my needy boss wants me to “adopt” her

A reader writes:

My manager, Wanda, is a director about five years younger than I am (I’m 63, also a woman). She has been with our employer for over 20 years, is extremely good at what she does, is fiercely loyal to her staff, and possesses a wealth of knowledge and insight about our specific work unit and about government in general.

She is also emotionally juvenile, totally self-focused, extremely needy, has never had any kind of a romantic relationship in her life, and her COMPLETELY PERFECT parents gave her a COMPLETELY PERFECT childhood that left her unable to trust any man outside her own family. I am no expert, but I’d wager that a good psychiatrist could probably get at least two or three dissertations’ worth of material out of her. Not that she’d ever consult one, since she is COMPLETELY PERFECT.

At the time I was hired, Wanda was going through some rough times. She had spent her entire adult life living at home caring for her elderly parents, who were both in fragile health and nearing the ends of their lives, so she was under tremendous stress.

I had lost my parents some years previously, and I tend to be the empathetic and nurturing sort. I also did not realize at that point just how messed up Wanda was emotionally. I made the huge mistake of trying to be supportive as she dealt with caring for her parents during their final illnesses. I encouraged her to chat about books and theater, invited her to join my spouse (he/him) and me for a couple of concerts, and even invited her to a family Christmas meal the year her second parent died.

Understand, she does have family nearby. She has one brother who she barely tolerates and a sister who she adores. The sister and her husband were out of town that year for Christmas and she didn’t want to go to her brother’s celebration, so she hinted and hinted until I finally broke down. It made for a fairly awkward gathering, as our family is quite ribald and rowdy while she is considerably more circumspect, and she made no secret of the fact that our typical holiday was not what she was accustomed to – but she continued to hint for more invitations afterward anyway.

I have worked very hard since then to ignore the hints, which, several years later, are still being dropped on a near-constant basis. I have extended no more invitations to family celebrations and have worked with other family members to shift hosting duties elsewhere (because if I am not hosting, then I’m not in charge of the guest list). I have limited outside-the-office contact to a once-a-year concert and a couple of dinners. My spouse thinks even that is too much, and I don’t disagree. However, given that Wanda is my boss, I also don’t know quite how to completely exclude her without repercussions.

A few weeks ago, she came to my cubicle in a flood of tears with the news that her adored sister is “selfishly” moving across the country to live closer to her children. She sobbed that she is being abandoned and that I need to “adopt” her because she won’t have any family that she likes in the area any more. She expects to be included in family gatherings, all concert and theater plans, and also made it clear that she’d like to go with us on vacations.

The absolute last thing in the world that I want to do is to “adopt” my needy, clingy boss and include her in every single non-work activity I engage in. It would unquestionably end my marriage, and quite possibly drive me to suicide.

I can’t afford to take early retirement, and at my age, I’d never land another job in my profession at my current income. Going to HR is out of the question because there is no such thing in my workplace as confidential reporting. Firing people is nearly impossible due to the civil service system, so I am not concerned about that, but in her position as my boss, she could very easily make my work life intolerable. She has done so to others in our section who angered her (such as by going to HR with a complaint).

Do you have any suggestions for how I can establish appropriate boundaries at this stage of the game? Or am I just stuck providing emotional support to this woman until one or the other of us either retires or dies?

Oh my goodness, no.

Wanda’s situation sounds very sad, but she is violating all sorts of boundaries as your boss, and you’re right to want to reestablish more professional ones.

Often when someone is asking for something this over-the-top, the easiest way to respond is to act as if of course they weren’t serious: “Ha ha, you’re funny! Imagine if I really did adopt you and start taking you on our vacations— Bob (husband’s name) would not be pleased!”

Sometimes reacting as if of course this is a funny joke jogs the other person into realizing what they said was ridiculous, and it allows them to back off while still saving face.

It doesn’t always work, but it works often enough — and saves you both from enough awkwardness when it does — that it’s worth trying first. If that doesn’t get the point across and Wanda continues to indicate she wants to be included in everything you do, you’ll need to move on to addressing it more seriously. To do that, I’d first express empathy for her situation, then clearly state you’re not able to help in the way she’s requesting, while wrapping it all in a warm, friendly tone (since she’s your boss and you’re worried about staying on good terms with her). For example: “I know you’re having a rough time with your sister moving. That must be such a tough adjustment to make. We can definitely get the occasional coffee or so forth, but it’s important to me that we maintain our manager/employee relationship — which I think is quite good! — so that boundaries don’t get blurry here at work.”

If she tells you that you don’t need to worry about blurred work boundaries, explain it’s important to you to know that she’ll always be objective about your work, and that you can discuss work problems without a social relationship getting in the way, and that others don’t wonder about favoritism. You could even say, “You’re such a good manager and mentor and I don’t want to compromise that.”

Hopefully this will make it clear to her that she needs to adjust her expectations about your relationship. But if it doesn’t, you still have a ton of control here: You can simply not invite her on family vacations and not tell her about concert plans or family gatherings. On occasions where she assumes events are happening (because it’s the holidays or you’re taking a week off work for a trip or so forth), you can either be firm yourself (“this is one-on-one time for me and my niece” or “my sister is hosting and I can’t invite additional guests”) or, hell, just blame it on others (“Bob is a stickler about keeping these plans just us”). I’m not usually a fan of blaming others when it’s a boundary you should be able to set yourself, but when you’re dealing with a boss who’s this pushy, you use what works, and I suspect your spouse and family would be perfectly happy to be the fall guys here.

Also, while bringing her on family trips is obviously not acceptable, if continuing to share a once-a-year concert and a dinner or two is the price of maintaining harmony in a job you otherwise want to stay in … go ahead and do what you have to do. You’re not a failure if you can’t completely stamp out the very occasional, smaller get-togethers, and it’s okay to focus your defense on the big stuff like not allowing her to tag along on vacations and not making her your default plus-one.

Read updates to this letter here and here.

{ 415 comments… read them below }

  1. Jean*

    Oh my gosh OP. I’m an intensely private introvert and this is my actual nightmare, so you have all my sympathy. Best of luck with installing and enforcing healthy boundaries with your boss. If she wants to be “adopted” and re-parented, it’s time for some tough love!

    1. Cookie Captain*

      One additional thing I’d suggest is trying find ways to build up some distance at work–just in terms of accountability, not necessarily contact.

      Are there any duties than can be gradually made more independent of her oversight? Are there other managers you can try to work with on certain projects? Can you mentally re-frame how you perceive your own success so that her feedback really just stops mattering to you?

      In case your relationship does take a dip when you try to establish boundaries with this nightmare woman, start planning what you can do to limit her ability to make your work life miserable in advance.

      1. Mockingjay*

        This is excellent advice. It’s great that OP wants to support Wanda, but look out for yourself as well. Likely when OP establishes personal boundaries, Wanda is going to react emotionally and want to retaliate. “Sister is leaving her, now OP doesn’t want her…”

        If (when) Wanda gets emotional because she feels the OP pulling back, gently suggest Wanda use the EAP and get some support. (As civil servants you should have one.)

        1. LunaLena*

          I don’t know that suggesting EAP is a good idea. From OP’s description, I would bet that Wanda views any kind of therapy negatively because therapy is for people who are weak and are too [insert condescending word here] to solve their own problems, so why should Wanda need it when she is *completely perfect* and it’s everyone else (like her selfish sister) who are the ones that should get help? Is OP saying that Wanda isn’t *completely perfect*? How dare she!

          OP, you have my sympathy. It’s tough when there’s someone that needy and clingy in your life and you can’t just sever ties. If it makes you feel any better, even George Washington had to deal with someone like that – his mother. She sent him a note while he was away at war to tell him he needed to get her some butter and a new servant, and later complained loudly and publicly that he neglected her and made her live in poverty (after he’d bought her a new house) because he was busy leading the revolution and then setting up a new country, and that was no excuse for a boy to not come and see his dear old mother.

          1. ToS*

            I will circle back that she might say something like: Human Resources often suggests EAP as a resource so people can talk out their situations with a minimum of disruption of the work of the department. I have X project/deadline and I’m really looking forward to having it done on time or early so it’s no longer pending, as there is plenty more work to do. [Note: frame this so it’s not about her having power to shift the deadline – the warm tone of this is I-hear-your-need-let’s-connect-you-to-better-options] Please look into other resources as I’m best at [what I was hired for] The people available through EAP have the KSAs that you seem to be seeking. I’m just floating a balloon, and, don’t want to know if you connect, since you are using “abandoned” I’m just pointing out that there are resources so you are not alone.

      1. OrigCassandra*

        I’m coming out of the dissolution of a long-term marriage. My friend scene is… not good at present. It’s a thing I know I need to work on.

          1. OrigCassandra*

            I don’t have employees, but I DO have students, and I continue to be quite rigid about enforcing boundaries around them. :) My personal-life turmoil absolutely must not become their problem.

            1. valentine*

              does she also not have…friends?
              I was surprised she has siblings because her parents sound like they isolated her and possibly raised her to be their carer (like that awful movie Like Water for Chocolate). Allowing any outside perspective just hastens the spotlight on your house of cards. It makes sense that Wanda imprinted on the person who gave her an inch. (I think the niblings aren’t the only reason the sister’s getting outta Dodge.)

              I wonder if it’s worth asking HR how they handle retaliation or suggesting Wanda could use the EAP. Conversely, since they’ve let her run roughshod, I’d spread the blame and not mention Bob too often, lest Wanda report to HR that he’s isolating OP.

              1. Mama Bear*

                I know families where one child was the caregiver and the others were not. For example, the caregiver was the youngest, or last to be married (if they dated at all), or the one that had the fewest career prospects. If Wanda’s siblings also have stronger personalities, then they may not have been as willing to be the caregivers, either. Sounds like the sister probably had more of a life outside the nuclear family.

                1. Artemesia*

                  My next door neighbors were like this. The two boys grew up and flew the nest normally; they made sure their daughter was their servant. She didn’t move out on her own till her 40s when they moved into assisted living and then they chose the apartment in a building of elderly people. She was a CPA with a job and not obviously disabled socially but her whole life was sucked dry by these parents. She wasn’t ‘free’ to have a life till she was in her 60s and it had passed her by. She would have been left as needy as Wanda.

                  This is one where a slavish insistence on separating work and social life is the only chance for establishing better norms. Too bad the OP already did a bit of socializing but that is done. Whatever it takes including blaming her husband and her very crazy schedule of other obligations but don’t let this woman have another inch.

              2. Quill*

                Sometimes it also just happens: something happens and a temporary caring-for-parents situation never ends. In that case it’s usually whoever lives closest / doesn’t have kids / is themselves healthy, etc.

              3. Maria Lopez*

                The movie was great. The situation was awful. And the movie definitely came to mind when I read that Wanda had siblings. Until then I thought she was an only child.
                If OP knows of any interests Wanda has she could possibly arrange and accompany her to, say, a bird-watching group or a quilting bee. Enough so that Wanda has to socialize and hopefully make some friends.

              4. Mystykyn*

                I think that is exactly what happened. The son was allowed to fly the nest and they raised the less attractive daughter to be their carer. They
                probably kept her socially isolated for that reason. It used to be “normal” though tbf the daughter Queen Victoria kept at home was eventually allowed to marry.

            1. Akcipitrokulo*

              I would say that you didn’t make a mistake by reacting compassionately; the fact she was unable/unwilling to stick to reasonable boundaries is not on you.

              It is a huge adjustment for her, and will be difficult and painful, but it isn’t your job to fix that – and it also would not be in her best interests if you tried.

              Being a good, dependable employee who makes work more pleasant and stable will help. Keeping kind but firm working relationships – which can include the occasional dinner or outing – may well give her one thing that she knows is stable. Which is probably something she needs given recent upheavals.

        1. MK*

          I think having “a not-good friend scene at present” is different than having made no friendships by the age of 50-plus. The first can happen for any number of reasons (personal circumstances like divorce, sudden distant relocation, e/immigration, old age, etc), the second (unless one is reclusive by nature and/or choice and happier that way) says something about your character. Wanda apparently is still living in the same area she grew up in and has spent all or most of her life. No romance could mean she is aromantic and/or asexual or uninterested or repressed or just plain unlucky, but unlikely that she is totally friendless by happenstance.

        2. twig*

          As someone else currently dissolving a long-term marriage — fistbump/highfive/hugs of solidarity. You’ve got this.

          1. HH*

            As someone who’s been divorced for 10 years now, it gets better. It takes a long time to heal, longer than many people think, (even if you’re the one seeking the divorce!) to get your life put back together but it does get better. Hang in there and keep going! It’s worth it!

        3. Burned Out Supervisor*

          Word, I’m still married, but a lot of our friends have moved out of state and our apartment building isn’t unfriendly, just everyone keeps odd hours. We have few friends left and are kind of at a loss at how to rebuild it…

          My mom also told me that the older you get, the smaller your friend circle can get…so there’s that fun image.

          1. CatMintCat*

            My mother-in-law said that one of the hardest things about being 90 was having no friends left – they’d all died.

          2. EH*

            Making new friends is really rough once you’re out of school in part because it apparently takes something like 150 hours of shared time for the brain to move someone all the way into the “this is my friend” column. When you spend an hour or more a day together at school, it’s easy. When you both have full time jobs and/or busy family/social/whatever lives, it gets a whole lot harder.

          3. Artemesia*

            I moved to a new city where we knew one except our daughter at retirement. In 5 years we had a vibrant social life. It didn’t happen by accident. I joined open book groups and later found book clubs (those always take a while to find and be invited into); I did meet ups both with my husband and individually. And I was on the prowl for people who seemed potentially interesting and would initiate getting together for lunch and then move to couples dinners and such. About 75% of those led to further socializing and then we met people through these people. It took work — but it can be done. The key is taking the initiative to get the other person’s phone number and follow up — lots of people are willing to respond but few people initiate. Hope in a year’s time you have a few friends you hang with regularly.

      2. wellywell*

        With her lack of boundaries, whatever “friends” she might have had would have long ago run screaming into the night, away from her. Not surprisingly.

        1. Anonapots*

          I have known a person very similar and you are correct. Unlike Wanda, however, the person I know just gloms onto unwitting person after unwitting person, sucking the relationship dry before moving on to the next. They are an emotional vampire and insinuate themselves into families until their friends get wise and back away.

          1. wellywell*

            “Vampire” is a great word to use here. And understandably, people will “ghost” such a person. (Halloween-y words seem to apply to situations like this…)

            In many situations I’d say “ghosting” is cowardly and not cool, but when someone behaves here like OP’s boss, not respecting any kind of boundaries with anyone, it is going to happen. People can only take so much.

          2. Ethyl*

            Hi I see we had the same friend! Did you also get the Tales Of Woe about how their previous friends cruelly and randomly abandoned them, with no reason, and how YOU, you’re such a BETTER friend than those other jerks……

            1. Róisín*

              My mom knew a person like this. She swears that the lady is now telling all the same stories about her and her friends, to a new group of fawning suckers.

          3. Leisel*

            There’s an episode of the show “What We Do in the Shadows” where an energy vampire meets an emotional vampire in an office. It’s so ridiculous but I could not stop laughing. In the episode they are competing to suck the life out of their coworkers. I had tears streaming out of my eyes it was so funny.

          4. GreyjoyGardens*

            I know a couple of people who fit that description. They are, indeed, emotional vampires. (I also know a couple of people who had a kid, or kids, so they “would always have a friend” and that turned out as well as you might imagine.)

            1. Code Monkey, the SQL*

              I literally just bared my teeth in defense.. That sounds like an utter nuclear reactor meltdown waiting to happen.

          5. Gazebo Slayer*

            I spent a fair bit of my teens and twenties being prey to several people like that, and hope never to encounter one again.

        2. Burned Out Supervisor*

          Yeah, I can sniff these kinds of people out pretty swiftly due to past experience. They’re completely exhausting.

      3. Dust Bunny*

        I would guess that nobody else can live up to the COMPLETELY PERFECT experience of her formative years, so . . . no. Probably not.

      4. Isabelle*

        I would imagine most potential friends ran away when they discovered she had no understanding of healthy boundaries.
        It wouldn’t surprise me if her sister was moving away for the same reason, not just to be closer to her kids.

