might wear a geeky t-shirt to work but I don’t run around telling everyone about the fanfic I’m writing. The coworker needs that reminder that the mundanes don’t want to hear about your fannish life, but I’m also wondering how exactly the OP and the rest of the office know about all this in such detail if they’re doing what they should be doing and ending the conversation. Inappropriate oversharing rarely continues unless it’s enabled! But she should definitely be reminded not to discuss personal relationships of any kind with clients.

      1. Knitting Cat Lady*

        This. I wear science nerd and geeky pop culture shirts to work.

        I may say that I like $game.

        I wouldn’t tell my coworkers that I get up at 2am on weekends to play video games with people in the US some weekends!

        Or that I mean youtube, twitch and netflix when I say: ‘I watch TV while knitting.’

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Yup, LW #3’s coworker needs to get with the program and learn how to talk about super nerd stuff in more general terms. My roleplaying is “an online writing group”.

            1. Tea*

              Holy bananas, I’m actually a Dreamwidth roleplayer who made the migration from LJ. It’s a small world…

          1. Lissa*

            LARPing is improv theatre! I have friends who freely talk about their LARPing at work and I mean, more power to them and some of them are in workplaces where this is fine but I don’t feel comfortable doing it. I also am now imagining them talking about their in-character romances as real ones as the equivalent of what’s happening here, except that the coworkers might never realize what’s happening as long as they keep the obviously supernatural aspects out of it…

          2. AKchic*

            I can get away with saying “renaissance fair actor” because our renaissance fair is 400+ actors, I’m a tech director, it’s a non-profit organization (last I checked, the only one to be one in the US), and a legitimate local theatre partner in our community. Plus, my job is really blue-collar and nobody really cares what I get up to on the weekends, and it’s still vague enough that unless it’s an actual event weekend, people will just assume it’s a planning meeting weekend (seriously, it takes 6 months of meetings and rehearsals to put on a 2 weekend event).

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        I imagine they are saying “Mmm. Uh huh. Well” rather than cornering her and demanding details.

      3. Luna*

        That’s unfair to put the burden of this on OP and others in the office. I’m sure they are just taken aback and feeling awkward, and might not know how to shut down the conversation without feeling rude. Besides, some people just won’t stop talking no matter what other people do.

      4. pancakes*

        Hi, I suppose I’m a “mundane” as I’m not involved in any fan communities. I don’t think the issue here is so much that the coworkers don’t want to hear about her life as that they don’t want to hear about her break with reality, and continuously be put in the position of exchanging meaningful and deeply uncomfortable glances with clients who come to realize that. And as other commenters have pointed out, telling her that there’s a rule against discussing personal relationships at the office won’t do if there isn’t in fact a rule about that for people who have relationships with people.

    2. FD*

      Yeah, to me this would be in the same category as refusing to shut up about the ‘ship you’re super passionate about and how you’ve written a 20,000 word fanfiction as a fixit to how the writers got shut down by corporate before they could make it canon.

      Fine, do your thing! Don’t drag other people who don’t care into it. (Mind you, I actually feel the same way about people who get into ship wars on forums not meant for that, but that’s another animal…)

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        When I chatted about Harry Potter, it was at a forum with an entire shipping subspace. And a ruthless “Get your ship over to Shipping; no one here cares” culture.

        1. FD*

          Heh Harry Potter was my first exposure to fandom and the Forum Which Shall Remain Nameless was…shall we say not well moderated.

          1. FD*

            As I hot post, I realized I should probably have anonymized it as The Forum Who Must Not Be Named. ;)

      2. Betsy*

        Took me ages to figure out this comment. Seriously thought you were part of online forums discussing naval battles for a bit (fair enough if you were; you do you).

        1. hermit crab*

          Ha! My first read was that people ship (transitive verb) wars the same way they ship a couple. I was like, huh, that’s new to me, but maybe it would be something my military-history-hobbyist husband would enjoy…

        2. FD*

          Ha, sorry.

          Quick definitions for those who are still confused:

          “ship”: (n) a preferred relationship (usually but not always) romantic in a particular piece of media, e.g. My favorite ship is Ron/Hermione; (v) the act of wanting the characters in that media to be shown becoming involved in a relationship, e.g. I ship Katniss/Peeta

          “ship wars/shipping wars”: (n) an intense dispute between fans over the ideal pairings (ships) within a piece of media that goes beyond simple disagreement, often characterized by personal attacks and invective, e.g. At the height of its popularity, the ship war between people who shipped Ron/Hermione and those who shipped Harry/Hermione got out of control on many forums

          “fixit”: (adj) a piece of fan-created media that claims to improve on the source material by fixing what the fan feels were poor decisions by the media’s creator, e.g. I thought the ending to Lost was terrible, so I wrote a fixit fanfiction where it didn’t end that way

          “canon”: (n) general term for all pieces considered to be an ‘official’ part of a given universe, which may or may not include all published works related to it, e.g. It’s generally agreed that the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books, radio play, and original movie are all canon, but fans debate on whether the 2000s movie and the video game are canon

          1. AKchic*

            And some of us HHGTTG purists are still debating on whether Eoin Colfer finishing the last HHGTTG installment counts as a HHGTTG book because it wasn’t actually fully written by Douglas Adams.
            If it doesn’t count, then it throws out Starship Titanic (written by Terry Jones, to go with Adams’ computer game of the same title), and would also toss out the Dirk Gently tv series (which was amazing, boo BBC America, boo, for cancelling such work) as non-canon against the book series.

            Of course, Disney really upset a lot of Star Wars fanboys by throwing out the majority of non-movie media as non-canon when they bought out Lucas’s media rights.

            Okay, hopping of the tangent here. Gotta stop nerding.

            1. FD*


              Yeah, when I wrote the last example I thought, “Eh, that’s oversimplifying it…oh well, it’ll do for a definition.”

              I considered using Star Wars too but decided that was too complicated. XD

              1. AKchic*

                I hear you. Star Wars is such a huge can of worms to open that even fans are looking at some of these people askance and wondering why some of these tangents and rabbit holes are even being given the time of day (totally side-eying a certain subset of “fans” who insist that Disney ruined Star Wars by “kowtowing to special interest groups” by “allowing” Finn and Rey “such large roles”).

                I will totally mean-mug anyone who says Dirk Gently was a bad show. Much like I will mutter dark and harsh imprecations against Fox execs for cancelling The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. and Firefly.
                Y’don’t cancel this woman’s sci-fi/fantasy shows. It’s just wrong!

          2. SusanIvanova*

            I first encountered the term in Farscape fandom, and it was confusing there because the relationship-heavy episodes also tended to be the budget-saving “entirely set on the ship” ones :)

      3. Hellanon*

        I feel much the same way about sportsball & am deeply grateful that I work in a place where all sports are widely ignored, despite the presence of a major venue a few blocks away. (I do think it’s cute that sports fan like to cosplay their favorite characters like superhero and anime fans do, though…)

        1. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

          So much this!!! That was totally my first thought. I think my old co-worker who was obsessed with certain sports team and was 100% convinced that if he wore his lucky jersey on Thursday games (or whatever the actual superstition was) is completely “delusional” (emphasis on the word choice other posters are using to describe this coworker) to think that his actions will have any effect on the game taking place hundreds of miles away…

          That just happens to be much more culturally acceptable in the US than waifu/husbandu stuff is.

    3. MissingArizona*

      This person sounds so much like my sister. There are definitely people in these types of communities that take things way too far. My sister spent all of her 20’s walking around and telling people she was part dragon. The best way to handle it us to just ignore them. You cannot reason with them, and every time you call them out about being weird they double down and escalate the behavior.

      1. Tardigrade*

        Oh geeze, this brought back memories of someone I knew who claimed she was some kind of half-demon. I kept asking what her doctor said about that, and how many research studies was she involved in? She didn’t take any of it well.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          yeah, flashing back to the guy I went on one date with who became well known for claiming to be Jesus… He ended up an a ‘group at the movies’ with the guy who became Mr. Jules, and I had to check how close they were before the first date.

        2. AKchic*

          Right after Blade came out – soooo many guys claimed to be “daywalkers”. It was ridiculously pathetic. I’m not talking just teenagers to early 20s either. I was friends with a girl (22) who married a 39 year old who swore he was a daywalker. Their marriage didn’t last long (thank goodness). The late 90s/early 00s had some interesting sci-fi and even worse dating prospects before you could background check people online.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        I knew one person who belonged to a sort of Goth/witchcraft subculture who said he knew REAL vampires. Not the blood fetishist folks; actual undead vampires, in the city in which we lived. And then refused to elaborate.

        Okay, dude, but maybe I was asking for more information because I really did kinda want to know if I needed to start wearing a scarf to bed….

        1. Jojobean*

          Heh this reminds me of all the people in Kabul who would constantly drop (unsubtle) hints about their mysterious (and utterly fictional) past as a super secret squirrel special forces operative and/or their current (and equally made up) sneaky spy hijinks.

          Let me tell you – the actual spies among us? They didn’t talk about it… (And yes, presumably there were some actual spies in the mix. No one knew anything for sure, of course, but there were some people who were widely believed to be of the secret agent variety – which is actually a lot more boring than you would think)

          Dating there was…interesting, to say the least.

    4. Penny Lane*

      “Mundane”? Oh yes, we don’t lead lives nearly as exciting as those who pretend cartoon characters are real. We only date real people. How boring!!

      “Mundanes” elicits in me a strong “get over yourself” reaction.

      1. CM*

        Yes but it can be a good way to get someone to stop oversharing without escalating. I’m ok with someone thinking they are better/more enlightened than me if it means I don’t need to hear about their astral boyfriend.

      2. EvilQueenRegina*

        Maybe they are referencing Shadowhunters? That’s the term used in that series for a regular human being

        1. Sam Yao*

          It’s a term that’s been used in geek/SCA/renfair/etc. circles for decades to mean “somebody who is not involved in our geek/SCA/renfair/etc.” circles.” I’m pretty sure Shadowhunters got it from that meaning, particularly considering the author’s previous engagement in Harry Potter fandom.

        2. pancakes*

          Why would anyone who isn’t familiar with that show understand that? It’s only a reference for the person making the reference. Their familiarity with it doesn’t become magically implanted in the mind of the person they’re speaking to. I didn’t know whether Shadowhunters was a show, a book, or a game – I had to do a quick search. People who don’t watch the same TV show you do might not know the dialogue, characters, or themes of it.

      3. Risha*

        Wow, way over the top hostile (just like many of your comments in the threads up above, for that matter). It’s a term that’s literally been in use for decades by people with geeky hobbies, not a personal insult. No one here is being a geek AT you.

        1. LCL*

          Some people have hobbies where they do physical interaction in meatspace with people and other objects. These people were among the first to start using mundane, and the first to stop using it. Because mundane became seen as another way to sling insults at people. If someone self describes as a mundane, you do you. If someone calls others who don’t participate in their hobbies mundane, I have many words for that and immature is the kindest one.

          1. Risha*

            I’ve literally never seen it used as an insult. These types of groups aren’t a monolith, so I’m sure someone has and that some others have stopped using it as a result, but it’s a huge jump for you (or Penny) to assume that your usage is the “correct” one, or even the most popular one.

