my coworker is really aggressive about commuting home with me

A reader writes:

I have a complicated social question for you, which is ultimately about laying boundaries when a coworker shares your commute.

I recently started a new job and found out that a former coworker from my last job and I have been hired into the organization at the same rank.

We work alongside each other five days a week on a small team that is very public focused. So, after handling the daily workload of talking to people and finding solutions for them for hours, I’m usually pretty tapped out.

Furthermore, I am responsible for a lot of informal peer-to-peer teaching. A big part of her learning process is that she’s a verbal processor and does not let anything go. So if she doesn’t understand something, she will continue to talk about it for hours on end. Literal, actual hours.

The issue is, we have exactly the same commute because we live in the same neighborhood. Those conversations follow me home every time we work together. She rehashes the exact same conversations we had all day, highlighting how she feels “behind.” I really like her a lot and really enjoy talking to her but eight-hours-plus of intense exposure to her is making me dread my commute, which I usually love.

She will wait until I’m finished at work, ignoring my “go on ahead without me,” “you don’t have to wait for me,” “I have stuff to finish up,” “I have an appointment,” etc., sometimes waiting up to an hour for me, and walk with me to the bus/light rail/Uber. She has even switched her commute to match mine or tried to split an Uber if I say I’m headed in a different direction or trying something new.

I’ve tried telling her I want a quiet commute, and I’ve tried just outlasting her by waiting for her to leave, but she just waits longer and lingers. There have been times where she said she has left, killed time in the neighborhood, and then met me on the walk to the transportation hub, saying she hoped she would see me on the way.

I want to be able to enjoy my solo commute alone or at the very least not be on the hook to constantly engage with her every second of my day that we are in the same vicinity. At the end of the day, I’m fine with all of this during work hours, but when I’m off the clock I want my time to be mine and I feel I’m forced into this obligatory commute where I am still sort of “on the clock” because we constantly talk about work and I’m being obligated to give my opinion and teach her socially.

What are some phrases I can use or a strategy to have a solo commute? I do not want to hurt her feelings as she’s really truly very sensitive and insecure about her role, and I like her a lot but this is not sustainable and I need my time to be my own.

You’re going to have to be more direct!

You’ve tried all the reasonable methods of handling this except for outright directness, so it’s time to shift into that gear.

To be clear, most people would have responded to what you’ve been saying! “Go on ahead without me,” “I have an appointment,” etc. would be pretty unambiguous to most people! But for some reason, it’s not working with your coworker.

The fact that she tells you she’s leaving but then just kills time in the neighborhood and pops up to meet you when you finally leave is … well, she’s really, really committed to sharing a commute with you. Who knows why — maybe she’s lonely, maybe she really likes you, maybe she hates commuting on her own. The reason doesn’t really matter; you’re entitled to set boundaries on your time and it’s not at all strange or unreasonable to want to use your commute time to decompress and not talk about work (or talk about anything).

But because she’s been so persistent despite all you’ve tried, you’re going to have to come out and be more direct.

For example: “I’ve realized I need to commute on my own. I need the time alone to decompress from work and just be in my own head. But I’ll see you tomorrow!”

Or: “I actually prefer to commute by myself. I use it as downtime to disconnect from work and I can’t do it if I’m with a coworker. Let’s talk tomorrow!”

Say it warmly, but say it firmly.

If you do this and then she waits for you anyway: “Like I said, I need some alone time when I leave, so I want to ride the bus on my own.”

(Or if she follows you to the train, can you walk to a different car than the one she’s boarding and say, “I’m going to get in a different car, like I said. See you later!”)

This should be enough to get the point across. If it’s not, then you’re looking at a much weirder situation, and one where you’ll probably need a bigger-picture conversation along the lines of, “I’ve mentioned that I prefer to commute alone but you keep waiting for me — is there something else going on?”

