my boss keeps inviting herself to my house

A reader writes:

Three months after I started a new job as an executive assistant, my position was eliminated. Fortunately, the company offered me a 12-month contract in another department with a new boss, which would help me out financially while I looked for a permanent job.

When I met my new boss, “Carrie,” I instantly got the vibe that she would be a difficult person to work for, and that was confirmed when I watched her interactions with other staff. So I’ve tried to make a point of ensuring I stay on her good side.

This seemed to work! As time went on, Carrie was appreciative of my work and gave me constant positive feedback. She fought for an extension of my contract and a pay increase, and I felt awkwardly indebted to her.

But soon it became clear that there was a price to pay for how well she treated me. She expected loyalty at all costs so if she had a screaming match with another staff member, she expected me to spring to her defense regardless of whether she was in the wrong or not. I have always avoided office gossip and office politics, but I felt dragged into all my boss’ drama-filled exchanges with staff, which usually ended with her crying in the HR office.

I’d also often have to feign interest as she spat venom about all the people in her life. I’d disingenuously offer sympathy because what else could I do? I need the job until I can find a new one.

I also noticed other staff trying to avoid my boss socially. They would awkwardly make up weak excuses when she tried to invite herself over to their houses for dinner or for the weekend. Sometimes they couldn’t avoid it because she would keep suggesting alternative dates. It was sad to watch. Obviously she is very lonely and part of me felt sorry for her, but not sorry enough to invite her to my house! But she broke me down and eventually I gave in and let her come for dinner once.

Then I ended up having major complications from what should have been a simple surgery and ended spending two months recovering at home. My boss insisted on visiting me in the hospital, and when I was out she invited herself over for dinner on the pretext that she had a “pamper pack” she wanted to give me. How could I reject her when she was being so thoughtful? She ended up staying overnight and hung around the next day (because she had drunk too much alcohol and couldn’t drive her car). My husband didn’t like her and wanted me to get rid of her. I wanted to get rid of her as much as he did, but I fear that if I set boundaries with her, she will turn on me. And I need to use her for a reference to find a new job, so I need to keep being nice to her.

But this keeps happening. My phoned pinged again this morning. It was my boss saying, “Hey lovely lady. I miss you! It’s about time we had a catch-up. How about dinner at your place on Saturday?”

I still haven’t found a new job, so I guess she will be coming over for dinner! Unless there’s a way out of this?

Oh nooooo.

Carrie’s behavior here is … highly problematic. The fact that she’s regularly abusive to people (screaming matches?!) is the biggest problem, but using the implicit threat of professional consequences to pressure her employees to fulfill her social needs is a pretty close second. It sounds like everyone around her is afraid of her, and she’s either oblivious to that or, on some level, taking full advantage of it.

There’s also a special flavor of WTF to someone who’s mean and difficult to those around her but then thinks those same people will want to socialize with her outside of work. In their own homes. Overnight. (Shudder.) Even if Carrie were a lovely person, it would be inappropriate for her to invite herself over to her employees’ homes (let alone get drunk and crash there). Most people do not want to host their boss in their homes — and if they do, they’ll issue the invitation themselves. Carrie is abusing her power by trying to force herself on people socially.

And it’s understandable that you feel you need to cater to Carrie’s whims. She’s volatile and punitive, and your income depends on staying in her good graces. It sounds like you’ve been remarkably successful in managing her thus far — she likes you and has even gone to bat for you, and that’s probably because you’re friendly to her and willing to pretend she’s behaving like a normal person when she’s not. (People who are this willing to violate social norms love it when people around them act like they’re behaving normally; it gives them cover and lets them avoid dealing with whatever’s driving their behavior.)

But staying in Carrie’s good graces doesn’t mean that you need to invite her to your home or hang out socially! You can be kind, and even friendly, but still preserve some boundaries.

Conveniently, the fact that we’re in a pandemic right now makes this easier. You can fall back on, “Because of COVID, we’re being really strict about not socializing right now.” If she’ll think that’s odd because you didn’t say that earlier, you can explain that, too: “We had a COVID scare in our family recently, so we’re being a lot more careful now.” (Frankly, this would be a good idea even if Carrie weren’t a nightmare!)

Even without citing the pandemic, though, you can set boundaries. If she were a more reasonable boss, I’d suggest just being straightforward about it: “It’s so kind of you to suggest, but I’m really old-fashioned about keeping boundaries with my boss! Maybe we could grab coffee one afternoon during work instead?” And who knows, maybe this would work with Carrie; it’s still warm and friendly, after all, and that might be enough to soothe her. But there are other options, too, if you don’t want to be that direct.

One of the easiest options is to just be busy. You suddenly have a lot of commitments outside of work — family things, a class you’re studying for, a months-long intensive cleanup of your basement, whatever you feel you can credibly say. Then when Carrie tries to invite herself over, you simply say, “My schedule is awful right now! All my out-of-work time is going to X, and when I’m not doing that, I’m pretty much just collapsed on the couch. I’m not even seeing family right now!” (It helps to follow this with an immediate subject change, ideally work related — “By the way, do we have edits back yet on the Z report?”)

Alternately, you should feel free to make your husband the fall guy. It sounds like he’d be fine with that, and it’s one of the benefits of marriage (or any roommate, really). If you think Carrie will try to steamroll over your objections, try instead saying, “Mark has been wanting to keep the weekends just for ourselves lately.” I’m not normally a fan of blaming others for your own boundaries, but with a boss who’s this pushy, you use what works.

Because you’re concerned about repercussions from Carrie, the key with all of this is to keep your tone warm and friendly. Your tone can communicate “What a lovely thought, but unfortunately I can’t,” even while your brain is thinking, Hell no. Tone counts for a ton in most interactions, especially when you’re declining someone’s overture, so lean heavily on it to keep things feeling harmonious.

Your job security may require you to be friendly to Carrie for now, but you truly can confine that to work. You don’t need to welcome her into your home.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 248 comments… read them below }

        1. EnfysNest*

          But for those few times when a polite refusal isn’t enough, there tends to be no “right way” to say it that they will hear. Reasonable people are willing to accept “No, that won’t work, unfortunately” and when they get that same answer a few times, they get the picture and they stop asking.

          There are some people, though, who just refuse to accept “no”, no matter how it’s delivered. I had a friend who this letter immediately brought to mind due to the similarities and there just isn’t any version of “no thank you” that’s good enough for her. With her (let’s call her Diana), the conversation would go somthing like this:
          Me: “No, I can’t do dinner Sunday! But thanks for thinking of me.”
          Diana: “Oh, okay, I can come over Monday night instead!”
          Me: “Ah, that won’t really work for me, either. I’m actually pretty busy for a while and I probably won’t be able to do dinner.”
          Diana: “I totally get that! I’ll just stop by earlier on Sunday and drop off a few things that I have for you!”
          Me: “Er, I’m not sure that will work either, sorry.”
          Diana: “Well, I’ll be in the area, just call me Saturday if you have a free moment come up! I really miss you and I worry about you and I think it’s really important for you to get to see people and I want you to know that I’m there for you because I don’t want you to feel lonely!”
          Me: “I really don’t think I’ll be free. It’s nice that you’re thinking of me – I appreciate it. But I’m really doing fine. I hope you have a good week, though!”

          …And then she calls on Saturday to ask if I’m at home because she just happened to be passing by and she’s outside my house now just to drop off the cute little succulent she got for me “just because”! And then she stands in my doorway chatting for 45 minutes because she ignores all my attempts to end the conversation.

          And that’s in a situation where the person isn’t my boss, so I don’t even have to worry about if continuing to push back will impact how I’m treated at work. In the LW’s case, there that whole extra level to worry about – she’s not just concerned about being polite and not seeming mean, she’s also having to factor in that this is the person who controls her pay check, so she can’t just scream “leave me alone!” at this lady.

          It’s so hard, because we’re trained our whole lives to be polite and kind, and we expect others to respect our boundaries when we put them up, so when someone just continues to march over those boundaries, it’s incredibly difficult to know what to do. And it’s even harder when the boundary-crosser is doing so in the name of “being nice” and “looking out for you”. I mean, Diana just wanted to give me a nice present, right? Why would I have a problem with that? And it’s so hard to keep pushing back and it’s so hard to explain to anyone else why we’re having a problem with this person when everyone knows how generous and thoughtful and caring Diana is.

          And if anyone does ever get fed up and snap or finally say something more forceful to finally get her to knock it off, she suddenly is crying to everyone how that person betrayed her and was so mean to her and cut her off for absolutely no reason when she was just trying to be nice! It is exhausting.

          So, sure, “Using your words will do it just about every time.” But Diana and, from the sound of it, Carrie live in that “just about” part of that where it doesn’t matter what words you use – they are going to keep insisting and pushing and pushing past whatever boundaries get put up.

          I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this, LW. I wish I knew how to get through to the Carries and Dianas of the world, but so far I haven’t found that answer yet.

          1. Cringing 24/7*

            THIS! I have a neighbor I actively put *way* too much time into having to avoid because of her tendencies to take up all of my time with absolutely nothing.