            (It’s not a term I’ve personally ever used, for the record, but that’s not the same thing as being unfamiliar with its history and usage.)

            1. LCL*

              Mundane is totally an insult. Depending on who and how the user is slinging it. I never said my usage is the only correct one. I did not say that. I am pointing out, as people are quick to point out to me, that some words have more history and meanings that we all may not be aware of. It’s a huge jump for you to assume my pointing out a known and witnessed usage is an attempt to word police. Most people, including me, prefer to be told when we use a word that has strong negative connotations, and have that explained to us, rather than the scorched earth approach.

              1. Risha*

                Fine. In that case, then I will say that I am assuming YOU are operating in good faith by telling me that in some corner of the universe, “mundane” is considered an insult. I give no such credit to Penny Lane, who has been wildly emoting contempt all over this comment section.

      4. Galatea*

        This is quite the reaction to lighthearted slang!

        Ime it’s a bit of silliness in response to being called freaks, weirdos, irrational, etc, which more than a few comments on this thread really lean into.

      5. Manders*

        “Freaking the mundanes” or “sharing with the mundanes” is a term a lot of niche groups use for people who force random bystanders to witness or even participate in the edgy thing they’re into, instead of having appropriate boundaries about when and where they let their freak flag fly.

        It doesn’t mean that everyone outside the in-group is less interesting or worth talking to, it’s basically a phrase that means “Sharing inappropriate things with people who didn’t consent to be involved in your fantasy.”

    5. Akcipitrokulo*

      Yep. I mentioned in passing I’m really excited about starting a larp a couple of weeks back – I didn’t go into all the details of my character’s background and where I was spending the XP and why I was chosing this merit over that one…

      And I definitely won’t discuss things like “how to blow up Glasgow bridges” in front of people who don’t understand the context!

      1. Galatea*

        Heh I started putting a disclaimer on my larp emails that everything is just a game because we were plotting some shenanigans in the city I actually live in, and I was getting increasingly worried about making it onto a watchlist of some kind. I know someone who got the cops called on him for larp, too, so you know, it’s a concern!

        …Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if, between stuff I’ve googled for larp and stuff I’ve googled for writing, I am already on a watchlist, but.

      2. Oxford Coma*

        This is much along the lines of “don’t go to NaNoWriMo events and discuss plot points for your crime novel”. Discussing how exactly to get away with murdering someone while sitting in a diner booth has the potential to end badly.

    6. Bea*

      I assume she’s open about it because she’s wired that way. It’s the most inoffensive thing I’ve seen taken offense to. Oh no, this quirky lady and her cartoon boyfriend.

      Sure most of us took down our boy band posters and keep calm in public when George Clooney is brought up but yeah as long as there’s no graphic details or demands you edit her fanfic, just chill.

  11. Renuga*

    I am new to this website.. glad I stumbled.. I could relate to the first point -newly joined employee acting like a boss. I had similar experience, when I joined new, the existing employee with same designation as mine, acted like a boss. For a while it was quite irritating, I did talk about her to one of the senior managers, but not much help. I had no other choice to ignore her.

    1. The Supreme Troll*

      That sometimes is all that you can really do, after a clear, firm conversation seems to go over her head. Provided, of course, that the existing employee didn’t have a lead or overseeing-type duties in her role. Which the appropriate senior manager (your boss & her boss) should have made clear explicitly whether it is yes or no.

    2. Tardigrade*

      I think your situation is probably more common, as it’s often on existing employees to train the new ones and sometimes even delegate work.

  12. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    OP#3 – You know the situation best, so disregard if this won’t work. Would it be possible to approach your boss and/or coworker and remove the cartoon character aspect from it? You could tell Coworker, for example, that no one else talks about their girl/boyfriends to clients because the focus needs to be on work. Anyone who talks too much about their personal life is going to be viewed as unprofessional. Or that you don’t know what someone is dealing with, so it’s best not to bring up personal subjects like children and family. Or that you can say to Boss that you’d have the same concern about someone who only talked about, say, hoverboards or their dahlia collection. It’s less the subject matter and more that clients feel this isn’t a professional workplace.

    Again, you know this situation best, so if leaving it all alone is the right option, then that’s the thing to do. It won’t make it easier to deal with, but you can at least know you tried. This is an awkward and tough situation to be around, for sure.

      1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

        I’m actually glad someone else had the same thought! It’s very reassuring.

        I’ll combine replies and post my response to your comment here. I think you’re correct in that she’s receiving so much validation online that it’s skewing her perspective in the offline world. A comment on the character will come across as a personal attack on her, and that’s likely why she gets angry at anything she views as criticism. Whereas a discussion about her behaviour is something different, and framing it as “Have you noticed no one else talks about their boyfriend as much? There’s a reason for that” might get through.

        I’d like to think she will thank you for your damage control in ten years when her past behaviour makes her want to crawl into a hole.

        Agreed, on both counts. I do have sympathy for the co-worker (although she definitely needs to learn workplace boundaries.). Before the internet, I was very much into a certain pop-culture phenomenon (not saying which one!). It meant a lot to me, especially since I was going through a difficult time and that’s what got me through. I have a lot of sympathy for younger me, although I still cringe inwardly at how intense I was. If I’d brought all that into a workplace, well. I think I might still be hiding in that hole you mentioned.

        There’s a very good chance that Coworker will one day realise that she took things a little too far, and it’s going to be tough for her to deal with. Better she learn now, where it might be only confined to one workplace, rather than bringing it into her next job. Or before she loses OP’s company a client.

        1. Robots*

          I couldn’t agree with you more. My comment also comes from a perspective of having been over-invested in certain shows when I was younger… let’s just say that your remark on combined sympathy and cringe for your younger self resonates a lot. Thank goodness this was also before the internet, who knows how badly that would have exacerbated things.

          I think another point is that, most likely, her online community bonds over stories of how other people just don’t understaaand. So for her, being questioned and having arguments over the reality of her husband lets her align herself further with her community. “My coworkers tried to tell me again that my husband isn’t real!” results in sympathy and validation from her friends, who wouldn’t want more of that? That may well be why she’s so quick to offer up her stories and photos, in order to provoke the inevitable wtf response that she can take back to her friends in order to be comforted. That’s probably why this line of attack will only encourage her.

          So, let’s avoid pressing the buttons that result in the “anime is real!” argument. Talk instead about how all husband(0)s need to take a back seat at work, and even if you can’t tackle the true issue, you might enjoy a reduction in symptoms, at least.

          1. Penny Lane*

            Yes, let’s keep feeding the delusion! Similarly we should agree with bird-phobia guy that birds are indeed dangerous and a justification to push people out of the way, and we should nod our heads in sympathy when hypochondriac-guy is convinced he has a brain tumor when he has a garden variety headache. For that matter, if we have a coworker convinced that little green men are out to get him, by all means we should let him carry a gun into the workplace so he’s prepared to fight back.

            1. Chameleon*

              Jeez, did you get punched by an anime character or something? You have been really hostile this whole thread.

            2. CM*

              It is not feeding the delusion. It is sidestepping whether it is real or not because for the purposes of work that is irrelevant. She just needs to stop oversharing.

              1. paul*

                Part of the boundary crossing is because it’s a delusion. I hope I can express this reasonably well:

                Some of what is going on is fairly normal behavior (having a photo of a family member on your desk, casually mentioning plans with a significant other). It’s only strange because the person doesn’t actually exist.

                There’s definitely some of what’s happening that’d be boundary crossing even if the person was real, but not all of it, possibly not most of it. That’s going to make it harder to navigate when dealing with the person involved. You can’t just say “no one keeps photos of their significant others on their desk” if people in fact do (we don’t at my work but that’s most a personal safety issue).

                1. fposte*

                  Yup. If it wouldn’t be oversharing with a human boyfriend, it’s not oversharing about a cartoon boyfriend. It can still be a problem, but oversharing isn’t that problem.

                2. Scarlet*

                  Exactly. Honestly, I’m amazed that so many commenters seem to take such a casual approach to having a coworker who’s having a complete break from reality. Being convinced you’re dating an anime character is not a quirk, it’s a delusion.

              2. Penny Lane*

                The thing is though – she’s not really oversharing if she just says in response to a question as to who is in that picture on her desk – “that’s my boyfriend.” Or in response to “what did you do this weekend” – “I went out to dinner with my boyfriend.” It’s not the oversharing. It’s the delusional nature of what she believes is going on.

                Think of it this way – what are responses to what did you do this weekend? I stayed home and watched Netflix, I ran a marathon, I went to brunch with a friend, I went to the zoo, blah blah blah. If a response was “I went up in a UFO with a bunch of Martians,” that’s problematic too. Not because it’s oversharing, but because it’s delusional.

                1. Mad Baggins*

                  I know atheists who think of religious people as delusional. Or skeptics who think people who believe in ghosts and conspiracy theories are delusional. The point is, it doesn’t matter what “delusions” your coworkers have about their lives if it doesn’t affect their work. They’re not friends, parents, or patient/therapist. All that matters is whether the coworker should be talking about her “delusion” quite so often, especially with clients, and if she is oversharing inappropriately. It would be rude and overreaching to try to “correct” how the coworker wants to live her life.

                2. Scarlet*

                  But I think unless they work at a super-traditional church, people would still be puzzled if Donna from HR kept talking about her visions of the Virgin Mary…

            3. Annie Moose*

              OP is not a psychologist, and OP is not Coworker’s boss. Coworker’s (relatively harmless) delusions are not really OP’s problem. OP’s problem is keeping Coworker’s delusions from causing trouble. However “righteous” you may feel about gloriously confronting Coworker and idk curing her issues through the magic of yelling at her, it’s not going to solve the problem. It almost certainly will make things noticeably worse.

              I agree with others that it is likely OP will get much better results through alternate approaches that don’t focus on whether or not the character is fictional. And that should be OP’s goal: to ensure she can do her work, that clients aren’t being driven away, and that she can work with her coworker without serious problems.

              1. Jesca*

                Yes, this is what I was going to say. No one here (likely) and no one at her job are actually trained to deal with this or any other type of illness. It is not their job and they did not train for it. All they can do is find ways to move around it, especially in this case where the OP is not the manager and has no say over this person being employed in a customer facing position. She is not going to cure this person. She is also more than likely not going to want to continue to engage in it either. I think the best approach IS to say “hey, we don’t talk about our sig others that much here and never to clients” and then Let. It. Go. It is not agreeing or disagreeing or normalizing anything. It is literally just dealing with the situation in front of you with the only tools you have at the time.

                1. fposte*

                  I think this is an excellent summation. You can probably dial her back on the date-night pictures and anything outside of the bare minimum to clients, but you’re not going to stop her entirely, and it doesn’t make sense to throw your energy into doing so.

            4. Wonder Fell*

              Are you OK? Did something happen to upset you? You seem really angry and hostile about this issue and it’s kinda weird. I’m a little worried for you. Hope everything’s ok!

            5. Bird*

              The thing is, it’s not up to the OP or the boss to deal with the underlying issue – whether it’s extreme anime culture or a bird phobia. That’s on the person and their doctor/counselor/other support. OP3 just wants the talk about this person’s “boyfriend” to stop happening at work.