        1. MK*

          Or that the reason she doesn’t get along with her brother is because he was unwilling to put up with her.

          1. Isabelle*

            Yes and it says a lot that Wanda would rather spend Christmas with her employee than with her own brother! Perhaps the brother and his wife put their collective foot down regarding Wanda’s pushy and clingy ways and she didn’t like it.

            1. Ice and Indigo*

              It’s not impossible she really is moving away to be near her kids, but it’s less-than-healthy that anyone would consider putting your kids first selfish. If nothing else, OP, you can take it as a sign that you can expect her to have unrealistic expectations of others.

          2. GreyjoyGardens*

            Whenever somebody breaks out the “poor me, nobody loves me” routine I tend to suspect that they are part of the problem. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bro and SIL enforced strong boundaries with Wanda, and now Sis is fleeing not just to be near her kids and potential grandkids, but to get away from her needy, boundary-stomping sister.

            1. Richard Hershberger*

              This is the close relation to the “everyone screws me over” routine. Their life is an endless series of victimization. The constant element in both scenarios is the same.

              1. whingedrinking*

                The Germans have a saying which roughly translates as: if it smells like poop wherever you go, then you smell like poop. (For some reason this saying was running through my mind the last time I met a guy who said all his exes were “crazy”.)

                1. GreyjoyGardens*

                  A similar proverb, can’t remember the origin, goes like this: if one person calls you a donkey*, ignore them. But if five people call you a donkey, buy yourself a saddle.

                  *using the more family-friendly word here

                2. Elizabeth West*

                  I always heard that as “If it smells like poo wherever you go, check your shoes,” used both literally and figuratively. Same meaning, though; you’re carrying it with you.

                3. AuroraLight37*

                  One I’ve used before is “When an entire subreddit thinks you’re an ass, you’ve probably sprouted a tail.”

        2. Impy*

          My mother has no concept of boundaries and for a long time had no real concept that I was not a possession / doll of hers. I had to move cross country for my own sanity. I claimed it was for a job, but let’s face it, I didn’t move 4 hours away for a 3 day admin role.

          1. wellywell*

            I had a boss (east coast) who had four children. She was horrifically toxic to everyone she came in contact with and was often on the phone yelling at some family member, and once when her sister visited, the sister left the office in tears after being yelled at (door open).

            ALL four of her kids moved to the west coast. We observed and understood that they moved as far away from her as they could get without leaving the continent.

            1. GreyjoyGardens*

              I knew someone who fled to the opposite coast from her (not toxic, just pushy and self-willed) mother, and then once she had a kid, the one-two punch of post-natal depression and a really, really tough baby had her begging her mom to please bail her out of the mess she made…I mean, I felt for the daughter because she was in a bad situation, but “daycare” and “medication” were not options? It was a miserable codependent relationship all around.

              1. Impy*

                Trust me. I haven’t made the mistake of asking my mother for help for over a decade. My partner was out of work for a year recently. I sold stuff. We got a loan from a friend. I extended my overdraft. I learned very early on that help isn’t free when it comes to people like that.

                1. GreyjoyGardens*

                  I believe it was Nicole Cliffe on Slate who said, “Free daycare isn’t free.” Sure, it’s great when grandparents take the kids for a weekend or a holiday, or watch them in a pinch, but nine times out of ten, having Grandma be a full-time, unpaid nanny has giant strings attached.

                  You are 100% right that toxic family “free help” is never, ever free.

                2. Richard Hershberger*

                  “…nine times out of ten, having Grandma be a full-time, unpaid nanny has giant strings attached.”

                  The thing is, grandparents helping with the kids is totally normal in much of the world, and not at all abnormal in the U.S. And it works out just fine, with a functional family. My middle schooler goes to my in-laws after school. Are we treating my in-laws any differently for this? Not really. They would be a part of our and our child’s lives regardless. But they also are mostly sane. That is the difference.

                3. Impy*

                  Richard – the problem is that a lot of people vastly over estimate the proportion of sane people in the world.

                4. Not Sayin'*

                  “… nine times out of ten, having Grandma be a full-time, unpaid nanny has giant strings attached.”

                  As well it should. That’s hard work and a HUGE responsibility. Of course, in a healthy relationship this would all be discussed and agreed to beforehand.

              2. Impy*

                Also I don’t want to be nasty – but expecting your mother to behave like a normal mother is not ‘co-dependency’. It’s a mistake a lot of us make when we’re vulnerable and still getting used to the fact that our mothers are mentally ill / not normal. I remember making the mistake of telling my mother about getting a promotion and she said “Why would anyone promote you?” She’s better now, in that therapy has helped her learn appropriate social cues. But she’s the same, really, and I no longer make the mistake of expecting her to behave normally or give me support of any kind. Your comment makes me think you grew up with a neurotypical, supportive mother – sorry if I’m incorrect there! – and I think people who have that underestimate how difficult it is to have the one person who society tells you has your back no matter what… not.

                1. Artemesia*

                  I don’t get mothers who don’t understand that their adult children are adults. I know someone whose mother recently said ‘you can’t do that’ when her child described the complex job responsibility they had. ‘Kid’ has been a professional in this field for years.

                2. whingedrinking*

                  @Artemisia – trust me, it’s hard for us to grasp too. I’m in my thirties and a grad student, and last year my mother called me when I happened to be at the library lateish, around 9 PM. When my mother realized this fact, she tried to tell me I had to go home RIGHT THEN and it was completely ridiculous for me to stay there any longer – how would I get home safely?! (I was deliberately vague on how long I planned to be there, but it was during spring exam period so the building was open 24 hours – 2 AM was an unpleasant but not impossible prospect.) I reminded her that a) buses run late to the university, b) I have a driver’s license and a car-sharing app and c) taxis exist. The wailing continued until the call ended, at which point a nearby undergrad looked at me sympathetically and said, “My mom’s like that too.”

                3. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

                  My mother in law occasionally does something like this, though not as dramatic, to my husband. He’ll be 40 this year and has been living independently since he was 18, and we live in a city with 24 hour bus service and ample taxis. Though I think she would have quite liked him to come stay at her house (several hours away) when he broke his ankle a few years ago.

              3. Librarian of SHIELD*

                I just feel the need to say that post-natal depression really can alter a person’s perception of what’s possible and what they’re capable of doing. If there wasn’t a healthy, supportive influence in her life to help her get to the therapy and medication and setting up daycare, it’s entirely possible that this new mother really couldn’t see what her options were.

                1. Impy*

                  This. I had a very intense job. Regular me was fine – I made lunch the night before, packed healthy snacks, ironed my clothes on a Sunday. Depressed me had to get taxis to the train station and ate at Greggs (British pasty place which is supposed to be a treat and not a regular lunch venue). And that’s without post pregnancy hormones, and the stress of nursing (which friends have told me is horrific).

      5. Manders*

        Unfortunately, caretaking for a dying parent can really wreck your schedule/energy levels/general ability to seek out and maintain friendships. I wasn’t even my mom’s primary caretaker and I lost some friendships while she was sick.

        It sounds like Wanda might have a difficult time being a good friend under any circumstances, but the fact that her parents died recently after long illnesses (and that she spent her entire adult life as their caretaker) makes me think she’s probably got a lot of that “Oh my god, my time is my own again, what on earth do I do with it?” energy. That doesn’t make her behavior okay but I do think OP might be able to redirect that energy (and that it might die down a bit on its own over time).

        1. schnauzerfan*

          Yes. I’m ten years into the hell that is working full time while being the primary caregiver for an elderly invalid parent. It leaves little time and/or energy to nourish my own relationships. It would have been a kindness if someone (not OP) could have pointed Wanda towards a caregivers support group where she could have adopted and been adopted by others in her situation. I wonder if the IAP could help with pointers. Find her a meet up group, something. But that’s on Wanda. Not OP.

          1. Manders*

            Oh yes, very much agreed, it’s not OP’s responsibility to tell Wanda what she could do with her time or how to make friends. If OP maintains firm boundaries and makes it clear what she’s not willing to do for Wanda, Wanda will hopefully figure it out on her own, or at least get less pushy as she adjusts to her new normal.

            1. Ice and Indigo*

              It’s also possible that, given the sacrifices she’s had to make, her notions of what counts as ‘a big ask’ are kind of off. A thing to consider.

        2. Working Mom*

          Couple the challenges of being a full time caregiver with the fact that how she was raised. The way OP wrote about Wanda’s live in such clear terms… it’s alarming. I feel badly for Wanda that she was raised in such a way* that has brought her here.

          *In such a way that we don’t even know… but to a point that wanda sees it as so completely perfect… but in a way that doesn’t allow her to trust anyone but her family? (Lifetime movie stuff here.)

      6. Oh So Anon*

        Wanda doesn’t sound like someone who would be capable of being a good friend. It’s just not something everyone has the skills or temperament to do.

        1. GreyjoyGardens*

          I agree. And these tend to be the people who think “But faaaamily are *obligated* to love me!” which is probably why Wanda wants her underling (!!!) to “adopt” her. She’s finding out that these days, in order to have a friend you have to BE a friend, and I doubt she was a good friend to her siblings. So, like the cheese, she’s left standing alone.

      7. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        Wanda is an emotional vampire approaching age 60. I’m sure there are decades worth of emotionally drained who have been cast aside once they had nothing left to give or hiding far, far from her. Not to mention women in functional marriages who had to escape because their husbands got tired of the sneers and dirty looks Wanda gave them because their wives had to blame someone else for setting healthy boundaries.

      8. Quill*

        If she’s always lived in the town that she was raised in, it’s probably a combination of circumstances and… well, her personality as demonstrated throughout the letter.

        Some towns everyone you knew in school leaves and there’s almost nothing going on, socially, that isn’t focused on dating or people’s kids.

    2. AngryAngryAlice*

      Hard agree. Although it’s worth pointing out that this definitely isn’t an introvert/extrovert thing; it’s a pushy-people-with-no-boundaries thing (and there’s a huge difference). I’m an outgoing extrovert and I’m definitely not a super private person, but this situation sounds like absolute hell to me. I wouldn’t want *anyone* like this in my life, let alone someone at work (especially my boss!!!). What a nightmare.

      LW, I hope you are able to navigate this situation with minimal negative consequences/blowback. I feel for you!

      1. Observer*

        Although it’s worth pointing out that this definitely isn’t an introvert/extrovert thing; it’s a pushy-people-with-no-boundaries thing (and there’s a huge difference)


      2. Impy*

        I think sometimes introverts think that whenever we’re uncomfortable, it must be us, and our need for alone time. It can be nice to get the reassurance that no, this is something everyone would find difficult and strange.

    3. TardyTardis*

      And if push comes to shove, it’s probably going to be only two years. I put up with a *lot* when I was in that situation.

  2. Elaine Benes*

    My eyes were as big as saucers by the end of this letter! All my sympathies OP. I think you might have to stick to the tougher end of Alison’s advice. I could see your boss being the kind of person who would find a light joke to be *extremely hurtful* even if no one else would, especially since she’s already spent time with you and your family outside work. I would go with the blurred boundaries conversation and just a firm and confident reason for why she’s not invited to anything else you’re doing this year. Please update us!

    1. Dragoning*

      I agree, I read Alison’s script for a joke and went “ooooh, that’s not going to go well.” She’s clearly very serious and distraught–pretending to laugh at that is going to cut deep.

          1. Personal Best In Consecutive Days Lived*

            You have my sympathies OP. I would probably move to Tuktoyaktuk. I hear it’s very beautiful there.
            Wishing you all the luck dealing with this!

      1. Clisby*

        Yes, I think there are cases where a joke could work, but not when someone is in tears over the situation.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      yeah, no jokes here. This person is way too far out of touch with normal emotional responses for that to a) work or b) not backfire immensely.

  3. OP*

    That is super-helpful, Allison – THANK YOU. I really like those scripts, especially the one framing it as a joke, because I think that would probably go over well.

    She honestly is not a bad person, nor is she a bad manager in most respects (aside from the personal boundaries issues here). That is a big part of why I would like to find a way to gently push back without compromising the professional relationship, because it genuinely is a good one that I value in many, many ways.

    I won’t be able to comment again until later today, but am very much looking forward to other feedback as well. Thank you again!

    1. Snoop*

      I just want to comment and tell OP that you should like a very caring and empathetic person! Sometimes, those very kind traits can lead you to being taken advantage of. I hope you are able to use those scripts and develop boundaries with your boss. It’s not too late to create a professional relationship for the rest of your working time together.

      1. Bagpuss*

        I agree.
        I would also suggest, OP, that if you do feel that you have to still offer her the occasional social get-together that you aim to keep this away from your home.
        Don’t invite her to dinner at your home, suggest meeting up for a meal (or just a coffee)
        If you go to a concernt, suggest meting her there, and don’t offer or accept offers to give her a lift home / her her drive you home.

        That way, you are distancing her friendship with you a bit form you home life.

        I’d also suggest considering inviting another co-worker or two to such events, which helps to subtly identify them as work events more than social ones – and may make it much easier to stop them when you or she retires or if either of you were to change jobs. Or even to let them taper off – “Oh , yes, it was nice to socialise with coworkers but it started t seem a bit as though we were excluding people who weren’t free in the evenings, so I’m happier just lunching or getting coffee together when we are all at work” -that way, without having to explicitly say so you are framing it more as you being friendly with her through and at work, as opposed to you being her bestest ever friend and substitute sister.

        I think you can also aim to be a bit less helpful and sympathetic – for instance, if she is venting to you about her sister, or being lonely, or anything, try to bat it back to her -have a fairly generic response like “I know it’s hard to make adjustments, but I’m sure you’ll work it out!” or “How wonderful for your sister to be able to be closer to her children – I’m sure you are looking forward to visiting her there!” – if your responses are – not unkind, but not encouraging her idea that she is hard done by she may well confide in you less because she doesn’t get the sympathy she wants.

        If you wanted to, you could also suggest things to her that she can do by herself – e.g. rather than inviting her to go to the theatre with you, you could pass on a flyer / membership application to her to a local theatre group – say something like “I know you enjoy the theatre, I thought this might interest you, it looks like people go to shows as a group and then met to to socialise and discuss them”

        I’m also a big fan of using your husband as an excuse. If she hinyts that she wants you to invite her along to the theatre then something like “I don’t think Bob would like it if I brought a third person along on our date!” .. but keping it very lighthearted with the implication being that *of course* she wouldn’t want to push in on a private outing.

        I’d also cut down on any discussion of your plans or social life in front of hr – it’s harder to invite yourself to things if you don’t know know they are happening.

        Same if she hints for holiday invites “oh, we’re still waiting to finalise stuff with family, so our plans aren’t fixed yet” or “Bob’s sister is organising everything this year. We’ll just turn up where we’re told to.”

        1. Sparrow*

          I like the idea of directing her toward other social outlets, or sending her information at volunteering with an organization she likes, etc. I have no idea whether or not she’d bite, but I think it’s something worth considering.

          1. Slow Gin Lizz*

            Same. I was going to make the same suggestion. Since this is the first time she’s had to live without family nearby, it may be something she’d never considered and she might enjoy it.

            1. [insert witty user name here]*

              Also coming to suggest this. Someone may have very valid reasons why this wouldn’t be a good idea, but I was thinking maybe volunteering with an older population might be a good fit for her – we often hear about lonelier older folks who need companionship, so maybe she could make some friendships that way? Maybe even find someone whose family isn’t close by (or doesn’t have any family left) and they could “adopt” each other.

              Also, maybe an animal companion would be a good fit.

              1. GreyjoyGardens*

                Even if Wanda doesn’t want to volunteer with older people, there are many, many other volunteer options out there. She can work at an animal shelter or community garden, for instance. I know lots of people who, while they may not make Best Friends Forever through volunteering, get a lot of socializing and human contact and a feeling of generosity by doing it.

              2. valentine*

                I’d also suggest considering inviting another co-worker or two to such events, which helps to subtly identify them as work events more than social ones
                This is a good idea, especially since it spares Bob. Is there strength in numbers here or would Wanda appreciate a larger audience to weep at? If the coworkers are game, I would restrict the outings to coffee during work hours: less time and no non-work time.