          2. Coffee*

            In your case I would be “politely rude” to Diana. Interrupt her and be like, “Well, I have to be going now thanks! I hope you have a good trip home.” And then LEAVE. Even if she is still talking. You told her you were busy, and you remain busy.

          3. Mookie*

            I understand this mindset because I am so socially awkward and fearful of conflict and of being rude no matter how inconvenient being compliant and accommodating is for me and always very anxious about the possibility of these endless, increasingly pushy escalations but… somewhere down the line you have to choose your choice and ruthlessly stick to it, otherwise the cycle will never end.

            As Alison says, “I’m not doing that at present” or whatever is pretty easy to say because it does not directly invite interrogation. Of course, it WILL be interrogated. Of course there will be attempts at bargaining and guilt and the like, but when you hedge, you invite EVEN MORE of that. You staunch the discomfort in these situations and patiently allow the wound to begin closing rather than re-open it with every equivocal excuse or answer that your interlocutor will try to get around or use against you. Tactics for combatting the simple, complete answer are limited in number and strength and this is to your advantage, whereas rain checks are always cashed in by these kinds of people. You make it non-negotiable with the understanding that you’ll still have to defend it. But the defense is boring and unproductive for the offender and they’ll either choose to escalate and go nuclear (their choice, but now they’ve entered a point of no return where their hostility has eliminated the possibility of afterhours friendship) or back off.

          4. Chris Hogg*

            Hi EnfysNest — At some point in time, people like “Diana” clearly communicate that they don’t operate by normal social rules, at which time we need to decide if we are going to continue to engage with them, or not. And if we decide to continue engaging, we need to decide how. In the scenario you describe, once the other person has clearly demonstrated that they are ignoring our social cues we need to – no, we must – bite the bullet and take a consistent and hardline approach with them. We need to be clear, steadfast, and very, very direct. If I am not willing to take this approach, with people like “Diana,” then I am a big part of the problem.

            Also, when saying no to someone, never use the word “can’t.” Using that word simply gives them an opening to explain why, in fact, you really can (You: “No, I can’t do dinner Sunday.” Diana: “Okay, I’ll pick you up Monday, and we’ll go out.” You: “I can’t go out, I don’t have any money.” Diana: “No problem, I’ll treat.” You: “Oh, I just remembered, I can’t make it Monday, I’m scheduled for brain surgery.” Diana: “No problem. I’ll drive you to the hospital and we’ll pick up some Chinese on the way.” And so it goes, whenever we say we “can’t” do something.).

            Here’s an alternative way of dealing with “Diana:”

            Diana (on the phone): “Let me take you out to dinner Sunday.”

            Me: “No, thanks for asking. Goodbye.” And immediately hang up (push the end button).

            Diana (at work the next day): “Hey, we got disconnected last night. Let me take you out to dinner Sunday.”

            Me: “No.” and immediately turn my attention to the work at hand.

            Diana: Well, I can come over Monday and we can eat in.”

            Me: “No.” and immediately turn my attention to the work at hand.

            Diana: “I totally get that! I’ll just stop by earlier on Sunday and drop off a few things that I have for you!”

            Me: “No. Please don’t.” and immediately turn my attention to the work at hand.

            And then “Diana” calls on Saturday to ask if I’m at home because she just happened to be passing by and she’s outside my house now just to drop off the cute little succulent she got for me “just because”!

            Me: “No, I won’t be coming to the door. Goodbye.” And immediately hang up (push the end button).

            Again, with people like “Diana,” who do not operate according to normal social rules, if we are not willing to take a hard, uncomfortable, stress-producing, not-nice stance until their behavior is extinguished then we are part of the problem. As the old saying goes, it takes two to tango.

        2. Massmatt*

          I am usually very much in this camp, but I think in this case the tricky part is the person ignoring boundaries etc is the LW’s boss, the LW needs both the salary and the reference, and the boss has a track record of being vindictive. What would be reasonable boundaries for most people will likely be interpreted as an insult to the boss.

          I’d try Alison’s script but maybe also speak to coworkers about the boss, how they handle her, and perhaps explore whether going to grand-boss for help is an option. Boss sounds like a nightmare, good luck OP.

    1. juliebulie*

      Yeah, I like this. Especially because no “reason” is given.

      I might even strip it down a little further and say “No, I can’t. But thanks for thinking of me.” That also removes the date restriction. Because I can’t do dinner with this boss EVER.

      But absolutely include the “thanks.” :-)

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        I might even strip it down a little further and say “No, I can’t. But thanks for thinking of me.” That also removes the date restriction.

        Yeah, because she seems like the type who would suggest an alternate date, which the OP (and spouse) doesn’t want.

      2. TiredMama*

        I can’t help but feel like you are on an impossible situation. If this was a friend, you could unfriend. But a vindictive boss? Only one of you leaving will change things.

    2. Mel_05*

      Yes. A weird thing about giving a reason is that people feel invited to tear down the reason – but if they’re given no reason, they often don’t push back at all.

      1. Mimi Me*

        You’re absolutely right! I used to make up elaborate excuses to avoid hurting feelings but always got so much push back that I ended up giving in and doing whatever it was I was trying to get out of. Once I started saying, “No. Thanks. I can’t.” the pushback stopped almost completely. If I do get pushback I usually just answer “I have plans” in a firm but friendly tone and the pushback stops.

          1. Kelly L.*

            TBH, I suspect this boss might actually *be* in a MLM. I’ve met almost no one who uses “pamper” in that way who isn’t selling something. OP, was the “pack” full of Mary Kay or Arbonne crap?

            1. Sister Michael*

              Funny, I was thinking how much politer that term was than what I call care packages for friends who are having a rough time- “f**k-it bucket” :D

        1. Nea*

          The ever-useful saying is “Never JADE” – justify, argue, defend, or explain. Because to do any of those is to open a negotiation, or at least to say that the topic is open for discussion.

          1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

            I was looking in the comments for this. I forgot what the letters stood for, but knew it was applicable here.

      2. Software Engineer*

        As Captain Awkward says, “reasons are for reasonable people.”

        A lot of people hear a reason you’re declining as something they have to work around. It implies that you would if not for this thing, so o should see if we can make it work anyways. Of course if you actually WANT to make plans around this barrier you would just say so—“I am dog sitting this week, maybe next week would be better Etc “. If someone doesn’t follow up their refusal with an offer of Alternatives take the hint gracefully…

    3. Ally McBeal*

      Yeah, I have a really hard time with anyone writing into advice columns with questions that essentially boil down to “what can I do to stop this without saying the word no?” I know not everyone has as good a sense of boundaries as I do (which was hard-won due to difficult parents) but … you don’t have to let someone into your home! Just shut the door! Call your boss an Uber if she gets drunk and tries to sleep at your house! Covid is a temporary excuse, but it’s incredibly effective.

      1. tiny cactus*

        With a boss this erratic and self-absorbed, I can see why the OP is really afraid to rock the boat. It sounds like if she feels slighted, she wouldn’t hesitate to make OP’s working life really difficult. That’s not to say that she can’t draw a firm boundary around her home life, but she does need to find a way to do it in a way that preserves her boss’s goodwill. Just saying “no” and shutting the door in her face probably won’t achieve that.

        1. Washi*

          Exactly! Yes yes, “use your words” as the commentariat likes to say, but choosing those words can be tricky, especially at work where your employment often hangs in the balance. I don’t blame the OP for being flummoxed by this.

        2. Ally McBeal*

          True, and I didn’t necessarily mean it in the “‘no’ is a complete sentence” way – there are tactful ways to say no, and those are especially important if the pushy person is in a position of authority… but nothing about OP’s letter indicated to me that they’d tried any version of “no” – just deferred and hedged around it until the boss cornered them. I know a LOT of people who are incapable of saying no (I spent many of my formative years in the American South), and in my experience it’s often a matter of realizing that your feelings matter just as much as anyone else’s and you are entitled to say no sometimes – it’s not easy but it’s a necessary part of life.

        3. Birdie*

          Especially because it sounds like she’s so persistent. If OP says she’s not available on X date but doesn’t give a reason, it sounds like a safe bet that the boss will just keep throwing out dates until she gives in. So in this case it does seem like she’d be best served giving some kind of preemptive reason the boss can’t come over any more (obviously covid is the easy excuse at the moment!)

        4. Aggretsuko*

          Yeah, it seems very clear that boss is going to be OFFENDED if she says no here. And most likely will be punitive towards the OP, because boss is not a reasonable person. I concur with tiny cactus that the question is more “how do I say no without offending this woman?” but that may not be doable if the boss is really …. not taking no for an answer.

          1. YTH*

            how about instead of saying “no” she says something like “i can’t do dinner at my place, but maybe we could grab a quick bite to eat at restaurant x” or “let’s grab a coffee at starbux instead.” boss gets to socialize, op protects her inner sanctum, op looks good with boss and maybe gets a free latte. wins all around.

      2. Not A Girl Boss*

        I am trying to think of the number of options I would have to exhaust before I resorted to allowing my boss to stay the night. Its… a lot… and “throwing her over my shoulder and carrying her home” ranks above it.

