update: my needy boss wants me to “adopt” her

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager, when I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer whose needy boss tried to invite herself on the letter-writer’s vacations and nights out with her husband? Here’s the update.

Alison, thanks so very much for responding to my letter, and many thanks also to all the readers who shared their insights. Both your observations and those of the commentariat were immensely helpful, and while Wanda is still Wanda, I feel as though I have gained a measure of control in handling the situation.

As I read and reread the replies to my letter, I realized that a big part of the issue for me has been that while Wanda makes herself very, very clear about what she wants, she does so with passive-aggressive manipulation tactics rather than by outright asking for things. And because I had a parent who did the same thing (and on whose account I spent a number of years in therapy), I am rather more susceptible to that approach than I’d like to be. Your comments, and those of your readers, were incredibly useful in helping me realize how deeply I had gotten pulled back into the same kind of unhealthy relationship that had caused me so much angst when I was young.

The first thing I did was to sit down with my husband and explain the whole thing to him. I wanted him to know that I was going to start setting limits with Wanda, and that part of the limit-setting would involve casting him in the role of a hopeless romantic who insists on lots of couples-only time.

Once we both stopped howling with laughter – which took a while, because Bob is just about as romantic as a box of hammers – he readily agreed to take the heat for me. He’s a good guy.

So when I put in my vacation request for this summer and Wanda asked archly “and where are we going this year,” I chuckled ruefully and said, “Bob is such a romantic that he insists on us taking a ‘mini-moon’ together every year and he doesn’t want anyone to know where we’re going, even our kids.” She pushed a little, even to the point of saying she could easily take that same week off, but I basically took the approach you suggested, treating it as a joke, which worked quite well. Then of course the pandemic came along and we had to cancel our plans – but if it worked once, it’ll work again.

When I started planning a ticket purchase for an autumn concert series that Bob and I always attend with friends, one that Wanda also likes and used to attend with her sister who moved out of state, I offered to include her for the one performance that we take a large group to. She immediately replied “yes, I’ll go with you for that one, and then you can go with me to all the rest,” to which I responded “oh, the rest of the series are dates for Bob and me – such a romantic old guy he is, still wanting go out on dates with his wife.” She pushed a little, but blaming it all on someone else, and especially on someone who is a man, was quite effective. She pretty much already assumes that all men are scoundrels whose only goal is to thwart and frustrate her anyway.

Redirection and deflection have been useful tools as well. A couple of months ago, Wanda stopped by my desk one afternoon and complained, “My stupid brother wants me to give my mother’s ring to his obnoxious stepdaughter at their Easter dinner, she’s so greedy that she’ll probably go pawn it, I really, really don’t want to go to their place for Easter, I really, really wish I had someplace else to go for the holiday, it would be SOOOO nice if only someone else would invite me to their Easter dinner.” I just replied, “Hey, did you hear that Fergus in Legal sent back his edits on that policy document we drafted on llama-herding? He completely changed the meaning of the middle section, and we’ll be in violation of the llama management ordinance if the guidance is released that way.”

That produced a very predictable response, one that successfully kept the topic of Easter dinner out of the conversation for the rest of the day. It takes a bit of planning to keep a distraction like that ready in my back pocket, so to speak, but there’s always some new crisis or controversy looming in our organization, so it’s not all that huge of a stretch. And it has been well worthwhile in terms of deflecting Wanda’s attempts to manipulate me into including her in my personal life.

The pandemic has honestly helped the situation, too, strange though that may sound. As stressful and horrifying and tragic as the pandemic is, the social distancing requirement has been a godsend in helping me establish and maintain a healthier degree of emotional distance.

For example, it is essentially impossible at our workplace to get away from Wanda. Even though she is considered a mid-level executive and is eligible for a private office, she insists on having a desk right out in the middle of the cube farm “to be close to her people” – which translates to being up in everyone’s business at all times.

When we went to telecommuting, however, that all changed, because we’re all scattered to our own homes and Wanda can’t do the kind of spontaneous drop-by meeting where she traps a hapless victim in their cubicle and babbles at them for half the afternoon. We don’t do video meetings either, thank goodness, and it’s downright amazing how much more work I can produce in a day now.

There are still phone conferences, of course, but for some reason, whenever the phone rings, my dog wakes up and insists on going out for a potty break. It’s so odd, I can’t seem to talk for more than five or ten minutes – just long enough to cover the business purpose for the call but no longer – and the minute Wanda goes off on another rant about Easter dinner with her horrible brother, Daisy starts whining at the door and I have to end the call to take her outside.

Of course I know that at some point, we’ll all be back in the office again, and I have no doubt that Wanda will resume her spontaneous drop-by meetings and her passive-aggressive attempts to manipulate me into “adopting” her. But with the insights I’ve gained from AAM, I expect to have no trouble at all in keeping the Oblivious Meter™ set to MAXIMUM CLUELESS and just let that manipulation roll right off my back.

Thank you again, Alison, for your help in joggling me out of the unhealthy place I had allowed myself to be pulled back to! Take care, be well, and stay away from those immersion blenders!

{ 255 comments… read them below }

  1. New Jack Karyn*

    This is an amazing update and I nominate it for the AAM Update Hall of Fame.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      This is so great! You seem like such an intelligent and thoughtful person in general and your approach to this. Great job in showing us how to execute something like this with boundaries and compassion. Thank you!

      1. sacados*

        THIS. Absolutely.
        I’m super impressed by how kind OP is toward Wanda, even throughout all this and while maintaining her boundaries at the same time!

    2. Artemesia*

      Really helpful detail for others dealing with a person like this. You really nailed it. And good old Bob.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        Yeah, big kudos to Bob; it sounds like he and OP have a great partnership going!

    3. Nervous Nellie*

      Agreed! I was slow clapping at the mention of the husband being as romantic as a box of hammers. What a delightful update! You GO, OP! And if you can train Daisy to whine uncontrollably every time Wanda calls – bonus points!

    4. DanniellaBee*

      I agree! What a positive outcome given the absolute dire nature of the original letter. I love the techniques Alison suggests here.

  2. Lucia Pacciola*

    Awesome update! I’m glad you’ve found a silver lining in the current situation.