                The next time she bangs on about what you need to do for her, or just lets loose about her life, would it help to say, “That’s not possible/That sounds rough, but I hope it works out for you”? No offers or suggestions (too much work! where’s your hazard pay?!), just statements/gray-rocking.

                1. Quill*

                  “We should all donate time to *community garden*!”

                  “Wanda, you’re so good at organizing, why don’t you help *other group* with that tangled hose”

                  Wanda could easily be less of a problem if she could spread her problem out. (and feeling like you tried to help is sometimes necessary here.)

              3. Ginger ale for all*

                The animal companion idea is great. Mention to Wanda that she gas such a kind and loving heart and that you think she would make a good fur baby mom. I just spent the holidays with my pug who absolutely insisted that there was no such thing as too little attention and too much petting.

          2. JLB*

            Agree on directing her to other social outlets. I’ve been wanting to expand my own social network and really enjoy the MeetUp app. See if that’s active in your town. It’s nothing about dating but includes every interest group imaginable, mostly social but also professional. Join a few you might find enjoyable which merely means you get alerts about activities being organized.

            No pressure whatsoever (except if you do RSVP to attend an activity, then do either show up or cancel). I’ve subscribed to a group with very small membership of ladies my age that organize breakfast out once or twice a month, mid-size groups of a shared professional interest, to a huge generational group (Boomers) that has a never-ending list of “let’s meet for a movie”, “weekly walk at XYZ park”, “line dancing at…”. It’s so easy.

            Note – if not active in your area, you can also CREATE a group as a host. But – obviously -there’s more weight on your shoulders to approve memberships, promote the group, organize activities plus a small software fee.

            1. JLB*

              BTW, my suggestion was to make HER aware of some of these type of opportunities, not to necessarily offer to accompany her. Unless, it’s a topic/group you are interested in yourself AND you can do so with having her perpetually seeing it as a “team” activity from now until eternity!

          3. Quill*

            Yes, possibly look for library clubs, yoga class, or whatever, that you can both “try out” and make it clear that your attendance won’t be dependent on each other’s availability.

          4. OP*

            Ooooh, excellent call – there is a non-profit org that she has often said she wants to volunteer with after she retires, so encouraging her to dip her toes in it now could be a great idea! She tends more toward the “live to work” end of the spectrum than the opposite, and it would definitely be healthier for her to spend time having fun.

        2. Grits McGee*

          I think making changes to redirect the outings to be more work-focused, rather than home-focused, is a great idea.

        3. AKchic*

          Yes to the expanding the “coworker social pool”. Because right now, things could be twisted by others if something doesn’t go their way, or if Wanda decides to hinder someone because she’s upset with them (which, it does sound like she’s done previously); and any (potential) accusations of impropriety in the way of personal friendships affecting the worksite really should be minimized.

          Wanda is setting the both of you up for some potential drama. More than she is already bringing into the workplace.

          I’m sorry you’re having to deal with such an emotional vampire. Perhaps for 2020, when disentangling yourself from the majority of your personal connections with her, you can say “I am stepping back from a lot of things to recharge right now” (the “a lot of things” being her) or “I’ve been overextending myself lately, so we are limiting our socializing as much as possible” (the “as much as possible” being her).

        4. Ferris*

          Getting her away from your house and husband and making the outings more work-crowd oriented is a fabulous idea. It is basically a way of slowly wedging in a barrier between work and home.

        5. Beth*

          Yeah, in general I’m not a huge fan of blaming others for your decisions (it doesn’t work well in most situations, long-term; people compare stories and figure it out, or your mom gets really mad at your husband for keeping you away all the time, or etc.). But when it’s your boss who has no personal contact with you husband, sister, aunt, etc.? And you think a quick “Haha, Aunt Sally would be so pissed if I started inviting people to her dinner!” would defuse things? By all means go for it!

        6. zaracat*

          The technique of limiting the venting and then warmly but firmly redirecting the conversation can be very effective. A few years back I was in the situation where I was depressed, lonely and recovering from surgery and a colleague from work (someone I chatted to, but didn’t socialise with outside of work) invited me to spend Christmas day with her family and then to go with them to their holiday rental for a few days around New Year, and has been a sympathetic ear over the years since then when I’ve needed it. What has made this work is that she is one of the most well-boundaried people I know, and also very kind and compassionate in the way she does it. It has actually been enormously helpful for me to have those boundaries set and I’ve gradually learned to monitor and limit my own venting and to refocus on some positive aspect of a situation. In a way what what my friend is doing is “parenting” but it’s a very different form of parenting than just letting the needy person have everything they want, especially if they only drop hints rather than directly asking.

          Who knows, maybe Wanda will respond surprisingly well to having limits set.

          1. OP*

            This really gives me hope, zaracat. I am so glad that you got support from your friend in a way that helped you grow as an individual.

        7. OP*

          Good points there, Bagpuss, and I’ve implemented some already, like keeping social meetings away from my home. The suggestion to talk less about my outside-the-office activities is a good one as well. And I really like the idea of getting others from the work group to participate in any nonwork activities with her; broadening the pool reduces the load all around. Thanks!

          1. Artemesia*

            If meet ups are a thing in your area, share an experience or suggest looking for something with her interests. Meet ups attract people looking to make new contacts and friends and even if you leave with no ideas for people you’d like to see again, you are doing something fun in an interest area of yours. I have never met a new friend in a photo group but I have participated in several and they were great fun — crawling through an abandoned prison, visiting an ancient cemetery and an abandoned warehouse and old church etc etc for example.

    2. WellRed*

      I had no idea what Alison would suggest when I read your letter, but love the joke idea. It lets her save face, if you will, when she makes a ridiculous suggestion.

    3. Software Engineer*

      If she has made life miserable for others who went to HR then I question whether she’s really a good manager beyond the boundaries issue. That’s A pretty serious flag in a manager that can really damage your ability to trust them, IME

      1. eplawyer*

        This is why I don’t think she will take the joke well. She is dead serious. She really believes you should adopt her. Her parents, bless their hearts, did not prepare her for living on her own. She now expects you to fill that role of her parents. If you joke about it, she will feel rejected. Since she has limited coping skills, she will lash out.

        Remember she thinks she is PERFECT. Therefore anyone who complains about her, doesn’t do what she wants is WRONG WRONG WRONG and must be punished.

        You need to go right to the harder conversations of no that is not possible. Bob won’t mind being the fall guy if it means he gets vacations free of your boss.

        1. Combinatorialist*

          I think we can trust that the OP knows Wanda better than we do when she tells us that she thinks the joke will work well.

          1. blackcatlady*

            Maybe add to the ‘joke’ path by saying I don’t want to compromise your standing as manager! I’d hate to see your boss complain that we are crossing work boundaries and damage your job evaluations.

          2. Artemesia*

            Artful misunderstanding is a great technique. I have used it successfully in many situations. The OP knows the manager is ‘just kidding’ and acts that way and odds are fair the manager will sort of go along.

        2. Myrin*

          I think we should trust OP that she knows Wanda well enough – better than she would like to, really! – to gauge her reaction. We are just some internet randos whereas she actually knows the person in question.

        3. wellywell*

          I would also make sure that EVERYONE else at work knows about this bizarre request. In case this boss reacts badly to not being invited of vacations and such. She is nuts.

      2. Coder von Frankenstein*

        Agreed, I was thinking the same.

        Obviously you know her best, OP, so if you think the joke approach will work, you’re likely right. But a manager who retaliates when people bring complaints to HR is absolutely a bad manager.

    4. MeganTea*

      I would actually push back on your statement that “she is [not] a bad manager” and say that yes, these boundaries issues DO make her a bad manager. What she is doing is SO very unprofessional and unacceptable and NOT NORMAL. That doesn’t make her a mustache-twirling evil villain caricature! She can be a bad manager and still have other redeeming qualities. She can also do work in her role of manager that’s good/high quality/helpful, but her actions towards you — using her power as manager to force you to be family (ick!) — outweighs any good she may do. Feel sorry for her all you like, but don’t forget/ignore that she is also abusing her position and power.

      1. kittymommy*

        Ehh, I think that people can be good managers overall but have bad aspects of management. Perhaps that is the case here.

        1. MeganTea*

          I don’t think Wanda is a good manager overall, though — this is a pretty bad abuse of power. OP states, “in her position as my boss, she could very easily make my work life intolerable. She has done so to others in our section who angered her (such as by going to HR with a complaint).” Wanda has a history of retaliation, which is really alarming.

          1. boo bot*

            Yeah, I think there are single acts or qualities that basically render all the positives irrelevant. It’s like letters to other advice columns that are like, “my boyfriend is amazing and perfect, except he’s a super-villain intent on world domination.”

            Sometimes, the good stuff just doesn’t matter.

        2. BRR*

          I agree with the overall statement. But when you factor in how far she’s doing crossing the line and the retribution/HR thing she’s an awful manager. To me, those far outweigh any success she has with her work resutls.

        3. Coder von Frankenstein*

          It is true that people can be good managers overall and have flaws, even serious ones. But there are certain things that make you a bad manager, period, regardless of any other virtues you may possess. I would argue that retaliating against people who bring complaints to HR falls into that category.

      2. What The Fork Is A Chidi*

        Yeah, I was definitely going to comment something that even though although OP “gets along” with Wanda, it doesn’t sound Mike Wanda is nice or a good manager. Making people’s work life miserable when they make a complaint not a good manager makes. Also, if she’s not a bad person I don’t think you’d be afraid she’d retaliate at work over personal issues. The fact she sees her sister as selfish because she wants to move closer to her children? (I’m taking your word on this OP) Selfish people are not usually great people. I’m not trying to bash your boss, I just think that you might be downplaying her behaviour as just a little thing and I don’t think it’s little

      3. Close Bracket*

        People are not black and white, and the framing of “bad manager with redeeming qualities” is much less likely to bring the OP a sense of calm than her own framing of “good manager with bad qualities.” Everyone has choices in their framing, and the choice that maximizes happiness with a situation is the best framing.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          I agree with this. People contain multitudes, and if OP is planning to stay at this job with this manager until retirement, it makes sense for her to frame the scenario however she needs to frame it to make the next few years bearable.

        2. Coder von Frankenstein*

          Maybe. Or maybe the other framing will make it easier to set appropriate boundaries. In any case, it’s worth pointing out for the benefit of anyone *else* reading this comments section that these are major red flags in a manager and it’s hard to think of a virtue that would justify them.

    5. Narise*

      Hi OP I recommend discussing with HR. Not in the sense they need you to do something but let them know that your manager is having a difficult time and is trying to forge a closer relationship than you are comfortable with at this time. You want them to be aware that this may cause tension between you and your boss as you push back, hopefully not, but that you are committed to the job and to making the relationship with your boss continue as a professional relationship -( I know this is stretching it a bit.) This way they have a positive FYI in place before manager starts lodging complaints against you with HR.
      Beyond that I would ask your manager if she has thought of moving with her sister. This may be the best solution as she would have support and family.
      Also keep an eye out for the ability to transfer within your company/position. This may be the other option but I understand if that is not common.

      1. Harvey 6-3.5*

        Unfortunately, government HR is often not very helpful (and I think OP said she was government). I think that rather than trying HR, OP should deflect, divert, and avoid to the extent possible, while maybe encouraging her boss to either move to be near her sister (even if that means early retirement for the boss) or pick up some hobbies to engage other people. If she can do the encouraging without getting involved in the boss’ personal life.

      2. Antilles*

        Strong disagree.
        First off, there’s no real upside here. HR is there to protect the organization; given that there’s absolutely nothing legally concerning here, they’d likely just write it off as interpersonal drama. There’s a decent chance that they’d even just write it off as OP making a mountain out of a molehill and seriously why can’t you just say no, jeez.
        Secondly, there’s a huge potential downside. OP specifically said that the last time someone complained, Wanda made that person’s life miserable. If HR was willing to allow retaliation for a formal complaint before, it’s hard to expect they’d step in and stop Wanda from retaliating against OP this time.

      3. Lynca*

        Trust OP to know that HR would leak the complaint to their boss rather than actually do anything. While I know there are a lot of good HR peeps here in the comments, some places can have a lot of problems.

        They’re tolerating Wanda retaliating against others for just setting reasonable workplace boundaries. I wouldn’t want to go to them either.

    6. eplawyer*

      This is why I don’t think she will take the joke well. She is dead serious. She really believes you should adopt her. Her parents, bless their hearts, did not prepare her for living on her own. She now expects you to fill that role of her parents. If you joke about it, she will feel rejected. Since she has limited coping skills, she will lash out.

      Remember she thinks she is PERFECT. Therefore anyone who complains about her, doesn’t do what she wants is WRONG WRONG WRONG and must be punished.

      You need to go right to the harder conversations of no that is not possible. Bob won’t mind being the fall guy if it means he gets vacations free of your boss.

    7. Theory of Eeveelution*

      This wasn’t mentioned in Alison’s advice, but if you’re on social media, lock it down! Make sure she can’t see what you and your family are up to. That will hopefully give her fewer opportunities to grill you on why she wasn’t invited. If she notices that she can’t see your posts anymore, just tell you you’re not on socials anymore for your mental health, or something like that, then smile and change the subject.

      1. Sparrow*

        And if OP hasn’t started putting Wanda on an information diet during their in-person conversations, that’s probably be a good idea, too (i.e. stay vague about plans when she asks what you’re doing over the weekend, etc.) It sounds like she hasn’t outright invited herself along to things before, but I can imagine that changing if she doesn’t have another available outlet.

    8. Mama Bear*

      I agree to not be open ended about this with Wanda. Hedging is part of how it got to this point. You may also want to suggest that Wanda seek grief therapy, as she’s been through many losses in her life. It’s really hard because she’s a boss. Can you get out of that job or away from Wanda as a supervisor?

    9. hbc*

      It…kind of doesn’t matter if she’s a good manager in most respects if she’s a dumpster fire in a critical area. And the fact that you have a realistic fear that you’re choosing between a horrible personal life and a horrible work life means that she is a terrible manager.

      I get it, believe me. I’ve had that well-meaning, insightful, engaging, respected, impressive boss. They’re just so freaking delightful when they’re at their best that you don’t notice how much you’ve contorted yourself to avoid dealing with that one teeny-tiny (huge, glaring) flaw, and how much weird stuff you’ve normalized. Like, ahem, changing up your whole family’s holiday so you can say “Oh, darn, I can’t” rather than “No, sorry.”

      You can decide that the good sides of this situation are worth the bad, but it can actually be a problem if you don’t see this as overall bad management. At the very least, you’ll have people questioning your judgment if you’re all, “Yeah, she punishes people who don’t socialize with her, but she’s got a good grasp of our policies, so she’s not a bad mentor.”

    10. Database Developer Dude*

      I take my hat off to you, OP, because you’re a lot nicer than I would have been about it. Not too sure about the joking thing, because she may not take it as a joke…just be careful. This is a minefield.

    11. Ice and Indigo*

      If she’s someone you sort of like and don’t want to hurt, one way to frame it to yourself might be this:

      Wanda has spent her life as a carer. That’s very isolating and teaches you some … atypical norms about how much is a reasonable amount to ask from someone and how much your life is supposed to be your own. Like, it’s quite possible she’s had a home life where there’s every expectation you’ll be intruded on in the bathroom, never mind on a holiday.

      By kindly but clearly setting some boundaries about what you’re willing to do, you may be modelling a more normal set of expectations about what consists of too much of a sacrifice, how much privacy and autonomy a person can expect, and how allowable it is to give a polite ‘no’.

      I’m not saying you have to take on a big re-education project, but if you ask yourself, ‘How can I say no in a way that sets her a good example?’, you might end up feeling less guilty about saying no.

    12. Play A Doctor On TV*

      OP you mentioned civil service and my mom worked in a civil service job: the post office. She worked with some serious characters. That being said, when we moved it was easy for her to transfer to another post office. Is there really no possibility for you to transfer away from Wanda? Or you say it’s totally impossible for you to find another job at your age but it’s certainly wouldn’t hurt to apply. I would just love for you to be free from having to be around a suffocating person every day.