        But… that wasn’t always the case. “Its ok not to do what other people tell you to do.” was a huge ah-hah moment for me that didn’t happen until I was a decade into adulthood. Especially when there’s weird power dynamics. So, LW: “Its ok not to do what other people tell you to do.” and see also: “You can politely and kindly say ‘no’ without adding excuses onto the end of it.” and “Reasons are for reasonable people.” and “No is a complete sentence.”

        I know you have a lot of fear of retribution, but these kinds of people are relying on your willingness to play by their rules, and usually if you decide to end the game they go find another victim instead of torturing you further.

        1. Simonthegreywarden*

          “Reasons are for Reasonable People” — I’m going to put this on my computer on a sticky note next to “No is a complete sentence” because I work with some…interesting folks.

        2. Hey Nonnie*

          I think redirection is going to be a key component of this too. If she just says “No thanks, but thank you for thinking of me!” a person like Carrie is still going to see that as an opening to argue. So it will have to be “No thanks, but thank you for thinking of me! Since I have you here, [work topic]” where “work topic” is at least involved enough to lead to an entirely different conversation. So that before Carrie realizes it you’ve left to handle the work topic and she never got back around to demanding the answer she wanted from you in the first place.

          So it might be a good idea to have a list of these in mind that you can draw from at the drop of a hat.

      3. fhqwhgads*

        That’s not at all what’s going on in this letter. This is “I’ve said no and she keeps suggesting alternatives and if I piss her off I’ll be screwed”.

    4. BadWolf*

      For a normal person, yes. For OPs boss, I expect the follow up with be “Okay, what are you doing on Sunday, maybe I can come too. How about Monday? Saturday would be fine for me too.”

    5. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      That might keep the boss away on Sunday, but with a person like this, odds are the LW will end up on Carrie’s sh*t list. I know because I did the direct “No” with my boss who resembles Carrie so much that I am hoping it is her (please don’t let there be 2 of them!). Had I been in a position where I was vulnerable like the LW my life would have been miserable. I saw her make coworkers’ lives miserable (including firings). Luckily I wasn’t in that position and could say, “You know what? If you don’t want me to work here just say the word. I’ll have a new job tomorrow” knowing full well that she couldn’t afford to lose me and I could have a new job the next day. And even with that, I just ended up with a boss who ignored me and gave me the silent treatment which started out frustrating and ended up kind of amusing. Most people are not in that position.

  1. AdAgencyChick*

    I LOVE the “we’ve had a COVID scare in the family recently” as a way of changing your policy toward anyone, not just a bad boss, that you can’t or don’t want to have an argument with.

    1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      Although, if OP’s job is in the office, and they make them quarantine if exposed (which is reasonable), faking a family scare might lead to questions being asked about why it wasn’t reported/ why OP did not quarantine, etc. I think using the husband and a huge house-cleaning project to deter her might be better if that is the case.

      1. Loosey Goosey*

        Or even, “we have high-risk family members so we’re socializing with anyone.” Going to work is essential; having people over for dinner is not. And if you are working in an office, that’s even more reason to limit your exposure by not seeing anyone besides your coworkers and household members.

      2. Mel_05*

        It doesn’t have to be someone you live near though. It can be your second cousin who lives in Malaysia, but whom you keep in close touch with over facebook. They caught covid, it was awful, they’re better now – but it scared you into being cautious.

        1. So sleepy*

          Exactly. I had a scare a couple months ago – the day before my first visit with my dad since March, my step-brother tested positive (and he is SUPER cautious to begin with) and my dad had to wait on test results. I was never exposed (we canceled our visit) but it wasn’t lost on me how close we could have been to getting it. We are pretty cautious to begin with but we’ve dialed back our interactions even further since then.

      3. Dave*

        A scare could be an extended family member. I know people who are slowly starting to take this seriously because they are starting to know people who have gotten COVID.

      4. Lurker*

        Yeah, maybe I’m in the minority but I think lying about medical issues, injuries, illness, etc. to get out of something is bad mojo. To say one is being more careful because of Covid, or legit has someone who’s high risk in the household is one thing, but to out and out lie about having a COVID scare in one’s family is icky to me.

      5. Captain Kirk*

        Honestly, I’d be concerned that she might offer to “help” with the house-cleaning project…

      6. Not A Girl Boss*

        Meh, there’s so many ways to be sobered up about the impacts of COVID without being exposed yourself.

        My grandparents both passed away from COVID and we were never allowed to see them because they caught it while in a nursing home and were promptly quarantined. Its been a really useful tool for explaining to people why I’m taking COVID much more seriously than they are, without getting into a “what is wrong with you, you alarmist scaredy cat” debate or sounding like I’m judging their house parties (but I am, I so am). My go-to line is “I’m sorry, but my mom is still really shook from her parents passing and I don’t want to do anything to make her feel uncomfortable about hosting Sunday Supper.”

        Its basically the 2020 “its not you, its me.”

    2. Mr. Jingles*

      Works just like magic: I’m so sorry! My husband was diagnosed as high risk! I can under no circumstances meet anybody besides essential contacts lice doctors visits and such! Thank you so much for being understanding! You wouldn’t believe how obnoxiously some people pressure me to risk his life just for their joy!

    3. Might Be Spam*

      My elderly mother lives independently, but I still need to be available to help her when things come up that she can’t handle. No one needs to know exactly how much care she needs and it’s a great way to discourage unwanted/unsafe invitations in 2020.

    4. BAgpuss*

      I do short term, but if the writer is still working in the same job once the vaccine has rolled out and the risk reduces, she’ll have to come up with a new reason.

  2. WellRed*

    Oh my goodness! Start setting boundaries! Practice saying no (for your husband’s sake, if not your own). I assume you’ve ramped up the job search.

  3. Archaeopteryx*

    What a goon! Other egregious behavior aside, you don’t invite yourself over for other people’s cooking- you invite people to your own house. I hope you can extract yourself!

    1. daffodil*

      this! It’s bizarre to invite yourself over to someone else’s house unless there’s some pre-existing relationship or context that makes sense. What a difficult person!

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        My PARENTS (with whom I have an excellent and loving relationship) don’t invite themselves over to my house, nor do I invite myself to theirs. Jesus wept.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          Lol!

          Many years ago, I lived across the street from my mom’s office, and when she couldn’t reach me on my cell one morning (I’d rushed out of my apartment and accidentally left it on my couch), she randomly showed up in the lobby of my building on my lunch break. How she even knew when I was taking lunch that day to already have been there when I walked in, I will never know – but she then proceeded to invite herself into my apartment. After shading my cleaning (the apartment was a wreck), I promptly kicked her out and told her to never do that again – she needs to ask to come over, not just show up like a crazy person, lol.

          She no longer does this or invites herself over in any other way (but my brother is now inviting himself to my new place, which I always shut down, especially now).

          1. Christmas Carol*

            I remember when I first went away to college. My mom, completely unprompted, offered to make me this deal: She promised to NEVER surprise me by turning up at my door with no advance warning, but she expected the same consideration from me.

    2. Loosey Goosey*

      Inviting yourself over to someone’s house for dinner who you haven’t seen in a while *because they’ve been recovering from a major health issue*…what?!

      1. ragazza*

        haha, I know! Incredible nerve. Not just to intrude on her personal life but TO EXPECT HER TO HOST AND COOK.

    3. juliebulie*

      I wonder if bad/unimpressive cooking or cheap takeout would deter this behavior.
      Doesn’t matter since the boss should never come to their house again, regardless. But I’m curious.

          1. Formerly Ella Vader*

            My mum’s version had horseradish in it! Fortunately, she gave up quickly on trying to feed it to kids and saved it for ladies afternoon bridge.

        1. juliebulie*

          Hah! Those jello/aspic nightmares take a lot of work.

          I was thinking more like a “build your own PBJ buffet” with one jar of peanut butter, one kind of jelly/jam that doesn’t go with PB (orange marmalade doesn’t go with PB, does it?), and an open bag of Wonder Bread.

          And as you sit down to your very first bite, say “oooh, I’ve been looking forward to this all week long!”

      1. The Starsong Princess*

        Probably not. But not serving alcohol might help “We’ve decided to have a dry November so we aren’t serving alcohol or having it in the house. So good for our health!” At least then she can’t use being drunk as a reason to stay over.

        1. Jarissa*

          Maybe.
          But.

          My spouse is violently allergic to booze. Not just the actual consumption, but in fact something given off as a vapor from it. His allergy can theoretically cause an aneurism if he has too much / too strong an exposure, and it for sure causes him a migraine within twenty minutes of constant low-level exposure. We don’t have it in the house, we don’t use it in cooking, we don’t go to bars or to restaurants with a heavy emphasis on the libations available, our lives are super-duper pedestrian to anybody who likes drinking.

          And a friend hit his mid-thirties, decided that fun was only fun if he had a light buzz, and started bringing multiple packs of wine coolers over to our place in his satchel.

          We did not notice right at first. Jody poured his beverage into a regular water glass (from our kitchen!) and put the empty bottle back into his satchel. And he wandered from dining room to living room to kitchen on occasion as the evening chatter continued.