    My partner and I have had a longstanding agreement that we can throw each other under the bus as needed to escape from awkward or unwanted social predicaments. I fully endorse this strategy!

    1. Shakti*

      My husband and I do too! It’s wonderful! We also have a your relations your problem and my relations my problem deal! While of course helping each other with our issues dividing up other people is awesome haha

      1. Philosophia*

        Partnership was wonderful. My late beloved—who could have chosen to take the “your relations, your problem/my relations, my problem” stance—-instead voluntarily stepped up to deflect some of the ongoing family drama emanating from my patriarchal parent. All of us belonged to the same closely related ethnic group and he understood what he was seeing.

    2. Mid*

      As a kid, my parents did the same thing. If I ever was in a situation that made me uncomfortable, they were always happy to be the bad guys for me. It’s really helpful to have an easy out for things!

      1. Sara*

        I’m nearly 30 and my parents are still willing to be the bad guys for me when needed.

        1. On Fire*

          My parents were always the same. But now? Role reversal! Since my dad died, Mom has used me as her bad guy. She has, on a few occasions when someone said something that made her feel uncomfortable, talked about how “my daughter is very strict. I have to let her know where I’m going, and with who, and let her know when I get home.” LOL

          She said she’s very happy to have that to fall back on. (I do ask her to keep me updated just because she lives alone and is getting older, but by no means am I trying to control her life!)

        2. Not Rebee*

          Absolute same. I honest to god told my girlfriend that I couldn’t go with her to [name of town where her father lives] to see her brother’s newborn because my mom said I couldn’t. This happened as a continuous conversation face to face, so this was a little absurd but somehow flew just fine. “Hey, want to come up with dad and I to see the baby?” “I’m not allowed to go” “okay”. It’s possible that the stay-in-place orders were working in my favor and she just decided not to push it. But honestly, my mom would not have let me go if she’d have been involved in that convo, so I felt justified.

      2. Kettricken Farseer*

        As someone who’s been practicing stay-at-home since kindergarten, I always said, “Sorry, my mom said no” without even talking to her.

      3. Working Hypothesis*

        I made a formal agreement with my kids when they entered their teens that if they needed an out from an invitation they didn’t want to attend or which made them uncomfortable, they could call me up and ask to be allowed to go “please please please?!?” They never, ever use that phrase naturally, so it’s become our formal family code for “I don’t really want to do this, so kindly say no so I can blame it on you.”

      4. allathian*

        Mine did, too. My son’s 10 so it’s not yet much of an issue for him. But if he needs to, my husband and I have told him that he can make us the bad guys if anyone tries to use peer pressure to make him do something he doesn’t want to do.

      5. Adalind*

        I came here to say the same thing. My parents were always willing to be the “bad guys” in those situations. Even into adulthood my family will cover for each other as necessary. Sometimes it’s just so much easier to have an out.

    3. Starfire117*

      Haha I wish I could do that, but my partner and I work at the same place with the same coworkers, boss and workplace obligations!

    4. Alice's Rabbit*

      My mom started this for me, back when I was a teen. She made it clear that if I ever felt uncomfortable or pressured into something I didn’t want, I could always blame her for my refusal.
      Oh, crap! I promised Mom I would call. Mama? I know I’m late; I’m sorry… at Persephone’s house… But Mama! Fine, see you in a few. *click* Sorry guys, I have to go, she’s coming to pick me up.
      No one ever caught on.

  3. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

    Wow, OP such a great update! I am so glad to hear you’ve leveled up your Wanda Management Skill! You sound like you’re in a much better place.

  4. Amber Rose*

    Wanda sounds exhausting. This is just so much work to put into managing one person’s feelings. Not that you aren’t doing a fantastic job of it because you are absolutely slaying it out there, but, well. Is this job really worth it?

    Obviously with things being the way they are, almost any job is worth it now, but when things come to an end, maybe… maybe just think about it.

    1. Admiral Thrawn is Still Blue*

      I was just thinking this. Way too much work! I prefer cats. They are also a lot of work but there is much more payoff with them.

      1. KoiFeeder*

        Cats don’t passive-aggressively hint at you adopting them. They decide that you’re adopting them and follow you home.

        1. Miss V*

          This is absolutely how my cat adopted us. He was a stay who decided, ‘Enough of this, I want to be PAMPERED,’ invited himself in, and now four years later I buy ham specially for him, my mom planted catnip in her garden for her “grandcat”, and last February 13th I made a late night run to the pet store because I realized I had forgotten to get him a Valentine’s Day present!!!!!!

          1. KoiFeeder*

            Cats started the domestication process by showing up in early human settlements, and that behavior has not changed to this day.

        2. OtherSide*

          That’s how my parents got a 3rd cat.

          They live in the middle of no where and about 1/2 mile from home they saw Taffy! They open the door to the car, Taffy bounds in. Except it wasn’t Taffy, it was look alike. After the usual “is this your cat” with neighbors it was clear that Taffy had a new buddy, Lucky.

          Lucky loved to sleep on an old dog house. My parents built a new dog house because we got a bigger dog. They put the old doghouse on the old BST pennysaver and someone came to pick it up. Lucky went missing. We found out years later that he followed the dog house and decided that that family was his new home.

      2. Trixie, the Great and Pedantic*

        Also, at least when they demand attention you get the reward of their fluffiness. Generally *not* a thing you want with co-workers.

        1. Hills to Die on*

          But now the next time I am adopted by a cat, I will name her Wanda. Or Wando.

      3. Soulcyld*

        Loong time lurker. My first comment was to come and say this exact thing. This is ALOT of work to do to manage someone else’s feelings, but it’s also a really useful skill to have in both personal and professional situations. We aren’t always going to find ourselves in a job where everything is just about perfect and there won’t be any emotional vampires there. You do need to know how to handle a Wanda in a way that a. preserves your sanity and b. preserves your job. It may seem like hard work now, but as with most things, the more you practice, the more it becomes muscle memory and it won’t be hard anymore.

    2. Tina*

      This was my first instinct as well, but then I think of my own job and how much work I put into managing the feelings of a few people. I’ve decided that the fringe benefits like the commute, salary, time I’m expected to be in the office, and flexibility in taking time off for vacation makes that aspect of the job worth it for me. OP has probably done a similar calculus.

