updates: my boss wants to bring me back into the religious fold, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

1. My boss wants to bring me back into the religious fold

A few things have changed since I wrote in. Most importantly, thanks to your advice and that of the commenters, my own perspective. Confirming that I was uncomfortable because Big Boss was indeed being inappropriate, and also seeing more clearly that my personal history made it difficult to assert myself, helped consciously dismantle the emotional charge around what was happening, which enabled me to look at it more logically and professionally rather than feeling so blindsided and anxious about it. In fact, I began to see the situation as an opportunity to stop being triggered by old family/cultural things, and to grow professionally. As it turns out–I don’t know if someone in the office saw my letter and recognized me–the behavior of Big Boss changed immediately. Since I wrote in, I have not heard even a suggestion from him regarding anything religion-wise, or about my dad. Because it hasn’t come up again, I haven’t gone to my direct boss (or anyone else) about it, though if he did make another play at re-flocking me, I’d feel very comfortable speaking out. Of course, he’s managed to make other questionable comments–just a few days ago he managed to say something about a change I’d made to my appearance in a way that was demeaning and weird not just to me, but somehow also to a female member of his family. As I’ve come to discover over the past year (time flies, wow), this is who he is–he’s made similar comments demeaning the graduate program I’ve started (stating his mother also is taking some “little classes” or whatever), so he’s just That Guy. Knowing in my bones that it’s his problem, not me, has helped me eventually get to the place that I just expect some cockamamie thing to be stated whenever I see him, and just let it roll on by. This, not surprisingly, has improved my work relationships with other condescending people–which, luckily, are not the majority here.

Also – as fate would have it – he has been appointed to a prestigious government position under our current administration, which means he will at some point be leaving this office. We already have a new Big Boss who has no connection to my past or my family (at least I don’t think so – you never know, life is sooooo weird sometimes). In fact, I’m in a support role to New Big, which so far appears to be a great career move for me :)

Again, really want to say thanks for pointing out that in a professional context, he was out of line, and that I did have recourse. The value of community and professional advice is not to be underestimated. And the peace of mind I feel now, where it used to really bother me — PRICELESS. I really have to thank you!

2. How much do I need to hide my dating life if I want to teach? (#2 at the link)

I’m the bisexual first-year teacher who moved to a small town and was worried about maintaining my privacy while dating couples.

I’m happy to report that the first few months of teaching have been spectacular, and I have really enjoyed working with the students. For the first couple of months after I moved here, I continued to use the same apps and go on dates, although I followed readers’ advice and used a fake name and burner email account, and only met up with people at least one town over.

I am not out at work, except to my closest teacher-friend, which has been fine. No issues have come up about my private life, thank goodness, although the commenters were right – kids are nosy! They found some stuff about me online, but just the curated, more professional stuff. I’m definitely going to be more careful about my online footprint from now on.

And a happy update: I recently reconnected with my high school sweetheart, who lives in a nearby big city. We’re back together and things are going great, so I’ll be off the apps for the foreseeable future!

3. I went on a job interview and the office was filthy

You posted your response to my letter very quickly, which is good because they came back the next week with an offer. Fortunately for me, I received 2 other offers that week as well. So I wasn’t in a predicament where I was considering declining my only job offer. I ended up taking one of the other offers and have been pretty happy with it.

In retrospect, I think your response mirrored my own feelings which is why I was struggling. They have reached out 2 more times over the last few months and I have not taken the calls. I think aside from the general state of the office there were other red flag. Like the interview being interrupted because of “urgent” last minute issues — never a good sign when you can’t even get through a meeting without fires that need to be put out. I like to work in a little less chaos and for me if we are scrambling at the last minute we have not done this project correctly.

Just one other note, I don’t think my letter was worded this way, but many of the commenters seemed to take the details to the extreme. Yes, there was a kind of dirty dog and messy area with dog food and flies, but I don’t think any of that implies that the animal was being abused or mistreated. People really went off the rails and I guess my takeaway from that is that as readers, maybe take the details for what they are and don’t let our imaginations get away from us.