      1. AnonAtty*

        That reminds me of something I just learned at my federal retirement seminar! Assuming you’re in the federal civil service, your “high-3” average salary for pension calculation is made whenever you held your highest paid position, not the last 3 years of your career. The speaker at our seminar highlighted this and mentioned that some employees left their GS-12 positions and picked up a job at TSA or another lower paid FERS/CSRS position to finish out their civil service career with less stress. If healthcare and retirement are the reasons the OP feels that they can’t leave this position, I would suggest looking around at other positions!

    13. Dare*

      I’m bothered by you saying spending so much time with her would drive you to suicide. If you’re serious, then it isn’t healthy to stay in that job period. And if you’re not, that’s making light of a serious health issue, and it’s frankly offensive.

    14. Perpal*

      The part where you said she’s made other people miserable because they angered her (particularly by going to HR) makes me think she may not be that great a manager, either.

    15. TardyTardis*

      One point that could be made is, even if you have to lie, is “I’ve been getting comments about being your favorite and how nice *that* must be for me’. Do you we need we to not meet up so much? I hate to think that you might get in trouble.”

  4. Detective Amy Santiago*

    In addition to all of Alison’s wonderful advice, maybe you could suggest that Wanda get involved in some local charity or organization. Let her channel all that energy to a good cause.

    1. Sami*

      Good idea. I mean, Wanda could absolutely take such a gentle suggestion the wrong way but it’s all risky. OP would have to word it delicately of course.

    2. Anonym*

      She might also benefit from a grief/loss group of some kind, where people would *really understand* and be able to support her, unlike OP who cares but just isn’t as well equipped to be of assistance. (Sometimes “wish I could but I just won’t be the right kind of help” goes down easy, especially when true.) A whole supportive community!

      1. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

        A grief/loss group nudge might really help her to cope better and connect her to others.

    3. NotAPirate*

      Came here to comment this. Local organizations (walking clubs, game clubs, churches, pub quiz team etc), charities, other volunteer stuff (local gardens, scouts, 5ks, recycling, reading to seniors), craft groups (knitting circles), library events (book clubs), etc. There’s a giant world out of there of ways Wanda could choose to seek out people that isn’t stalking the OP.

      Not your job to suggest stuff to her, OP, but just know that you are not this woman’s end all be all of social interaction.

      1. Third or Nothing!*

        Slightly related: OP’s boss is 58 and might feel too old to join a running/walking club…but let me tell you the older ladies in our local chapter of She RUNS This Town are awesome! There is one who regularly walks with me who has a daughter about my age and I really enjoy our conversations and get a lot of insight from listening to her wisdom. So all you people over 50 who think you’re too old to start walking/running: you are most certainly not and we need you in our ranks.

        OK stepping down off the soapbox now.

        1. Elenia*

          Are they only for moms? I googled it and that’s what came up: MOMS run this town. What a turnoff if so.

          1. Third or Nothing!*

            Nope, not only for moms. All women are welcome. They’re actually going through a re-branding right now to make that more clear so you should start to see more SRTT stuff than MRTT. I joined before I was a mom.

        2. Quill*

          I have premature arthritis and made the mistake of going on a hike with the local sierra club, average age 65.

          NEVER AGAIN. They’re terrifying. They don’t stop for anything. I have more arthritis than all of them combined.

      2. 8DaysAWeek*

        Exactly. I was thinking maybe you should introduce her to It has every hobby imaginable on there for people to meetup and do together.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          + a lot.

          There’s actually a local meetup group where I live that goes to concerts. Another one that does movie+dinner and discussion outings. Several hiking groups of all levels. I used to belong to a few and there were a lot of Wanda-like members, who seemed to enjoy the groups greatly.

          1. Natalia*

            Where I live they have a lot of groups for seniors/middle aged adults. They have a super single seniors group, Ladies over 50 who lunch, Over 50 Bowlers…

      3. TardyTardis*

        Now there’s a thought. Join a group, get her sucked into it, and then gradually withdraw as she makes new connections and friends.

    4. Emily*

      My city has a nice program that matches volunteers to effectively hang out with isolated older adults. They go for walks, or play cards, or just chat. It’s not something I’d be comfortable recommending to a boss, but it is the kind of service that exists that Wanda could use if she struggles too much socially to get involved in existing groups.

      1. Bagpuss*

        It might be possible to suggest it to her on the assumption that she would be a volunteer, not one of the older adults needing company. It sounds as though a lot of her life was taken up with supporting and caring for her parents, she might actually enjoy and be good at befriending an older person, and it’s much easier to suggest to someone that they could be an asset to a voluntary group, than that they might benefitfrom the services of such a group!

        1. Auntie Social*

          She might also be looking at who else at work is a recent widow or divorcee who might love to have holiday company. While the OP already has family, it would be thoughtful if a single manager made sure other office singles knew they were welcome at her holiday potlucks. She could befriend another two or three people to get a tradition started. Years ago we had an orphan’s Thanksgiving for people in California who couldn’t travel to family back east–everyone brought their family’s specialty and we had such a good time that we continued it for many years.

    5. RC Rascal*

      Is there an EAP program at your agency? You could gently refer her to that. Tell her you are aware she is going home through a rough time & point her in a direction for help.

    6. Dr. Pepper*

      Agreed. She sounds very lonely and like she yearns to connect with other people, but doesn’t know how. Community services and charities always need volunteers. If she has any outside interests or hobbies at all, there’s very likely a local group related to that she could join.

  5. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

    On the one hand, I am totally willing to be the bad guy for my husband, who is REALLY bad at saying no to people. He pretty much has blanket permission to tell anyone at work that “I can’t (do whatever), wife obligations,” if he feels that is warranted.

    On the other hand, if he had someone at work that “whatever” was ridiculous enough to include “bring you on our week-long vacation,” and he still expected me to socialize with that person a couple times a year, we should probably discuss ahead of time how I will or will not respond when (not if) that person brings up in conversation with *me* the perception that the only reason they didn’t get to go on our Hawaii trip was because I said no. Because if that isn’t pre-planned, my response is going to be a sputtered “Well, of COURSE I said no, what kind of banana-crackers loon expects their employee to invite them on a family vacation to Hawaii?!” and that is probably not going to have the best outcomes either.

    1. HugsAreNotTolerated*

      I agree. OP needs to be careful about turning her spouse into the ‘bad guy’ in Wanda’s eyes. With someone this pushy and completely lacking boundaries, I wouldn’t be surprised if after a few “Oh Bob wouldn’t like that” that Wanda would try and reach out to Bob directly to “convince” him of why she should come. I could even see Wanda taking it further and start a whispering campaign that Bob was turning you against her, or that she was “worried about your relationship since Bob won’t let her do anything”.
      I’d avoid using your spouse as an excuse too much and instead just go with the grey rock method!

      1. Dr. Pepper*

        I agree. Too much “oh Bob wouldn’t let me” and you’ll either start hearing about how she thinks Bob is an abusive ass or she’ll think it’s Bob she has to convince. Neither is desirable. While it’s easy to shuffle things off on a spouse who doesn’t work there, you have to pick and choose when to use that one. It’s very easy to over use and cause more problems than it solves.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Yup – hubby and I are both willing to be the occasional bad guy for the other – we just ask the other to give us a heads up about what we are being the bad guy for.

    3. Kat in VA*

      My husband and I both play the bad guy for our respective companies.

      Difference being that we don’t work for people who have no understanding of professional boundaries and are willing to use their authority to really, really push those boundaries.

  6. Kate*

    This letter made my skin absolutely crawl with horror at the situation OP is in. But it also made my heart ache with empathy for Wanda (NOT that her behavior is in ANY WAY acceptable; NOT that OP should have to put up with any part of it). It sounds like she’s extremely alone, with an empty social life, with little support, and I understand how that could drive someone to act someone with this desperation and neediness. It’s really upsetting that Wanda’s situation is probably not at all unique. It’s not OP’s job to fix that, but I am truly sad as well for all the people who experience this loneliness.

    1. Socrates Johnson*

      I felt the same. And I don’t know if it will get better for her when she acts in these ways.

      1. Kate*

        Probably not. I’ve done a lot of reading about loneliness (I am not a professional! this is casual reading!) and unfortunately a.) the more lonely you are the worse you are at understanding and reacting appropriately to social signals; b.) when you’re lonely, the best thing you can do it is reach out to others to help them (e.g., through volunteering) and it’s also what you’re LEAST likely to do.

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Same. It doesn’t excuse a single thing about her behavior toward the OP, but Wanda sounds profoundly unhappy. Losing beloved parents is horribly painful, and since she devoted what sounds like an awful lot of her life outside of work to taking care of them and being with them, I can only imagine how empty everything feels for her with them gone. I hope for her sake (as well as for OP’s!) that she can find a healthier solution to feel connected and involved. Joining a volunteer organization would do a lot to occupy her, and would give her the opportunity to make friends outside of working relationships that shouldn’t be crossed over with personal stuff like this.

    3. AnonEMoose*

      Me, too. On the one hand, I do feel terrible for Wanda. On the other hand, I know if I had to deal with her, I would be trying to claw my way out of my own skin to escape.

      It’s not that I’d want to be mean or hurt her, but that kind of neediness truly makes me feel smothered and panicky (not in the sense of an actual panic attack). But when dealing with someone like that, all I can think about in that moment is GETTING AWAY. And the best I can manage is a kind of strained politeness.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Not gonna lie, I’d have an actual panic attack.

        I started having them when I dated a male version of Wanda. They went away when he did. This kind of neediness and control over my life is definitely a trigger.

      2. pamela voorhees*

        This isn’t uncommon — like Kate said, being this lonely can lead you to send out signals that make people feel exactly like you said – smothered and panicked – which leads to people pulling away, which leads to more loneliness, which leads to more signals … I’ve had to deal with a lot of people like this too and I felt the exact same way. Wanda’s behavior, particularly retaliation, is totally unacceptable, and it’s also not in any way shape or form OP’s problem to solve. But Wanda’s also caught in a very sad spiral that I hope she finds her way out of.

    4. Allypopx*

      Loneliness and grief are very painful and it makes sense that Wanda clung – consciously or subconsciously – to someone who was going out of their way to show her kindness. I completely see how this could happen and I’m sympathetic.

      But OP still does need to do the hard work of redrawing boundaries now and that really sucks.

    5. LGC*

      Yeah, that’s kind of where I came down on this myself. Like, Wanda’s behavior is horrifically bad, but Wanda’s life outside of work sounds miserable. And I can’t imagine that she’s doing this to LW because she just doesn’t care about LW’s boundaries – it really sounds like Wanda’s 1) confused her employee for her best friend and 2) has no idea about friend boundaries. (Because it’s wild to demand that your friend adopt you into their family, let alone your employee.)

      It’s just…her behavior is possibly Worst Boss-worthy (and okay, I know LW is saying that she’s good other than the fact that she routinely violates reasonable boundaries, and I think that she can be competent at her job and someone I’d never want to work for), but I’m less mad than sad about it.

  7. Dragoning*

    Slightly off-topic, but I read this, got down to the comment about “being driven to suicide” and wondered–Alison, have you ever thought of putting trigger warnings on some of these posts? It didn’t set me off, but we do often get comments regarding sexual assault or such like and maybe it would be useful.

    1. sheworkshardforthemoney*

      I’ve lost friends to suicide but I’m still ambivalent about trigger warnings. What bothers me is people casually tossing out “might as well kill myself if I don’t get a coffee.” I’m giving the LW the benefit of the doubt because she is trying to explain how seriously she views the situation.
      Sorry for continuing the off-topic but talk of suicide is deeply painful for some people. Please feel free to delete though.

      1. Observer*

        Yes, it sounds to me like the OP believes that the relationship that Wanda wants is truly toxic. It doesn’t sound like an exaggeration, either.

    2. Cookie Captain*

      Seconded. In this case mentioning suicide didn’t really add anything to the letter or advice.

      I like how Captain Awkward posts letters–sometimes warnings, and particularly loaded letters stay behind a hyperlink. This letter didn’t bother me, but there are honestly a few letters here I wish I hadn’t read, and I’m not good at ignoring text when it’s right in front of me.

      1. MissBliss*

        I personally disagree– I think it did add something to the letter. OP feels like the relationship is such that she’s at risk of losing her job, her marriage, and/or her will to live, depending on how she responds to the situation. Ordinarily I really don’t like references to suicide like that but in this case it felt quite clear to me that OP meant it and needs help.

    3. Malty*

      I personally agree that trigger warnings are personal etiquette it’s just good to get into – I know Alison already does so much work on this site so it’s truly up to her but it can be especially helpful in letters like this where you are just truly not expecting it.

      Best wishes to you OP – Alison’s advice is sound but that does sound like a lot of intense energy to deal with it and I know it would freak me out too.

    4. Shadowbelle*

      I disagree. Trigger warnings are completely overdone. How do you think alcoholics feel, for example, when we read letters about beer in the fridge at work and writers asking how to deal with alcohol culture in a new workplace?

      We all have to learn to deal with our own issues and not expect unreasonable accomodations and cushioning. There was a story on NPR this morning with a trigger warning, but the content was so mild that I thought that anyone so fragile as to be “triggered” by it really needs to stop listening to NPR and switch to Sesame Street News.

  8. Pink Basil*

    I realize I’m looking pretty far ahead but this should go on the top of the list for updates in December. I wish OP all the luck in the world in dealing with this.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Ditto, although I’m hoping we get an update sooner than that. The update binge in December was wonderful and now I’m in update withdrawal.

  9. Madeleine Matilda*

    Oh my goodness, OP! This is awful. Hopefully Wanda will adjust to her sister’s move without trying to insert herself into your life. However, one thing I would add to Alison’s advice, is to document this and any other boundary crossing actions in case she does retaliate.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I wondered the same. It seems as if she doesn’t get along with the brother (wonder if that’s because the brother was willing to have and enforce his own boundaries – against both Wanda and the now deceased parents). It also says that she got along well with her sister – could sister have been constantly plowed over by Wanda, and the children live elsewhere to be away from Aunt Wanda – and this is the way they can all escape.

      I also wonder if Wanda was the oldest child, and was programmed from a very young age that “she was expected” to be the responsible one who would of course take care of mom and dad when they got old and ill. Now she is older, her siblings have families and boundaries that give them outlets – but all of her’s are gone. Maybe pointing her gently towards volunteer groups may help all of you.

  10. Not Elizabeth*

    If she is literally coming to you in tears, I wouldn’t recommend treating what she says as if she’s obviously joking and not meaning you to take her seriously — just skip right to Alison’s script of “that’s a big adjustment for you, but of course it’s important that our relationship stay professional.”

  11. OrigCassandra*

    OP, are you the only person Wanda is clinging to in this fashion? I worry that there might be other folks in Wanda’s hierarchy less able/willing to set boundaries, since it appears that Wanda is quite high up in the organization. If you know of (or discover) such people, a quiet word with them that you have their back might not go amiss.

    Since you’re government, chances aren’t bad that there’s some kind of employee assistance available. It’s EXTRA-TICKLISH to recommend such a thing to your BOSS, of course, so you’re absolutely not obligated… but honestly, Wanda sure looks to need some help, and EA might be a low-effort path thataway.

    1. CheeryO*

      EAP was my first thought. It’s totally possible to bring it up in a gentle way, and it’s a good way to signal that you’re sympathetic but that it’s not your problem.

      1. Grits McGee*

        I bet if they OP can frame the suggestion as a response to things that have afflicted Wanda (ie, parents dying, sister moving away), then it might have a higher chance of being effective. Wanda can still be PERFECT, she just has the unfortunate circumstance of being surrounded by imperfect people. /s

    2. Jennifer Thneed*

      But you have to remember that Wanda is COMPLETELY PERFECT and therefore would never consult a mental-health professional.

      1. OrigCassandra*

        Well, that might turn out to be a point in EA’s favor — the EA where I am tackles quite a few issues (at least through referral) beyond personal mental health.

        1. ToS*

          Agreed – there is no *health* requirement, typically it’s stress-inducing situations, which is why it’s a much cleaner conversation than any ANY recommendation that they seek a mental health professional.