Now, is it possible that this will hurt her feelings? Yes, it’s possible. But you can’t control that and — while no one likes to hurt someone else’s feelings — it’s also not the end of the world if that happens. You’re not saying anything unreasonable. You’re allowed to assert reasonable boundaries, and the possibility of someone else feeling momentarily stung by that isn’t a reason to let your boundaries collapse. Everyone feels momentarily stung by life now and then; trust that she will be able to handle it and that you’re not doing anything wrong.

In fact, if anything, I’d argue that it’s kinder to be firm about your boundaries so that she doesn’t go on unknowingly annoying the crap out of you, which will make you resent and dislike her in the long-term.

{ 498 comments… read them below }

  1. Heather*

    Over ear headphones are a pretty overt symbol that you will be listening to something other than her.

    1. Susan from HR*

      I’ve tried this before at work with a chatty coworker and it didn’t work. I think LW has done the passive approach to death. It’s time to just be direct.

      1. CmdrShepard*

        But OP has been direct already, they told the coworker OP wants a quite commute and the coworker didn’t listen. I think the headphones combined with actively ignoring the coworkers attempts to talk is the way to go. OP can say “I can’t hear you, I’m listening to xyz.” and then just ignore whatever the coworker says from that point on, and keep repeating this everyday until they finally leave OP alone.

        1. GothicBee*

          I disagree. Just saying you want a quiet commute isn’t direct because it doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t want to commute together. Being direct would be following Alison’s approach and straight up telling this person you don’t want to commute with them. There’s nothing wrong with directness here, and if this person is truly oblivious, then ignoring them is only going to upset them more than if the LW just outright said they didn’t want to commute together.

        2. quill*

          The problem is that OP doesn’t just want quiet, they want ALONE and only mentioned the quiet part.

          1. CmdrShepard*

            I think you are right, at this point I think OP does not even want the coworker near them at all during the commute. I took solo commute to mean OP wants to be able to do what they want (read a book, watch a show, podcast, news etc…) without having to think about the coworker. Normally you can have a solo commute if the coworker next to you does not talk to you at all, they become no different than another random person sitting next to you.

            OP should probably try and explain that they want to be alone during the commute, I just doubt it will work. At some point I think OP will need to give up on trying to get the coworker to understand, and just enforce their own boundaries. You can ask someone to stop talking to you, but you really can’t control that, the only thing you can control is if you respond to them and find ways to tune them out.

            1. Sara*

              I tend to agree with this. You can’t actually force someone not to get on public transit with you, because it is public — obviously you can decline to share an Uber, but you can’t say “don’t get on this public bus.” But saying “I really need my commute for me time and I am now going to listen to a podcast” + doing that sets clear, direct boundaries without unnecessarily policing where your colleague physically happens to be.

              1. GothicBee*

                I agree with what you’re saying, but I think Alison’s suggestions are more about preemptively heading off being on public transport at the same time. And if that doesn’t work, then at that point being firm in telling the coworker they don’t want to commute together and then either sitting separately (on the bus) or sitting in a different car (on the train). Which are all reasonable expectations and revolve around the LW moving away from the coworker rather than telling the coworker to go elsewhere.

              2. Artemesia*

                I assumed from the headline that the co-worker was cadging rides but this situation is much harder to deal with. It is ultimately easy to say no to giving rides, but hard to say ‘get away from me, leave me alone.’ I think Alison’s advice about being explicit and then reinforce it by heading to a different car of the train or choosing a double seat that someone else is already in is necessary.

                If you actually like this person, you can invite them for lunch or eat lunch with them occasionally during the work week.

        3. Observer*

          But OP has been direct already, they told the coworker OP wants a quite commute and the coworker didn’t listen. I think the headphones combined with actively ignoring the coworkers attempts to talk is the way to go.