    3. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      If Wanda is viewed as as obnoxious and unproductive by her peers/superiors as she is with her subordinates, perhaps she’ll be at the top of the list for layoffs.

    4. Always Late to the Party*

      In the original post OP mentioned she is close to retirement age and thought finding another job would be really challenging (pre-pandemic), so I think managing boss’s feelings was her best-case scenario.

    5. Archaeopteryx*

      That’s the key takeaway- her problems and feelings aren’t yours to solve. So glad you’ve been able to set some boundaries!

    6. Lena Clare*

      Yes, that’s right. OP might disagree of course.
      I wonder how Wanda can really be so oblivious? You’d think she’d be trained by now – presumably the OP hasn’t taken her on holiday or other dates etc, so why does she keep ‘expecting’ it? It’s so weird!

      I mean, obviously she can’t keep expecting it, but to keep mentioning it? She’s cruel, if she’s doing it to make the OP squirm. Does she do this with other people?

      Kudos to recognising patterns, OP. I had a boss that caused real problems for me. Therapy and a different job (eventually) helped, but you’re doing great. I wish, with hindsight, I’d have had the courage and knowledge to be open with her, and not passive-aggressive back.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        I think people tell themselves that they’re joking, and they even believe it.

    7. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Yeah the OP is way more patient than I would be. I hate the idea of making up stories for people who push boundaries. It’s ok to just say no or change the subject when she tries to invite herself on your vacations or your outings. Because then if you forget the lie you told to get her off your back you know she’s going to call you out on it. But if it’s working for OP, I’m happy for them.

      1. Daisy*

        She isn’t lying though? She’s just saying ‘My husband doesn’t want you there’, which is true (but not the whole truth). And the rest of the time changing the subject, like you said.

    8. Angry Professor*

      Yeah, I’m still blown away by how much time, energy, and planning it takes to keep Wanda (somewhat) at bay. It sounds like the LW has done her risk-benefit analysis though (she mentioned in a previous letter that she’s too young to retire but too old to change jobs and not take a salary cut), so I trust that she’s okay with this outcome. This is also one of those situations where Wanda is just never going to “get it,” and you figure out how to work within that limitation. I’m not sure I’d have the patience for it, but it sounds like LW doesn’t mind it so much.

      1. allathian*

        Indeed. And if Wanda really is due to retire in a few years and the organization is otherwise a good one, it can be tolerable at least? Sometimes it’s possible to put up with quite a lot when you know it’s not forever.
        I wonder if the OP has considered WFH at least a few days a month even after you go back to the office? Especially as she’s been more productive at home. Even if her employer was very anti-WFH before (and we have no evidence either way), they’ve obviously done quite well now. Something to think about, at any rate.

  5. Justin*

    Oh my god, this was literally the letter that I read first here that got me into this site! What a wonderful update, too!

    1. Long Time Lurker, First Time Poster*

      Justin you are in for a lot of good reading. I have learned soooo much over the past couple years here.

  6. Kira*

    This update was a delight – both because of how well it’s working, and LW’s story telling skills. Thank you!

      1. J.B.*

        Is this username a reference to The Blue Sword? That might be my favorite book ever!

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          oooh – Did you know there’s a prequel? I actually like _The Hero and The Crown_ a smidge better, but they are both amazingly wonderfully great books. I have a lot of Robin McKinley, she’s a great writer.

          1. Miss V*

            Can I get in on the Robin McKinley fanclub? I’m currently in my *mumble mumble*th reread of Rose Daughter, because that’s my favorite ending to a Beauty and the Beast adaption ever.

            I love The Blue Sword and it was my favorite novel as a child. I still adore it, but the older I get the more I like The Hero and the Crown. There’s something about the ending that I wasn’t quite satisfied by as a child, but now that I’m older I can appreciate a story that has a happy ending with still a touch of bittersweetness. (Now that I’m thinking about it the ending reminds me so much of my favorite romantic movie- Roman Holiday.)

            1. hufflepuff hobbit*

              My all-time favorite book is probably Beauty! but I also love all of them. Have you read sunshine?

          2. Happy Lurker*

            Can I join this fanclub, please? I used to read a lot of McKinley, but have been distracted for a number of years by other authors and a LOT less time. I am off to find all the books I have missed in the last decade!

            1. Queer Earthling*

              I’m also in this fanclub! My next book purchases are probably going to be a few more Robin McKinleys–I borrowed a bunch from a friend many years ago and I’ve been craving a reread for ages.

    1. Momma Bear*

      Love OP’s description of Bob. Love is more than flowers and dates (even fake ones). Bob sounds like a great guy.
      I also liked how OP recognized patterns in her own life/childhood that made this harder and worked to fix them. Sometimes acknowledgement of your family of origin issues is half the battle and giving your grown self permission to push back is the other half. Hope that when you return to an office, OP, that Wanda is no longer the problem she was. Thanks for the update.

      1. Aquawoman*

        There’s nothing more romantic than allowing himself to be the human shield between his wife and Wanda!

          1. anonymous 5*

            When you need to be able to drop a hammer on someone like OP did with Wanda… ;)
            And yes, he and the OP sound awesome!

          2. Mike on the Mic*

            “Could a box of hammers do that?”

            Depends how fast those hammers are flying.

        1. cleo*

          Exactly! That is A+ spousing right there.

          I remember being a kid and overhearing my dad tell his (charming but boundary ignoring father) that no, he couldn’t do (insert nutty sounding thing here) because my mother wouldn’t let him.

          Many years later my mother casually mentioned to me that early in their marriage, she’d given my dad permission to use her as an excuse to set boundaries with his dad. And a light bulb went off!

      2. Kate*

        And hey, OP does mention taking vacations and nights out together so maybe a box of hammers is not as unromantic as they think it is!

    2. Koala dreams*

      Yes, I was especially happy about both Bob and the dog helping to set boundaries. You all sounds like a wonderful family!

  7. many bells down*

    This is an absolutely amazing series of coping tactics and I am in AWE of OP for managing them all in the moment.

    1. Anon Accountant*

      Yes even the dog is coming through on this. That makes it so much better. Like Daisy knows she needs to help OP out.

      I love it!

      1. laura*

        OP is just telling her boss that the dog needs to go out as a way of cutting conversations short (but in that sense, Daisy’s mere presence is still helping OP out!).