          By the time we sat down to eat, though, he was inebriated enough to think it was fine to put his empties *on* *my* *dining* *table*. I looked up from bringing the beloved some of his migraine medicine and there were four of them! IN MY HOUSE! And Jody had a fifth in his hand!

          Yet somehow I was the rude person for stopping things to announce that Jody had broken hospitality and was no longer welcome in our home and must take his manslaughter implements with him.

          OP, you have described very clearly that it is not SAFE for you to tell Carrie “no”. She has demonstrated that she will do you harm, aggressively and repeatedly, if you do so. I understand that! But you’re in a heck of a fix here: if you mysteriously have no alcohol in the house when she forces you to host her this time, she’ll bring it next time. I dunno, can you and husband plot together to ask her about when she’ll take a turn at the hosting? It’s a lot easier to leave someone else’s place pleading “weather-related unwellness” or something.

          1. YTH*

            Thanks for the best piece of snark (“mansalughter implements”), I needed a good laugh!

            What do you do if someone offers you hand sanitizer

      2. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        Or she’d offer to bring food because, “well, you know. Don’t want husband to starve. Tee hee.”

    4. Third or Nothing!*

      I know right?! If you want to go visit someone at their house, you bring something to share with them like a meal or a new tin of tea or a bottle of wine. And you ASK. You don’t just invite yourself over for dinner and be like “so whatcha cooking?”

      1. Paulina*

        I wouldn’t be surprised if she did bring the wine, since she overindulged. Though she sounds pushy enough to also help herself significantly to the OP’s booze. But it’s harder to rein in someone’s drinking if they supplied it themselves. (One option is to treat the bottle as a hosting gift or, in this case, for future “pampering”: “oh thank you, so kind, I look forward to having that on a special occasion when I’m feeling more myself/am off medication, and it really won’t go with this unfortunately basic dinner.”)

        1. Third or Nothing!*

          Oh it’s quite possible! I do think OP’s main problem is the lack of boundaries and the powerlessness she feels in attempting to enforce any. Sometimes it does help to hear from others that this behavior is totally out of the norm. If her boss brought her own booze, then your scripts are great. If boss helped herself to OP’s booze…I got nothing. It’s a frustrating situation all around and I hope it gets resolved sooner rather than later.

    1. yes*

      What is the purpose of these comments? Do you think Alison is unaware that some of the publications she writes for have paywalls? Or that it’s a mistake and not supposed to be there? I’m mystified by these announcements.

      1. Tidewater 4-1009*

        I ended up subscribing to read Alison’s posts. I used to get annoyed too, until I realized it’s only $50/year.
        The other one she publishes with is inexpensive also.
        My annoyance was from much more expensive publications being stingy with their articles. Do they really think people can afford to subscribe to all of them just to read a few articles?
        It’s a cultural disservice also, because it channels people into getting their news from one or two sources instead of having a variety available for the price of one magazine.

      2. ...*

        Me too. There’s like 14 years worth of free content on this site to read through if one was so inclined.
        Or you can subscribe. Personally, I don’t want to spend the $, so I don’t get to read that particular article. I dont understand the confusion here.

    2. Dahlia*

      Yes, most of us enjoy being paid for our work. There’s a few thousand other responses on this blog for free.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes. They give you a certain number of free articles per month and then require a subscription for more. That’s how they’re able to pay their writers.

      1. Charlotte*

        Can I check something? I’m in the UK and just tried to subscribe but it won’t accept my UK credit card. Is this a glitch for me, or can’t you sign up with a UK address? Have any UK people managed to subscribe?

        1. Mel_05*

          I’ve sometimes had an issue when I try to buy things from the UK (I’m in the U.S.) my bank thinks it’s fraudulent and puts a hold on it. They don’t always and we did have a conversation about whether they understood what the internet was, but this could be the same thing and you’d need to call them and ask them to put it through.

          1. Charlotte*

            I don’t think it’s my bank – there doesn’t seem to be a way to enter a non-US address on the website whether I try to pay by apple pay or by credit card.

            1. BubbleTea*

              I haven’t tried to subscribe to this one, but I have run into the issue of US sites not realising that non-US residents might want to access their products before. If a zip code is mandatory and you don’t have a zip code, welp.

              It’s not just a USA thing though. I had to complete a form which needed my address history for the last five years, which included a period in Paris, France. It wouldn’t let me proceed until I had entered my UK postcode for the French address. Sigh.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I checked with them and they say:

          “I’m guessing they’re just not seeing the correct form (it’s kinda hidden at the top of the page). They should be using the UK subscribe link: https://subs.nymag.com/magazine/subscribe/official-international-subscription.html

          If that still doesn’t work, feel free to have them contact me directly and I’ll connect them with a customer service rep to figure it out.” (So let me know if you need that.)

    4. AnotherAlison*

      If someone wanted to subscribe, the NY site has a Black Friday 60% off deal right now. $20/yr for digital access.

      1. Foreign Octopus*

        Honestly, The Cut’s worth it even without Alison’s contribution, though that’s certainly the way I found out about the site.

    5. Ally McBeal*

      Removed. Please don’t post ways to get around paywalls here; they’re what get writers paid. – Alison

      1. Ally McBeal*

        Whoops, sorry about that! I genuinely thought writers got paid from both revenue streams, not only subscriptions.

    6. asterisk*

      This is one of the reasons why I’m SOOOO thankful for the helpful comments section on AAM. I understand that paywalls are how authors get paid and I totally support that. And while I can’t afford subscriptions to everywhere I’d like to read, meaning I can’t always see Alison’s answers, I still can get a lot of useful advice to the questions in…question.

      THANK YOU ALL!

      1. Third or Nothing!*

        That’s very true! Even if you can’t read Alison’s response, you can still see the comments and get good info that way. That’s something I really appreciate about this comment section – it’s mostly full of constructive discussion.

      2. Rach*

        *disclaimer, this is a wide spread issue and I’m not singling out Allison, who i appreciate.

        Iwould just like a warning before I read the question. It is quite frustrating to have a question advertised to me, fully available to read and then one isn’t informed they have to click an external link to find the answer, and then only to discover it is behind a pay wall. I am 100% for writers being paid but I find this practice deceptive and frustrating as I can’t afford subscriptions.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Making you interested enough to want to click the link is the point :)

          It’s sort of like a movie trailer.

          But if frustrates you, I’d ask you to put up with it in exchange for hundreds of other free posts a year here. If
          it helps to know, though, the 12:30 pm ET post is usually (although not always) a link to my work on an outside site.

    7. Pennyworth*

      Lots of stuff on line is behind paywalls. I’m just grateful to have access to so much – such as AAM – that isn’t.

  4. Butterfly Counter*

    I was 11 years old when my mother, after hearing a conversation with my friend, sat me down and explained it was rude to invite yourself to other people’s houses. I was mortified when I realized how much pressure it put on the person you were asking. Sounds like OP’s boss never had someone explain this to her and I worry it’s too late for the lesson to sink in. Boss probably would never do ANY socializing unless she bullied her way into it.

    1. Isomorphism*

      I am wondering whether this is a cultural thing. I am German and I totally DO invite myself to other people’s homes and they do, too, to mine. Not everyone of course – but for close friends and family it is totally normal to say “I have not been at your place for quite some time. Want me to come by?”

      (Maybe having lived abroad for some years contributed to this dynamic – offering to be the one to travel in order to meet is definitely putting the majority of the burden on you, not on the person hosting you – but I am quite sure it was a thing we did also before.)

      1. Lifeandlimb*

        I don’t think there’s a big cultural difference between Germany and the U.S… The closer your friendship, the more normal it is to invite yourself over. But for most acquaintances or colleagues, it’s unusual to invite yourself over to someone’s house, *especially* for the first time. You are assuming they’re comfortable showing you their personal space and possibly providing some kind of food, drink, or entertainment. Also, the less flexible you are about where and when you want to meet, the ruder it seems.

      2. AcademiaNut*

        Close friends and family often have different rules than general etiquette. For example – when I visit my mom, I can make myself a cup of coffee, or get a snack from the fridge. Doing so with a random dinner party would be rude. The key is that you know the person well enough to know what the boundaries are, and that the person is okay saying no.

      3. Butterfly Counter*

        Well, at 11, I think my mom was thinking of my friend’s mom who didn’t necessarily want to have to watch over another child. But for close friends or family, I have no problem asking because I know they’re fine telling me “no” if they don’t want me there. But I’ll be honest, I’m still uncomfortable asking out of state friends if I can swing by (and potentially stay) if I’m in their area.

      4. Bagpuss*

        I think perhaps it’s is dependent on your relationship with the person whose home you’re inviting yourself to.

        Family or close friends are different to acquaintances and co workers, and I think a lot of what changes is about whether the other person is close enough to you that they would be comfortable with saying “No, not a good time”

        Also, I can’t see it being OK the first time you go to someone’s house. If you’ve been by invitation lots of times then you both know that you’ve seen the house, you know what they are like, and so on, so it’s less likely to be something that causes the ‘host’ anxiety, as you are not pushing for a new level of closeness.