          EAPs are for everyone in the benefit group.

          Just like caregiver support and hospice support are for people have that stress in their family lives – it’s an acknowledgement that people need some relief/context/acknowledgement during those seasons. Sometimes friendships spring up from these groups. OP finished their season.

          Other non-therapy suggestions: could Wanda volunteer? Does she have a faith community?

  12. Robyn*

    I don’t know if this is out of line or not but is there really no way you might be able to nudge her towards therapy? E.g. in your conversations, bring up another “friend” who had a situation like hers where the family all moved away and how going to therapy helped so much to curb the loneliness because it was like getting a new friend who she could confide in all the time etc.

    I definitely have people in my circle who are similarly “perfect” who will never go to therapy even though they desperately need it, so I understand if this suggestion is not helpful for your situation.

    1. Software Engineer*

      I would think this would get OP drawn further into boundary-crossing discussions she doesn’t want to have. Your bosses mental health is not your concern to solve, and letting them make you responsible for solving it is just not healthy. The sister can advise her to go to therapy! Or the brother she doesn’t like. Or whatever other friends she presumably has who she starts leaning on more. Or the FB group she turns to to complain about being abandoned by her sister!

      OP is not the one to solve this for her and would just end up getting sucked into the rabbit hole and talking about why she can or can’t or shouldn’t or doesn’t need it. I don’t know any of my coworkers personal philosophies on therapy and I like it that way.

    2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      I’ve worked in jobs that seem to attract boundary-challenged people, and some of them were people who very desperately needed therapy or another mental health intervention. I would suggest it with respect to the person they were complaining about, like “That situation with your mom sounds really challenging. Have you considered seeing a counselor, they might have some tactics that can help you handle her better.”

      Even though sometimes it was glaringly obvious that the person who was venting at me was the common denominator in the problem, suggesting it with respect to the third party helps them save face and lets you make the suggestion without them taking offense. I figure, once they’re in the therapists office, the therapist will see what’s actually going on, and can take it from there.

        1. ToS*

          Yes, though it’s cleaner to frame it through stress and EAP – let EAP staff guide next steps for Wanda.

          “Counselor” is a very neutral term, and a range of suggestions can help – reach out to other family, personal friends, EAP, health insurance -based options, support groups for [anything].

          If Wanda complains that she has no friends, then she should be doing things outside of work to find/foster those relationships. Like, join a book group. See what’s on Meetup. Take a class.

    3. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      So I have worked in fields that attract boundary-crossing people, and I’ve had to figure out how to nudge people towards therapy. What I’ve found is that posing the therapist as an outside consultant to a particular problem is a tactful way to plant the therapy seed in someone’s head.

      Like, “Wow, that situation with your alcoholic mother sounds really challenging! Have you considered seeing a counselor? They might have some strategies for handling things when she does (challenging thing person is complaining about.)”

      That way, you’re not saying “you need therapy,” you’re saying “third party person needs therapy.” And once they’re in the therapist’s office, the therapist will sort out the situation from there.

  13. Laurelma*

    I would put the blame on the husband, regarding the trips. “Sorry, this trip is just for family or one on one with Bob, whichever. He said if I bought you over on our vacation he would divorce me . . . ha-ha.”

    Why in the world people want close relationships with their bosses? I’m in my mid 50’s, only twice have I had a close relationship with a boss that didn’t step over the boundaries and the friendship continued with life and job changes. This is along with “we are a family” here, at a job …. it means there are issues with boundaries.

    Usually the employee is the one that suffers in this situation.

    1. Kate*

      I’d be careful with that though – you don’t want to imply Wanda is so painful to be around she would cause the OP’s husband to divorce her.

      1. Bagpuss*

        No, but you could say something like “This trip is just for family – Bob would go nuts if I brought my boss along / brought anyone extra along” – which makes it less personal – i.e. it’s not Wanda specifically who is not being invited, it’s anyone who isn’t Bob / Family

        (using ..if I brought my boss along .. also helps reinforce that Wanda isn’t a close personal friend, she’s your boss, so it helps add distance)

    2. MissDisplaced*

      I’m usually so against this too, but in one case a boss because such a tremendous friend outside of work. She was like a big sister to me and I was “adopted” into her circle of family and friends. We remain friends to this day many years after we worked together at that place.
      She did this with many people. It was just her way.

      1. Kat in VA*

        It sounds like your boss isn’t the kind of person to go bulling right up to and over the line of personal boundaries, though.

        Wanda appears hellbent on insinuating herself into every social aspect of OP’s life with the unpleasant unspoken assumption that she will make OP’s life very, very difficult if OP resists.

        That’s horrid on so many levels.

  14. Ruby Jackson*

    Encourage her to follow her sister across country and find another job. She would be happier that way, anyway.

    1. Keni*

      This is exactly what I would do. I would really nudge her about the sister and the sister’s family so she’d miss them and want to visit. A lot.

      This boss sounds like the non-murderous version of the character Annie Wilkes from Stephen King’s Misery. I wonder if someone so off kilter would take kindly to even the gentlest of pushback that makes it seem like she has to be joking!

      In the meantime, maybe I’d buy myself some feigning my own fairly intense family problem that means I have to work through that situation so I can’t concentrate on anything else outside of work and that situation!

    2. ThursdaysGeek*

      Yeah, but I wonder if there is more than the one reason why the sister is moving across the country.

        1. GreyjoyGardens*

          Me three! I suspect that Sis really did want to live nearer her kids (and maybe the kids live in a warmer climate where snow needn’t be shoveled or something), but getting away from Wanda was definitely in the mix as a factor. Wanda sounds INCREDIBLY draining.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Yup – I remember very clearly hearing my dad say he moved us half across the country to let my mom have space from one of her relatives – who had zero appropriate boundaries and always bowled my mom over (even to the detriment of her family and kids).

            1. Quill*

              My mom decided to move west very quickly after her parents died, I think the issue was that she wanted to live out there but didn’t feel like she could be that far away when her parents were sick (or move me or my brother while we were still in school)

              My dad just sort of went with it, because boundaries are not abundant on his side of the family.

          2. AKchic*

            My 2nd ex-husband joined the military partially to get away from his mother. He thought he’d go to Florida or somewhere on the east coast. He got sent to Alaska, instead. It actually worked out really well, because his mother only ever came to Alaska once, and we had a serious cold snap and she was vocally negative about it and hasn’t stepped foot in this direction again (16 years).

            We can have open reasons for why we do things, and then we have less-charitable, in-our-head, private reasons for why we do things.
            I mean, yes, I totally moved across town to get out of a terrible slum of an apartment that my landlord refused to ever fix because we finally had money to move, and because my grandma needed more help so it made sense to move closer to her, and the price was right; but privately, I was also thinking that the move might help my addict of a son by cutting him off from his within-walking-distance dealers (it didn’t).

    3. OP*

      I have seriously considered this. Not sure where it would go, though, and again, trying to avoid getting pulled back into the maelstrom, so I haven’t brought it up. But I’ll keep it in mind as a possibility. Thanks!

  15. Snark*

    It’s funny. I’m a very profane guy, to the point of occasional excess. But sometimes, when something really gobsmacks me, when a Costco-size box of banana crackers rears up in all its glory….I actually go full in the other direction, and just say something like “oh, my” or “goodness gracious.”

    …..gooooooodness gracious.

      1. Artemesia*

        ths is an expression I have heard and used and I have no idea where it comes from — always been there.

    1. JanetM*

      “when a Costco-size box of banana crackers rears up in all its glory”

      This is a wonderful phrase and I am going to sit here quietly and admire it for a moment.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Mine manifests in the “well well well that’s a twist!” and look of bewilderment. As if I saw a kangaroo jumping around the office one day.

    3. Dr. Pepper*

      Same here. My most astonished reactions are also my mildest. It actually helps quite a bit on the moment if someone hits me with something completely bizarre.

    4. Rebecca*

      This is not only a Costco-size box of banana crackers. but the whole end cap display of them.

  16. CBH*

    I think Alison’s advice is on target. I think you have to establish some boundaries.

    There is no easy way to solve this, but know what I am about to say is just a way to look at things from another angle. It seems like Wanda is lonely and scared and clinging to something/ someone stable (you). She may have latched onto you because you have spent holidays together. Perhaps she is looking at your relationship as this could be a really close friend who by-the-way-on-a-side-note just happens to work for me. I think in Wanda’s mind she is leaning on a friend and expecting you to have a solution where as you are (rightfully so) looking at things as an acquaintance having a rough time in her personal life.

    1. Sharrbe*

      Although I understand the idea of wanting to be compassionate towards Wanda, I think that compassion has to take a backseat to the situation she is creating for OP. It is the responsibility of Wanda (and every single boss out there) to develop and nurture personal relationships outside of work – where she doesn’t have control over someone’s working environment. When it comes down to it, this boss is making her employee (who depends on her for her livlihood) extremely uncomfortable and it’s OP’s well-being, not Wanda’s, who should be the priority here. Wanda, consciously or unconciously, knows that she has a captive audience in OP and that’s just not fair. She’s probably tried these attention-seeking tactic before with people whose jobs aren’t under her control and they ran for the hills as a result. OP doesn’t need to be more compassionate towards her than she already is (which is a lot), Wanda seriously needs to keep her personal needs personal for the good of those who work for her.

  17. revueller*

    OP, you very likely already know this, but just in case: your boss is being intensely manipulative. She’s making you responsible for her emotions, and she’s using her feelings to override your boundaries and comfort. Those are classic manipulative tactics.

    I say this because no matter what happens, you are NOT responsible for her feelings. She will crave your emotional support, but she doesn’t need it to survive as a person. You very likely already know that, but it bears repeating. You CANNOT give in anymore. Especially in moments where you may be tempted to invite her to things or you think she’s been more evenly behaved.

    I realize you very likely know this, which is why you asked Alison for scripts on how to build up boundaries again. But I’m saying this in case those scripts don’t work and you feel the need to be there for her again. Whether she knows it or not, she is taking advantage of your empathy and will always ask for more, no matter how much you give her.

    The fact that she’s your boss makes this so much harder. I wish you the best of luck, OP. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this.

    1. revueller*

      I’ll add that I think the boss isn’t even doing this on purpose. She probably has translated this intense need for control over her friends as what friendship and love is, and the tragedies she’s gone through have amplified that need for comfort and control. But just because the feelings are understandable doesn’t change the fact that it’s toxic behavior, and it’s not OP’s responsibility to be a professional therapist in addition to her employee.

      1. OP*

        This comment rings absolutely true to everything I’ve seen in Wanda – you are a very perceptive person, revueller. And thank you for the cheerleading.

    2. MissMapp*

      The fact that OP believes that Wanda will react well to treating her “adoption” demand as a joke points to the possibility that yes, Wanda is troubled, but that she is using outlandish behavior to manipulate others. One can be troubled and yet a skilled manipulator. If she doesn’t break down at her demands being treated as humorous, then she knows what she is doing.

    3. Dr. Pepper*

      In essence, Wanda is asking you to solve her problems. Shorn of situational baggage and emotions, that’s what it comes down to, and it’s not your job to do that. OP, you sound like an Empathetic Problem Solver (as am I), and we attract needy types like flies to honey if we don’t set and enforce boundaries.

      People often paint it as the needy person being a narcissist who is maliciously taking advantage of you on purpose- and those people are out there- but often the dynamic arises organically. The needy person lacks something, the empathetic person supplies it. Empathetic people get genuine happiness from helping others. It’s just that this can easily tip over into the empathetic person giving too much and allowing themselves to be taken advantage of. Often needy people are needy because they never learned to supply the needed thing for themselves, and that hole you’re trying to fill for them is a bottomless pit. It’s sad, but it’s not your responsibility to solve their problems for them.

      1. OP*

        Thank you so much for framing it that way – I have had to really fight hard not to blame myself for this entire situation, but fundamentally, I would rather be empathetic than the opposite. It does give me genuine happiness to help others, and I don’t want to shut down that part of my personality. But the bottomless pit can’t be filled, and I know that I need to just step back and stop trying. Thank you!

    4. Jules the 3rd*

      All this. I think the ‘suggest other social options / volunteering’ is the only practical help you can give; everything else needs to be a stone wall.

      Good luck.

  18. wellywell*

    VACATIONS!! Truly, WTF?

    This one is going to be a candidate for the “worst boss” award at the end of the year

    1. Amber Rose*

      Nah. She’s not threatening to fire LW or otherwise being incompetent and awful, she’s just sad and lonely and has no concept of appropriate boundaries. She’s really a contender for most pitiful boss, if anything.

        1. Amber Rose*

          I’m not saying she isn’t awful to deal with, but as far as Worst Bosses on AAM go, this is pretty minor.

    2. sofar*

      It’s especially disturbing because, presumably, as LW’s boss, Wanda has to approve vacation time. So it’ll be hard to hide a vacation when she’s requesting, say a week or more off work.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Oh, that is true and horrifying. OP won’t be able to get away with never mentioning vacations; she’s going to have to specifically tell Wanda she can’t come.

        It also makes me worry that Wanda will deny any vacation requests she isn’t invited for.

    3. Penny Parker*

      I was thinking that, too. I was looking to see if anyone else had said it first. Thank you.

  19. That Girl from Quinn's House*

    I had to do some quick math to make sure this wasn’t my “never left the nest” cousin, but she’s in her late 40s not late 50s. Yup.

  20. Jennifer*

    I hope you have an office with a door that locks. Keep wine in your desk.

    She’s not going to give up. She’s not going to change. If neither of you wants to leave – understandable considering where you are in your careers – I suggest wine.

  21. Havarti*

    While I love Alison’s scripts, there’s a part of me that’s thinking that justifying (I want one-on-one with niece, sister is hosting) or blaming spouse may not be enough to shut this down. I can see Wanda going “I’ll be so quiet, Bob won’t even know I’m there! Just bring me along, your sister won’t turn you away!” I mean, try the scripts by all means! Just don’t be surprised if they fail, I guess? This is making my skin crawl so hard I’d almost want to sit her down and just be like “Look, you need to make a life for yourself that doesn’t involve me or my family. Go to therapy. Volunteer. Get some hobbies. You’re my boss and you’re putting me in a very bad spot where I feel I’m being pressured to adopt you to keep my job and being held hostage that way isn’t cool. You need to stop this.” I know you can’t say this but yikes, this situation is terrible.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Yeah, some of the advice veers dangerously close to JADE (justify, argue, defend, explain), which is something you can’t do with people who are determined to overstep your boundaries. All it does is give them something to argue against.

    2. Sharrbe*

      Honestly, I can imagine the boss moving to “How about just you and I take a vacation together! I’ll plan it!” if she thinks all that stands between her and OP spending time together is family logistics.

    3. Ethyl*

      I agree! Giving reasons is giving her stuff to argue with. I think OP needs to stick with “sorry, that won’t work for me,” “sorry, I can’t,” “no, that won’t be possible, sorry,” and similar. And keep every single refusal the same. Be BORING, give her nothing to argue with or latch onto. I think some corners of the internet call this “greyrocking”?

      Remember — reasons are for reasonable people.

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        Yes! You can’t reason with the unreasonable. I suggest that OP “grey rock” Wanda as much as possible. Respond as little and as neutrally as OP can get away with.

    4. Dr. Pepper*

      I was thinking something similar. Reasons are for reasonable people and very often we over-explain ourselves when we’re not comfortable with a given situation. It’s a temptation but you can resist it. You can be a warm and sympathetic brick wall.

      1. OP*

        “Warm and sympathetic brick wall” – that is going to get engraved on the inside of my contact lenses.

  22. Laura*

    OP, are there many others on your team? I’m wondering if you can blame it on not wanting people to see favoritism, like the letter earlier today.
    It might not be true but it is another excuse.

    1. OP*

      There are a number of other folks doing similar work in our unit, and you are spot-on that I could use that to my advantage in pointing out that the appearance of favoritism would wreak havoc in the unit. Thank you!