      2. Four lights*

        Maybe having the direct conversation, and the the earphones will be a reminder. Even add an “I’m going to be wearing headphones to help me decompress so I won’t hear anything you say “

        1. myswtghst*

          This. It’s a good idea to have at least one direct conversation where OP makes it clear that it isn’t personal, it’s just how they have decided to spend their commute. Then, the headphones are a visual reminder of the boundary OP has now set. And whether OP can hear co-irker over the headphones or not, ignoring them 99% of the time when the headphones are on might help deter them. The headphones alone aren’t the boundary, but they can help reinforce it.

          1. mophie*

            I don’t disagree with doing this, but it *is* personal. The first part of the letter makes that pretty clear.

        2. stopmakingsense*

          I have actually done this where, living in a small city, it was common to bump into co-workers during my commute. I would always have headphones on and be looking at my phone and completely ignore them like I didn’t see them at all. All that would usually happen is someone would either say later “I saw you on the train but you didn’t notice me.” and I’d say “yeah, sorry, I read or listen to podcasts and get completely absorbed. It’s my favorite part of the day.”

        3. Marillenbaum*

          That’s a good idea! Something like “Martina, I value leaving work at work, so my commute is a time for me to disconnect from the office. I’m not up to chat, and I won’t share a car. I’ll see you tomorrow at the office.” and then put on those big headphones!

        4. BluntBunny*

          I’d be blunter than that as it seems she doesn’t care what the OP wants.
          “I have listened to people all day and I just want absolute silence” then put in headphones.
          “Please stop talking to me about work”
          “I have a headache and I’m afraid if I don’t have silence on my commute I might snap”
          “I’ve had people talking at me all day I just want to be alone with my own thoughts, thanks for understanding”.
          You could also move away from them when on public transport. Pretend to be on the phone. Read a book, think this helps as you are also not looking in their direction also I feel people are more likely to ask you to take your headphones out than ask you to stop reading.

          1. Chantel*

            >Pretend to be on the phone.

            My personal favorite, especially while walking by or away from needy co-worker. Works wonders!

      3. Nanani*

        LW definitely needs to be -more- direct. They might feel they’ve been pretty direct already, but the point isn’t to argue what does and doesn’t count as direct. It’s not working, be blunter!

        1. Anononon*

          Yeah, I’m always confused when comments devolve into a debate over whether or not OP has been direct enough. Like you said, clearly it hasn’t worked!

          1. PollyQ*

            “It hasn’t worked” doesn’t necessarily OP hasn’t been direct enough. Co-worker may actually understand what OP’s saying, but not care what OP wants, or at least, weigh her wants far above OP’s. I do think there’s room in this case for OP to be blunter, but she may want to consider what her next step will be if co-worker refuses to accept OP’s choice.

            1. Michelle Smith*

              Okay, true. She can think it through, but hopefully just being more direct will solve the issue. We don’t know if coworker is neuroatypical or for whatever reason doesn’t pick up on social cues or understand what OP has been trying to say indirectly. Alison’s suggestion is a very good one. If coworker refuses to accept OP’s choice, then OP can escalate the issue to a supervisor they same they would if anyone else from work was harassing them outside of the office.

          2. Letter Writer*

            Thanks! I feel I’ve been pretty direct. Also the headphones thing doesn’t work and I don’t want to be without the ability to hear on my public transit as it does get a little rowdy sometimes and I need audio to better navigate while commuting.

            1. AcademiaNut*

              You’ve been direct enough that 98% of people would have grasped that you like to be quiet on your commute home and would stop talking at you or following you home. But your coworker is one of the remaining 2%. Nothing short of “I need to be quiet and by myself on my commute can’t talk.” possibly followed by ignoring the coworker completely and changing seats to avoid them to drive home that you really don’t want to talk, not even to them, not even about important work stuff, not just for a moment, and it doesn’t matter what they want. And it will probably take a few iterations to get them to grasp that you mean all the time, not just that particular day.

              Can you do this without hurting their feelings? Possibly not. But you’ve given them amply opportunity to resolve this the easy way and they’ve refused them. So you have to do it the blunt way. And better to do it in a controlled manner than simmering quietly until you blow up at them one day and scream at them to “leave you the $#@$ alone!”in a public place.