        I would not feel rude asking my oldest and closest friend if I can come visit her, but it would be very rude if I did the same to one of my junior coworkers or a new friend.

        (I’m in the UK)

  5. Well Then*

    This boss sounds terrible, but unless this letter came from an alternate timeline where there’s not a global pandemic happening, it should at least be easy to put her off dinner! No, she cannot come to your house, because no one is coming to your house for a meal right now.

    1. SunnySideUp*

      Right. Did she come over for the first time, sometime during the last 9 months? Because that is BAD.

    2. Paulina*

      “Oh, but we’re already working together, it’s no closer than that! And we shouldn’t be socializing with anyone else, so we need to stick together.” (Her staying over certainly isn’t only as close as work! And limiting total exposure is important.)

      Anyone who uses your surgery complications as a reason why you should host them for dinner will try any argument, no matter how specious.

      1. Nea*

        It’s the surgery one that made my jaw drop. After my surgery I was in no condition to cook, much less host a dinner for my boss!

  6. Clorinda*

    Opening montage of Lifetime movie? Or opening montage of slasher flick?
    This is definitely an opening montage of something, and that’s never good.

    1. irene adler*

      Gotta be excruciating to make polite conversation with such a person who s also one’s boss. AND, at one’s home.
      Definitely the stuff my nightmares are made of.

      I dunno, would a good case of food poisoning put her off wanting to visit ever again?

    2. JustMePatrick*

      Ha Ha. I was thinking Law & Order, the boss get’s murdered, everyone is a suspect, it turns out it’s the OP. (Sorry OP).

    1. Foreign Octopus*

      I’d forgotten that was coming up and update month. At least 2020 is going to end on a better note for me with that to look forward to.

      1. EPLawyer*

        I;m gonna be really honest here. I’m kinda looking forward to seeing the nominations. In a train wreck kinda way.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I vote updates! I spent the whole weekend getting them all ready to auto-publish throughout December (they, and my time off, start on Tuesday of next week) and there are some great ones this year.

      2. Coffee Bean*

        Oh dear!! I am intrigued and a bit trepiditious at the same time. I can’t remember all of the 2020 bad boss candidates.

    1. MistOrMister*

      Especially since he doesn’t even want the boss there, I bet he would be more than happy for her to use him as an excuse!! I was gobsmacked that OP is married. I assumed the boss would do something like this to a single person but not a married one. Seems like it’s easier to pressure someone who lives alone to let you come over since they don’t have anyone else there who can object.

    2. Persephone Mongoose*

      Agreed. My fiance has given me carte blanche to use him as an excuse whenever needed, and he gets to do the same with me.

  7. EPLawyer*

    Your boss’ social life is not your responsibility. Keep reminding yourself that.

    I know you need this job. But you need your sanity too. Draw your boundaries now. Then stick to them. Don’t give in even once — not matter what she promises you.

    1. Momma Bear*

      There are reasons other people give her a wide berth. I agree with the others to start pushing back on boundaries, esp. in your personal life. You don’t owe her your whole life. If she invites herself over again, say no. If she drinks too much, send her home in a cab, Uber or Lyft. Neither her bad behavior nor her social schedule are your obligation. If she’s a frequent flyer in the HR office, that says a lot right there.

      Def. look for another job and be ready with alternative/additional references if you think she’ll just trash you on the way out.

  8. old curmudgeon*

    I definitely endorse Alison’s suggestion of making your husband the bad guy in this. He doesn’t have to work with her, and she is likely to be more sympathetic if she deludes herself into thinking that “poor OP has such a mean husband, so I must be nicer to her to make up for that.”

    Also, this probably goes without saying, but if you are not actively getting that resume out into circulation (using Alison’s excellent resume and cover letter tips), you need to start that a.s.a.p. I have worked for a “Carrie” in a former position, and the only real escape was finding another job. The dodges and fibs and artifices work, yes, but they’re exhausting to keep up, and you have to keep using them, because the “Carries” of the world just won’t give up.

    Good luck, OP!

      1. 3DogNight*

        +1000 And I’ll go one further. They will turn on you eventually, no matter what you do.
        There is never a way to stay in the good graces of someone like this. Eventually, you will blink funny, or wear the wrong clothes, or side with her using words she doesn’t like the next day.
        Be actively job hunting now. This will not end well, unless you end it.

    1. juliebulie*

      If must be a lousy place to work if Carrie keeps ending up crying in the HR office yet has never been required to change her behavior. She sounds high-maintenance, which is usually not a desirable trait in an employee, so why are they keeping her around?

      I know that’s beside the point, but it does underscore the need to get out of there before more of the dysfunction rubs off on OP.

        1. Anonapots*

          In my experience people like Carrie aren’t really so stellar they can be wreck like this. It’s difficult for them to be that awful in the office and not be as awful with clients. Carrie can’t understand boundaries and that tends to cross over into every area.

          1. Grapey*

            In my opposite experience, people like Carrie absolutely run roughshod over internal colleagues to get their clients what they need. Sort of like how abusive spouses/parents keep the abuse hidden and seem charming to outsiders.

            Also, depending on industry, some clients totally fall for corporate-rep-as-personal-friend.

          2. Diahann Carroll*

            Nah, I had a boss who shares some of Carrie’s characteristics, and she was damn good at her job (minus the people management part, at which she was dreadful). We worked in subrogation, so getting money back for our division on claims where someone else was responsible for an accident, and she got promoted to management because she was able to bring in an inordinate amount of money from other insurance carriers by steamrolling over their adjusters. She was effective because she had no boundaries and was willing to do whatever it took to get what she wants, not despite it. And when she became a tyrant manager, the company was reluctant to fire or demote her because of all the money she helped to bring in.

            So if Carrie is in a money-making role, it’s possible her personality actually makes her successful in that aspect, but lousy when it comes to dealing with people.

        2. juliebulie*

          I suspect she’s just a skilled manipulator and their HR people aren’t good at dealing with that.

      1. Observer*

        I was thinking much the same thing.

        OP ramp your search up. And start saving as much as you can, because there will come a point where she WILL turn on you if you don’t manage to get out quickly.

    2. kittymommy*

      Yep, I agree. I’ve worked with and for people like this and they can get retaliatory with a simple, rational “no”, but what works in having somebody else play the bad guy (in my case it was my mom and in another case it was me for a roommate) is then they feel extra close and buddy-buddy if there’s an “orge” keeping you apart. It’s a gigantic cluster of a work relationship but can keep you sane until you get a new job.

      Good luck LW!!

    3. TechWorker*

      I liked Alison’s wording but also with someone this boundary crossing… I could fully believe the boss might a) go on about how her husband is awful and controlling or b) go as far to try to contact *him* to rehash the argument. I mean…. let’s hope not… but she sounds preeeetty ridiculous :)

    4. ...*

      Thats like a huge benefit of having a spouse! You can say “Oh me and my husband have X agreement” or “we have a family policy about visitors”.

    5. Paulina*

      The OP also needs to move quickly so that her previous job is still sufficiently current to provide a good reference. Even with the OP doing her best, Carrie’s reference cannot be trusted. She’s unprofessional and seems to want the OP to stick around, so who knows what she’s saying.

    1. Mimi Me*

      Inviting herself over, where she then gets drunk and stays the night! That’s my worst nightmare!!!
      Years ago I had invited a coworker over for dinner. She stayed so long, ignored all my hints about leaving, ignored me outright asking her to leave, and started drifting off in the armchair she sat in for most of the night. Eventually my husband told her to leave or we were going to charge her rent. Something in his tone made her leave and after that it was pretty easy to blame the lack of any future outside of work activities on him.

  9. Sleepy*

    Gross. No one, not even my best friends, has ever drunk so much they couldn’t drive home from my house, unless we specifically *offered* first (“Hey, you’re welcome to spend the night if you want to have another drink”). That’s a lack of self control or self awareness which is concerning for an adult, especially at a dinner with colleagues. And that’s of course on top of all the other bad behavior.

    If she shows up at your house again, despite your best efforts…serve only water.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      That’s a lack of self control or self awareness which is concerning for an adult, especially at a dinner with colleagues.

      Especially in front of a subordinate. So unprofessional.

    1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      Because she got drunk too! I mean, I can understand maybe seeing a coworker or a boss a bit tipsy at the office Christmas party (not ideal, but I get that it happens), but coming to my house uninvited, getting drunk, and crashing? To quote you, “Oh, hell no”!!!

    2. Anonapots*

      I know a person like this and I would be very suspicious she was actually too drunk to drive home.

      1. Pennyworth*

        Trouble is, you can’t compel someone to drive home if they assert they are too drunk to drive, even if you are sure they aren’t. I’m super careful about not drink driving, but I use that to moderate my drinking, not to foist myself on friends as an unwanted overnight guest.

  10. Health Insurance Nerd*

    I really, really hope the LW can provide an update to this one. I read this letter imagining having my boss need to crash at my house, and the whole idea of that is just completely bonkers.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Seconded, all around. I just messaged my boss, “Not that I think you should ever question your management capacity, but just in case, here, have a good ‘at least I’ve never done anything like THAT’ moment to keep in your back pocket.”