  23. Linzava*

    Hi OP, I’m so sorry, that’s a tough spot to be in. I would personally recommend engaging in a selective job search. Instead of desperately planning to leave and applying to everything, just keep an eye on postings and network with a few recruiters. Only apply for things that are worth switching jobs, you could come across a great opportunity where you can spend a few years before retirement in a nice environment. The best jobs my friends have found came when they weren’t so much looking, but making themselves available while being content in their current positions.

    1. Jaybeetee*

      If LW does find another job, or switch to another team, she’ll have to be prepared for the possibility of Wanda continuing/ramping up contact, as Wanda seems to consider them “friends”. Changing jobs on its own may not be enough to get rid of her… but the advantage would be Wanda no longer being her boss, allowing LW to be a bit more blunt/direct with her about how much relationship she’s willing to have with Wanda.

      1. Observer*

        Once Wanda is not her boss or in charge of her work situation, the OP will be able to shut her down as much as she wants / needs to.

  24. Overagekid*

    This is such an awkward situation to be in OP and you have my sympathies!
    And what’s worse is theat other people can relate! This is why worker-boss relationships do need to be scrict, because otherwise they can descend like this and just become untennable.

  25. Analytical Tree Hugger*

    Agree with Alison’s advice. I do want to add to the last part, about doing what you need to do to keep the peace: Be wary of mission creep. That is, make it a hard line of only “once-a-year concert and a couple of dinners.” No more than those three get-togethers, no matter what.

    I was in an toxic relationship and this letter is reminding me of how insidious folks can be in oozing into your life, by pushing your boundaries little by little.

  26. Auntie Social*

    Encourage Wanda to move to an active seniors community. Very easy to make friends, especially in newly-built developments with lots of activities (the newer the community, the younger the residents). A change of residence will make her feel less abandoned, and more “this is the life I chose”.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Wanda’s only 58 though. Will there be anyone close to her age group in a seniors community? (I honestly don’t know, only seniors community I’ve observed closely was the apartment building my parents lived in, that used to accept “independent seniors over 60”, but most people in the building were way older than 60.)

        1. Mia 52*

          but most people who are 57 don’t consider themselves “seniors” yet. At “Senior” homes family have lived in people we mostly in their 70s/80s and beyond.

        2. BeckySuz*

          My husband is 55..we have 4 kids under the age of 15, and last week he killed his PRT(running, push-ups etc.) for the Navy so hard that he gets to skip the next one. But he keeps getting magazines from AARP. I think they set that age(55) at a time when they figured you’d be dead by 70. I think 58 is not retirement community age in the least. Judging by what I saw at my grandparents retirement community, although it was technically 60 and up, the average age was much higher, like 75+

      1. LKW*

        Yes – there absolutely will be*. Especially if it’s north of North Carolina or fairly close to a city. Average age for most of these is in the low-70’s. When people hit late 80’s they’re moving to assisted living or nursing care.

        * I have spent last three winters in snowbird land.

      2. Auntie Social*

        Oh, I’m in SoCal, they build them like crazy for the coming boomer retirement dollars. They’re like posh hotels with pools, tennis, walking trails, restaurants, etc. I get a flyer a day in the mail.

      3. Socrates Johnson*

        My parents live in an over 55 community. Its a golf resort. It’s fab and there are people from 55 to 100.

        1. The New Wanderer*

          Same. Their lifestyle sounds like a permanent cruise, without the buffet but with every activity you can think of and frequent planned excursions. If you have an interest, there’s a club for that.

          I hope OP is able to redirect Wanda’s need to be included in a more productive direction, whether it’s a new place or a new hobby.

          1. Auntie Social*

            Oh, I’d forgotten about all the excursions!!! Museums, gambling, shopping, you name it. Plus I think the cruise lines come market to the seniors–I know a friend of my MIL did a cruise to Alaska.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      This is a very good idea. I once met a widower who moved into a senior community– one mixed between active and assisted living– at the young age of 60. He loved it. His meals were all cooked for him, there were planned activities, and as one of the “young men,” he was a sought-after dinner companion and minor handyman. Those communities can be pretty great, even if they don’t provide meals.

    3. Polly Hedron*

      I live in a newly-built active seniors community. It’s great! Many people are around Wanda’s age.

      Secretly research such communities near you, and when you find a good one, tell Wanda and pretend you discovered it by account.

  27. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    Yikes, this letter gave me flashbacks to when I was in my late 20s and my children were very young, and a much older woman (late 70s) tried to get herself adopted by my family, at what was by far the most difficult time in my life. She had initially met me when I was out with the kids, chasing after one while wearing the other who was hungry and crying. She had (correctly) stated that I needed help with the children. Then she offered to provide the help, which was how she got my home address. She’d come to my apartment every day and just sit there and talk for hours, while my husband (who thankfully had very flexible hours at work) would make her tea and sit around listening to her stories; and I’d run around the apartment chasing after the kids. She was no help whatsoever. She had me and the kids over to her place one time. She lived with her daughter’s family (husband, teenage children) but didn’t seem to get along with any of them. So I totally got it that she was super lonely and badly in need of company. She just happened to come to the exact wrong person (me) at the exact wrong time in my life, when I did not have a spare minute to take care of myself, much less a random old lady. When I told her we were leaving for the US, she cried. I tried to get my then-best friend to adopt her (with the friend’s permission, of course). We all had a date together, guess what. She did not like my friend. My friend was the sweetest and most welcoming woman, definitely more helping and also more extroverted than I could ever hope to be. I just gave up at that point. It was a bizarre experience, only reason it didn’t drive me up the wall was that I already had everything else in my life driving me up the wall and this woman’s presence was barely a blip on my radar. But she was not my supervisor though and my livelihood did not depend on her! Nor did she invite herself on family trips with us (my in-laws would’ve been really surprised if we came to visit with her in tow, lol). OP, you have all my sympathy and I’m hoping for a good update (PLEASE post an update).

  28. Sharrbe*

    I agree with most of Alison’s advice except the part about making excuses like “my husband won’t agree”. She will just keep assuming that you want to include her, it’s just everyone else who keeps messing it up. In other words, she will keep asking until you want gouge your ears with a stapler. A clear, firm, friendly “No, that is not possible. I’m sorry.” is all that’s needed. I know there will be the temptation to add more details in to make it sound more convincing, but I think that will make things worse in the long run. Even though she’s your boss, she still needs to understand that she can’t dictate your personal life, which is what she’s trying to insert herself into. I have no idea if this will affect your working relationship in any way, but if you don’t set up hard boundaries she will try to wear you down and guilt you in to it. I’ve allowed people like this in my life before. It wasn’t healthy for me, and you know what? Me complying with their requests/hints and trying to make them happy still didn’t solve their problems. They were still needy messes.

    1. Observer*

      That’s good in theory. But she is unlikely to accept a simple “no.” Or if she does she’ll be angry at the OP and make her life miserable.

      1. Sharrbe*

        It’s more unlikely that she’ll give up if OP keeps giving excuses that Wanda can just work around. “I know your sister is hosting Thanksgiving, but what about Christmas, are you hosting? No? How about New Years? Ok. Well, why don’t we just go out to dinner Friday? You have a date with hubby? Great! I can come to that, he’ll love me!” I mean if the woman suggests going on her employee’s vacations with her, there aren’t many boundaries left that she won’t cross. If the boss can’t emotionally handle a clear but polite “no” as a response to a wildly unreasonable request? Then maybe its not the healthiest environment in which to work…..

        1. Observer*

          It’s unlikely that she’ll give up no matter WHAT the OP does. I mean, she’s still trying to get invitations to family events that the OP hasn’t hosted for a few years now.

          So, the OP needs to focus on doing what she needs to to keep from having her life made miserable.

    2. Koala dreams*

      I also suspect she will argue about the reasons, and try to wear the OP down. It might go better with a more firm no.

  29. Wing Leader*

    I don’t entirely disagree with Alison, but if Wanda is actually sobbing in your face, I don’t think it would be good to pretend like she’s joking when clearly she’s not. I think a more serious, straightforward approach would work. Something like, “Wanda, I unfortunately cannot adopt you into our family as I’m so busy raising Johnny and Suzy already (or whatever excuse works), and we just don’t have the space for that. But I’d be happy to keep having lunch with you during the week (or whatever you would be okay with doing).”

  30. Quiet, You*

    Please explain to me why never having had a romantic relationship has any bearing on this. PLENTY of people never have one.

    1. annakarina1*

      Yeah, that felt like a personal dig that wasn’t necessary. It’s enough to say that she’s spent her adult life taking care of her parents and doesn’t have a social life, without having to add that she’s never had romance in her life too.

    2. Miss May*

      I think it gives context as to why Wanda is so dependent on others at work and family, since she doesn’t have a significant other.

      1. Dragoning*

        But it doesn’t, really–I’m not dependent on my family or my work colleagues for companionship despite being very happily single because I have friends.

        1. Welling*

          OP’s boss doesn’t seem to have a significant other, nearby family, OR friends. I think it is important information because it explains why she’s trying to depend on her direct report for her main source of socialization. I really don’t understand the objection to including it.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              I get that. I do. Honestly though I think OP was just trying to draw a full picture of Wanda’s lack if *any* intimate relationships since her parents died and her sister is miving away. I could be wrong, but really (and I am someone who is generally ready to read the worst into things…) I don’t think it was an intentional dig.

        2. GreyjoyGardens*

          Same here. I’m not married and I don’t want to be, but I have plenty of friends, so my coworkers get to stay coworkers (and bosses get to stay bosses!). I think it’s much more important for a healthy life to have friends than have a significant other. (See: all the men who leave the social organizer/family kinkeeper role to their wives, and if they’re widowed, they become INCREDIBLY lonely, needy, and demanding. Like my dad.)

    3. AnonEMoose*

      I took that piece as further information as to just how wrapped up in her parents/family Wanda is/was, not as a personal dig.

    4. Jennifer*

      Plenty of people pushing 60? I don’t know if that has ever been researched but I’d find that quite unusual. I think it was an important part of the description. It might show she lacks emotional intelligence or is extremely socially awkward and doesn’t pick up on social cues.

    5. Washi*

      Plenty of people don’t have romantic relationships, but it’s usually not because their parents were so perfect that they can’t possibly trust anyone else. I think this was just an indication of how warped Wanda’s ideas about relationships are.

      1. JSPA*

        This is the perfect opportunity for responding to the question or topic you wish she had posed. With a dose of Pollyanna.

        Bluh-bluh-sob, sister moved / please be her…
        A: Oh, when are you planning a trip out there? Do you have time to visit [museum] or [cultural site]? Office really needs a [postcard of the Arch / selfie from the Golden Gate Bridge / photo of you petting Babe the Blue Ox / magnet from NM for the work fridge].

        Take me to Theatre / Movie?
        A: Oh, are you interested in that one? Spouse might be, but I’m iffy. If you go before he convinces me, let me know if it’s worth it.

        Take me on holiday?
        A: you know, you might really enjoy [thing we did two years ago]. It has [thing you’ve expressed interest in], and is really well suited to a mix of fun and private relaxation.

        No, take me on holiday!
        A: ha ha! No mixing work and vacation, right?

        Holiday? Please?
        A: Oh, if you’re considering it for next year, tell me what appeals most, and I’ll try to make a note of it. Does the work fridge need a magnet from [state], or do we have one? Did you want a spare for yourself?

        No Sister…no plans…no interests…
        A: So Much Free Time! I sometimes fantasize about what I’d do if all my time was my own.

        But, Alone…
        A: Oh, I know I should not live vicariously through you. Boundaries, and all. But I can’t help wishing you’d take up something that I don’t have the time, energy or focus to start!

        You Must Hate Me.
        A: Oh, Myrtle, you’re a wonderful boss. I’m so sorry you’re in a rough patch. They say that [X] years after losing a parent is often extra hard, but it’s an excellent time to [talk to a counselor / seek guidance / take up meditation / go on a retreat / take a course on re- centering your life / take up doing good works / go to Mardi Gras and release all the pent up misery / have a full physical / get a pet ).

        I Hate You.
        A: It hurts to see you this upset. Hold hard to the thought that we’re all on the same side, and we’ll all get through this.

        Nobody Understands / only you
        A: Between bereavement support groups and chat groups for empty nesters, you can probably find a lot of people dealing with some of the same feelings, and a few people dealing with many of the same feelings. What a powerful resource!

        But YOU understand! YOU grieve! Grieve with me!
        A: we’re in incompatible stages of grief. The doctor says that at this point, it’s not healthy for me to go back and chew on the sensation of loss. You and I are currently more likely to do each other damage than to help each other. Lets check back in 9 months, and see if we’re in more compatible stages by then. Life is a river etc.

    6. JSPA*

      Its relevant in the context of everything else, not in its own right. Just as not liking her brother is only relevant in context. Or insisting everything about her childhood was perfect. We’re listing all the many other sorts of interpersonal relationships people may commonly have, that they can rely on for chatting, support, fun times, passing drama. It’s 100% relevant that all those needs are being directed at OP. And that Boss has apparently had fewer interpersonal relationships (of all sorts: friends, family, romantic), in her late 50’s, than most people have had in their late 20’s. And as a result, boss has real knowledge and power, but minimal practice with boundaries (healthy or otherwise; there’s learning to be had in bad as well as good relationships).

      1. Dr. Pepper*

        Agreed. There’s also the fact that Wanda has told the OP all of these things, some of which are a bit personal for sharing with one’s direct reports.

    7. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

      I can see how it would be relevant here – Wanda doesn’t have a romantic partner for emotional support, nor does she have children, or indeed any other family she’s close to, other than her sister who’s moving. It doesn’t sound like she even has any friendships or the skills to make them, which is why she’s glomming so hard onto OP. I agree that it’s not worded in the best way (I’d probably just have said that she doesn’t have those connections without specifying that she’s never had them), but we’re not supposed to nitpick the word choices of letter writers.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Although saying “never” gives important information. We know that she’s never had the opportunity to develop certain skills, coping techniques, etc.

        So we don’t expect her to know these things…by this point in her life because most people go through stuff by their late 50s.

        Wanda having not at all, ever helps explain why she is like she is, at least to some degree.

    8. LKW*

      It was because this woman has extreme views on the people in her world. Perfect. Adore. Detest.

      This person has high expectations from those she ‘collects’ and the OP noted that she didn’t marry because there was no one who could meet her standards. That’s pretty relevant to who she is. It’s not that she didn’t find a partner – it’s that no one was good enough to be her partner.

      1. Wing Leader*

        Yeah, that’s what I thought. If Wanda doesn’t want a partner, then fine. Not everyone has to be married and being a single pringle has perks. But it sounds like Wanda might want to be married, but she also literally wants the perfect man, and that can get tiring real quick.

      2. GreyjoyGardens*

        I don’t want to diagnose Wanda over the internet, but there are some personality disorders and issues that cause “splitting” – people, places, and things are All Good or All Bad, and there is no in-between. The problem is that people who have such black and white, with me or against me views are *not to be trusted* because you can wind up on the Naughty List faster than you can say “lump of coal” if you do anything to offend that person. I had a roommate like this. When she thought I was a Good Person ™ we got along great – but the moment I got a better job and a boyfriend (and she had neither) I became the evil witch.

        This is what worries me about OP and Wanda – Wanda is OP’s boss, and there’s not much OP can do to keep from being put on Wanda’s s**t list if Wanda gets offended somehow. I guaran-damn-tee you this is what happened with Wanda’s siblings.

    9. Jaybeetee*

      I expect it’s meant to be one piece of a whole that suggests that Wanda is socially stunted/has a difficult personality. Many people never have relationships, but have full, contented lives otherwise. A person who has never had a relationship, never lived away from their parents (until they died), seemingly has no friends, is on the outs with 50% of her remaining family… that all paints a picture. None of those things, individually, would mean much. Many awesome people have few friends for a variety of reasons. Many people stay on living with their parents for a variety of reasons. Many people have family members or siblings with whom they’re not on good terms. I wouldn’t bat an eye at a person with one, even two of those things going on. All together?

    10. Myrin*

      Come on now, let’s not take such an adversarial stance with an OP who, as evidenced by the whole existence of this letter, seems to be a kind, understanding, and compassionate person. I’m a soon-to-be 29 aromantic asexual who has also never been in a relationship so I can theoretically appreciate your stance but I don’t think it’s very helpful or apt here.