            2. HappiestHuskyDog*

              You can put headphones on that aren’t playing anything! So you can still hear your surroundings but you’ll look unapproachable.

              1. BeenThere*

                The OP just said that they don’t want headphones on so this isn’t a solution. You might not be aware even if they aren’t playing anything most headphones that a good for the purpose of listening on public transport will block surrounding noise passively. If you are hard of hearing this essentially puts you in two modes. Mode one: headphones on, I have no idea what’s really happening outside. Mode two: headphones off, I have a better chance at noticing something has changed in my surrounding. Also someone talking at me the entire commute will likely mean I miss important announcements.

                Signed your friendly neighborhood deaf person who needs to maximize auditory input to know what is going on.

            3. armchairexpert*

              You’ve definitely been direct already. But here’s something I’ve learned over time. People who don’t/won’t/can’t absorb messages that other people hear as direct? They’re used to people getting more blunt, and less likely to be offended by it. I have friends like this. They’d come over for dinner and just stay. And stay.

              I have tried ‘well, I must be off to bed soon’ and ‘it was lovely seeing you’ and even, in desperation, vaccuuming under their feet while they stayed sitting at the table. I was being so incredibly rude, and yet! And then I said “I need you to go home now” and they went, oh, okay, lovely seeing you, thanks for dinner. Not offended at all! Which is when I realised: to them, that’s the signal they were waiting for, and it didn’t strike them as rude, and it certainly didn’t strike them as unusual.

              Because when you’re that obtuse (I don’t mean that as a value judgement! They’re lovely people!), this is not the first time someone has got very, very blunt with you. To them, it was pretty normal.

            4. Momma Bear*

              Flat out tell her that you do not want to commute with anybody and you do not want her following you on your commute. Unfortunately I think you need to be exact.

        2. Llama Llama*

          I find it fascinating what some people consider direct. I feel like sometimes I am conducting an informal sociological study. I believe that different parts of the country and different socialized groups consider direct to be very different things just like they consider different things rude.

          In my opinion as a very direct communicator OP has not been direct. The closest they’ve come is saying they “want a quiet commute.” A quiet commute does not preclude commuting together, and the co-worker may not realize that they are not quiet (so many people do not know that they are annoying you, especially if you are one of those people who smiles along but is dying inside of annoyance).

          Allison’s advice is good – it’s much more direct and to the point and if it gets ignored there is no ambiguity – the coworker is blatantly ignoring OP’s wishes, not misunderstanding.

          1. Yorick*

            If she told the coworker one time that she wanted a quiet commute, coworker might have just thought she was talking too loud/too much that one time.

      4. SaffyTaffy*

        I had someone once literally say, about my earphones, “it’s like you’re trying to ignore me! Ha ha!”
        Yes, Bleminda, I am trying to ignore you. You monster.

        1. KGD*

          My 95-year-old grandmother is incredibly determined to chat with people she meets in public. She once took a 5 hour flight sitting next to a young man in headphones and told us all about how strange it was when we picked her up: “Every time I had something to say, I had to tap him on the shoulder! Why on earth would someone wear headphones in the middle of a conversation?” Poor man haha.

          1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

            Some people are really nervous about flying, and they get chatty to keep from screaming. But others are just … chatty. I was on an all-day bus trip once and one of the passengers never shut up. She had one of those hoarse (gee, I wonder why) voices that really carries, so there wasn’t anywhere to sit to escape her. When she finally got up to use the bathroom, there was an involuntary round of applause for the break. Alas, a quick pee and she was back, subjecting her seatmate and all of us to her Foghorn Leghorn opinions on everything.