  11. CatCat*

    Can you use anyone else as a reference?

    I don’t think there’s a scenario where you can trust her to give you a positive reference. She is boundary crossing, abusive, and quite frankly, seems like the kind of person to stir-up drama for the purpose of keeping you trapped in her web.

    I would do what Alison suggests to preserve the current working situation as much as you can, but I would seriously reconsider having reference-checkers call Carrie.

  12. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

    Maybe combine the husband and COVID thing! “Oh, well, after a big COVID scare at work, Mark’s company is really freaking out about it. They insist that if anyone celebrates holidays this year outside of the immediate household, they report it and spend two weeks quarantining before returning to work! It seems excessive to me, but Mark is worried about being told to not come into work for two weeks, so he is insisting we have no visitors to the house at all for the time being!”

    I also like the idea of a big house project. I have been using a whole major cleaning out of my apartment excuse for years to keep anyone, even family, from visiting (because it is not actually clean! LOL)!

    1. AnotherAlison*

      I don’t recommend it. Boundary-crossers don’t take no for an answer easily and will try to work around your excuses. “Mark’s employer will never need to know I was there!”

      Seriously, my parents are the worst. You can’t give them anything to refute, even if it seems like an air-tight excuse.

      1. Anonapots*

        Yes, but it becomes easier to stand firm. “I know, but I really can’t.” “They might never know, but we can’t take the change they will.” “It sucks, but Mark just doesn’t want to risk it.”

        As someones said further up, this will eventually go south no matter what. This might be the thing that does it, or it might be something else, but there’s only so much the OP should have to put up with.

  13. boop the first*

    Oh geez.
    I get that the point is to stay in good graces, although I don’t know WHY, since being her favourite has made you a goon, and all the coworkers she hates get to live life peacefully without her…

    But the problem with pandemic excuses and, I’m surprised this is a suggestion, blaming the spouse, is that it tells boss that you would be delighted to hang out if not for these excuses. You don’t actually want that. If you do that, the pandemic and the spouse will become Obstacles to Remove. This is a sitcom-level solution at best. This kind of person will start denying the virus and sabotaging your marriage thinking they’re doing you a favour.

    I’m just curious to know what you think will happen if she finds out you’re not actually best friends?
    The coworkers she hates, do they have to deal with this, or do they get to shrug and go home in peace?
    Do you not think she’s going to turn on you if you ever gave notice?
    Do you not think she’s going to turn on you when an interviewer calls her up for that reference out of the blue?
    Is the potential harm of being disliked ACTUALLY worse than being the favourite? Are… are we sure?

    Instead of misdirecting, I would at the very least go with the blanket rule, “I don’t mix social life with work colleagues” and stick with it.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      But the problem with pandemic excuses and, I’m surprised this is a suggestion, blaming the spouse, is that it tells boss that you would be delighted to hang out if not for these excuses. You don’t actually want that. If you do that, the pandemic and the spouse will become Obstacles to Remove. This is a sitcom-level solution at best. This kind of person will start denying the virus and sabotaging your marriage thinking they’re doing you a favour.

      All of this. It’s best to just say, “No, thanks. I can’t,” and keep it moving.

    2. Observer*

      The only good ending here is for the OP to find a new job. There is just no way around that.

      But, in the short term the OP needs to find some way to mitigate the problem. The thing is that there is no solution here that will SOLVE the problem, so all the OP can do is kick the can down the road, and try to make sure that she’s in a new job before her luck runs out.

      And, sure, if the Carrie figures out that OP really didn’t mean all the excuses, it’s going to get ugly. But so will “I don’t mix social life with colleagues.” So, it’s either DEFINITELY deal with the ugliness now, or delay the ugliness and try to get out before “later” comes.

      Is the potential harm of being disliked ACTUALLY worse than being the favourite? Are… are we sure?

      Based on what the OP describes, the answer looks like yes, if the OP needs their job. (Although I do recommend that the OP start ramping up savings if at all possible, because they may reach a point where they don’t have a choice any more.)

    3. Budgie Buddy*

      “Is the potential harm of being disliked ACTUALLY worse than being the favourite?“
      ^^^THIS

      This whole letter is a case study in why trying to placate a fundamentally unreasonable person is a losing game. Being nice to someone like this boss won’t prompt reciprocity. It only gives permission for the toxic behavior.

      I hope OP can get out of this situation or at least use some of the techniques to establish some boundaries.

  14. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

    Oh, LW, I sincerely hope that you and I worked for the same person because I shudder to think that there are 2 bosses like this out there. In my case, I just ended up distancing myself, which made her vindictive and awful. Luckily I was in a position where I had a lot of options and she definitely needed me more than I needed the job and had upper management support. In your shoes, I might flat out lie about being unavailable, “Oh sorry, we can’t have guests over because we are painting the _______ room”, “Oh sorry, my MiL/FiL/Sil/whatever is quarantining with us and we really don’t want to risk having anyone in the house.”, “Oh sorry, my husband has norovirus and there is no way we can have people over.”, etc.. You might be able to put her off until you find a new job.

    Oh, and an update, please!

  15. Mel_05*

    I sincerely hope you are able to leave this job in the next two weeks. This sounds like my worst nightmare.

  16. Sara*

    Would this behavior count as some kind of official harassment or quid pro quo issue? Obv it’s not sexual, but it still seems it should be illegal to require such personal, non-professional, unwanted social interactions as a condition of employment. Though, I suppose the fact that she’s on contract would make it more difficult to get HR support. At the least, informing HR on the way out, of this nightmare behavior would be a favor to everyone.

    1. Corporate Lawyer*

      Not in the United States, no. The boss’ behavior is awful and shocking, but not illegal or otherwise legally actionable in the United States.

    2. Gazebo Slayer*

      No, but this behavior is certainly possible to combine with sexual harassment. It reminds me of how notorious sexual harasser Avital Ronell demanded adoration and emotional fulfillment from her grad students and tried to take over their lives.

      Having dealt with Carrie types in my non-work life, I’d personally be even more upset about that than about a boss, say, grabbing my ass.

  17. Batgirl*

    When someone’s abusing their power like this, it’s perfectly OK to lie your leg off. You know that she suggests alternative dates so just make them long running excuses:
    “Turns out, hubby has to shield. No visitors for the foreseeable”
    “Oh I’m sorry. We are remodelling the entire house starting tomorrow. It’ll be months before I have time for anything”.
    Being nice doesn’t mean making yourself freely available just cause she’s insistent. It means making a polite excuse and then sticking to the no with as many nice regretful noises as you want, so long as you don’t budge from ‘no’. Don’t answer the door when (not if) she shows up anyway, because you know she won’t leave. “Oh, I had no idea! We’ve been out of earshot of the doorbell, because we haven’t been expecting guests”
    Long term though, you need to get out of there.

  18. *daha**

    There was a tv commercial about the perils of socializing at home with your supervisor. Scene – a young het couple at a dinner table with an older male. Older male takes a forkful of food (salad?) and gasps/coughs. Younger male: “Boss! What’s wrong?” Older male: “I just got a mouth full of vinegar!” Consternation ensues. Clearly the young woman has put her husband’s career in jeopardy. She has failed him.
    The commercial went on to extoll their product, which was not a boss-repellent but instead some food product that would prevent this disaster happening to others.

    1. Ally McBeal*

      One of my cousins is in talks to join a small company that he will eventually take over as CEO, and I was just thinking about how in normal times, he’s probably at the stage where the current CEO would come over with his spouse so my cousin’s wife (who’s a stay-at-home mom) could serve them dinner. She’s a great hostess (her cakes are unreal) and would be totally fine, but it must be a relief to not have that kind of antiquarian expectation on her shoulders.

      1. Zona the Great*

        I had no idea this was still A Thing to have wifey cook boss dinner. Or to have dinner together at all.

        1. Sleepless*

          Right? I can remember this being a Thing that a good wife was expected to be able to do at a moment’s notice in my mother’s generation, but I haven’t heard of it in a few decades.

  19. Ashley*

    I keep trying to find upsides to the pandemic and one of them has to be the built in excuse when you don’t want to socialize with people. All the better for you don’t want to to be rude. Use COVID as the excuse and I think that works for not even meeting for dinner or coffee right now. Odds are sadly good if you are in the US cases are surging locally so use that to set boundaries with your boss and you gain physical safety and mental sanity at the same time.

  20. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP — Yes, you need to start setting boundaries or creating alternatives. If it’s safe to do so where you live, lunch or coffee during work hours is probably better than anything at all after hours. Try Alison’s script. Ask Hubbie to be the villain, if necessary — it doesn’t sound as though he’d mind. But someday, something will happen and Carrie will transfer you to her enemies list. Nothing you do or say will change that.

    What you really need is an accelerated job-search strategy. Start lining up alternative references in your company, because there’s no guarantee that “Carrie” will give you a good reference — she may very well turn on you when she learns that you’re really leaving her. And please read everything in the AAM archives on resumes, cover letters, and job search strategy.

    I know it’s hard right now, but getting out needs to be your top priority. Please send us an update when you find something.