              I think you are deliberately ignoring this fact because you are so worked up about the idea that anything but a harsh dose of reality will fix the problem. You should take several steps back from the conversation.

              1. Penny Lane*

                I don’t magically think that a dose of “but he’s not real!” is going to make her go “Oh! You’re right! Never mind! What was I thinking?” (sweeps picture into trash) Not at all. That’s for mental health professionals to figure out how to deal with.

                However, that doesn’t mean I have to indulge other people’s delusions at the workplace. If she’s made uncomfortable by that fact, that’s really not my problem. I’m returning the Awkward to her, not taking it on myself. I know that anime characters aren’t real people that one marries, and I’m going to stick with that principle.

                In a broader sense, this is “other people’s fantasies.” Whether your fantasy is that you are married to [anime character] or George Clooney, or that you need to be led around by a choker collar, or whether there are little green men on the rooftop watching every move of yours and trying to exert mind control, no one should have to put up with any of that at the workplace. (Well, ok, maybe George Clooney, as long as you invite him in and give the rest of us a shot at taking him away.)

                1. fposte*

                  But the OP didn’t ask “Can I tell her he’s not real?” She asked if she was out of line for being concerned and should she go to the boss’s boss. It’s not a workplace’s job to police its occupants’ takes on reality; hell, the science misconceptions and misbeliefs alone would take years to untangle.

                  That doesn’t mean I won’t tell somebody who’s actively preaching homeopathy to me about its being a fantasy, but if somebody just says “I used Rescue Remedy last night because I was so stressed” I don’t dive in and tell them how that’s a misguided belief. I don’t think co-workers need to refer to her boyfriend or ask them what the two of them got up to, but I don’t think they’re implicated merely by being present.

                2. Bird*

                  My original point still stands: you’re not really engaging with the underlying facts of OP3’s question. You can stick to your principles all you like, but “returning the Awkward” in this case is not going to result in any amelioration for OP3 and her workplace. Instead, it will likely cause an escalation in the uncomfortable behaviors; the background information provided by OP3 seems to support this, since she says that this very technique has not helped. If that’s what YOU want, in YOUR OWN situation, great. Go forth and do so. But it is not relevant to OP3’s question. You still need to take several steps back.

            6. Oranges*

              But… those all cause damage/distress to others. This is causing others distress but it’s not actively a) harming people b) dis-vailidating a person going through a tough time c) creating an unsafe space.

              I’m curious why you are pushing against a (mostly harmless) delusion this hard. Is it bad experiences with clinical delusional people? You’re offended that she’s not agreeing to our shared version of reality? You tend to hold social mores in high regards and anyone going against them makes you deeply uncomfortable? All of the above? None of them? I’m not you so I can just throw out common reasons for a reaction that seems rather harsh to me.

              Why rather harsh? We all have delusions; I used to think I wasn’t morbidly obese (totally was). And that was a delusion that specifically harmed me by allowing me to continue to eat myself to death. That is an unhealthy coping strategy.

              The co-worker’s delusion is slightly unhealthy because it’s limiting her ability to form bonds with humans. That’s all. It’s better than many others.
              Alcoholic: “I don’t have a drinking problem”
              Over shoppers: “I can pay all this off because I won’t spend anything the rest of the month” Hoarder: “I need this and I can still use my house”
              Cutters: “This is the only way to make the pain stop”

              It’s not harmless but it’s much less harmful than most accepted issues.

    1. Lindsay J*

      But the part about people not talking about their personal life just plain isn’t true in a lot of areas.

      Vendors talk to me about their family and their kids all the time.

      If the work place is saying, “Nobody talks to other people about their boyfriend and girlfriend” and the coworker overhears someone else go, “Oh yeah, my wife and I went to the Outer Banks last July. It was gorgeous there,” or “Yeah, this flu season has been tough. My boyfriend and our kids all came down with it at the same time. I’m glad I didn’t catch it – just talking care of them was exhausting,” or, “Oh, my husband has been trying me I should try that coffee shop. How do you like it?” any of the other things that people say when they are relating to other people’s experience, then she is going point that out and be miffed that she is treated differently.

      The problem is that she is talking to clients about things that are not relatable to them and that is off-putting. She shouldn’t talk about her husbando just like I shouldn’t rattle on about last night’s baseball game for 40 minutes (unless the person I am talking to is also really into baseball) or talk about how excited I am for Gencon (unless the other person is also a nerd).

      If she wants to talk about her husbando, she can do that with other anime fans into that subculture. If she were just bringing him up casually – “my husband and I ate at that cafe last week” nobody would know he was an anime character and so the problem wouldn’t exist.

      1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

        It was only an example off the top of my head, rather than what she should say. My thinking was that sometimes when people overdo things, it can help to be reminded to hold back because of other people, not just because of how you’ll look (general you). Of course, it might not! OP knows the coworker best and what to say to possibly get through to her (assuming she wants to say anything).

      2. Half-Caf Latte*

        Thank you – this was a point I was trying to articulate earlier. People do talk about their SO during office chit-chat, and the distinction needs to be on the pervasiveness, not on “we don’t talk about spouses here.”

        1. fposte*

          Yes, I think people are–understandably–trying to backdoor the “please no more husbando talk” through the “no oversharing” rule, but I don’t think it fully fits there so it’s a limited tactic.

  13. Robots*

    Letter #3: Alison, if you had a staff member who was non-stop over-sharing about their love life during work, constantly showing off snuggling selfies with her husband, and showing clients photos from her date nights, wouldn’t you advise her to tone it down? Keep pictures at her desk, sure, bring your dates up in context, no problem, but if it was becoming a distraction and undermining her professionalism, there would be a conversation, right? Coaching a young staff member on correct boundaries sounds like a kind discussion, whether that comes from a peer or, if needed, from a manager.

    Of course the fact that her husband is AN ANIME CHARACTER* is an important factor in this, and apparently an issue on which she’s prepared to fight you on, but how about very carefully putting that aside and trying to shut it down from another angle?

    She’s a young woman who has without doubt been receiving a lot of support for her lifestyle online, and sometimes when you try to make someone see how weird a behaviour is, they’ll double down on it – so perhaps sidestep the weirdness and address it as “we all have this boundary in place at work, please do the same”. I’d like to think she will thank you for your damage control in ten years when her past behaviour makes her want to crawl into a hole.

    *What I wouldn’t give to find out who it is – I’d bet real money on it being Sasuke.

    1. Envoy*

      Yeah, I was also thinking OP #3 might want to speak to the coworker about this directly (rather than escalating it to her boss or boss’s boss) and do so in a way that highlights the negative impact that oversharing can have on a person’s professional reputation. Leaving the weirdness out of it and focusing on professional norms instead seems like a fair way to approach it.

      Having said all that: this IS insanely weird. Some of the commenters here describe this as a subculture among anime enthusiasts, but this particular case seems more like a complete break from reality. (Posing a photo of the cartoon character next to a meal, and then describing that as a “date”, stands out as especially bizarre.)

      I would be questioning the judgment and logical thinking skills of a coworker who displayed this type of behavior, and I wouldn’t be surprised if clients expressed similar doubts after interacting with her. It’s less like joking about dating a celebrity, and more on par with sincerely claiming to be “dating” a potted plant or Santa Clause or the ghost of Ernest Hemingway.

      1. Robots*

        I definitely agree that the co-worker could and should have this conversation, but if it continues, I don’t think it would be out of the question for a manager to step in if it’s truly affecting her standing at work, not to mention jeopardising the company’s relationship with clients.

        Unfortunately, as other people have pointed out, it is A Thing. A not entirely unusual Thing, either. There is enough demand for marriage ceremonies between body pillows and humans that there are niche wedding services available in Japan for this (they’ll even provide a wedding dress for the pillow).

        And you know what, if that’s what they want to do in their free time? Sure. Why not. Marry your anime character, you sweet, strange person. I wish you a squashy kind of happiness. But I feel like for most of these cases, they’re still self-aware enough not to show off those wedding photos to clients, for heaven’s sake – some understanding of boundaries is still key!!

        1. Marvel*

          I have to say, I aspire towards having this sort of perspective on it! But in the meantime, my mental state is one of It Bothers and Concerns Me, so I understand the OP wanting to do something. But I’m not convinced that a conversation from a coworker of equal standing is going to achieve… well, anything. For the coworker to be relying on the delusion to this degree, it seems like it has to be a coping mechanism for some serious issues… and the online support system tends to be super anti-recovery, so even thinking about seeking treatment can mean social ostracization from all their friends.

          I’m SO glad all my experiences with this… community? happened when I was a teenager. There’s something more malleable about that age… it’s easier to untangle yourself from unhealthy dynamics that exacerbate pre-existing problems without totally blowing up your life.

          1. Kat*

            I think its also important to mention here, that if this is a delusion, directly confronting her delusion at work is very unlikely to be helpful! Reality testing is something best done in the context of a safe, therapeutic relationship, and rarely involves flat out denials of someone’s delusional world. Boundary setting is a much more reasonable tack to take (here are situations when we can talk about our SOs, here are situations when we cannot). This IS NOT to say I think this woman is delusional, but to state that if she were to met clinical criteria, responding to her with flat denials is NOT going to be helpful for her.

          2. Lissa*

            Marvel, I feel the same way as you. I was tangentially involved in some stuff along these lines and the thing is that what I saw that reached these heights was pretty concerning. I just don’t see it as the same as 13 year olds splitting up the NSync members and deciding who’s dating who, or joking about dating Thor or whoever.

            I’m not saying that I have a good solution to this but I think OP is right to be concerned about this and isn’t just being mean and judgmental about people’s weird.

        2. Envoy*

          “And you know what, if that’s what they want to do in their free time? Sure. Why not. Marry your anime character, you sweet, strange person. I wish you a squashy kind of happiness.”

          This is a lovely sentiment! :) I think I need to work on being more empathetic towards this kind of thing, because my first thought wouldn’t be “Oh, good for you”, it would be “Whoa, you need professional help.” But on deeper reflection, if they’re not hurting anyone and they keep it out of the workplace, who am I to judge?

          1. Robots*

            Marvel and Envoy, thank you! I guess I see people using their hobbies to be toxic and really hurt people, so that if your version of a date is taking photos with a giant anime cushion with a plate of spaghetti in front of it, that’s somehow not the worst thing you could be doing with your life, probably?

            But concern is still there for sure – I wish that people who form these attachments could find enough happiness and satisfaction in their real lives to not need this crutch.

      2. Red Reader*

        I was watching a documentary one time about people who were in love with, dating and/or married to the Eiffel Tower, the Berlin Wall, and a Ferris wheel. I got weirded out and turned it off when the woman was discussing how she got fired from a rail yard job when they caught her in a “loving embrace” with a train engine. I consider myself quite open minded, but apparently I found the edges of my comfort zone that day.

        1. Envoy*

          I’ve seen that too! I remember wondering how many of the documentary’s subjects were being sincere, and how many might have been hamming it up for attention. (It’s disturbing either way, but part of me reaaally wanted to believe they were faking it.)