        1. Steve*

          Yes. I don’t know OP’s dog, but mine knows to ring a bell every time he wants to go out. He almost never does unless I suggest it, but if I was in OP’s situation it would be easy for me to go to the back door, and wait for the dog to run over and ring the bell to be let out. To someone unfamiliar with the situation it would seem like the dog has spontaneously signalled the need for a potty break, whereas I know that I could cause that rather noisy result, which would be easily heard over the phone.

  8. san junipero*

    This is such a great update! LW, you did a FANTASTIC job utilizing the advice you got. Congrats on carving out some much-needed breathing room from Wanda!

  9. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Bob is a knight in shining armor without having to even do much but just be cast as one, LOL and you’re a saint for orchestrating this entire thing to reject but protect Wanda at the same time.

  10. Data Nerd*

    Scale of 1-10, how weird is it that I kind of want to read the continuing adventures of Bob, OP and Daisy?

    1. Zombeyonce*

      No wonder Wanda has glommed onto them as the couple she wants to spend all her time with! They are The Best.

    2. Old person*

      The letter writer had a great story to tell and wrote it well. Plus, Bob is the most romantic husband of them all and who doesn’t love a great romantic hero?

    3. JSPA*

      With all the people writing novels now who probably shouldn’t, here’s one person who possibly should.

      1. OP*

        You are very kind to say so, but I am in no way creative enough to write fiction. I can craft a decent essay, and I’ve been told that my process documentation skills are adequate, but don’t ask me to make stuff up.

        Thanks for the kind words, though – I appreciate the thought!

  11. Sabine the Very Mean*

    Oh man this is great. I am just like the OP and I have several Wandas. I once witnessed one of mine try to “Wanda” a new person who pulled down his earbuds, became very confused and looked around while saying, “why are you telling me this?” He never got Wanda’ed again. How I wish I could be like New Guy. It was gold.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      What was the business relationship there? I think I could see doing this with a co-worker, but a manager would be so so hard.

      1. Sabine the Very Mean*

        Oh it was grandboss to new-guy. He said it in a genuinely confused tone and it worked like a charm.

  12. Revolution*

    This is a delightful update! I was re-reading the original letter recently. I’m glad things are working out for you, and I think you’re ingenius in your deflection tactics. Here’s to more boundaries!

  13. Mockingjay*

    “Bob is just about as romantic as a box of hammers”

    OP, I laughed until I cried! Pretty much sums up my husband, too.

    On a serious note, I am happy that you have been able to deflect/distract Wanda, while including her just enough to preserve your working relationship. Very delicate balance!

    1. WellRed*

      OMG, “I’ll go with you to the one concert, and then you can go with me to ALL the others!”

      1. HR Jeanne*

        And, stating that she would be able to take time off to join you on your vacation. WHAT. After you had said it was like a second honeymoon. My mind is blown. Way to handle this, I’m so impressed.

      1. Sister Michael*

        Right? Bob may not be a romantic, but he’s clearly fluent in his love language and he sounds like a good dude :)

      2. Jemima Bond*

        Indeed; a high five to Bob from my OH who is equally romantic but did just give me a surprise cheeseboard for our anniversary (much better than flowers lol).

        But biggest high fives to LW, my new icon on “not putting up with any more of your nonsense”!

    2. WhatAMaroon*

      I would posit that Bob willing to be the fall guy is the height of romance! I think the most romantic thing a person can do for someone else is try to give them what they need to make life joyful! For some of us that’s flowers, gifts, or experiences/time. For some of us it’s being the fall guy lol

  14. Myrin*

    I love how Wanda is going through life thinking that Bob the Husband is both a “scoundrel[ ] whose only goal is to thwart and frustrate her anyway” and the world’s biggest romantic.

    1. Junior Dev*

      well yes, he’s a scoundrel TO HER by being a romantic husband to OP.

      So Wanda is a Disney villain, I guess?

        1. pamela voorhees*

          Gaston’s inability to perceive anyone as a real person beyond what he wants from them comes to mind.

      1. JobHunter*

        Who does he think he is, that man has tangled with
        the wrong lady! No one says ‘No’ to Wanda!

  15. mcfizzle*

    This update warms my heart so much! Thank you!

    One question: “That produced a very predictable response” – what response was that? Shock? Huffy and walking away? Hurt with hand to the chest?

    The detail-oriented nerd wants to know how she reacted!

    1. Interviewer*

      If she’s anything like my Wanda, she started fluttering and panicking, and ran off to find the nearest C-Suite person to bend their ear, and of course, with all the details she had to initially pretend not to know because it’s so top secret, and the niceties she had to observe with others in the room, “you know …” (head tilt toward lowly coworker) until she FINALLY got the point and started speaking plainly. And the C-Suite person she picked wasn’t directly involved but took her in-person visit and dire warnings to mean it was urgent, until he figured out who actually handled it and got ahold of the right people, who told him it was already fixed and they were issuing amended language by COB that day. This took up a lot of everyone’s time, and it all could have been resolved with one email.

      Or at least, that’s what I imagined happening, with my Wanda.

      1. Artemesia*

        Nailed it. The Wandas I have known predictably made giant mountains out of every molehill encountered and managed to create crises at the drop of a hat.

    2. Tina*

      It seems to me that the implication is that Wanda immediately pivoted to the work emergency and away from OP’s personal life.

      1. OP*

        This was it – Wanda’s eyes bugged out at the news, then she turned on her heel and went steaming off to tackle the doofus in Legal (who, to be fair, needed to be tackled) over the misguided edits to the policy document. Never saw her again the rest of the day, and later that week, we got a new set of edits that were much less problematic.

        I should also emphasize that I would have told her about the edits in any case. I would never withhold important information like that. The edited doc just happened to have been sent back shortly before Wanda stopped by to hint for an invitation, so it was the perfect choice for a bit of deflection.

        She does know her field very, very well, and she doesn’t hesitate to do battle for her staff when there is reason to do so. She just doesn’t have many interpersonal connections outside of work, which can make the job of maintaining good boundaries a challenge.

  16. Sara without an H*

    Thanks for the update, OP! Two things:
    1. I like Bob.
    2. Daisy is a very smart dog.