  21. Beth*

    I’ve cheerfully offered myself as the fall guy — or fall girl — on my wife’s behalf. I hope your husband will do so at need!

  22. Quill*

    All I am thinking of is the Fish Fry Kidnapping, I won’t repost it because that’s besides the point…

  23. SaffyTaffy*

    People don’t like diagnoses, but here’s what I mean when I say “your boss is suffering from unsupported borderline personality disorder.”
    1. There is nothing you can say and no amount of love you can give her that will change the basic patterns of her behavior.
    2. She has been enacting these patterns her entire life, in every type of relationship. It has nothing to do with you.
    3. She invests an enormous amount of time and energy into trying not to recognize the horrible spectre of her own inadequacy, so feedback from you or her boss will be threatening to her no matter how you present it.
    4. In the same way that it’s unrealistic to ask a blind person to see better, it is unrealistic to hope anything you do will make her a stable person capable of appropriate boundaries.

    Keep looking for a new job.

      1. Anonapots*

        I’ve worked with a person exactly like this and it’s really not. There is something off about the boss, and everything described rings this exact bell.

    1. LPC*

      I agree – the only option is for the LW to set boundaries with kindness and quickly redirect while they look for a new job ASAP.

    2. JSPA*

      We don’t just “not like,” it’s a rule of the site, not to.

      There are users of this site with diagnosed BPD. They are not incapable of learning, nor of self-analysis, nor of stability, nor of acknowledging the need for and existence of boundaries. They have posted to explain the work it took to get the requisite degree of clarity and the tools to do so. But it’s hugely dismissive of actual people to conflate “bad behavior” and “reductionist view of how the diagnosis manifests.”

      If there’s an aspect of a diagnosis that’s 100% specific to the diagnosis, it’s fair game to say, “X may make Y harder, if it’s in play.” Or, “my experience as a person with Q is that hearing P is easier than hearing R.”

      But more generally, it turns out that most recommendations are useful whether or not the specific diagnosis is in play; and there’s zero need to internet-diagnose someone with a mental condition, to give good advice.

      1. SaffyTaffy*

        @JSPA I would NEVER suggest that any person in the abstract is incapable of learning. But to say that people with unsupported mental health issues are going to learn all on their own, without appropriate support, isn’t realistic. The support and treatment makes all the difference in the world.
        And I have to disagree that my advice can be separated from the idea that this boss is dealing with a mental health issue. Putting her behavior in the context of an untreated illness fosters sympathy and removes OP’s self-imposed responsibility to find a way to make her boss behave better.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          I think sympathy with this boss is something OP should avoid, because it makes it harder to say no to her. I was way too accommodating to Carrie types for years because I felt sorry for how lonely they were. But their loneliness is their own fault, and until they learn to be decent to other people they frankly deserve to be lonely. Maybe realizing that no one likes them will even force an epiphany that leads them to change their behavior!

        2. Observer*

          The OP doesn’t need a mental health diagnosis to “remove OP’s self-imposed responsibility to find a way to make her boss behave better.” There is no such obligation, regardless of the reason why Carrie is doing this.

          *IF* the OP feels such an obligation (which is not obvious to me), the only way for that to change is for the OP to recognize that’s it’s not their place to consider even trying to “make” Carrie behave more reasonably.

  24. Cheesehead*

    Would this be a situation where it might be good to go to HR, to get it on record that this is happening and that you fear retaliation from her if you try to put a stop to the social visits? Like, “My boss has been pressuring me to come to my house on a regular basis. I didn’t know how to refuse because I’ve seen volatility from her in similar situations with other people, so she did come over twice and we couldn’t get her to leave. But I’m really not comfortable with this and I don’t want to socialize with her anymore outside of work. I’ve seen her retaliate against people, and I’m afraid that if I try to refuse any more visits, I’ll be next on her list and she’ll try to make things difficult for me. Can you ensure that she doesn’t retaliate against me?”

    1. irene adler*

      (Playing devil’s advocate here)

      Why would HR want to get involved? They protect the company against things like legal action should an employee ‘s behavior break the law (like sexual harassment). They are not there to referee between two coworkers who don’t get along. Clearly this boss can abuse other employees and they haven’t stepped in to stop it.

      I have to put up with a bully at work. Management (we don’t have HR) just offers up excuses why they cannot control the bully. He’s not done anything illegal. He just verbally abuses most everyone whenever the mood strikes him. And sure, that’s poor management on their part. But taking no action is far easier than fixing the problem. So far no one has left the company because of the abuse. I’m trying to but no job offers so far. So no tangible consequences for them.

      1. starsaphire*

        Oh, so that’s where “Jim” ended up! I was wondering what had happened to him. ;)

        So sorry you have to deal with one of these. I left to get away from “Jim.”

    2. Paulina*

      IDK, since the OP is on an interim contract to ease her exit due to prior position elimination, and her boss is the one getting it extended, the company might see the OP leaving as the solution. Unless they’re trying to get ammo for getting rid of Carrie; it’s not so surprising that this job was the one available.

  25. LPC*

    If this was anything other than an employee-boss relationship (where we shouldn’t be in each other’s home anyway) I’d say, “Let’s do dinner at yours instead” so they’d immediately understand why it’s such an imposition…

    1. JSPA*

      I suspect boss wants to drink someplace other than home. Where drinking may be one of the issues over which there’s conflict.

    2. starsaphire*

      Cue every horror-movie aficionado drawing in a deep breath and hissing at the screen, “Nooo! Do not go into the haunted cabin!” ;)

  26. Marple*

    In addition to possibly using the husband as the excuse, it might work to alternate coworkers as an excuse to mix things up. Maybe OP says they are worried because rumors of boss & OP socializing are running through the office and it’s putting OP in a bad spot with the coworkers. The OP doesn’t want coworkers to be jealous or think the boss is giving more attention to OP. She can say that she wants to socialize but it’s causing problems with coworkers.
    For everyone who is saying that you just have to tell these kinds of people the truth, I can tell you’ve never worked for someone like this. To get by in some workplaces, especially in this difficult job market, you can’t always ride around on your high horse. You occasionally have to deflect and fib so you can stay in these crazy folks’ good graces. OP, I have a lot of sympathy for you!

  27. Elenia25*

    I would go for a mix of lies in this case.

    “My husband is really adamant that we keep home and work life separate. With Covid, we’ve gotten even more reclusive and don’t have anyone over. We just feel really anxious about it.”

    But I also establish from the getgo at a job that I never, ever mix business and pleasure. I never have my coworkers over to my house. Not interested. I do sometimes go out to happy hours and stuff like that, but I stay for a short time. I make sure everyone knows, in a casual way, that I love my husband and want to spend time with him.
    I’m in my 40s now and in all this time I’ve had one coworker drop in unexpectedly to my door. Without invitation. I didn’t quite hiss at her, but I came pretty close. She was hurt -not my effing problem! No one invited you! And since then I am cautious even telling people what neighborhood I live in, let alone my address (I was young and naive).

  28. Total*

    I’m not sure Alison’s quite reasonable suggestions are going to work, given Carrie’s clear unreasonableness.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s really up to the OP if they’re going to work. Carrie probably isn’t going to show up at the OP’s house after being told no (that’s a very specific type of dysfunction) but if she does, the OP can say, “I’m sorry, I can’t let you in — we’re being strict about quarantine.” And if Carrie lingers: “Sorry, I’ve got to get back to a whole Zoom thing with my family, see you at work on Monday!”

      1. Tobias Funke*

        Well, it depends on what the definition of “work” is. If it’s “never have this woman come over again”, then it’s likely to. If it’s “never have this woman come over again and also have her be okay with it”, well, that’s out of OP’s control. Refusing to set boundaries with someone because the consequences might be awful is usually a really good reason to set the boundaries, because NOT setting them is awful too.

        1. AcademiaNut*

          Yeah. I’d put the likelihood that the OP can refuse to host Carrie pretty high. However, the cost of setting the boundary has a similarly high likelihood of putting the OP on Carrie’s list of people who have wronged her. So her work environment may get a lot less pleasant asa a result – she’ll now be the target of the screaming attacks, rather than just a witness.

          Setting boundaries is necessary and important. However, the answer to “Person is nasty and unreasonable. How can I set boundaries *and* have them not be angry at me.” is usually “You can’t.”

  29. Normally a Lurker*

    I”m sure this has already been said. I am AGOG at a boss getting so drunk at a direct reports house that she had to stay the night.

    I… don’t even have words.

    I can’t even begin to think of a time any of that would be ok.

  30. JSPA*

    “That’s so sweet! Wish it were possible. Hoping you’re doing OK in these crazy times.”

    “I guess we’re all feeling that way! All this isolation and days alone are hard, aren’t they? Someday we’ll be doing visits and visitors again… [fingers crossed emoji]”

    “[spouse] didn’t hear the end of it, when he let on that we’d had a social visit inside the house, last time you were here. We need both our incomes, so we’re having to tread carefully, especially with so many new Covid cases in the news these days.”