          1. Marvel*

            I’ve eventually come to be of the opinion that it doesn’t matter; faking that kind of delusion is just as much a symptom of a real problem as actually having it. I think of it as being similar to the idea that some people self-harm for attention–even if they do, they’re still willing to actively harm themselves for attention, which clearly means SOMETHING isn’t right in their world.

            1. Luna*

              I think you really hit the nail on the head with this comment, Marvel- the problem isn’t the delusion itself so much as the fact that the delusion is a symptom of much deeper emotional issues.

          2. Robots*

            Does this documentary also feature a woman who talks about her sexual attraction to fences? Maybe that’s a different one, but thinking of the physical implications of that was a big “nope” moment for me.

        2. K.*

          I saw that. There was a lot of making out with walls, and I believe one woman had a piece of the wall she loved that she “was intimate” with, although she thankfully wouldn’t go into more detail. It creeped me out too, to be honest.

          There’s also an episode of the reality show “My Strange Addiction” in which a man is in a romantic relationship with his car, which he had anthropomorphized as male (he had named the car, used he/him pronouns when describing it, etc.). I wondered there if he was wrestling with coming out and thought it better to be in a relationship with his car than to come out.

        3. Nonnon*

          Well, if you’re not allowed to have sex with your co-workers whilst on the job, then the same applies to your work equipment, I suppose…

        4. Lindsay J*

          OMG I saw one about the Ferris wheel lady on one of the roller coaster facebook groups I’m on.

          The embracing I’m okay with. Whatever floats her boat I guess.

          This lady wanted to be coated in the ride’s fluids, and it shows her smearing some type of grease from the ride on herself. That made me uncomfortable.

    2. Guest*

      I don’t think Kids These Days are into Naruto, that’s ancient in internet years. :P My first thought was someone from Voltron, but then I remembered it wasn’t actually anime, so now I’m stumped

      1. FD*

        Free! or Yuri on Ice seem to be big rn.

        (I’ll admit it would be mildly amusing if it was someone from Attack on Titan though.)

        1. Scubacat*

          In that case, Husbando has probably been killed by a Titan . AoT is not a kind place to form character attachments. Even the main protagonist Eren may not be long for this world.

      2. Autumn anon*

        Yuri on Ice perhaps? Although I’m kind of with the commenter above who thinks it’s possibly Sebastian from Black Butler – if the coworker is in the work force, she’d have been a teen or older when that was coming out (though all of this is pure speculation, of course)

      3. Robots*

        Haha, you’re probably right! Somehow I assumed that this was a long term relationship (so to speak?) for the delusion to have sunk in as far as it has, and he’s such a classic character for people to get totally obsessed over. I’m not so well versed in current trends; Mystic Messenger seemed to have a very, uh, emotive reaction, but again, not an anime! This question will haunt me…

    3. fposte*

      I’m going to split the difference a little, because I don’t think the OP has said this happens constantly or nonstop, or that the voluntary sharing happens with clients; I think that’s something we the commenters have filled in based on the enormity of our responses :-). It could be that it’s that frequent, but my guess is that it would be in ordinary circumstances a mild bit oversharing with co-workers, who really don’t want to see pictures of your dates.

      But I also think that’s enough of a traction point for the OP to take your advice and say gently, as a more experienced person, that the OP also had to learn some things about personal life boundaries starting out, and it’s good to pay attention to how much people around you are doing and limit yours to theirs. It won’t get the picture off her desk but at least it might mean no more pictures of date night.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        I don’t think the OP has said this happens constantly or nonstop, or that the voluntary sharing happens with clients

        Actually, she did say it happens with clients:

        In our work both the public and our clients come into our offices. It is weird and has caused a stir when people see the photo on her desk and she tells them the cartoon is her boyfriend.

        I honestly don’t care what my coworkers do in their personal lives but the fact that she tells everyone she is dating a cartoon character is causing people here to talk and weirding out our clients and the public.

        1. fposte*

          Sorry, I should have been clearer–I meant Robot’s statement about showing photos of date nights to clients. The OP hasn’t said her co-worker does that.

          Having a photo on your desk of your boyfriend that clients can see and answering “That’s my boyfriend” when asked who he is wouldn’t ordinarily count as oversharing. If we’re taking the oversharing tack, I think it’s going to be most effective if the OP really does identify things that would be oversharing if it were with a human boyfriend, not just things that are weird because it’s a cartoon character.

          1. TGIF*

            If you read the very first comment of this post, OP3 does say the coworker shares date photos and other such things.

              1. TGIF*

                Whatever she’s sharing with clients, photos or not, is enough to make them uncomfortable to the point that they’re expressing it to the OP.

                I say this as someone who as an abnormal hobby (cosplaying) that you shouldn’t overshare it at work. I might tell my coworkers ‘Oh I’m crafting this weekend’ when I’ll be covering a zombie costume in blood or fashioning a new sword. I share photos with those that I know are geeky and into similar things but not the majority of my coworkers.

                And thinking of my coworkers who share about date nights with their BFs/husbands, they simply say ‘Bob and I went to our favorite restaurant and then a concert; it was a lovely evening’. They don’t show me pictures of their dates! And no one should be sharing anything about their love life with clients.

                1. fposte*

                  But we don’t know that she *is* sharing anything about her love life with clients. The OP hasn’t said that–only commenters have. I agree that unsolicited pictures of date nights are oversharing even with co-workers, and I’ve suggested that as the traction point.

                  But it sounds like with clients what’s happening is that they see a picture of a cartoon character on her desk and say “Oh, you like cartoons?” or whatever, and she says “No, that’s my boyfriend.” The problem with that response isn’t that it’s oversharing, because it’s fine to identify the photo on your desk as being your boyfriend; the problem is that she’s sharing her delusion as a truth. That would be plenty to make clients uncomfortable right there, and you can’t address that as an “oversharing” problem if other people can have pictures of their SOs on their desks.

                  I understand that this feels like a great hook to hang the problem on, but it really sounds to me like most of her sharing is only oversharing because it’s about a cartoon, and it wouldn’t be if it was an actual boyfriend. And if that’s the case, you gotta attack it from another angle.

                2. Luna*

                  @fposte, I get what you’re saying, but the problem is what other angle should it be approached from? The only other one I can see is for someone to tell her to cut it out because it isn’t real and she’s freaking people out, but it doesn’t seem like she will take that well. People are suggesting the “no oversharing” angle instead because it seems like the kindest route to start of with. There is a good chance it won’t work, but who knows, maybe she will get the hint?

      2. Yorick*

        To me, it’s sort of oversharing just because it’s so weird. Similar to how having people to call your boyfriend your “Master” is oversharing and inappropriate in a way that having them say “partner” or “significant other” wouldn’t be.

        1. Annabelle*

          Yeah, I agree. The nature of the situation makes otherwise mundane stuff seem incredibly personal.

    4. Annie Moose*

      I’m thinking through my mental list of Preferred Anime Husbandos (of the “oh yeah sure he’s my ‘husband’ wink wink” variety, not the “I literally tell people in actual real life that he is actually my real husband and isn’t fictional”), and I dunno, there’s a lotta options out there.

      …top of my list is probably Roy Mustang tho.

  14. MommyMD*

    Kids get sick and in my state you are allowed to stay home and care for them a certain number of days per year. Don’t take it personally. It’s also not for you to decide how her family behaves in these minor emergencies. That’s for her boss to handle. There’s no doubt she is picking up on your negative attitude towards her. I’d let it go.

    1. Los*

      Yes! OP seems to already have some resentment towards this woman and if she’s showing even a little of that, it’s not good.

  15. Marvel*

    1 – Ooh, that’s super annoying. I would also be rankling. Hopefully it’s just a miscommunication and not your boss telling two people opposite things and hoping no one notices. Otherwise, you might have more of a boss problem than a coworker problem…

    3 – This is absolutely a thing in certain fandom circles, though it’s extremely rare and most of us avoid those people like the actual plague. I find it deeply distressing, myself, and would be VERY unhappy about someone bringing it into my workplace (which, frankly, most of them would probably never do–they have THAT much sense, at least–so you’ve found a real winner here). For my part, I’ve struggled with various mental health issues that come with dissociative symptoms or difficulty staying fully grounded in reality at various times in my life, so I get where it comes from… but that makes it MORE distressing for me to directly witness, not less. I hope your coworker gets some help.

  16. Los*

    #1: Is it possible this is her attempt at figuring out what’s going on and where everything’s at because she’s new?

    #4: Pointing out that the woman has a support system at home/implying that she shouldn’t take time off for her sick child is a little insensitive. You don’t know the schedules of those people or their availability to care for her child without any notice. You weren’t really inconvenienced by this reschedule. Like Alison said, if she has a lot of power in this decision and she wants this interview, it’s in your best interest to just go with the flow of her schedule.

    1. straws*

      For #1, that was my first thought as well. It’s hard to tell from a brief description, but gathering info on everything going on from an experienced member of the team is a good way to get up to speed. If that’s the case, she’s not communicating her intentions very well, but that’s a good reason to have a chat and get on the same page.

      1. The Supreme Troll*

        Could be possible, but I still think that the new coworker does see herself in an overseeing style of a role, where she has the authority to give direction to the OP and seems very comfortable with that.

        Yes, as Alison has said, the mutual boss needs to make it clear to both the OP and the new coworker what the new role really is about. Separately having this conversation is best, but the meaning of the words that the boss is using has to be exactly the same. That is the ethical thing to do.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          Yeah ideally they’d get everybody (owner, OP, OP’s boss, and this new employee) in one conversation so there’s not the chance people are being told different things behind closed doors. These situations are super tricky if this new person is being told she’s a “team leader” even without a direct supervisory role, for example. Even OP’s boss may not be aware of what the owner is telling this person. I’ve often been assigned to be in-charge-but-not-really-in-charge and it suucks. For everyone.

        2. Los*

          I would agree with that except OP makes no mention that this person is actually instructing her to do anything or giving her any sort of direction. It sounds like the new girl wants to know what’s going on with everything, but it doesn’t necessarily sound like she’s trying to boss anyone around.

          1. Lil Fidget*

            If I was invited to a daily check-in meeting, I’d be pretty taken aback. It also depends on how it’s phrased, are they asking me if I’m available to assist them by helping get them up to speed (reasonable, but I’d say I’m too busy to do that on a daily basis) or are they summoning me to provide them with status updates in the manner of a supervisor. Either way, there seems to be some miscommunication going on.

            1. OP1*

              Hi! Yes, it’s absolutely possible that the check-in meetings are her way of getting the hang of things and seeing how we all work together. But it also feels a little like micromanaging. So, I’d say both helping her get up to speed and also giving status updates.

              1. Green Goose*

                I think after you speak with the owner and confirm that she is not supposed to be your manager, then during the next onboarding session, you can use it as an opportunity to politely and firmly let her know that you report to the owner if she tries to micromanage again.

                For example, if she tells you to update her on your daily teapot reports before they go out you could use that as an opportunity to say something along the lines of. “I usually just send the reports out when I finish, which is at differing times during the day. I’m happy to set a meeting time with you to give you a general overview of how (Company) does teapot reports but I can’t accommodate a daily check-in with you about my specific projects. This process is approved by owner. But I’m happy to meet with you about general questions about how x, y, or z work.”