    1. Ray Gillette*

      Daisy is a Very Good Dog indeed, and Bob is doing some top-notch spousing here. OP handled the whole thing like a champ.

    2. Observer*

      Yes.

      My first thought was “Give me a sensible guy who has my back. I don’t care how romantic he’s not.”

      My second one was “GOOD doggy!”

      1. allathian*

        Agreed! I love my box of hammers husband. :) I know he always has my back.

    3. ThatGirl*

      I thought that was tongue in cheek – “I’m so sorry, Wanda, Daisy is just desperate to go outside!” and then you go pet the dog and tell her she’s a very good girl.

      But yes, dogs are great :)

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        It’s not tongue-in-cheek? I totally thought it was. “Weird how Daisy always seems to need to go out when the phone rings and Wanda is calling…never seems to happen when anyone else calls….”

      2. Sparrow*

        I think it and the comment both were. I was actually wondering if/when Wanda would get suspicious about why Daisy seems to require so many potty trips lol

      3. JKP*

        It could be real. My parents’ dogs wake up and want out anytime one of them is talking on the phone. You can actually hear them whining on the phone, and I’ve witnessed it in person, so I know my parents aren’t using them as an excuse. My dog believes that anytime I’m on the phone, I should be playing fetch with her.

        1. SeluciaMD*

          Yep – my dog thinks anytime I am on the phone or a zoom meeting for work that I am not properly using my time and should instead let her out into the yard (and back in. and then out again. and then in.) and also potentially play frisbee with her. Right now I’m writing a report so I haven’t been on the phone so she’s passed out on the couch. But I guarantee the second the phone rings or she hears the meeting chime on my computer all bets will be off.

      1. Reba*

        Lol. Yeah, I’m so glad that the OP has been able to work up these white lies!

        I remember thinking in the original letter that she was really contorting herself — changing who hosted her holiday meals so that she *couldn’t* invite boss — and now she is just creating those barriers while not actually changing her life around.

      2. Arts Akimbo*

        Like Mike’s fake dog on Veep, that he uses as an excuse to get out of stuff! “We call it a Bullshitzu.”

      3. OP*

        Daisy is real.

        The frequency and timing of her potty trips, well, that might be slightly enhanced. But all in a good cause.

        1. Armchair Expert*

          Look, I don’t want to tell you how to live your life because you’re clearly already great at it, but if Daisy’s trips start to stretch credulity – a lot of people have got pandemic puppies to keep them company in lockdown, and puppies need a LOT of potty trips.

          If yours is a pretend pandemic puppy, well. Who’s to know.

          1. Kate*

            You mean, OP should get a second, pertend puppy as well? Two dogs who refuse to take potty trips together?

  17. revueller*

    Way to go, OP! I’m sorry she’s still trying to weasel her way into her life, but it sounds like you’ve done a masterful job of deflection here and now have a lengthy break on having to put up with her nonsense. I’m also glad that she has the sense to not try to overcome quarantine and visit you — it means you’ll likely be free of her once you or she leaves that job. Thank you for the update!

  18. Jennifer*

    Kids and dogs are great excuses to get out of things you don’t want to do. Good for your husband for stepping up.

  19. EPLawyer*

    I’m going to disagree. Bob IS romantic. Just not in the conventional sense. But he has your back and is willing to metaphorically throw his cloak over the mud puddle that is Wanda to protect you.

    Daisy is an extremely well trained dog. Amazing really. She deserves extra treats.

    Hang in there OP. You are doing great.

    1. King Friday XIII*

      I agree. Part of a solid relationship is making sure your spouse knows they can both make their own decisions AND blame you strategically when necessary. Well done, OP and Bob!

      1. schnauzerfan*

        Yes. A great spouse, or a great parent… When I was a teen and I’d ask for permission to do X or Y my folks would sometimes ask “is this something you WANT to do?” “if not feel free to tell whoever that you ogre of a dad or beast of a mom said NO”

        It’s kind of awesome when you can make your own decisions and throw someone else under the bus for it.

        It’s just way too bad that in a world full of lonely people the Wanda’s never seem to find each other. I’m sure there are people, either singles or partnered with people who have no interest in going to where ever, who’d love to have company to have dinner with or go to a concert or on a trip.

        1. Lizy*

          Agree 100%. My husband uses me all the time as an excuse not to do X or Y. Now that I think about it, it always seems to be when I’m pregnant, which … is he making the excuse because he doesn’t want to do X or Y or because he doesn’t want to leave me when I’m pregnant?? He may have just become a lot more romantic… lol!

          And we’ve told the kids (oldest, mostly – youngers aren’t old enough to have to use the excuse of “parents won’t let me”) that they can absolutely use us as an excuse. We would MUCH prefer them to use us as excuses than have them end up in a bad situation – or even just a situation they don’t want to be in.

        2. RainyDay*

          My parents did this too! It was especially useful when my friends wanted to go to, say, a haunted house (I am a MAJOR wimp), and I needed to keep my reputation in check – I could always use them as an excuse.

        3. Jules the 3rd*

          hunh – hadn’t remembered that one, I think it’ll be part of the conversation with the kid tonight… Not that he’s doing much right now *anyway*….

          1. Working Hypothesis*

            My kids and I have a standing code phrase that they use when they’re asking for permission in front of their friends for something, to let me know that they want me to say no while appearing to their friends to be genuinely seeking a yes. Works great.

        4. allathian*

          My parents were the same. I’ve started talking to my son about this as well. He’s only 10 but normally goes to and from school independently on public transit because we don’t have special school buses here, as do almost all of his peers. So there’s a possibility of him being pressured to do something he doesn’t want to do by other kids his age.

    2. New Jack Karyn*

      Seriously–a partner who will laugh with you about this stuff, and cheerfully agree to be the fall guy? Clone that one.

    3. Serin*

      Agreed about Bob, and I also love that you’ve turned him into a fictional character without turning him into a stereotype — it’s not that Bob is incompetent or bossy or grumpy, it’s just that he needs more hand-holding with his wife, and I think that’s beautiful.

  20. MissMeghan*

    You’ve managed this so well OP! It makes me think of the saying “you teach people how to treat you.” Some people are terrible students, but you are consistently teaching her what you will and won’t accept.