    2. Venus*

      I was going to suggest the same thing. A few years ago I had a coworker who shared the same commute, and we both listened to podcasts. If one of us didn’t feel like talking then we would do a polite wave and keep the headphones on.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        What seems to be different is that your coworker could take a hint! The OP’s coworker sounds a) incredibly dense, b) caught up in themselves and not really caring how it affects the OP, or c) bound and determined to be attached at the hip to the OP. No wonder they need to escape!

        1. Michelle Smith*

          You don’t know that though. The person may just be neuroatypical and need a more direct style of communication to understand that their behavior is unwanted. Not everyone’s brain is wired the same way and not everyone can just “take a hint.” OP wants to be compassionate and I think she’s right to want to do so.

          1. Operationola*

            Even with behavior like saying you’re leaving, then waiting around, and “running into them” on the way? That seems beyond just a matter of social cues, and into some lying and deception.

          2. Anoni*

            The coworker may be, but we don’t know and either way, it doesn’t excuse the coworker or change the advice for the OP.

          3. Freya*

            My neuroatypical self would firmly be on letter writer’s side. I’ve been in this position, and I can’t even use a call to my mother to say “go away ” because my mum is also neuroatypical and we use text-based communication because that’s comfy, and people who like to talk out loud think ignoring someone in front of you to talk silently is rude AF.

            (Dad, though, I could call neuroatypical Dad and not even have to say what I need, because he’ll just infodump at me in delight until I get tired of pretending to listen and say I’ve got to go (whereupon he shoos me off of the phone and hangs up and is happy and it’s adorable))

      2. SimonTheGreyWarden*

        For about 3 years I taught a community college class at an outreach center in a town about a half an hour away from where I live and where main campus is. One of those years, my long-term partner’s boyfriend was also teaching out there, a different subject. Three days a week we met at the main campus parking lot in the dark early morning, and we took turns ridesharing out. Of alllllll of that time, we had maybe a dozen “conversations” and maybe one or two (about Marvel movies that had just come out/were coming out) lasted the whole ride. Basically, whoever wasn’t driving napped or dicked around on their phone because we weren’t morning people and didn’t want a talkative drive. And this was someone I knew well, gamed with, hung out with at work, considered a pretty decent friend!! However, it was so nice to not have to be “on” for that whole commute.

    3. Polecat*

      Yeah, for people who can take a hint. This woman does not seem to fall into the category of people who can take a hint. As Allison said, the strategy here is to be more direct, not less direct.

    4. twocents*

      She’s given a lot of overt signals that she doesn’t want to commute together. Headphones might help LW tune her out but this coworker has already escalated things to a creepy level.

    5. Karo*

      Or ostentatiously popping in in-ear headphones and ignoring absolutely everything she says even if you can hear her (when combined with Alison’s advice, and assuming OP feels comfortable walking with headphones in).

    6. Can't Sit Still*

      Such a person will pull them right off of your head to keep talking, just like they’ll pull a book away from you when you’re reading. They’re actually 3 cats in a trench coat.

      1. TvrH*

        I have a neighbour like this who loves to entrap me when I’m gardening, with big headphones on. She did try to pull them off and huffed away when I smacked her hand. People are weird. I love the 3 cats in a trench coat image!

      2. Anonymous Today*

        Nah, dogs. As long as there’s more than 1 cat, they can keep each other entertained.

      3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Somebody that rude deserves to be told “get out of my hair!”. Less polite/More “colourful” language would be OK too.

    7. Observer*

      Over ear headphones are a pretty overt symbol that you will be listening to something other than her.

      I don’t think that the issue at this point is signalling.

      I DO think that the OP should invest in a good pair of headphones though, because CW is refusing to let go. Obviously they should try Alison’s scripts first, but if CW still tries to commute with the OP, they are going to need to find a way to just not engage. The best way, it seems to me, is to be wearing headphones or earbuds and literally just not listen. Even if all that the OP has playing is white noise.