                1. Mad Baggins*

                  I like this. Steer the focus to “let me teach you how things work here, since you’re new” not “here is my progress on x, please give me feedback”.

              2. Los*

                You said she hasn’t even been there a week so I’d wait another week or so and see if the behavior changes and if not, maybe the two of you need to sit down with the owner and have a clear discussion on what everyone’s roles should be.

  17. Llama Grooming Coordinator*

    Alternately, OP3, you could just tell your coworker that if she wastes any more time on weeaboo you’ll be bankrupt by the end of the month. (On the other hand, this might not end as you would hope, so proceed with caution.)

    The fact that she is at least somewhat client facing AND clients have noticed is probably the biggest concern. So I’d actually give her advice that it’s not appropriate to talk about or have excessive displays of your relationships at work, regardless of whether they’re real or subtitled. As for your coworkers, maybe it’s that I’ve been on the internet the better part of my life, but they really shouldn’t be making as big a deal as it sounds like they’re making. Not only is her obsession not REALLY damaging anyone, it’s not that odd for people her age to be obsessed with anime characters. In a way, they seem like almost more of a problem than your coworker.

    (Also, I kind of want to know what character she has her heart set on.)

    1. MissDisplaced*

      “I’d actually give her advice that it’s not appropriate to talk about or have excessive displays of your relationships at work, regardless of whether they’re real or subtitled.”

      That’s the best advice here for OP to focus on. I don’t know exactly why it’s even coming up with clients in the first place, unless she is over-sharing when asked if she has a boyfriend. I’d stick to that, but the rest of the office also needs to follow suit about professional boundaries around personal life.

      I rarely discuss my husband with coworkers, and almost never to clients or other professional contacts. So yes, the focus should be on work, not anyone’s relationships. But I get that some offices are chit-chatty about this, especially on Mondays. SIGH!

      1. fposte*

        As far as I can tell, though, it’s coming up with clients because she has a picture on her desk and clients ask her about it. That wouldn’t, in normal situations with a human boyfriend, be oversharing.

  18. Not Today Satan*

    Re: references. Apparently my employer has a policy against giving any sort of reference beyond dates of employment. I always figured it was one of those BS policies that managers ignore for good employees who leave. Well, we recently had a huge layoff, and in multiple private conversations with managers, they’ve all said that they comply with the rule. I was kind of shocked. We’re not some huge corporation, we’re a 50-person nonprofit.

    I also searched around AAM and the posts that I found on the topic all said that for good candidates usually they’ll be able to get a reference at a certain employer. Just chiming in to share that that might not always be the case. =\

    (Also, may employers who require references at hire but don’t give references to their own employees be cursed forever.)

    1. Angelinha*

      Yes! My nonprofit employer did this – require 3 references up front (we were allowed to waive ONE if we could prove we tried to reach the reference and didn’t get a response) and then ban us from providing references to anyone who left. This applied EVEN to former employees who had already left and now wanted a reference to change jobs again. I was happy to disregard this policy every time I got the chance.

      1. paul*

        Mine does that; it’s a definite hit on morale and always has been but the board’s absolutely unwilling to budge for some damn fool reason.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        Wouldn’t that make it difficult to ever re-hire someone who had worked there before? :-/

    2. CAA*

      It seems pretty unlikely that this is LW5’s problem though. Generally if you can’t give a reference for someone, you tell them that instead of agreeing to be their reference and then ghosting when called upon.

      Also, I’m sorry about your situation. I hope you are able to find some people who have left your nonprofit and can now act as your references.

    3. Buffy Summers*

      My employer is like this as well. Very frustrating to know that when I leave I won’t be able to count on a reference from anyone here. We’re also a small nonprofit with about 80 employees. Apparently our lawyer advised our Executive Director against giving references, so she made it a strict policy of no references good or bad.

  19. Sled Dog Mama*

    #4 Please do not confuse having family nearby with having a strong support system. This woman’s family may not be in a position to take time off to care for the sick child, her husband may have a horrible boss who will fire him for taking time off to care for the child. You don’t say so i’m assuming you don’t know any details beyond she has lots of family nearby and she may not be close to this family or they may not people that she trusts to take care of her child. (I used to live very near husband’s family and I would trust his brother and sister-in-law with my kid about as far as I can throw them)

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Or maybe she just wants to be with her sick child. I had a good local support system, but when my child was small, I wanted to be there when she was sick. And when she was older, my support system was also older and I didn’t want to expose them to her illness.

      (I mean, given your update, I can see why you’re annoyed with her.)

  20. 2horseygirls*

    LW#5 — it is a good practice to contact references BEFORE giving out their information each time you apply for a position. I usually give them a quick email to ask if they are still willing to be a reference, and when they reply yes, I reply with thanks, and provide the name of the company and the job description. They know what I am applying for, and can speak to the points in the job description if given the opportunity.

    My references are all people I worked for, but were not my “direct supervisor” in a COC sense, so they are not bound by the traditional “dates-only” restrictions. I had very little interaction with my supervisor directly, and what I did have was negative to the point of terminating me and flagging me ineligible for rehire for reasons even HR is not clear on.

    1. TootsNYC*

      As a reference, I also want to hear from you every time you give my name out. I want you to tell me what the job is, where you think your weak spots were from the interview, and what you most want them to think about you.

      It will help me tailor my reference.
      Sure, just from the hiring manager’s / HR’s conversation, I can probably pick that out, but I like to be prepared.

  21. Rusty Shackelford*

    I’m marrying my Sam Winchester Funko Pop this weekend. Some of you are invited. Others would clearly Not Understand.

    1. ThatGirl*

      My now husband liked to joke in college that Sarah Michelle Gellar (then of BTVS) was his girlfriend. (“I had to break up with her when she married Freddie Prinze Jr.”)

      1. Elizabeth West*

        LOL one of my partners and I had freebie boyfriends and girlfriends, as in if you actually had the chance with this person, you’d get a free pass to go out with them (on the assumption that it would never happen IRL). I forget who my freebie was at the time, but his was Traci Bingham from Baywatch.

    2. BS Fangirl*

      I’d bring The Creature Funko Pop from The Shape of Water as my date but he won’t be released and in my arms til August…

    3. Bolistoli*

      When dating my now soon-to-be ex-husband, I used to joke that Dave Grohl was my boyfriend (bc hey, he’s from here and I *could* meet him and fall in love one day). Then, when bf dragged his feet on getting married, I upped Dave to fiance. Now that I realize what a sh*t show my marriage has been, I should have stuck with the fantasy. :)

      1. Manders*

        Hah, Geralt would be a very difficult fake-boyfriend to have! You’d always worry about him dying or losing his memory or wandering off with another lady.

  22. MuseumChick*

    OP3, I’ve spent a good part of my morning thinking of what I would do if I had a coworker like this. From what you say in your post, and in your responses in the comment section it’s unclear if your co-work understands that the character isn’t real. If she is having a break with reality, you want to treat her as kindly and compassionately as you can. If it were clear she understood that the character wasn’t real but was just talking about it to much you could have the “Hey, people will take you less seriously, rightly or wrongly, if you talk about this in the office” conversation with her.

    The problem here isn’t her choice to “date” a fictional character, its the fact that clients are commenting on it. It also sounds like she is oversharing…a lot, sort of (in some respect) the same way the woman who wanted all her co-workers to call her boyfriend “master” overshared.

    As for what to do…if your boss is aware that this is effecting clients it’s up to them to handle it. Other than that all you can do is again, be kind but try to distance yourself from “relationship” talk.

    1. Guy Incognito*

      That’s my concern, the oversharing. I really don’t care what workplace proximity associates do in their spare time, but the oversharing is the problem.

    2. AlphabetABC*

      I wondered if the person was having a break with reality, too. In which case, call an ambulance. Seriously. However, since the employee in question is using terms from a subculture that participates in this cartoon characters as partners concept … I hope that’s a sign that she knows he’s not real. On the other hand, she doesn’t seem aware that this is not normal workplace behavior.

      1. Eliza*

        What’s an ambulance gonna do? Assuming this is in the US, you can’t legally take people away against their will just for being weird unless there’s specific evidence that they intend to harm themselves or someone else.

  23. LBK*

    #1 – I wonder if she came from somewhere that the senior team member has more authority. The responsibilities of those positions can cover a pretty wide range; I’ve been in 3 senior positions, one of which was essentially a team lead who was part of the management team and two where it just means you work on higher level products and are given more autonomy but you’re still clearly on the “individual contributor” layer of the hierarchy. Even if she hasn’t explicitly been told that she’s in charge of you, she may have come from somewhere that that’s implied by the “senior” title.

    1. Triplestep*

      These ambiguities are the worst. I once accepted and started a job in which – on my first day – I was shown an org chart showing there would be a “Team Lead” some time in the future. Thinking the role was open, I had an uncomfortable conversation with my brand new boss asking to be considered for that position given I was the senior person on the team (albeit new to the company.) The response I got was that that person was not going to manage the team – just take some stuff off his plate to make his life easier. I accepted this because there was nothing in my recruiting or on-boarding process that indicated there would be a level between my manager and me.

      Nope. He hired that person from HIS boss’ former organization, and in fact, I did have to report to “The Lead” who did not not have as much experience as I did. Everyone continued to act like they were reporting to the original manager, though, which made things awkward all around as neither Manager nor Team Lead did anything about this. Fear of confrontation out the wazoo. I found another job eventually.

      OP, the only thing I’d change about Alison’s advice is this: After you talk to your manager, if he gives you a solid “No, she is not overseeing your work” maybe he should be the one to approach her about it. But if he is at all squishy and non-confronty about it, then you’ll have to do it as Alison suggests (if in fact it turns out she is not supposed to be overseeing your work.) My experience taught me that this is something some people are willing to try to ignore and hope it works itself out.

      1. OP1*

        I think she came from an office that had a more distinct hierarchy and we just don’t have that here because we’re so small. She’s still trying to figure out her place – and honestly, so am I.

        The thing about job titles – no one else has “senior” in their title even if they’ve been here for 5 years. We kind of make up our own job titles and shape our own roles eventually. I have to admit that it rankled a bit to be essentially demoted.

        1. LBK*

          It sounds like everyone could use some clarity around the roles here – definitely agree with Alison’s advice to ask your (actual) boss about what’s being expected.

        2. TootsNYC*

          I’ve never worked anywhere that “senior” meant “in charge of other people.” The places I’ve worked, it just means they’re more experienced and get paid more, and get the trickier jobs, and might be tapped to run things when the boss is out.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            This is kind of how I was seeing it, sort of the difference between a manager and a team or shift lead. The second does not have the power of the first or handle personnel issues but can delegate work, etc. In some workplaces, it’s really well understood and in others, not so much.

      2. Betsy*

        Many workplaces can be quite unclear. I was in a similar situation when I started and a coworker on the same level was treating me like I he was my boss. I had to ask for clarification about who I actually reported to, because I was pretty, but not absolutely, sure that he wasn’t my boss.

        I was told that someone much higher up was my boss, but actually it turned out that, in practice, people one level up are all my boss, but one of them is particularly responsible for managing us (and there is actually quite a strict hierarchy). The much higher-up person I’m meant to report to is someone I only see on formal occasions.