  21. Kimmy Schmidt*

    I love the idea of an Oblivious Meter set to MAXIMUM CLUELESSNESS. What a great strategy, and a great update OP!

      1. College Career Counselor*

        For Maximum Clueless, I thought of Leslie Nielsen as Lt. Frank Drebin in the Naked Gun movies..

    1. Smithy*

      Not only do I love this too – but admire the OP needing to give herself the permission to set her meter at Maximum Cluelessness.

      Whether people are very empathetic/sensitive or have previous experiences like the OP mentioned with her parents, it can be helpful to remind yourself that you are allowed to use that setting.

    2. Policy Wonk*

      Ditto – I love the Oblivious Meter set to Maximum Cluelessness. And congrats OP!!

    3. SeluciaMD*

      Came here to say just this! “Oblivious Meter™ set to MAXIMUM CLUELESS” is something I am planning to borrow heavily in my own life. LOVE IT.

      OP, you are slaying it! Thanks for sharing such a wonderful and entertaining update!

  22. Dumpster Fire*

    Great update, OP!! And Bob and Daisy sound like part of a great team! (One that I want to be a part of… will you adopt me? :-)

  23. Mieki60*

    OMG, I loved the phrase “Bob is about as romantic as a box of hammers.” Made my day!

  24. Kowalski! Options!*

    I vote for adding Wanda to the regular cast of AAM characters, to join Wakeen, Fergus and Sansa.

  25. Ancient Alien*

    Expertly handled. I’ve been in a similar situation and it is absolutely exhausting to meet your work deadlines while also having to help manage a superior’s mental health issues for them.

  26. Megumin*

    Thanks for the update, OP! I keep my Oblivious Meter on the max setting as well – I have known many, many passive-agressive people over the years (including bosses), and I just don’t have the time or desire to respond to anything less than a direct request. It’s very freeing. :)

    1. boo bot*

      Maximum Oblivious is super useful – I also have a natural tendency not to notice when people are trying to be passive aggressively mean to me: when I was younger, I would get backhanded compliments and think, “OMG, that sounded like an insult, they must be so embarrassed!” So I would enthusiastically accept the compliment part, and pretend I hadn’t noticed the subtext, so as not to make them feel bad for accidentally having insulted me. In time I learned to detect the presence of passive aggression (most of the time) but I haven’t adjusted my behavior accordingly.

      I suspect it’s frustrating to the person trying to insult me, but they’ve never said, so I wouldn’t have any way of knowing!

      1. Merci Dee*

        After you enthusiastically accept the compliment, if they look like they’re struggling not to swallow their own tongue even while their eyes are bulging and that little tiny vein in their temple is throbbing a mile a minute . . . yep. You’ll know you’re frustrated the hell out of them, but they can’t really say anything about it without looking like even more of a jackass.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        LOL I’ve done that too. And it meant I felt good twice– once accepting a compliment for my exercise form, bubbling about how happy I was that these exercises really ARE helping me avoid surgery after a serious injury. And once when I thought about how she looked everywhere except at me until she could vanish…because she obviously learned a lesson about assumptions and snark comments at the gym. (Honestly, I’m STILL loving the look on her face today!)

      3. PollyQ*

        Yeah, ignoring sub-text is a genius technique, and one that Captain Awkward has recommended multiple times.

  27. voluptuousfire*

    Bob is an excellent husband and Daisy is a very smart girl. Very intuitive! Keeps Mom from being distracted by Wanda so she can conduct her serious dog business. :D

    1. MicroManagered*

      I thought OP was being sarcastic about having to take the dog out whenever Wanda calls…

      1. Artemesia*

        I wasn’t sure there was even an actual dog. I assumed ‘Daisy’ if she exists was snoozing by the fire — and the OP was making up her demands to go out.

  28. DollarStoreParty*

    Bob may not be “traditionally” romantic, but the fact that he’s willing to take this one for the team is incredibly romantic to me.

    1. MicroManagered*

      Doesn’t she? Like I can tell from reading what she wrote that we’d be friends.

      1. JSPA*

        That’s no doubt part of why boss wants in; who wouldn’t? Except, friendship doesn’t work that way.

        On the other hand, maybe Wanda is this clingy with lots of people, and that’s why her sister moved.

  29. Phony Genius*

    That was a good way to handle the Easter dinner conversation. The penalties for violating the llama management ordinance can be quite draconian.

  30. kms1025*

    God! Wanda sounds soooooooooooo exhausting!!!
    Well done coming up with coping techiques.
    I’m just sorry you need them.

  31. Code Monkey, the SQL*

    Well. Done. OP!

    MAXIMUM CLUELESS is the absolute best way to deal with passive-aggression, and I know this, not because I have adopted it consciously, but because I am, in fact, kinda clueless to subtext. I could have sworn I never experienced any PA behaviour at all, until someone pointed out that I was just taking it all at face value and thus the PA person was failing to hook me. It’s a beaut of a strategy, isn’t it?

    Also, bless Bob and Daisy. You have a good team, OP.

    1. Generic Name*

      Ha, yes! Passive aggressive people hate it when you take them literally. They rely on others to fill in the blanks and read their minds because they are unable to state their needs and wants directly.

    2. J.B.*

      My husband is maximum clueless by inclination, not deliberately. He doesn’t get his mom’s passive agression, and it actually helps a lot. Also because he’s on primary mom-talking duty after the time I got really mad.

  32. Generic Name*

    Such an awesome update. I love it! Your response to her is truly artful. Wanda sounds like a person who has no boundaries. I’ve had a lot of experience with people who lack boundaries, and it’s so interesting to me to realize that people who lack boundaries and take advantage of others are great at finding people who also lack boundaries who see themselves as helpful and cooperative. Honestly, it makes me wonder how much of the manipulation is intentional versus how much of it is unintentional (like being that way is the only way they know how to act versus bringing out in certain circumstances but not others for maximum benefit).

  33. Beth*

    What I find hilarious is that, when the LW presented Bob in his new role as Totally Romantic Guy, apparently Wanda didn’t notice that this was new. I’m not sure how long the LW had been working with Wanda, but I got the improession it had been at least a few years.