      The information about Wanda’s romance-less life is embedded in a context of her skewed relationship with not only others but herself as well, and the primary reason for her lack of romance seems to be the fact that “her COMPLETELY PERFECT parents gave her a COMPLETELY PERFECT childhood that left her unable to trust any man outside her own family”.

      And also, let’s not kid ourselves. I am, in most part because of my own identity, very much in favour of lessening the cultural message around the all-importance of sex and romance, and I also think that there are more romantically inexperienced people in this world than the media would have you believe, but it’s certainly not particularly common for a soon-to-be sixty-year-old to have no prior relationships to speak of. I mean, I could totally become that person in thirty years but as it stands, I’m also the literal only person around my age that I know who is in my situation and I’d assume I’m going to become even more of an outlier the older we get.

    11. Wing Leader*

      I think OP meant that Wanda is constantly bragging she’s never had a relationship because no man is as good as her daddy or something, but not that OP was taking a dig at Wanda (at least that’s how I took it).

    12. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      It’s part of a whole. No romantic partner or friends. Lived with her parents and took care of them. It builds a picture of someone who had work and parents and nothing else, and now has only work and nothing else.

      Look at the forest instead of a single tree.

    13. Oh So Anon*

      I’m pro-singleness and everything, but I think it does have a bit of a bearing insofar as having a significant other goes a really long way in term of meeting social and emotional needs for a lot of people. Sure, lots of unpartnered people have a good network of platonic and familial relationships, but as an adult it can be challenging to get your support needs met through those relationships because so many people prioritize their partners and children.

      Never having had a romantic relationship (especially because she’s otherwise socially isolated) may very well mean that as an adult, she’s never really had a peer who was her #1 priority outside themselves, and that’s something that probably influences her depth of loneliness.

  31. pyjamas*

    A long time ago I read that a difference between the English and the French was that an English person would feel obliged to respond to an awkward question whereas a French person would blithely ignore it and change the topic. Whether this is an accurate depiction of the French, it’s a useful tactic and might work here.

    Also, Miss Manners advised in her book to avoid giving reasons to turn someone down, but rather say something like, “I’m afraid that’s just not possible” and repeat as needed. If you give a reason, the person making the request can come up with an argument against it. Good luck! High maintenance people will soak up all your energy and it still won’t be enough

    1. Allypopx*

      I really like “I’m afraid that’s just not possible”. I know some people who it would infuriate but maybe all the better.

      1. Helena*

        Perhaps it’s because I’m deaf, but I find “answering a totally different question” works beautifully – people either take the hint and move on, or are wrong footed by the sudden topic change and miss their opportunity to argue the point (facially it is usually obvious which of the two is happening, but you just need to plough on with your new topic regardless).

        “Can I come on holiday with you?”

        “No, we’re flying from Gatwick instead. Much easier. Do you want a coffee? I’m heading to the kitchen”

        1. OP*

          Ha – I love this idea! Not least of all because I am in fact somewhat hard of hearing, and it would not be the first time that I would have responded to a totally different question than was asked. I haven’t tried doing it intentionally, but that could definitely be an effective way to deflect. Thank you!

    2. Tertia*

      A useful variant to “it’s not possible” is “it’s not fair.”

      “After last Christmas, I realized it wasn’t fair to bring a work friend to a family gathering.”
      “Friday night concerts are usually ‘date nights’ for me and Bob. It wouldn’t be fair to give a standing invitation to a third party.”
      “Mike and Carol are old friends. It wouldn’t be fair to ask someone they don’t know to join us for dinner.”
      “We’ve always seen these vacations as family time. It would be unfair for me to even suggest changing that.”

      Somewhat like what ToS suggested below (above?), but just stop after “not fair.” That short-circuits any opportunity for her to argue about how or why your family circle could or should be broadened to include her.

  32. Observer*

    If you are in a government position, you should start looking at what job postings are available in other departments and related agencies. Your “time served” at your current agency will be counted, and they are a lot less likely to discriminate against you because of your age.

    1. CheeryO*

      +1, also, at 63, I’m guessing OP isn’t too far from retirement (I know everyone is different and some may need to/choose to work longer). OP, you have permission to fully ghost this woman once you retire, including the annual concert and occasional dinners. You seem very kind, and I’m sure that’ll feel mean, but it might be the only way to get rid of her.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        I am cosigning this 100%. Been there, done that, no regrets. With people this pushy and needy, ghosting is often the only real choice I can think of besides blowing up at them or saying something like “you are no longer welcome in my life.”

  33. Pretzelgirl*

    I was going to suggest tapering off your outside work contact with her, but I am not too sure that would work. I like Allison’s advice here, of the occasional concert or coffee date. I would really like to see an update. I hope this works out in your favor.

  34. Elenia*

    This is where I said “What the fuck?!” outloud:

    She expects to be included in family gatherings, all concert and theater plans, and also made it clear that she’d like to go with us on vacations.

    1. Impy*

      Yes. It was couched in the same way that a new boss might asked to be cc’d in on emails, expects to be included in regular team meetings, and makes it clear they’d like regular status reports.

  35. QuinleyThorne*

    OP, you mentioned this happened a few weeks ago–has your boss brought this up since then? If she hasn’t, the most charitable read of the situation is that she was incredibly emotional, and said something ridiculous in the heat of the moment, and realized how embarrassing that sounded (again, that’s the most charitable read of the situation). But given that she perceives herself to be “COMPLETELY PERFECT”, it’s probably safe to assume that self-awareness isn’t her strong suit, and that she was (is?) completely serious.

    I know you’re not crazy about going to HR, but it might still be worth doing, if only to loop them in on the situation in writing. Because if your boss is so petty and childish as to go to HR to find out the source of complaints about her, I wouldn’t put it past her to file a (false) complaint about you when you set boundaries with her. But if HR already has documentation about this incident in writing, you’ll be protected, as well as evidence of retaliation.

    If HR’s not an option at all, does your employer offer EAP? Boss’ bad behavior aside, it does sound like she’s been through a lot. That doesn’t make her feelings your responsibility, but since she probably won’t take responsibility for them, you can at least direct her to someone whose job it is to do so (in a manner of speaking).

    Also, just because this jumped out at me, as far as the “never had a relationship” thing: being a primary caregiver for elderly parents is a full-time job on its own, and you mentioned that she’s been doing that “her entire adult life.” If that’s truly the case, a relationship was probably just not a feasible option for her. (Assuming that she hasn’t had one since then, yeah, her personality probably has a lot to do with that).

    1. OP*

      Thanks for those observations – I think you are on target WRT the effect of being a primary caregiver to one’s parents for decades.

      1. QuinleyThorne*

        No problem! Best of luck to you OP, this is a really unfortunate situation to be in. Hope it works out!

  36. fancypance*

    Going forward, I would not have any one-on-one activities with her, and try involve coworkers in socializing as much as possible (which may be difficult, considering her personality).

  37. Sarah*

    Wow. This is a sad situation for OP’s boss, but it is 100% not the OP’s problem to solve. I spent all of my 20’s and my early 30’s caring for my parents until their deaths. I had little to no social life. It was all I could do to maintain a full-time job and care for both of them. So I definitely relate to OP’s boss. After my mother’s death in March 2019, I slowly started to resurface and gradually reconnected with my circle of friends. They were all very understanding and gladly accepted me back with open arms. OP, I agree with Allison about choosing your battles. A concert or theater function once a year, with 1 or 2 dinners sprinkled throughout is far more feasible than having her for every holiday and especially on your vacations (!!!) Also, maybe you can suggest that she travel abroad with a group? I did this and it was an amazing experience! I booked a guided all inclusive trip to Europe and I was with a group of approx. 15 other travelers! We dined together, stayed in the same hotel, saw the sights together, etc. An older couple sort of “adopted” me during the trip because I was alone. So your boss definitely has options for human interaction, but she needs to do her part as well. But yes, you need to hold firm when it comes to your boundaries, OP.
    Good luck :)

    1. cat socks*

      Great idea about the group travel! My parents are in their 60s and use Gate 1 frequently. I’ve been on a couple of trips with them and the group does skew a bit older – people in their 50s and 60s.

    2. OP*

      Oh, that suggests something – one of my spouse’s siblings goes all over the world on those Elderhostel trips and just absolutely raves about how much fun they are. That’s a great idea to mention to Wanda. Thanks!

  38. Tiara Wearing Princess*

    This is such a sad situation for both the LW and the boss. The LW sounds like a compassionate person who tries to show this woman kindness, only to be hoist with her own petard. Some people (I’m one of them) are kind hearted and often, needy people sense it as if it’s a weakness- I have felt like I’m some kind of magnet for these boundary crossing cuckoo birds. I’ll be going along thinking I’m being friendly and nice and suddenly realize I have become someone’s de facto therapist. And I don’t wanna be! As I get older I have less and less patience for this nonsense and told the last person who tried to victimize me (yes, LW, you are being victimized) that I was not equipped to be their therapist and could not be a sounding board anymore. I realize you are in a different situation because she is your boss. What you should consider is that while talking to HR may cause her to make your life miserable, having to post this game of not hurting her feelings may make you just as miserable. I’d follow Allison’s advice but if she continues pressuring you, you may have to have a hard conversation with her.

    I’m so sorry you are dealing with this. Good luck!

  39. LGC*

    With all due respect, LW, I believe that you should have sent this to Captain Awkward instead of AAM. Holy cow. I feel like Wanda violated MY boundaries, and I’m just reading this on the internet.

    Actually, to reference CA, I’m going to pull up the Sheelzebub principle. (Okay, I’m going to butcher it, but bear with me.) You’re 63, so you’re possibly close to retirement. Let’s say you’re retiring. How much longer would you be able to put up with her – for two more years? Seven? Would you be able to set firmer boundaries when you retire? From your letter, it sounds like the problem is bigger than Wanda here.

    I’m also cosigning Alison on having limited out of work contact…with the caveat that you have to feel like it’s manageable for you and not just something you’re doing to maintain the peace. Funny enough, I’m planning on letting a boundary stomping friend back into my life…on a trial basis. My therapist was aghast. But I think I can handle it and I know that I can jet on BSF if I can’t. (BSF is going through some tough times, and needs an ear.)

    1. Avasarala*

      She may want an ear, but does she need yours?

      Why do you need to be able to “handle it”?

      What if you, OP, and all of us choose friendships with people who are kind and bring us joy, instead of people who we “think we can handle” and “can jet on if we can’t”? What if we hung out with people because we liked them and not because they deserved it?

  40. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    My heart hurts for the OP but dang I’m glad that sister escaped to be closer to her children.

    Being such an anti social hermit with very little family freaks me out that a woman my mother’s age acts like this.

    I don’t think she’s going to take joking well. She doesn’t seem to have that ability to see how absurd she’s being. I would just continue to refuse to invite her and say a lot of “that won’t be possible.”

    1. TiredOfTreatment*

      I suggest the op tried therapy herself. There’s a lot of red flags in your letter. It will help to set proper boundaries. The talk of suicide and pretty strong language against your boss suggests that there more going on personally than just your boss actions. Whole we don’t know the dynamics of your conversations or how your boss is hinting things, a therapist is a great way to learn more about boundaries and be given proper dialog. Especially since you aren’t going to leave the job or go to HR. I don’t see her changing but surely you can gain a healthy view.

      1. Shadowbelle*

        I agree that therapy might be helpful for the OP, I don’t necessarily agree that there is anything more going on than working for Wanda. I’ve also been in a position where my future depended on maintaining a good relationship with a less-than-desirable manager, and it does make one desperate, especially at our age. OP, like most full-time employees, spends more waking hours in Wanda World than in Family World., so Wanda is going to have a huge impact on OP’s mental health and well-being. What a nightmare.

  41. Just some internet rando*

    Echoing what others have said, the feelings and distress of the boss are not your problems to solve. You can be kind and direct. If she struggles with those boundaries, its not your job to manage her emotions.

  42. BethRA*

    Op, I know you said you don’t trust your HR people – but does Wanda have a boss or a peer you would speak to? Someone who could help you push back? I share the concern that she may not respond to a joking approach based on what you’ve told us (and no, it’s not your job to manage her emotional instability, or it shouldn’t be, but that won’t save you from having to deal with it anyway).

  43. Me*

    OP is in a crappy position. I also think her letter is something people really need to be aware of.
    Often people in a working environment are on somewhat of their best manners/behavior because work. If/when you get to know them you may find they are a bit crackers. Now this is true for people in the world in general, but with work you are stuck with them in a way you can’t ghost like you could with the lady from yoga class.

    I, think fortunately, had an experience or two with coworkers when I was younger that I because friends with only to realize they weren’t really my type of people. As such I’m a HUGE advocate for work/life separation. Now there’s people I’ve worked with for many years that I’m moderately closer to, but yeah. Keep em separate people!

    1. GreyjoyGardens*

      I recall it was in an earlier AAM comment thread that someone mentioned: at work, you have to be friendLY, but you don’t have to be FRIENDS. Meaning, when someone says, “Good morning, Fergus!” you have to say “Good morning” in return, you don’t get to snarl at someone who asks, “How was your weekend? Did you do anything fun?” but you get to put up boundaries and you don’t have to be best pals with all the people you work with.

      Sometimes particular people just click, and that’s great, as long as they are the same rank in the organization. But relying on work to fulfill all your emotional and social needs is a bad idea. And when you’re told “We’re like family here!” that means “family as in The Manson Family – RUN!”

      1. Me*

        Preach! And even those that I’m “friends” with, are friends in the we might go to post work happy hour occasionally but we’re not inviting each other to do things like we would with non-work friends.

        I have one work person I am friends with to the extent I would invite her to my wedding, but even she is in a separate tier then my non-work friends.

        People are gonna do what they want. But I will say not being “friends” with people I work with has never caused me problems.

  44. JSPA*

    This is the perfect opportunity for responding to the question or topic you wish she had posed. With a dose of Pollyanna.

    Bluh-bluh-sob, sister moved / please be her…
    A: Oh, when are you planning a trip out there? Do you have time to visit [museum] or [cultural site]? Office really needs a [postcard of the Arch / selfie from the Golden Gate Bridge / photo of you petting Babe the Blue Ox / magnet from NM for the work fridge].

    Take me to Theatre / Movie?
    A: Oh, are you interested in that one? Spouse might be, but I’m iffy. If you go before he convinces me, let me know if it’s worth it.

    Take me on holiday?
    A: you know, you might really enjoy [thing we did two years ago]. It has [thing you’ve expressed interest in], and is really well suited to a mix of fun and private relaxation.

    No, take me on holiday!
    A: ha ha! No mixing work and vacation, right?

    Holiday? Please?
    A: Oh, if you’re considering it for next year, tell me what appeals most, and I’ll try to make a note of it. Does the work fridge need a magnet from [state], or do we have one? Did you want a spare for yourself?

    No Sister…no plans…no interests…
    A: So Much Free Time! I sometimes fantasize about what I’d do if all my time was my own.

    But, Alone…
    A: Oh, I know I should not live vicariously through you. Boundaries, and all. But I can’t help wishing you’d take up something that I don’t have the time, energy or focus to start!

    You Must Hate Me.
    A: Oh, Myrtle, you’re a wonderful boss. I’m so sorry you’re in a rough patch. They say that [X] years after losing a parent is often extra hard, but it’s an excellent time to [talk to a counselor / seek guidance / take up meditation / go on a retreat / take a course on re- centering your life / take up doing good works / go to Mardi Gras and release all the pent up misery / have a full physical / get a pet ).

    I Hate You.
    A: It hurts to see you this upset. Hold hard to the thought that we’re all on the same side, and we’ll all get through this.

    Nobody Understands / only you
    A: Between bereavement support groups and chat groups for empty nesters, you can probably find a lot of people dealing with some of the same feelings, and a few people dealing with many of the same feelings. What a powerful resource!

    But YOU understand! YOU grieve! Grieve with me!
    A: we’re in incompatible stages of grief. The doctor says that at this point, it’s not healthy for me to go back and chew on the sensation of loss. You and I are currently more likely to do each other damage than to help each other. Lets check back in 9 months, and see if we’re in more compatible stages by then. Life is a river, and so on.