  24. Uncle Bob*

    There is ZERO ZERO ZERO upside for you in an exit interview. Talk like a football player after a game or a politician. “I enjoyed my time here, its time for me to move on”. Refuse further details. Eventually HR will give up and you’ll be done.

    1. Irene Adler*

      Got that right. If HR is interested in employee work place issues, they would not wait for an exit interview to inquire about these things.

    2. Kittyfish 76*

      This is what I did. I was SO TEMPTED to tell them the real reasons for leaving, but I was vague just like Uncle Bob suggested. It also would not have looked good, as the exit interview was with CEO and HR, and the offending boss was CEO’s daughter! So I would not have gotten anywhere anyway.

    3. Bea*

      Except that lady who was forced out by the cool kids going on their beer runs…they fired that team in the end.

    4. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

      +1, Uncle Bob. Indeed, no upside. There is an old pop song from the 1980s that goes…

      “The time for talking’s over now,
      I guess it’s time to let you go.”

  25. JustaLurker22*

    OP#2 Don’t do it. I was honest in my exit interview. Not mean, not hypercritical, but felt HR should be aware of what was going on. Fast forward 5 years and I applied back at the company for a job with a different manager. I found out the HR was against me coming back because they “questioned if I could be happy here” .

    1. Angelinha*

      Yeah. I was honest about a challenge with a particular boss. She was the reason I was leaving and I said as much. I regret it. I’m in the same field, I work with that boss and the person I did my exit interview with all the time, and while I do feel we’re all generally on good terms, I cringe every time I remember how open I was. It was well intended; my own boss had encouraged me to be honest (it was at a time when lots of people were turning over because of this particular director) and I felt so strongly about the organization that I wanted to help. But I think I thought they would give my word much more weight than they did. The person I left because of is still there and to be honest will probably retire from there. Ultimately I think I just hurt my own reputation.

    2. Ann Furthermore*

      That sucks. I do think it depends upon your reasons for leaving. In my exit interview for my last job, I was very candid about why I was leaving, although it wasn’t entirely due to my boss. I worked for her for 8 years, and for about 7 of them, she was great. Then the parent company started getting much more involved with what was going on, the longtime, much-beloved CEO was forced to retire, and a new hatchet man was appointed. It went from being a really fun place to work to being absolutely horrible. My boss, with almost 30 years at the company, went into survival mode, just wanting to ride things out until retirement. I didn’t really blame her, but at the same time that meant that she wasn’t as supportive of her team as she was before, and I didn’t want to keep working in an environment like that.

      My biggest reason for leaving was due to an absolutely horrible project — trying to implement Oracle Financials for another sister company. I could go on and on about how wretched the whole situation was, but suffice to say it was 2 years of my life spent trying to satisfy people who were bound and determined to find fault with everything we did, and had no interest in doing anything other than what they’d been doing for the last 20 years. After 6 months of being unable to successfully use it (because they’d put forth zero effort to learn anything), they went back to using their old system. To implement a new EBS system and then go back to your old one is completely unheard of. 2 years, and probably $500K, up in smoke because 3 whiny a-holes (and chief saboteurs of the project) finally got their way. And this was all happening at the same time the senior executives at the parent level were wringing their hands because they just couldn’t keep costs under control, and so their solution was to send all the finance jobs offshore. The whole thing was so infuriating that it completely harpooned any smidgen of enthusiasm I had for my job, and I couldn’t take it any more.

      I was very open about that in my exit interview, and the HR person asked me if they could share my comments with the VP of the group I worked in, and I urged him to do so.

      My boss had also kept refusing to promote me, and made it clear that it was never going to happen, no matter how hard I worked, and no matter how much of a saint I was. It had gotten to the point where all my co-workers were asking me when I was going to get promoted — even one person who I’d had clashed with a few times in the past. I shared that too, and again told the HR person to pass my comments along to whomever he liked.

      I was very calm, professional, and tactful with my comments regarding my boss. It felt good to get it all out there.

    3. Betsy*

      Ugh. I am torn. I may or may not have to have an exit interview (I’d prefer not). I think I have been very open and honest about any issues I’ve been having, so in that way I feel that I have some integrity. On the other hand, it would be nice for the people who are staying if I brought up some issues. My bosses seemed upset but understanding when I resigned and I think they probably understand some of the issues with the department. Strategically, I won’t need to use them as a reference for at least a couple of years, if not more, but I definitely will if I go back into teaching (which is likely).

  26. Allison*

    #1 I can relate, this happened in my current job and in my last job! Coworker in last job didn’t just act like my boss, she treated me like I was her assistant, and my actual boss had to put a stop to that a few times. In my current job, the complication is that the guy who kept acting like my boss is *a* manager in our team, he’s just not *my* manager as I report directly to the VP, same as him. What I have to remind myself is that he is managing these projects, he’s just not managing me, so he can request certain tasks, but he has to stop following me every time I go into our boss’s office, and he needs to lay off comments like when I can leave the office at the end of the day, when I can work from home, when it’s appropriate for me to eat lunch or take a quick snack break. I think initially he just didn’t trust me to have good judgment because I was younger, but now that he’s seen what I can do he’s backed off quite a bit, which is good because my manager has enough to deal with!

  27. Guy Incognito*

    OP1: One thing you mentioned: “She doesn’t have the experience to be a senior copywriter.” I would leave that out of your discussion. If it’s a manager/not manager thing, you’ll want to discuss that, I agree it’s very annoying (and unprofessional) for someone to say “Hey, I’m your boss” (with their actions) if they’re not. I had it happen to me once, and it almost came to a fistfight only diffused because I took a walk. But in my experience, when you throw in comments like that, it hurts your position. I’d stick to Allison’s advice. Good luck, because that’s obnoxious, and it’s a hard thing to shake.

    OP3: You left out how it’s affecting her work. Just curious as to what kind of performer she is. If it’s affecting that because she’s rushing home to take care of her imaginary boyfriend, then yes, that’s annoying. If it’s an odd quirk, then leave it alone. I’m a big fan of the Philosophy of that episode of Futurama where Leela is talking about asking out her old boss because she didn’t know he had a wife. (he had said no.) His response. “And she doesn’t know I have a job. I keep my home life and my work life very separate.”

  28. Steve*

    Does the company have to deal with the woman dating the cartoon according to disability laws. She sounds like she has a mental problem. I think things like this need a 2 ideas response. 1st i think she needs to be treated with compassion and sympathy, we all want and need that in our lives. Second i think she needs to be treated with accountability and facts. The cartoon isnt a real person. We all need to be treated in a way that says the world is real and make believe isnt. I think the 2 things can come from different people and dont need to be equal amounts.

    1. Temperance*

      I actually don’t think that her coworkers are obligated to meet any of her emotional needs.

      1. Manders*

        Yeah, there may be accommodations this person could be given if this is a symptom of a mental illness (like being taken off customer-facing tasks, being allowed to take time off for therapy, etc.), but I’m not aware of any disability for which “everyone else in the office pretends to go along with a delusion” would be considered a reasonable accommodation.

    2. Kennedy Undead*

      We had one of these where I work. She was blissfully fired after taking her obsession too far. It wasn’t mental illness; it was the mentality of doing whatever you want to be as different as possible.

      1. fposte*

        Though that’s a behavior that can be the result of a personality disorder. It can still be a mental illness even if they’re not suffering.

        1. Annabelle*

          I was going to say the same thing. There’s at least one condition I can think of that can very much produce that kind of behavior.

        2. SoCalHR*

          reminds me of the quote “I’m not suffering from insanity, I’m thoroughly enjoying it” :-)

    3. Lindsay J*

      Pretty sure believing a cartoon is a real person is not a diagnosable disability under the ADA.

      And even if it were (or if it were a symptom of a diagnosed disorder) the workplace would almost definitely not be obligated to allow her to discuss her husbando with coworkers or clients. That doesn’t sound like a reasonable accommodation to me.

    4. Plague of frogs*

      Not unless she asks for an accommodation, which she won’t because she thinks (or pretends to think) that her behavior is normal

  29. CMDRBNA*

    I don’t think rescheduling a meeting by one day because someone’s kid is sick is “drastic,” and it’s not really your business what Jane’s support system at home looks like – just whether her absences are causing issues with you doing your job.

    Yes, it is super annoying to have what seemed like a job lined up delayed because of one person, but I think this is one of those opportunities to display grace when someone else (seems to be) behaving unreasonably.

  30. Elysian*

    Wow, lots of comments already! I just wanted to express my shock and awe that the word is spelled “shoo-in” and not “shoe in.” I was certain it was related to “getting your foot in the door” – you know, putting your shoe there? – and it has rocked my world to discover I was mistaken this whole time.

      1. Cercis*

        I always thought it had to do with “shoo-ing” animals – into the barn or out of the house/your way. “Shoo, shoo, get along” indicating that you don’t have to do any work to get them where you want them to go, just verbally nudge them along.

  31. caryatis*

    OP#1: you need to stop focusing on your belief that this person does not have enough writing experience. For one thing, she might have experience you don’t know about (it’s unlikely she’s outlined her entire work history to you), and for another thing, you can manage a writer without being a writer yourself. If she is in a management role of course.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      So agree. Unfortunately OP it’s not your call to decide this person is “inexperienced” – it was your bosses call to decide who to put into the senior roll, and now you have to roll with it. Trying to discount her seniority by saying she’s not qualified isn’t your call to make.

    2. McWhadden*

      Yeah, that’s a big issue.

      The fact is this woman has every reason to believe that she’s the OP’s boss. As the OP freely admits. It’s 1) a title that would suggest it, and 2) their boss is clearly being ambiguous. And what she’s doing is making sure OP is on track, which is obviously important regardless of the skills of the person making sure you are on track.

      What OP thinks of her writing ability is completely and totally irrelevant.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      I’m thinking of Jen from The IT Crowd here, but yeah, you can manage with nothing more than tangential knowledge of the job. Although it’s helpful, they’re different skill sets. Not every manager needs to step in and actually do the work if someone is out; it depends on the industry. A fast food manager would have to cover the shift, whereas someone who manages copywriters could hire a freelancer.

      This is not a copywriting problem. It’s a hierarchy problem.

  32. Kennedy Undead*

    OP#3: I feel for you. I used to work with a Nutter Butter who thought she “shared a soul” with a Japanese Video Game character. She called herself a “Soul Bonder.” She started with a little cosplay in the office (no one cared; we have a pretty liberal dress code as long as clients aren’t around), and it escalated to requiring people to address her as “Mrs. Character.” She also started refusing to do certain parts of her work because “it isn’t something that’s in character for me.”

    The breaking point was the day she introduced herself to a client as her chosen “title” and told the gentleman that “it was customary to bow to her.”

    I’d like to think there was some kind of mental illness at play, but probably not. It was just one spoiled brat who was used to getting whatever she wanted trying to be “different.”

    1. MuseumChick*

      It’s the same mentality as the person who wanted everyone to call her boyfriend “master”

      With OP3, it’s unclear if there is a mental issues going on or just someone taking things way to far and not understanding boundaries.