    It’s worthwhile to think about this: sometimes, when we come up with a script for a problem, there’s an immediate worry that “Yikes, Annoying!Colleague will know I made it up because my husband isn’t like that” — but the odds are that Annoying!Colleague hasn’t been paying enough attention to spot the discrepancy.

  34. Squirrel!*

    She pushed a little, but blaming it all on someone else, and especially on someone who is a man, was quite effective.

    Isn’t that what spouses are for? Ha! I know my husband and I like to use the other as an excuse to turn down salespeople of all types. “Oh sorry, can’t do that, wife would hate it.” “I would have to ask my husband first, he’s really picky about X.” Obviously, like the LW did, you should check to make sure your spouse is okay with it first (and also make sure you aren’t doing it in a totally awful “throwing them under the bus”-type of way), but playing into the common societal tropes about marriage can be helpful. xD

    1. Faith*

      Yep. After we got married, my husband used me as his excuse to get out of going to a semi-weekly poker game his boss held.

  35. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

    I am still just astounded at how shameless Wanda is about inviting herself into your life. Assuming she’s going on vacation? That she’ll third wheel all your dates? How does someone do that?

    1. Actual Vampire*

      I was roommates with a Wanda for 2 years. At first I did all kinds of things for her because she had no life skills and no friends. Then one day, it dawned on me that she had the only life skill she needed: getting other people to do stuff for her. The fact that she had no non-family relationships or social awareness actually was an asset because it meant she was able to brazenly demand stuff from others without worrying about how it would affect her relationships and social standing. If someone rejected her, no problem, she’d just move on to the next s*cker.

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        Oh ye gods I think I was roommates with that same person! Did all her former friends and roommates abandon her, boo hoo? That was a really tough lesson to learn but a good one. (And I did move out and sever ties.)

    2. em*

      Right??? She’s told that the vacation is so personal and private that the location is a secret, and she still thinks she can come!

  36. Lizy*

    2 things popped out at me from the comments…
    #1 – OP’s list of people wanting her to adopt them is REALLY long now. Maaaaayyyybbbbeeee not the intended response, since she was trying to LOWER the number of people wanting her to adopt them, but I would also like to add myself to the list. ;)
    #2 – the number of people disregarding OP’s obvious trademark of “Oblivious Meter” is really disconcerting and downright rude, IMO. sheesh, people… be respectful.

    But yes, fantastic update and OP is my hero.

    1. chi type*

      I was thinking the same. The number of commenters saying “I know we’d be friends!!” is…ironic.

  37. Missouri Girl in Louisiana*

    This is terrific! Good job OP. :-) While reading the response above, the character, Colin Robinson (What We Do In the Shadows) came to mind. While the tv show is about vampires, Colin Robinson is an emotional vampire. (It is really funny). All I can see is “Wanda” wandering around, talking to people and the faces are just the deer in the headlights look and sucking the life out of staff. (ok..if you get the last statement, kudos to you). :-)

    1. Bird Person*

      I love that show! My boyfriend and I binged it a few weeks ago and were absolutely screaming when they introduced Evie.

    1. Observer*

      What difference would it make? Would it change her (lack of) relationship with her brother or her dependence on her “selfish” sister? Would it make a difference to her inability to develop healthy friendships? Would it affect her total lack of boundaries?

    2. Frank Doyle*

      I made no assumptions about her sexuality since it’s irrelevant to the question, but because she’s been without a romantic partner her entire life, I was going to go with asexual if I were forced to guess. But I’m not, because it’s neither relevant nor any of my business.

  38. Lizzo*

    GOOOOOOOOOOO OP!!!!
    :shakes cheerleader pom poms:
    Awesome job to you and your two sidekicks. :-D

  39. GreyjoyGardens*

    This is a super-duper terrific five-star update! LOL, even the DOG is wise to Wanda! I’m glad you, LW, have a supportive husband (and dog) in your corner, armed with emotional and mental garlic against Vampire Wanda.

    I do kind of feel sorry for Wanda as being an older woman taken advantage of by her family and consequently left with very little of a life of her own, but hey – at least she HAS a job, unlike many middle-aged former caregivers. And there is such a thing as “therapy.” Not expecting your coworkers to fill your emotional void for you. Neither LW nor any one else at the office is responsible for being Wanda’s emotional support. (Also, turning down a private office to “be close to her people?” YIKES. One, most people would kill for a private office, and two, her poor “people.”)

    1. whingedrinking*

      And there is such a thing as “therapy.”
      Not to mention “getting a hobby” or “volunteering” or “actively trying to meet new people”.

  40. MusicWithRocksIn*

    I hope the OP has a good chance of continuing to work from home once this is over. Maybe keep a log tracking how much more you are able to produce compared to when in the office? I was just discussing with a friend how hopefully the people this is really working for will be able to continue doing it.

  41. Jaybeetee*

    She was gonna invite herself to tag along on a “romantic vacation” with your husband?

    WTAF WHO TF DOES THAT.

  42. Lisa Large*

    OP and Bob sound like a great, supportive couple! I have had to use this same tactic, it can work.

  43. Same Same but Different*

    Such a great update! Do you have any advice for someone who is facing this same challenge in which the clingy person is someone in a DIFFERENT business line completely? This person has scheduled “happy hours” for us to “catch up and chit chat about dogs, boyfriends, personal life, once a week for an hour!!!!!! The oblivious-meter is broken on this one, too!

    1. Observer*

      Don’t accept the schedule request.

      Delete it without sending a response. “OH! I’m sorry! Something must have happened! It’s not in my schedule!”

      1. Same Same but Different*

        Haha! @Observer, I did that and she promptly resent and then called me to make sure I got it. The worst part is that the 3rd person that she invited to this weekly check-in ended last week’s call with, “Same Same, thanks for organizing this!” (!!!!)

        I think this might be a wake-up call for me to set up stricter boundaries.

  44. SunnySideUp*

    Who went anywhere on Easter? We were in the middle of quarantine lockdown.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      She says the conversation was a couple of months ago, so presumably early March — i.e., before the lockdowns and before Easter plans got canceled. (But also, we don’t even know if she’s in the U.S.)

  45. Stephanie*

    I love this update! Bob sounds like a great guy. I’ve told my kids for years that I am totally fine being the bad guy if they need me to be in order to get out of an uncomfortable situation with friends. They’ve each actually “blamed” me more than once when they wanted to say no to something. And I love that you use your dog as an excuse to get off the phone!