4. I don’t want to fist-bump my coworker multiple times a day

So interestingly enough, Fergus dialed it way back on his own before I had to do much of anything. I tend to wear my true emotions on my face as plain as day whether I intend to or not, so maybe my discomfort finally became too obvious to ignore.

However, I also found out that Fergus has been having a lot of insecurity around his job lately. I’ve always thought of him as a high performer and consistent contributor but there has been a lot of change in our company recently and I think he’s feeling threatened by some of it. Unfortunately it’s manifested in him becoming super pushy, taking over tasks that aren’t his to do, and getting obviously frustrated/upset if there’s anything at all that gets taken off his plate for any reason (even for innocuous reasons like scheduling conflicts). The team has noticed and he’s rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.

So maybe the fist bumps were a by-product of being generally happy-go-lucky and they went away when he started worrying about his job. I’m pretty sure he’s aware and is trying to make improvements, but he’s also pretty bull-headed so it’s going to take time. I’ll be curious to see if the fist bumps come back if/when he feels better about his job and place in the company. But if they do I’m definitely following your advice! Sometimes I struggle with direct communication and I think this would be a good opportunity to be able to express what I actually want/need without dancing around it or simply implying my intent. Thanks to you and to the commenters for the thoughtful suggestions and perspective!

{ 69 comments… read them below }

  1. Triumphant Fox*

    I didn’t see the original letter about the dirty office, but you literally said “There was a dirty dog running around trying to get my attention, and there was a pile of gross-looking dog food with flies on it. I love dogs. But this dog looked like a stray just brought in off the street — not well cared for.”

    I don’t see it as a huge extrapolation that people felt the dog was mistreated – you said he looked like a stray that wasn’t well tended. It sounds like the commentariat took you at your word. I’m glad you didn’t have the take the job.

    1. Eli*

      “I guess my takeaway from that is that as readers, maybe take the details for what they are and don’t let our imaginations get away from us.”

      Pretty condescending. Like, don’t get condescending and defensive because people put a name to your literal description of circumstances.

      1. WellRed*

        Her “literal” description didn’t say the dog was abused though. You are doing exactly what the OP (and Alison for that matter) ask commenters not to do.

        1. Elizabeth Proctor*

          Once a stray ceases to be a stray, though, wouldn’t appearing to be a stray indicate mistreatment, provided the dog was taken in, I dunno, at least a month ago?

          1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

            To some extent it would depend (maybe a breed that’s supposed to not carry a lot of fat like a greyhound with a skin condition could legitimately look like a stray), but generally I’d think yes, looking like a stray despite having owners would indicate mistreatment.

            1. Yorick*

              I think it “like a stray” is in reference to being dirty, not that it’s too thin or whatever. Also, a lot of commenters said it was mangey, but the letter didn’t say that. Maybe other commenters took that to mean the dog had actual mange.

        2. hbc*

          I don’t think the standard is that we can’t draw any conclusions that the OP didn’t explicitly state. The OP described the situation, and some people believed that the situation as described was (or was likely to be) abusive. That’s an opinion they’re allowed to have. If OP had included, “The dog wasn’t abusively dirty or malnourished, ” then I’d say those comments crossed the line.

          OP, I think that perhaps you and some other commenters draw a different line for abuse. Your situation exactly in your words *is* enough for some people to use the word, even if you wouldn’t. It’s not a problem of your description or their interpretation, just…different opinions.

        3. First Star on the Right*

          She said it looked like a stray just off the street, not well cared for and there were flies all over the dog food. That kind of mistreatment is abuse! You don’t have to use the word abuse for something to actually be abusive.

        4. LilySparrow*

          “Neglected” would be a literal equivalent of the phrase “not well cared for.”

          The threshhold between neglect and abuse can be subjective. But it seems to me a much smaller leap than we often see in the comments.

      2. theelephantintheroom*

        I’ve definitely seen a lot of readers doing this. But in this case, it seemed like the obvious conclusion.

      3. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        I actually thought that comment from the OP was a fair description of the comments here.

        1. Yorick*

          The OP is totally right. The comments section here tends to be full of details that aren’t in the letter.

          1. AnonToday*

            I had it happen to me too when I wrote in. A role at my workplace operates a little differently than what is typical (which I detailed and gave examples because it was very pertinent to the issue). There were still a bunch of comments that took the job title and ran with it in a completely irrelevant direction.