      I watch a TV special once about a guy who is “in a relationship” with his sex doll. He took her out to dinner, talked about her like she was real, etc. But when challenged by a therapist he admitted that he was fully aware that the sex doll was not a real person.

      1. Deloris Van Cartier*

        Side note, if that was the same tv special that I saw, that was my therapist in college! It was one of those odd things where I was both excited because I knew someone on TV but also wanted to ask so many questions!

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      She also started refusing to do certain parts of her work because “it isn’t something that’s in character for me.”

      I’m trying to figure out how I could make this work for me…

  33. NaoNao*

    One time as a young 20 something I visited my mom at work. A coworker had a framed picture of “A-rod” (Alex Rodriguez, the baseball player) on her desk and I asked “Oh, is that your husband? My goodness, he’s a handsome one!”
    Coworker and my mom laughed and laughed and had to explain between wheezes that no, she wasn’t married to A-rod.

    1. Birdie*

      I have a photo of Larry David on my desk. People do ask if it’s my dad or boyfriend! Just like your mom’s coworker. I can only wish he was my dad lol

      1. Elizabeth West*

        A coworker at Exjob had a picture of Terry Bradshaw in her cube. She had an enormous crush. It was a printout, not in a frame, and I knew who he was, so I never asked that question. But now I’m wondering if anyone else has, like maybe a younger coworker who didn’t know him!

  34. Lady Phoenix*

    OP #3: ah yes, the waifu/husbando.

    I mean, I have fictional crushes on anime girls and guys… but that goes as far as buying artwork and doujinshi. No body pillow and certainly not actual dating/marriage.

    As long as her husbando isncausing a disruption with work… just think of this as one of her quirks.

    PS: (Best Waifu is Saber. Best Husbando is DC Movieverse Captain America)

    1. Old MacNonnald*

      I’d say it is likely causing a disruption at work, if she’s telling clients all about it. If I were her coworker, I’d find her behavior weird, but eh, whatever, I’ve been on the internet for long enough that I know it’s a thing people do. At least she only has a body pillow and not a home-made lifesized cloth doll with “equipment” rigged with a toilet roll tube. I presume.

      But OTOH as a client I’d be shocked that someone at my vendor company has such poor judgement that she’s willing to talk about her anime boyfriend in a business setting, and it would definitely make me think less of her. Not “less” as in “she’s a bad person”, but more like “she clearly has no filter and doesn’t know how to act like a professional”.

      1. Lady Phoenix*

        True. But it is not the OP’s place to talk to her about it. It would be the boss’s job to step in and say, “Stop talking about your waifu.”

        But otherwise? Yeah. Op can’t and should not deal with this coworker. Not their circus, not their monkeys.

        1. Old MacNonnald*

          Oh, yeah, the boss should say something. Although I’d say OP might want to discreetly chat with the boss if she knows for a fact that the coworker’s behavior is causing a stir with the clients, and she has reason to suspect boss doesn’t know about it yet.

  35. Fatigued*

    Re #3:

    Google “The Sarah Saga” and “The Final Fantasy 7 House.”

    There are people out there that take pretend worlds way too far.

  36. Hiring Mgr*

    When I was in High school, I briefly dated Ms Pacman–she was everything to me at the time, and although she was a video game character, our love was as real as anything any of you can envision. Unfortunately it didn’t end well when she hooked up with Inky on prom night. If only…

    1. McWhadden*

      You dodged a bullet, man. A lifetime of ghost meat and cherries for dinner every.single.night?! No thanks.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      You never noticed her chasing all those other guys? When someone shows you what they are, believe them.

      1. Thursday Next*

        Maya Angelou, meet Ms. PAC man. I’m not sure whether I should laugh or weep.

  37. Lady Phoenix*

    #4: I remember last year we had that asshole OP that thpught he “deserved” the new job because he went to fancy school… only to not get it because he was an asshole to the CEO’s wife and her elderly father?

    Yeah, don’t be that OP. Don’t think you “got the job” until you actually have the job. And also, don’t be a jerk to the ONE person who could easily say, “I don’t think [OP] should get the job.”

    You can’t assume anything about her support system. While husband may work close, he may have to work different hours that prevents him from taking time off. The close relatives? Maybe they have their own jobs. Maybe they go to school full time?

    You are assuming she has a big network to fall back on… without realizing they have lives of their own.

    When you go to the interview, treat Jane with respect and don’t hold her child against her… or you may find yourself without a job.

  38. Amber Rose*

    I have greatly enjoyed today’s discussion on marrying fictional people. I have been in the slums of the internet for too long to be surprised by anything, but it was fun to learn that so many other young teens were dating fictional characters. Mine was a character from a book that I don’t imagine many people have read since I found it buried in the back of the library. He was an angel. 13 year old me seems less embarrassing now.

    1. Lady Phoenix*

      Anyone who tells you they didn’t have a dictional crush is a goddamn liar.

      We still have it now. For ladies it is Edward Cullen, mr. grey, a couple of the movie verse marvel heroes (Captain America = Cinamon roll), and such.

      For guys… too many and too varied. I only judge them when they claim their waifus are children (as one should).

      1. Oxford Coma*

        For ladies it is Edward Cullen, mr. grey

        Same guy, tho. (Masters of the Universe, anyone? *barf*)

      1. LadyPhoenix*

        Oh, trust me, my husbandos are 100 times better than edward or grey. I was just listing popular examples.

        Captain America… perfect cinamon roll.

  39. McWhadden*

    I had a job interview last Tuesday. And on Monday I got an awful stomach bug. I couldn’t even make it safely home without throwing up on the commute. Never mind make it through an interview. (Although I’m sure that would have made an impression!)

    I had to cancel my interview on Tuesday. And they were kind about it and accommodated but I know they had hundreds of applicants for this job and it wasn’t the most convenient thing for them in the world.

    Sometimes stuff happens. Regardless of how you feel about Jane in any other realm give her a break on this one. Nobody wants to cancel stuff. If only because this means she has to make room in her schedule for that interview later.

  40. VioletEMT*

    OP3’s post reminds me of the person in the dom/sub relationship who addressed and referred to her husband/boyfriend (I don’t remember which) as “Master” and insisted that all of her coworkers do the same. The discussion in the comments there basically landed on “It’s okay for two consenting adults to get down with whatever kink they want, but it’s not okay to bring non-consenting parties into their kink. Forcing everyone to hear her call him Master, and trying to compel others to do the same, is involving non-consenting parties.”

    Much in the same vein, it’s fine if this woman wants to fantasize/date/whatever a body pillow of an anime character, and it’s fine for her to devote off-work time to playing out these fantasies in a dedicated community on the internet, but it’s not fine for her to bring non-consenting parties into the relationship. Her coworkers and clients would be non-consenting parties here. So no.

    Get your freak on all you want, but don’t bring it into the workplace.

  41. OP1*

    Hi Alison,
    Thanks for answering my question! It turns out that she isn’t necessarily my manager – I don’t have to ask her for time off or anything. But she does manage my projects and is the point person for the creative department. So, my boss will tell her “hey we have these projects in” and she’ll handle it from there. I think my boss was avoiding telling me this before she was hired because he hates confrontation, he has always said he doesn’t want a hierarchy, and here he is, trying to adopt a hierarchy.
    I invited her out to lunch to get to know each other because I really don’t like this defensive feeling I’ve had since she was hired. And she’s new, and I wanted to welcome her as best as I could. I think both of us were unclear where we stood, especially since we were told different things. I told her about my work style, how organized I am, and that I don’t need to be micromanaged, but that I’d love to collaborate. She seemed receptive, and I’m trying really hard to let go of my own insecurities and embrace this new person.
    People commenting are right – I need to stop thinking about her lack of copywriting experience because she has other great qualities that qualified her for the job. And I’m not even that experienced either!
    I appreciate all of the feedback and advice. I still have a lot to learn.

    1. fposte*

      Sounds like you’re taking a really reasoned and thoughtful approach to the situation despite your manager’s fumbling of it, OP. I hope it all works out well.

    2. LBK*

      This is a nice self-aware analysis of the situation. It sounds like you’re going forward with an open mind and an understanding of your own role in the tension, which is always the first step to helping diffuse it. Good luck! Hopefully you can get to a good, collaborative place with her.

      1. OP1*

        Thank you! I am painfully aware that most of the tension is of my own making and that my response hasn’t been very mature. More like a dog barking to defend its yard against the mailman or something. I really do hope it works out for the better and I’m doing my best to pick up my end of things.

        1. KWu*

          You sound like you’re doing all the right things to stay professional and constructive, so great job there. I think the vast majority of us go through similar experiences at some point in our lives; no one is born perfectly mature and in control of their emotions, after all :) and I can see how learning about this kind of thing (hierarchy starting to be introduced to a small company) can be jarring.

          One more thing that I’d mention is that I feel like some of your frustration may actually be more with the owner with him avoiding confrontation and not making it clear what titles mean at that company and how you could progress to getting “senior” in your title, if that’s something that you wanted, than the new employee. But it can be easier to displace those feelings onto the new person. I’d encourage you to think about how you want your career to progress, maybe even seeing whether the new person can share insight on what the senior title means to her and how she got it when she accepted this new job (maybe she just asked and the boss agreed to avoid confrontation??), and also talk to your boss about what you want from your career and how to progress.

        2. Pollygrammer*

          I think you’re being too hard on yourself! If I was given a new manager on even one project without being informed about the new arrangement, I would be immensely frustrated.

    3. Anon Anon*

      Good for you. And it sounds like your boss put both of you in a challenging situation.

    4. H.C.*

      Thanks for update & comment – it’s great that you’re taking proactive steps to forge a better working relationship with her. And per AAM’s answer, yeah – it seems she’s hired more as a team/project lead kind of role.

    5. Elizabeth West*

      What a great solution! And a good way to establish a working relationship. :)

      It sounds like your boss has realized that hierarchy isn’t necessarily a bad thing but he’s a little embarrassed to come out and say it. So he’s just hoping it will organically present itself.

    6. EvilQueenRegina*

      To be fair to you, it sounds like your boss could also have handled it better and been clearer about the roles from the start.

  42. Bananka*

    LW4, I am going to say the opposite of what people recommend here.
    At work, there is always a deal of politics and underwater currents. It’s good that you are aware of where this woman stands and of her work issues. Cancelling interviews the same day is not reasonable if only 1 interviewer is out and if you have any capital to make the scheduled interview with the board happen while she is out, go ahead and use it. She can interview you separately whenever she is back. You are right to feel annoyed, just do not let it show. It is an ostrich approach to pretend it’s all professional and not personal.
    Most commenters strongly disapprove of the managers who ignore adversarial or bad performance issues with their reports, burying their heads in the sand; however seemingly same commenters advise the reports to know “it’s not personal”, maybe the other person has all these extra things going on in her life, etc. Having awareness of what’s really going on is crucial, this does mean retaliation or resentment, but in the event things escalate, one is prepared rather than stunned into inaction and wondering ‘where did this come from’.
    I am not addressing the reasoning why this manager is out – whether it is legitimate or not does not matter in this case. In my own long experience, interviews still happen if one of the interviewers is out, they can schedule additional interview time when they are back, if needed.