      1. Amaranth*

        I agree, with OP’s concerns about hurt feelings it sounds like they are couching their needs as ‘oh, don’t worry about waiting.’ OP needs to stop worrying so much about hurt feelings — coworker obviously isn’t worrying about OP’s! OP might try earbuds but it might take stating in front of others when coworker tries to join them again on the public transit ‘look, like I’ve explained, I want quiet during my ride home, and definitely not to talk about work, so I’m sitting somewhere else.’ Putting coworker on the spot might make it click.

        1. Yorick*

          This is definitely possible. “You don’t need to wait for me” doesn’t convey that you don’t want to go with them.

          1. Momma Bear*

            It should be more like “I do not want you to wait for me. I want to commute by myself.”

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              Please don’t wait for me. I need some alone time before I get home.

      2. No Name Today*

        There was a point in my career where they were automating a significant part. We were all concerned for our jobs. I would walk at lunch with coworker A. Our noon walk was therapy. Not in the clear your head way, in the “when they bring this un, we are not going to get fired, etc.
        I walked. Few times one week. Our other coworker took alternate days.
        The next week, alternate coworker asked how I was dealing with the walks because they stressed her the eff out. I explained that I, the world’s most conflict avoidant person told her “I can’t do this. I can’t listen to this everyday. It isn’t help you and it isn’t helping me. We can walk, but I can’t talk about this.”
        She gave me “this is how I process.”
        I said, (shocking myself) “but you are not. You have said the exact same thing in the exact sane order with the exact same words for two weeks. You are not processing you are stagnating. Honestly, my listening isn’t probably hindering your actual processing of the situation. My listening is letting you fester in it.”

        (Nope. Not things I wish I’d said. Things I practiced on my drive to work for three days till I could get through it. Coworker, we have the SAME job. Why do you expect other coworker and me to put your concerns ahead of our own?)

        1. Llama Llama*

          Hey good for you – being direct is so hard for some people but sometimes things just need to be said out loud! There are a lot of passive aggressive suggestions in this comment thread but in my experience passive aggression almost never makes the problem better.

        2. Letter Writer*

          This is really good phrasing, of directly addressing that they are not processing they’re sort of fermenting, shutting down the rehashing because it’s not productive. I will keep this phrase in my pocket, thank you!

          1. No Name Today*

            Happy to help. It has to the bonus of indicating that you ARE listening. I am hearing you…are YOU hearing you?

    8. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

      In the Before Times of still being in the office I had noise canceling headphones. One coworker would pop by my desk repeatedly. Headphones and barely looking up from my computer once was not enough to discourage her. I had to repeatedly use the phrase ” I can’t talk now”.

    9. The Other Victoria*

      I would pair this more directly. Get headphones and tell her explicitly “I’m going to listen to this album/musician/video/audiobook on the ride home.” That way you’re not relying on her taking the hint, but you also have something external that she won’t deliberately avoid reading between the lines on.

    10. new kid*

      I would like to agree except I wear huge over ear headphones when I fly and I have had several seat partners (always dudes fwiw) snap their fingers in front of my face, pull one of the ear pieces off, etc to get my attention to talk to me. People who are this intent on interacting with you cannot be deterred so easily apparently.

      1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

        Back in the good old days of air travel with full meals served on real plates with real flatware, those forks came in so handy.

      2. Them Boots*

        Same here! My response is the *unblinking* cat stare mixed with a touch of “why are you in my presence?” And of course no comment/interaction on the pauses. So far, it’s worked every time. The mutters of “such a b!!! She acts like she’s too good for me!” are music to my head-phoned ears

      3. Max*

        So called “pick up artists” have actively gone out and adviced men to do this in order to get a woman’s attention. It’s galling.

    11. Betteauroan*

      LW, you could also discover the joy of podcasts. Put on your headphones and listen to any topic under the sun.

    12. Good Vibes Steve*

      This person seems committed to not taking hints, she won’t take that one either.

  2. Olive*

    Curious if you would occasionally be okay sharing a commute, if you set the boundary of no work talk? Or is it just her intense presence in general?