    “Spouse had an unexpectedly problematic visitor. We made an agreement that we’re not doing visits to the house at all, for a while. I’m so sorry that you have to be collateral damage here, but it’s for the best.”

    “Things aren’t cool here, now, for that. Sorry [sad face emoji].”

    low information follow ups:

    “Uck, don’t ask.”
    “nothing serious, just gross.”
    “let’s talk about something cheerier!”
    “Let’s put the idea on hold until late spring, and see how everyone is, then.”

    When I had a boundary crossing boss, alcohol tended to be involved at the point of “invite self over,” not only the “comes over with alcohol” point. And actually, at a lot of other points, as well. Inside your head, you can categorize these invitations as if they were drunken expressions of friendship from someone with a drinking problem, as opposed to actual plans to be addressed as plans.

  31. Rayray*

    Blechhhh. I have SO much respect for executive assistants. I’ve done it before and had a hellacious time that I vented about on many open Fridays. It’s not for everyone and I sincerely respect those who do it.

    One off the things I learned is that boundaries are so important. There’s somewhat more of a personal element to this job but knowing where to draw the line is important. I think things have gone too far for you to fully go back but I agree that asking her to not visit your home due to covid worries is fair and a good way to go about it.

  32. HS Teacher*

    I had a boss like that once. I foolishly felt special when I was her favorite, but she hired another person who was closer to her age (a decade older than me), shared her political beliefs, was the same race and orientation as she was, etc. It didn’t take long for the office to turn into something like Mean Girls. That’s the only job I’ve ever quit on the spot.

    About a year after I stormed out of the job, she texted me to say Happy Birthday. Although I knew it was her, I responded with, “Who is this???” I wanted her to think I’d deleted her from my phone. Then I really did. Never again!

  33. Beth*

    “My schedule is packed,” “We’re not socializing right now due to COVID,” and “That won’t work for me, unfortunately, but how about [insert something you actually wouldn’t mind doing]?” are all time-honored options for ducking out of unwanted invitations. (Which, someone inviting themselves TO YOUR HOUSE for YOU TO COOK FOR THEM is definitely an unwanted invitation, if I ever saw one!)

    Your boss might be too pushy for those, though. You might need something that will stick forever, instead of just for this weekend. “I spend my off-time with family, but let’s go for lunch on Tuesday?” might work; COVID might still work, at least for a few months, hopefully long enough for you to find a new job.

    What you shouldn’t do is just suck it up and keep having her over. I understand why you want to stay on her good side, but appeasing a boss is not worth making your spouse miserable and ruining your weekend. There are ways around listing her as a reference, and honestly she sounds bad enough that I bet she has a reputation in your field anyways.

  34. OhBehave*

    Decline with regret but do not offer a reason. “I’m sorry that will not work.” should suffice. If you lie, you will be found out! If you tell her you’re painting she WILL offer to come over and help. I would not put it past her to just drop by. In that case a simple ‘it’s not a good time’ should work. Have hubby answer the door!

    If you aren’t searching for a job in earnest, start now! Ask friends if they know of openings, any other departments at work hiring, etc. People are starting new jobs even now. It can happen for you too.

  35. Duncan*

    100% agree with Alison’s advice on setting boundaries.

    You are doing a great job being kind to your boss, keep that up until you switch roles.

    You should absolutely not be responsible for making sure your boss has as social life, but you can help her experience kindness which I think she must not get a lot of.

  36. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    If cornered into having her for dinner again, the first step is absolutely no alcohol served. If she brings it, make a little bit of a big deal of not serving it. “Oh no, we’ve gone dry in this house. Health/religious reasons!” Honestly, make make socializing with you really unsatisfying and undesirable for her…go vegan/carnivore, serve nothing but red beans in all its many forms, micro portions, juice cleanse, don’t make conversation, be obsessed with discussing shoelaces, play bad music, dine outside when it’s too cold/hot…

  37. Hey Karma, Over Here*

    So the company was laying people off but there was an opening in her department for an assistant. Color me stunned.

  38. CatPerson*

    “Hey lovely lady I miss you”??? That sounds like a come-on. If that came from a guy what would you think? Yuck, that’s what.

  39. DollarStoreParty*

    “How about dinner at your place” feels so ballsy to me – I would never dream of inviting myself over to anyone’s house – but perhaps it’s too easy for people to turn her down or just not show up if she invites them over? I have a feeling if LW says she’s cleaning out the basement or working on a project Carrie’s going to say she’ll keep her company while she does it.
    There aren’t a lot of good things about this pandemic, but being able to use it as an out is very convenient. I fear she’ll declare you’re in a pod together and move in. The husband excuse would work for the long run. Good luck letter writer, I feel super uncomfortable on your behalf.

  40. Des*

    I’m sorry, OP. Carrie WILL turn on you as soon as you tell her you have found another job, and she will not be a good reference for you. I mean, I could always be wrong — I hope I’m wrong! — but people like this are only nice to you while they need you and she will try to make it impossible for you to leave. You should not count on her as a reference.

    1. Grey Coder*

      Agree. Expect Carrie to turn on you — odds are that you will do something she perceives as disloyal, whether that’s find another job or just agree with the wrong person. You might give some thought to someone else you can use as a reference.

  41. MangoIsNotForYou*

    Dear LW,

    Your boss has a crush on you but she seriously doesn’t know how to process it. Research the Grey Rock Method and apply liberally.

    Sincerely,

    Painful Experience

  42. Not So NewReader*

    “So I’ve tried to make a point of ensuring I stay on her good side.

    I felt awkwardly indebted to her.

    she expected me to spring to her defense regardless of whether she was in the wrong or not. I have always avoided office gossip and office politics, but I felt dragged into all my boss’ drama-filled exchanges with staff, which usually ended with her crying in the HR office.

    I’d disingenuously offer sympathy because what else could I do?

    Obviously she is very lonely and part of me felt sorry for her

    . How could I reject her when she was being so thoughtful?

    I fear that if I set boundaries with her, she will turn on me. And I need to use her for a reference to find a new job, so I need to keep being nice to her.

    so I guess she will be coming over for dinner! ”

    All these quotes come from your letter, OP. I see a person here who sincerely believes that they have been robbed of their power. It started off small but now it has morphed into something huge.

    I think the most worrisome quotes here are about offering sympathy because what else could you do and how can you reject her when she is being nice. You don’t have to offer people sympathy if you don’t want to or if they do not deserve it. You don’t have to accept presents you do not want. PLEASE get some books on boundaries and read. This is a quality of life issue. You do not have to run ANY relationship this way if you do not want to. Define your boundaries and hold those boundaries in place.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You find it disingenuous to link to my work elsewhere after answering 30+ letters here a week that you can read for free? I don’t know what to tell you, that’s what writers do, and I’m planning to continue doing it. It’s a big wide internet though and I support you in finding a site that caters more exactly to your particular preferences.

      1. WoodswomanWrites*

        Alison, thank you for generously sharing so much of your time, effort, and wisdom completely for free on this site for many years. It’s greatly appreciated!

    2. Bob*

      She is getting paid to answer letters for an external vendor.
      She adds a link to it on her personal website so that we have a one stop source for all her posts.
      If she didn’t do this you might not know about this question and/or you would have to keep track of all the many websites she writes for. Talk about stupidly inefficient.

      It would be silly for her to expect you to track her across the web when she can simply add a link to her personal site.

    3. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      No Longer a happy subscriber, that’s the whole point — you’re not a subscriber. You don’t pay for Alison’s service. The sense of entitlement in your comment is quite astonishing.

  43. Name (Required)*

    Check her calendar for days she absolutely CANNOT come to your home. Professional meetings, that kind of thing. Something she 100% must attend/go to. Invite her to dinner on that day. Rinse. Repeat. She has to decline multiple time and you have to be unavailable on other dates. Then stop inviting her. When she next invites herself, look disappointed: “You invite yourself, but never come when I invite you. It hurts my feelings. I think we should take a break from these get-togethers. I need some time.”

  44. Helen J*

    I’m late to the thread but OMG. No, no, no, hell no. When I had surgery years ago some of the lovely folks I work with wanted to take turns dropping off food. I thanked them profusely but declined. I work with some great people, but I don’t want them in my house after surgery. They would want to just “peek in and say hi” when they come over and I was not in any shape to be peeked out. Also, my husband and teenaged children were perfectly capable of making food.
    One aggressive former manager (I had switched departments) kept saying she was coming anyway. She called to let us know she was “on the ways”. My husband was answering my phone and told her- “Enjoy our yard because that’s all you will see if you show up after you were told she is not up to seeing visitors”. She didn’t come.

    1. CatPerson*

      Yes, when my boss had surgery last year we offered to bring him groceries or anything he needed but once he said no, that was it. He had arrangements with friends and that was all we needed to know.

  45. Play a doctor on TV*

    Find something like The Secret or essential oils and start pressuring her back to come to those events and buy your stuff :p

    (mostly kidding)

  46. Liz T*

    It’s so weird that she always insists they eat at the other person’s house. Made me wonder for a second if she lives out of her car and pulls the “I drank too much to drive” card often. But this has been going on a long time for that!

Comments are closed.