  43. a different Vicki*

    It’s not just fictional characters. I had an adult friend who told our entire friend group that she was having an affair with the lead singer of the prog rock band Yes, back in the 1980s. OK, fine, you do you, but this included expecting sympathy when telling us that he’d cancelled a planned date, or saying that he was going to pay her expenses so she could join him for a few days while he was on tour. It was pretty clear that no, he wasn’t, and while she might be said that he wasn’t spending the night with her, he had never planned to in the first place.

    I never bothered confronting her about it, both because I didn’t care enough and because she didn’t have a strong relationship with facts and consensus reality. She once made a phone call that my sister and I could overhear her side of, got off the phone, and told us a trivial lie about what she had just said, to sound as though she’d been praising my brother-in-law. So, something that we absolutely knew wasn’t true—and wouldn’t have cared about in itself, except for what it revealed about her as a person.

    What I wonder, now that I am reminded of this, is what her actual in-the-flesh boyfriend thought of all this, or said to her about it. (There was no expectation of exclusivity between them, at least.)

    1. a different Vicki*

      I always assumed that she had the sense not to go into that much detail about this at work, but that’s another thing I didn’t ask. Certainly, if it got her in trouble at work, I never heard about that.

    2. EvilQueenRegina*

      One of my ex’s friends at university used to tell people she was having an affair with Jack White of the White Stripes. I didn’t maintain contact with her after leaving so I have no idea if she ever brought anything like that into future jobs.

  44. Trillion*

    Ugh I dreaded conducting exit interviews in my previous company. Depending on which department they were quitting, I knew exactly what was going to be said (and whether I needed to bring a box of tissues for the inevitable tears). And I knew the papers were going into a drawer never to be looked at again. I gave up trying to bring this to the attention of my superiors because they would simply hand-waive the (repeated) comments away.

    Generally it was a waste of my day at best, or calling security at worst.

  45. swingbattabatta*

    OP #4, just wanted to jump in to note that you should be careful about passing judgment on other people’s childcare responsibilities/division of labor. I can sense the judgement in a couple of paragraphs alone, and you should be careful to keep that attitude from being conveyed in reality. Jane’s family’s approach to childcare/a sick child isn’t your business, and you don’t know the details of their needs and capabilities.

    1. J.B.*

      As someone who does the sick kid juggle, I think an important aspect is to inconvenience as few people as possible. From OPs follow up not only she was irritated, Jane’s peers were too. From OPs telling (of course not the whole story), there is a possible power play around this.

      As for the interview, OP should try to wipe this out of her mind and go in being as positive and as impressive as possible.

  46. Greg*

    OP #2: My rule with exit interviews is they are about the company, not you. Which is to say, if you think the company will appreciate the input and take action based on it, then you should offer feedback in a constructive, professional manner. Above all, stick to facts (instead of “Fergus was a jerk and I think he cheats on his wife” say, “On multiple occasions I observed Fergus being verbally abusive to his subordinates, and I once walked in on him in a state of sexual congress with his secretary.”

    But you should never do it because you have stuff to get off your chest. I once had an employee who wasn’t terrible at his job, but who was clearly miserable because he thought he had it all figured out and his bosses were all idiots. The fact that he chose to use his exit interview to settle scores was about the least surprising thing ever, but he obviously didn’t consider the fact that we were no more likely to listen to his complaints after he left than we were when he worked for us. All he succeeded in doing was burning bridges and making himself look bad to the CEO.

  47. Rozine*

    OP 3 – I am curious why is it not acceptable for this woman to talk about her boyfriend if she truly has a relationship with him? To us he is not real but to her he could be; if she had a same sex partner for instance would people’s reactions be different? Who are we to judge this type of relationship?

    1. Old MacNonnald*

      Of course people’s reactions would be different if she had a same sex partner, what kind of comparison is that even? The same sex partner is an actual human person, the anime thingy is a figment of the imagination. Of course people react differently.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      We are regular humans living in a society where adults talking about the real doings of their imaginary friends is not done. That it is an arbitrary boundary doesn’t make it not real, or not fair. This would include:

      “I talked to God last night, and he told me that he is concerned about my bowling league’s performance. Specifically, God doesn’t like our shoes…”
      “I talked to my cat this morning about the situation with the toner, and he said we should absolutely NOT change suppliers. In my cat’s view….”
      “Last night my cartoon pillow and I went to that sushi place. I think the pillow could propose.”
      “The voice came back, and it said that you shouldn’t let Myrtle move to Sylvie’s old desk. It’s important to leave it just as it was, in case Sylvie comes back.”
      “I ran your proposal by the ghost of Lincoln, and he doubts accounts receivable is up for it.”

      1. Mad Baggins*

        Also I want to watch a Terrace House where those 5 people interact. Can’t wait until the season 1 finale ends with the cartoon pillow running off with the ghost of Lincoln.

      2. Oranges*

        Thank you for stating this. Yes, this is a boundary in our society. Should it be? I have no idea. That actually sounds like a fascinating discussion. But here and now the co-worker is going against social norms pretty hard and that creeps people out.

        Do I wish people would be more “Does it affect me? No? Is it sad? Probably. Does she need some help? Possibly. Can I give her any help? NOPE. ALL OF THE NOPE. Then I’ll leave it alone” Going this hard against cultural norms signifies an issue that you in no way shape or form can handle.

        Possible Reasons to Go Against the Norms This Hard:
        1) Severe issues with reality vs non-reality
        2) Hiding her basic “truth” is more harmful than the fall out of sharing it (thinking of people who’s sexuality falls no where near the norms. Eg people who are sexually attracted to buildings, (yes they exist))
        3) It is helping her cope with something in her life. It’s filling a need that she has and it’s not going to stop until she deals with it or learns a better coping mechanism (and seriously this vs drugs/alcohol/over-eating/over-shopping/any amount of damaging coping mechanisms? I’d take the delusion).

        I don’t need to know which one it is. I can just state what I want from her behavior and then figure out how to get it. I want her to stop talking about her boyfriend at work. Okay, there are multiple strategies I can try.

    3. Temperance*

      Yes, I would absolutely treat someone’s actual same-sex partner (or even multiple partners!) much differently than someone’s fictional character boyfriend. I mean, as a teenager, we alllll thought Trent from Daria was so hot, but we didn’t cross the line into dating him.

    4. Amy S*

      This is pretty offensive to people in same-sex relationships.

      A woman married to a very real, non-cartoon woman

    5. Sylvan*

      It’s not acceptable because he’s not real. “If we accept gay people, why not incest/bestiality/nonsense??” is tired. Let it go.

      Also, like, my relationship with a hypothetical girlfriend is a different thing than my marriage to Brienne of Tarth on the astral plane.

    6. JamieS*

      If the same sex partner was a Raggedy Ann doll I’d absolutely treat it the same. Otherwise there’s no comparison between the two.

  48. Galatea*

    Re #2 – thanks for asking this question; I’m in the process of trying to move along due to some unexpected (possible?) homophobia, and I’ve been debating whether or not I should say anything about it or just come up with something bland but not likely to blow up in my face; I’m going to lean into bland.

  49. Angela Ziegler*

    OP3- There are two things that can be happening. Either it’s an inside joke sort of thing that she can laugh about while admiring a character she really likes and wishes she could date, OR she’s a little too obsessed with whatever show that character is from, and can’t hold back with it even at work. In the latter, I would put it into a ‘socially unaware’ category where she probably doesn’t realize how it looks to non-fans or how strange it is.

    That being said, I’ve totally considered putting framed pictures of David Tennant or Jensen Ackles on my desk, both to admire and to joke with anyone who asks- “Is that your boyfriend/husband?” to which I would respond “I wish!” and laugh. (As long as I’m making it clear that it’s a lighthearted joke and not some kind of realistic obsession, I think it would be fine.) But that’s the important part- making it obvious that it’s a joke more than dedicated obsession.

    1. Bea*

      I had a picture of Vince Vaughn in my office years ago that I got while drunk in Hollywood. “Who’s that?” “he’s the employee of the month.” was our running joke.

      They knew I have notice when they saw the picture was taken down years later.

  50. Marthooh*

    I’m glad you got that straightened out, OP1.

    And here’s a disapproving eyeroll for your boss: c_c

  51. okie dokie*

    She’s freaking out clients – full stop. Forget the rest she needs to be told to stop talking about relationships (whether real life or anime) with clients. Everyone else in the office can regulate their own conversations with her. I would think a manager though would want to address that talking so much about a relationship whatever form that might take is a bit unprofessional and may limit her job growth.

  52. willow*

    LW#4 – Jane’s personal, home situation is none of your business. It sounds like you you trying to run her down because you don’t like her.

  53. Kiwi*

    OP3, I wonder if you’d get the result you’re after by saying to your coworker that you know she knows her relationship with her husbando is real, but a lot of your clients don’t believe he is, and that could put them off the company, so she needs to stop talking about him. It’s just like a religious person shouldn’t talk about religion to clients, because if a client isn’t religious, you don’t want to risk putting them off the business.

    That way, you’re not invalidating her belief, just pointing out that it’s a bad idea to talk to clients about things the clients probably don’t believe in.

  54. fort hiss*

    Lord, people like OP3’s co-worker sure are wild when encountered in real life. I’m really disappointed we’re not gonna find out who the husband is. Is it from a new anime? A classic? A big shonen like Ichigo or Sasuke, or is it the russian from Yuri on Ice or like, I don’t know, Koseki Ken? I’m burning up with curiosity. Is he even legal??? The bishies are so often teenagers!

    Signed, someone who has a picture of an anime character on their bedside table, but so does their partner, so whatever.

  55. Gary*

    This is in reference to OP2. What benefit do employees who quit ever get from an exit interview?

    You’re leaving because your management’s goals don’t align with yours. There’s only two reasons for that:
    (1) You can’t work there anymore (spouse is moving, going to grad school, saved enough to retire, have to take care of Mom, etc). Explaining that does not require an interview.
    (2) You don’t want to work there anymore. That’s a euphemism for “because your management sucks”.

    The time for a company to figure why you quit is before you quit. Respond, not react. I read somewhere that quitting is the same thing as firing your management. The first time I fired my management was because there was no permanent job offer, the second time was because I was way overqualified with no prospect for promotion, the third time was because I was passed over for promotion, and the most recent time was because my boss’s boss is a person who behaves in a self-absorbed and disrespectful manner who, combined with a dubious path to promotion, made it clear that it was time to leave. I don’t see how telling my previous employers any of this would have helped my career.

    In my opinion, the best answer to a request for an exit interview is “No thank you.” Your thoughts?

    1. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

      I agree, Gary. There simply isn’t sufficient upside (other than a minor satisfaction one might get from venting), and too much potential downside for one’s future, including bad references, being badmouthed within one’s industry, etc. It was pointed out earlier that some people might want to help their (former) employer improve based on loyalty, if it’s a non-profit or other company with a worthy cause. I feel differently, because I view it as a business arrangement and do not feel loyalty in this way to the for-profit employers that I have had. Even though I have worked at corporations that develop treatments for terminal illnesses (certainly a worthy cause), I still didn’t feel compelled to help them in an exit interview by disadvantaging myself.

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