            This could be me not explaining well or my workplace just being really bad with job titles though.

      4. Cherries on top*

        “Like the interview being interrupted because of “urgent” last minute issues — never a good sign when you can’t even get through a meeting without fires that need to be put out.”

        Speaking of…

    1. Quill*

      I mean, based on boss’ attitude he was clearly that guy, but I too was hoping for less of him being That Guy

    2. WantonSeedStitch*

      “Yes, I’m working towards a little master’s degree. Didn’t you take your little graduate classes at [college]? How was that little program?”

    3. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

      It’s only exaggerating a little bit to say I decided to leave academia when a (self-described bleeding-heart liberal) professor poked his head into my adjunct office apropos of nothing to tell me how great it was that I “could make a little money for my family.”

  2. Zombeyonce*

    #1: he has been appointed to a prestigious government position under our current administration, which means he will at some point be leaving this office

    If OP is in the US, this seems both like Boss will fit right in and also that he might be back in the near future, since prestigious government workers in the current administration have a short shelf life nowadays. Good for OP on learning to let the condescension roll off her back!

      1. Zombeyonce*

        You’ve got to hope not, but he doesn’t appear to be leaving on bad terms so it seems possible that he could be given another job there (or the old one if the new boss doesn’t work out).

    1. Impy*

      Oh my god this is not a good thing. Another bigoted person with zero boundaries in that government is not a good thing.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      He’s already been replaced. He’ll probably just retire or slip back into society somewhere else, I doubt that the OP has that much to worry about!

    3. Alli525*

      I wonder if OP’s local news station or elected representatives would be curious to hear about OP’s experiences with this guy… Just saying.

      1. Johnny Tarr*

        The way things are going now, being exposed as sexist and religiously aggressive would only make him more popular. (sob)

    4. Lady Jay*

      I am suuuuuper curious now about who this person is!! (Though I promise not to guess, and anyway, I’m terrible at guessing.) Suffice it to say, I’m not surprised OP had the troubles she did w/ her boss, given this bit of info.

  3. Girly Swot*

    It’s utterly, utterly depressing that sexist, gross boss has moved on to another prestige position. Meanwhile I (a disabled woman) cannot get a promotion for love nor money.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      First mistake, you didn’t sell yourself to the devil at the right time. [Kidding, kidding, kidding.]

      Sadly bad people get nice things but it’s not to say that a large amount of people who are successful have earned it. I would try to not focus on this and diminish yourself.

      1. Anono-me*

        A long time ago one of the characters in a book I was reading quoted someone. I don’t remember the exact wording but it was something like:The rain falls equally on everyone, but the good guys get wet, because the bad guy have stolen all the umbrellas.

        1. whingedrinking*

          The rain it raineth on the just
          And also on the unjust fella;
          But chiefly on the just, because
          The unjust hath the just’s umbrella.
          ~attributed to Charles Bowen

          1. wittyrepartee*

            LOL!

            This is one of my favorite Biblical passages though. Interesting thought: If you live in the desert, the rain is something rare and valuable and good.

  4. Heidi*

    I think it’s interesting that for two of these, the problem kind of went away without the OP needing to do anything specific. Has anyone ever written in that they were the person the OP was writing about?

    1. Antilles*

      I don’t know if anybody has ever recognized themselves in a letter, been like wow that’s a staffer talking about me and I seem horrible, then fixed themselves.
      I think it *has* happened at least once that someone recognized themselves in the letter though. IIRC, the person written about sent in a bunch of clarifying details and backstory that all added up to the OP basically providing a fairly skewed perspective. Maybe someone else (or Alison) can provide more details on this and/or tell me I’m misremembering.
      That said, I’d guess it’s fairly common for someone to read a post and *think* “wow, this sounds like my workplace” when in reality, nope, it’s just that your crummy situation isn’t unique.

      1. Reba*

        IIRC there was one of these where Alison removed the original letter due to the information from the “written about” person.

    2. ThisIsNotWhoYouThinkItIs*

      There was one with Remus and Albus. Something about exercise classes, if I remember correctly.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yes, it’s happened. A few times!