    1. Ginger ale for all*

      Another response to the please include me on your vacation is to say that surely she must be banking her vacation time to visit her sister and family now that they live so far away. Wanda will probably want to visit them for the holidays as well. You could probably do some research on the tourist attractions in the sisters new area and ask if Wanda will see them when she visits her sister. And also suggest to Wanda that she take some decadent days off to get a massage, mani/pedi, and luxurious lunch out. There is no reason why you can’t encourage Wanda to enjoy her own company. She’s been through a lot, she might really enjoy spending a few vacation days at a day spa.

    2. zaracat*

      I’ve been the gloomy lonely one in this situation and this technique (used by a friend towards me) is really effective. I made a longer comment further up the thread, but the key point I’ll repeat here is that not only did it work “in the moment”, it actually got me to change my own behaviour and start trying to find positives for myself.

    3. OP*

      JSPA, I really like your script suggestions here. Some might not be effective in this particular case, but they suggest directions I could explore. Thank you!

  45. Akcipitrokulo*

    I would say that you didn’t make a mistake by reacting compassionately; the fact she was unable/unwilling to stick to reasonable boundaries is not on you.

    It is a huge adjustment for her, and will be difficult and painful, but it isn’t your job to fix that – and it also would not be in her best interests if you tried.

    Being a good, dependable employee who makes work more pleasant and stable will help. Keeping kind but firm working relationships – which can include the occasional dinner or outing – may well give her one thing that she knows is stable. Which is probably something she needs given recent upheavals.

    1. Allypopx*

      This. You’re only responsible for your own actions, OP, not how others react to them. You did a compassionate thing. You seem very kind.

  46. Akcipitrokulo*

    I am also feeling so heartsick for Wanda. Obviously just going on words on internet… but her compulsion that her parents were perfect and that her chikdhood was perfect and that she was their sole caretaker for so many years… it doesn’t sound like the healthiest of dynamics, and if she was under their (possibly loving/loved) thumb for at least most of her life… it probably wasn’t a great life for her with them, but it’s the only one she knew and it must be so hard for her now.

    But again, OP… you can’t be the one to take their place.

  47. I'm Not Phyllis*

    What an awful situation. Perhaps I’m just being cranky (because my cold is apparently never going away!) but I have a difficult time believing that a person who behaves this far outside of the professional norm can be considered “good at what she does” no matter what technical expertise she brings to the table. She certainly isn’t good at managing!

    I would do what you have been doing but maybe put a bit more edge in it. Instead of tapering off social time together, cut it off and draw a hard line. I understand that this might feel unkind, but Wanda is obviously not able to accept the hints that you have been dropping for several years (!) now. Unfortunately I think it’s time you drew a line in the sand … and if she is the retaliatory type, you may still have to involve HR at some point.

    1. Helena*

      I dunno, I had a boss just like this (fortunately only a twelve month contract and it didn’t ramp up until about month 9).

      She was a physician, and patients adored her because she had absolutely zero boundaries – they thought she was so caring! She was universally loathed by the rest of the department, both junior and senior to her.

      Her teenage son was also totally messed up with some really inappropriate boundaries, clearly directly learned from being brought up by her (she adopted him as a single woman, so nothing to counterbalance her influence). I have ghosted her, which isn’t a great career move but much better for my sanity.

    2. Oh So Anon*

      Based on some…things I’ve seen with relatives and former colleagues, it’s possible to get away with this if you’re in a helping occupation where there’s a big power differential between you and your clients. People who work primarily with adolescents come to mind – the clients often benefit from the boundary-crusher going “above and beyond” but don’t always have the capacity to recognize that something’s off.

  48. Glacier*

    OP, are you able to suggest an outing that creates built-in friendships, and then slowly back away from said activity? (e.g., ceramics/art class, hiking/bird watching, fitness, etc.) To be clear, this is way more emotional energy than you *should* be investing in your boss, but maybe it’s a helpful long-term strategy? Best of luck!

  49. BasicWitch*

    Anyone see the movie Notes on a Scandal? Not a 1:1 obviously, but a coworker who trample over boundaries and tries to insert themselves into the family because they have some kind of leverage reminds me of the creepy vibe of Judi Dench’s character…

    1. Ice and Indigo*

      Seems a bit of an extreme comparison; there’s no indication Wanda has any of Barbara’s spite or misanthropy. I feel sorry for her (while also agreeing OP doesn’t have to adopt anyone she doesn’t want to adopt).

      1. Helena*

        There wasn’t any indication Judy Dench had any spite until Cate Blanchett tried to pull away from her! And “I’m single because nobody could ever be as Completely Perfect as my family” is kinda misanthropic.

        Again not trying to diagnose anyone with anything (not even a film character!), but people who are very polarised in their thinking can switch from “you’re my best friend ever” to “you are Satan” with one misjudged comment. Look at how Wanda has reacted to her sister moving away.

    2. Jennifer*

      I love that movie! And yes, I hadn’t thought of it but it makes sense. She had no one in her life and glommed on to Cate Blanchett’s character. After she ruined her life she moved on to someone else.

  50. Rocinante*

    Skip the “joking/laughing” script with your boss and go straight to the direct script that AAM suggests.

    You know your boss better then any of us. When I read your letter. Your boss comes off manipulating, lonely and/or narcissistic. I honestly don’t know if she is any or all or some of those things. I hope it is just lonely.

    Trust your gut though. Keep it professional and direct when pushing pack and establishing boundaries.

    I will say that the part about no romantic partners, not trusting men and a bad relationship with her brother really jumped out. But I am a guy so that is probably why those are major red flags.

  51. PlainJane*

    I… kind of sympathize with Wanda. Or understand, or something.

    This doesn’t mean you should let her be a parasite. But the whole “perfect” thing sounds like something that was rehearsed for many years until it set in. And it’s so hard to make friends as an adult, when, if you’re not already in a group, no one wants to open one up to you. It’s a lot easier to curl up into a ball, but of course, then you need someone.

  52. Quill*

    I can feel myself being you in 40-odd years, OP, and am currently retreating into my sweater like a hermit crab into a shell. (I am also a generally supportive person and not always good at setting boundaries with people who don’t intuit the basic ones…)

    As you untangle yourself from this giant faux pas, please examine if the problem is “my needy boss is being unreasonable about this one thing,” or if it’s “I feel like I can’t say no to my boss about anything work related or not,” because those are two different problems.

  53. Not A Manager*

    I usually agree with Alison, but in this case I strongly disagree. “Reasons are for reasonable people,” and this lady is beyond unreasonable. I cannot imagine that scripts explaining why ADOPTING YOUR BOSS is going to interfere with the perception of objectivity in the office would do anything other than invite pushback (and possibly tears and anger).

    I would absolutely not offer her any *reasons* why you can’t include her in every aspect of your life as if she were your sister or your child. She’s asking for love, really, and you can’t give it to her. If you are willing to break one boundary to preserve another, I would lean into the “special” managerial relationship you do have. Something like, “Wanda, I’m sorry you’re having such a hard time. I can’t include you in every family event, but you’re my favorite manager and I’m glad we have such a good relationship. Let’s get dinner soon.” Trade a little bit of outside-the-office private contact in the short term in order to shut down any thought that she will ever be included in your family events.

    If you don’t want to tell her she’s the bestest manager ever and spend a little one-on-one time with her, then go with “I’m so sorry you’re having such a hard time. It’s tough when family moves away.” Don’t address this ridiculous “I must be included” at all. Ignore all hints, be vague in response to any questions. The only time you HAVE to respond is if she explicitly asks if she can be included in something. Then a warm, “Oh, that won’t work, but I’ll look forward to seeing you on Monday” will have to suffice.

    (Apologies if all of this was hashed out above – I don’t have time to scroll through all the responses and I do feel strongly about not giving Wanda an opportunity to argue about office boundaries.)

    1. Blue Eagle*

      I agree with Not a Manager about not giving reasons. And I’d go one further and after saying “it’s tough when family moves away”, I’d say “have you considered moving to where they are so you can stay close to your sister and your nieces/nephews”?

      And what I’d like to say (but she probably won’t react positively to) is “sometimes I wish someone would adopt me and include me in everything that they planned and so that I wouldn’t have to come up with the idea and do all the planning and do all the work to make it come off OK. Boy, just thinking of this is making me tired. I better get back to work.”

      1. Helena*

        Oh man, poor Wanda’s sister if Wanda follows her! Though you are right that would totally solve OP’s problem.

        OP, could you throw Wanda’s sister under a bus like that?

    2. Shadowbelle*

      I agree, but I’d suggest lunch, not dinner. Wean Wanda off all non-business-hours activities with the OP. She has apparently imprinted on the OP, so the pattern must be broken.

      My hero Miss Manners has the perfect no-reasons response. “I’m sorry, but it’s not possible.” “Why not?” “Because it’s just not possible.” “But why isn’t it possible?” “Because it’s not.” This can be repeated ad infinitum.

  54. ToS*

    Wanda” “Adopt me”

    OP Bless your heart, that ship sailed decades ago when spouse and I decided we were at capacity with the current grouping. It’s flattering to know that you are interested, but it would be unfair to everyone involved, especially me, when I’m off the clock and don’t want to think about work. Frankly, it’s a lot of extra energy on my part, and it gets awkward for my family because you are My Boss – none of us can really switch that off – and the code switching is exhausting. I’m fine with all things work-related, like holiday parties.

  55. Elizabeth West*

    I feel bad for Wanda, but she needs to take steps to make some friends on her own. She makes me think of that woman Lisa in the reality show Starting Over, the one who was a huge 40-year-old baby who couldn’t do anything without her parents.

    Obviously, OP needs to step away, but if there were some way she could gently push Wanda in the direction of going to a concert or two on her own (maybe a small one, like chamber music at a church or local college, or whatever), she might start to meet some folks she could hang out with.

    1. Natalia*

      For sure! Wanda needs to get a group of friends of her own. Volunteer, join a church, sign up on Meetup and join a group that interests her…
      I’m not saying you can’t be friends with people you work with, but Wanda is crossing the line here.

  56. MJD*

    Just wanted to say that LW’s second paragraph is not very kind. Never having been in a romantic relationship is not a character flaw or something that makes a person worthy of “two or three dissertations” by a psychiatrist. There are plenty of people in the world who are asexual, aromantic, have past abuse they haven’t disclosed that makes them want to remain single, or have any other number of reasons for being unpartnered. It’s very unkind and hurtful to stigmatize and judge people based on their relationship status. I’m shocked Alison didn’t call that out in her response.

  57. OP*

    To all who commented here, thank you for sharing your insights! I read and appreciated every comment.

    I particularly appreciate JSPA’s clear and specific script suggestions, which along with Allison’s will be immensely useful in making effective rebuttals in response to Wanda’s requests. You are both masters at the gentle art of deflection, which is what I must learn and implement. Thank you!

    Dr. Pepper’s phrase “warm and sympathetic brick wall” made me laugh out loud (which startled the dog). I’m keeping that one!

    And many of you suggested that I encourage Wanda to explore hobbies or volunteer activities, which I really like. I do know she has a keen interest in one particular non-profit in the area, so that is an idea that I will start mentioning in conversation. Thank you!

    As to those who suggested a job change, thank you – really – for your faith in my ability to accomplish that. I have unwisely spent my career specializing in one very narrowly focused program area, first at the federal level and now with my current employer, and there just aren’t any positions (other than my own) in that specific program. I did a quiet exploration a couple of years ago and quickly discovered that the only options would be entry-level positions in vastly different program areas. And I’m just not at a place in my life where I feel able to start over at an entry level job.

    I do want to apologize for being hurtful by mentioning romantic relationships and the “s word.” I know those can both be triggering, and it was thoughtless and wrong of me not to do a better job of self-editing. In no way would I want to suggest that a romantic relationship is essential to be a healthy adult. I felt (and still feel) that it is a relevant part of who Wanda has become, but I was insensitive in how I described it. As to suicide, I have lost family members to that tragedy myself, and I am all too aware of the impact it has on the survivors, which is why I am working actively to identify ways to avoid going down that path. I apologize for referring to it in a hurtful manner.

    So with all that said, thanks to your supportive comments, I am far better prepared to go forth and be that warm and sympathetic brick wall. Thank you again!

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      From someone who has felt suicidal in the past: you did nothing wrong in mentioning that you felt that way. You are in a really difficult position and I can only imagine how trapped you must feel.

  58. Oh So Anon*

    To lonely folks who are reading this: I want to point out that you’re not a bad person for feeling lonely, and you’re not a bad person for having unmet needs.

    The consequences of prolonged isolation mean you may inadvertently ask too much, too soon of the people you want to connect with. Something that will help protect your relationships from this is to first seek out friendships with people who don’t *have* to spend time with you, like your boss, direct reports, or someone in the cubicles next to you. The risk of you mistaking their presence for social or emotional availability to you is high, which could lead to you not giving them enough space. Also, those folks aren’t necessarily in a position to downshift your social relationship without feeling like they’re risking their work relationships.

    There’s nothing wrong with becoming friends with people at work and even spending time together outside of work, so long as everyone involved has the ability and distance to comfortably set boundaries.

  59. Alice's Rabbit*

    It really sounds like she doesn’t know how to get out there and make friends. In an instance like this, I would try to get her involved in activities without you, so she doesn’t have you there as a crutch to lean on forever. For example, if she likes crafts, buy a ticket to a class at your local craft store and then conveniently have something come up so you can’t go and give her the ticket.

  60. Mystykyn*

    This is awful on both sides but I do have some sympathy for Wanda. The account of her family dynamic suggests she was the child kept single and socially isolated in order that she could serve as carer for the parents. The son was allowed to fly the nest and the married daughter is now spreading her wings freed from the pressure to act as back up carer. These days it doesn’t exclude going to work, and you see it first and foremost in religious families. Having said this we may see something similar in those who have been helicopter parented as they probably won’t cope well without that parent.

  61. All Hail Queen Sally*

    There is a facebook group for people in Wanda’s situation: “Elder Ophans.” It is for people over 50 who do not have the support of close family members. Perhaps you could suggest it to her? The members (I am one) are very supportive and helpful.

  62. Tom (no, not that one)*

    Oh boy..

    I am drained just reading your case, OP.
    As others pointed out – seems like your manager is indeed an emotional vampire.
    Charismatic and friendly – but after each encounter you are left tired and drained – without some serious heavy lifting or something that would otherwise explain it.
    Some of them cannot help themselves – as they just don`t realize just WHAT they are – but regardless of which flavor of vampire you are dealing with – until they get the help they need, they are a danger to you (your mental health, maybe physical too).

    As is the case with ‘real’ vampires – they need to be invited in to do their stuff.

    So “do not adopt” – do not invite – and as gently as you can create a boundary (500 ft chasm should do it) between you and the vampire.
    If at all possible, let the concert and dinners also be phased out – because that way she`ll lose her hold over you.

    Realizing that it is easy for me to say – I had my encounters with some emotional vampires too.
    Draining – incredibly draining – and seriously bad for relationships you choose yourself – as your lack of energy means interacting with your chosen people gets diminished. (you indicated it`d be fatal to your marriage – sadly, that is a very real scenario here. Been there, done that, have the scars)

  63. Amber*

    I tried to see if anyone else had already said something similar to this, but couldn’t find anything, so here goes:

    One really successful tack I used on a similar manager was to use a variation of Alison’s script, only instead of saying I was concerned about perceived favouritism, I used our company culture to say I was worried about HER reputation. “I’d love to spend more time with you, but I don’t want your bosses to get the idea that we shouldn’t work together anymore because you’re being friendly with me.” Making it sound like I was the problem (I wasn’t) made my clingy boss happy because my first concern was HER. Yeah, I felt a little scuzzy afterward, but it was worth it to get out of all those events she begged me to go to with her, or invite her to in my own life.

    And when you CAN retire, then it’s up and cross-country without saying anything to anyone you don’t have to.

    1. OP*

      I really like that idea – make it all about concern for her, which I know would go over very well.

      And congratulations on successfully managing your manager, too! That really gives me hope, and I appreciate you sharing it.

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