  46. Raising an otter villiage*

    So glad for you, OP! Congrats on your boundary setting- it’s a tough thing to do!

    I haven’t scrolled through the comments so I may be the 100th person to say so, but you have an incredibly charming writing style OP. I hope you do creative writing of some sort if that interests you. I would enjoy reading a blog about your daily life if nothing else, but something tells me you’d be great with essays or novels too!
    (And in case you’re already deeply into creative writing, apologies for telling you something you already know.)

    1. OP*

      Thanks for saying that about my writing. I do enjoy writing a great deal, but mostly do it for my own private satisfaction, not in any published format. It took a huge amount of courage to send in the letter to Alison in the first place. So I really appreciate your comment, and I am very glad you took enjoyment from my words.

      1. Raising an otter villiage*

        I’m so glad! I really mean it. If it’s something you’re interested in I hope you share more of your writing with the world. :)

      2. OrigCassandra*

        OP, if there’s a book or TV show or movie you’re a fan of, Archive of Our Own would welcome your writing with open arms!

  47. Some internet rando*

    “The Oblivious Meter™ set to MAXIMUM CLUELESS” had me laughing out loud!!! Your husband Bob sounds great. Honestly, you are so funny that I might want you to adopt me too! So glad things have gotten better.

  48. Liz*

    Agree with everyone who says great update.
    OP – I also want to say, I love your writing style. What an engaging update, just from the things you do with words and phrases. “As romantic as a box of hammers” I was laughing too!

  49. Remove Worker and Dog Lover*

    What a wonderful update!! OP, you are a fantastic writer. I’m sorry you’re having to deal with such inappropriate behavior.

  50. Quake Johnson*

    “…casting him in the role of a hopeless romantic who insists on lots of couples-only time.

    Once we both stopped howling with laughter…”

    This was hilarious OP. I actually laughed out loud on my couch.

  51. lazy intellectual*

    I missed the original letter and so caught up on this saga. Omg Wanda sounds like a female Michael Scott but even 1000x worse. I’m so sorry she exists. I’m glad things improved for the OP.

  52. Susan*

    I know I am late to the party, but I am convinced that Wanda’s sister moved so that she could inhale WITHOUT inhaling Santa’s exhale. I feel bad for Wanda, she evidently has needs that she does not know how to meet in a healthy manner, but wow, is she pushing everyone away!

  53. Susan*

    I know I am late to the party, but I am convinced that Wanda’s sister moved so that she could inhale WITHOUT inhaling Wanda’s exhale. I feel bad for Wanda, she evidently has needs that she does not know how to meet in a healthy manner, but wow, is she pushing everyone away!

  54. Affable Toaster*

    I’m thrilled with how the letter-writer is handling this, and I also want to mention what a delight her writing style is! Both letters are beautifully crafted and (distressing content aside) a joy to read! What a pleasure! Thanks, LW, and wishing you the very best of luck with Wanda in the future!

  55. Ros*

    Yes! This is definitely Hall of Fame territory. What a satisfying update. Lots of love to the OP

  56. Astra Nomical*

    Hey Letter Writer/OP,

    If your increased productivity is actually measurable, why not push for more WFH options (such as a half office, half home split) when your normal worklife resumes? Only having to avoid her for 2-3 days is infinitely better than daily.
    Of course this is dependant on your WFH situation – whether it was feasible on an ad-hoc basis but not applicable in the long-term, but it might be an idea :)

  57. Jo*

    Great update! I have to admit I didn’t realise straight away that the bit about the dog needing to go outside every time the phone rang wasn’t quite true, just thought that was a bit odd….and had to re-read it to realise the dog needing to go out just at the minute Wanda started off on a rant might not be 100% true…LOL

  58. Workfromhome*

    If it works for the OP good for her. I understand the cost benefit but personally I would not be capable of this. The energy it take to manage someone like this when they are obviously in the wrong is ridiculous. I know I would not be able to take the fact that even if they are not coming on vacation with me that they are sucking so much energy up that should go to something else. At some point I’d just be blunt and call her out on it “I know you are implying that you want to come to a,b or C event but that’s simply never going to happen. Work and the rest of life are separate. end of discussion”

    All that said I dream about the OP taking a different tack than saying Bob wants me all to himself.
    What if she said “Wanda I know this is uncomfortable but I need you to understand you cant spend any time around us anymore for the sake of my marriage. Bob admitted to me that he’s wildly attracted to you. The only way for him to stop thinking about you is if he doesn’t see you or even talk about you. When I look at you I feel so jealous I cant help it. I think I can manage to get work done if we minimize our contact and keep things strictly business. I know you don’t want to be the reason my marriage fails so I’m asking you as a friend to stay away. (Fake tears)”

    1. OP*

      ttthhhppppttttt

      Ok, that was my iced tea on the monitor there. And then I read your second paragraph to Bob, and he laughed so hard he nearly coughed up a lung.

      I’ll admit to being a semi-adequate writer, but it would take Meryl Streep to pull off that level of acting. But I do like your creativity!

  59. Leela*

    “She pretty much already assumes that all men are scoundrels whose only goal is to thwart and frustrate her anyway.”

    ….that makes me incredibly worried about her being a boss. Does she have male reports? How does she treat them? Can she hear feedback from male superiors the same way as female superiors or will she just assume that their goal is to thwart and frustrate her?

    1. OP*

      That is a very insightful question. Indeed, Wanda strongly prefers to work with women, and out of the twenty or so people on her team, only three are male. They all tread on eggshells around her. She responds far more favorably to female superiors than to males as well, and has had some legendary battles with male supervisors in the years I’ve worked there.

      All of which is well-known in the organization, I should add. She has undeniable skills, and the organization has apparently concluded that they can tolerate her inability to deal with half of the population as a trade-off for the skills and knowledge she brings to the table. I am not saying that I agree with that conclusion, but the decision is far, far, far above my pay grade.

  60. Queer Earthling*

    I loved this update so much. OP, echoing what so many people said–you’re a great writer and this was a wonderful read. (And also, good work on how you chose to respond to Wanda.)

Comments are closed.