      The “I’m not abused, I’m into S&M” is one of them as well.

      I get that “someone read this and realized something…” feeling, especially with Fergus suddenly dropping the fist bumps.

      The big boss being in the race for politics, may have been retooled by advisors but you never know!

    4. So long and thanks for all the fish*

      Yep- “My coworker thinks I’m abused, but I’m actually into BDSM”! That was a fun update to read.

  5. The Original K.*

    I was really grossed out by the dirty office letter when I read it so I’m glad OP isn’t working there. The whole vibe made me uncomfortable – not just the dirty office but the fact that the CEO seemed out of it and also not bothered by the dirty office, and that OP had been there years before and it was dirty then. It seems like cleanliness isn’t a priority for them.

    1. Quill*

      I made a vow to myself that I’m never working anywhere where the sinks run on sump pumps again, and OP should similarly use this to benchmark their future job searches.

    2. Yvette*

      Funny I don’t remember reading the original letter when I went back to it, but it reminded me of the one where the supervisor wanted to convince her employee that rodent droppings in the kitchenette/break room and dead cockroaches were just part of the charm of working in an historic building. (the employees desk was also apparently in the break room area) I cannot find the link.

      1. The Original K.*

        I remember that letter too and that was another one that made me uncomfortable. Like, why is there no pest control and why is the OP’s desk in the kitchen?

  6. Employee #24601*

    OP#3 – I don’t think that something urgent coming up during an interview can be extrapolated beyond that one situation without other data points. Nor can it be read automatically as a sign that they horribly mismanaged a project. I have worked in industries and roles where this is common because competition is fierce and competitor actions need to be responded to quickly – I would say even urgently. I don’t know the details of this company and industry, but I wouldn’t automatically assume its was anything beyond bad timing.

    1. Lux*

      But that’s what a red flag is, right? One of them in isolation might not be enough to raise the alarm, but if enough of them pop up it’s a good sign to get out of there. Either way, glad the OP had other decisions available.

  7. lgbteaching*

    I’m so glad you reconnected with your sweetheart. For what it’s worth, I found it incredibly exhausting hiding my personal life when I was teaching. No pride parades, no public…anything. I think your approach to look outside of your town was a good one, and am glad for you that it all seems to be working out.

  8. Chase J*

    Is #1 about the new National Security Advisor? On OP’s original letter they mentioned having their name removed from the religion’s records, and I really only know one big-name religion that does that, and they tend to be VERY pushy about getting “strays” to rejoin the religion.

      1. Quill*

        Yeah, please! AAM may have a small commentariat, but it’s keyword searchable!

        IIRC we had the same “hey, let’s not go too far into the details of OP’s workplace or ex religion even though most of us have some idea what it is,” when the original letter posted. OP doesn’t need this becoming more searchable on the internet.

    1. Sunflower Sea Star*

      There are hundreds of appointed positions in any given administration. So maybe, maybe not.
      Either way it’s rude to try and out the letter writer.

  9. TeapotNinja*

    OP3: Two things on the interrupted interview.

    Sometimes things happen. If you had multiple interviews and got interrupted multiple times, that might be an issue. Personally I would expect to be fetched to deal with an issue that’s affecting something I’m responsible for if it’s severe enough to have revenue / client reputation issues no matter what I’m doing at the moment.

    Second…maybe that’s why they’re hiring, because they’re understaffed. It’s pretty normal for companies to understaff until the understaffing becomes so severe that it’s not sustainable.

  10. Daniel Atter*

    #1 I’m not sure about the wisdom of sharing this update. The OP suggests that someone in the office could have seen the original letter (potentially the boss), and this is an update which is quite critical of him. It also gives information about him that would allow him at least to identify himself (he is starting a new, prestigious government position).

    I mean, if he saw the original post he might have wondered if it was him, wondered if it was a coincidence and decided to adjust his behaviour. But other than the issue addressed, it was not personally critical of him. This update IS – he is described as demeaning and That Guy, as well as being easily identifiable (I don’t doubt that he IS those things).

    And while he will be leaving, he is still there now. Are we sure that there is no risk of him getting offended and retaliating against OP, considering that she suspects someone in the office saw the original post?

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