    1. CmdrShepard*

      I don’t know about OP, but I think the coworker has burned the sharing a commute bridge now. If it were me even if I initially would have been okay with sharing/talking during the commute once or twice a week, due to the coworkers leaping over boundaries the coworker would be persona non grata now. I honestly don’t think this coworker would observe that boundary.

      1. Threeve*

        It would also lead to her asking/badgering all the time. “LW is in a meeting until the end of the day, but I’ll stay late, just to see if she feels like commuting together [and make her feel guilty if she doesn’t].”

        1. Sparkles McFadden*

          Yes, it will make the situation even worse because the coworker will never understand “sometimes it’s OK, sometimes it’s not.”

          1. 10Isee*

            A very explicit plan might work. Something like “We can commute home together each Friday, but I need the other evenings to myself.”

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        I recall this from a recent discussion of boundary holding: if someone is poor at respecting boundaries, then it becomes exhausting to engage with them and continually re-enforce the boundary. Seeing a whole lot less of them is just emotionally easier. Which is sad, if you would ideally engage with them in a limited, way-less-than-all-consuming, way.

        1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

          This so much!

          Not a work setting, but I had a friend that I thought of as the mouse in “If you give a mouse a cookie”. Every single time we made plans, she wanted like 6 other things… Instead of just lunch, it became, we’ll have lunch, then come to my house, and can she invite her other 3 friends I’ve never met over (TO MY HOUSE), and stay for 7 hrs, and then lets get drinks.

          It was exhausting and I ended up just not making plans with her anymore because it was exhausting to turn down all the additional things she wanted to do.

        2. Letter Writer*

          Hi there, this is exactly what is going to happen I fear.

          As an example I have been very explicit with a boundary of not talking to me or rehashing an issue while I was trying to complete it. She did not understand the new process and we had conservatively been talking about it for close to 6 hours the day before (both my manager and me to her) and she wanted to rehash the conversation and explain why she was right.

          I finally lost it and I snapped at her because this conversation was keeping us late again and said “I will simply burn to death in front of you, I will actually die if you continue to talk at me about X because you think it should work like Y. I will lose my life in front of you. I will actually fucking die in front of your eyes if we talk about X for one more minute. Additionally you’re refusing any clarifying feedback by interrupting me and this conversation is going nowhere because I cannot provide an answer that is acceptable for you. I am exhausted. Please connect with our manager about this, but please let me complete this without interruption.” She THEN continued to talk to me again about it seconds later and I began just saying out loud exactly what I was doing so I would be able to shut down her nattering to compete the procedure, and she would say “oh okay let me be quiet.” But she would start talking AGAIN when I stopped. Just this interaction of me having to restate my boundary so many times was exhausting already on top of the verbal rehashing that had occurred the previous day. Then! On the walk and commute home! She tried to talk about it more! She was taciturn and apologizing the entire time and if felt just like she was trying to guilt me. So I ignored her and walked fast and talked about my dog and didn’t engage in work talk at all.

          For this specific work training my boss stepped in during work hours, and was really supportive of me. So the issue essentially was run up the flagpole, because honestly I already went above and beyond with my job description. We haven’t had another issue like this yet, but it’s absolutely going to come up with another situation because we all have subjects we don’t learn right away!

          Some additional context, we are both queer women and she’s about 10 years older than me. I brought this situation up to an older gay friend of mine and he thinks that she might have a crush which had not occurred to me before. For this reason, I would like a firmer boundary and distance because I’m 1) not interested in her like that and already resent her a little honestly 2) I do not date in the workplace. I’ve already seen some evidence of this too, with her texting me about personal stuff like every day or after work *even if we have already spent all day working with one another*.

          So here’s the plan; I’m going to set an appointment after work where it will break our commute cycle, and then bring up how much I enjoyed commuting solo as a decompression technique and use Alison’s script and then switch cars. If I switch cars without saying why she will follow me, so this will address the issue and create a firm boundary.

          1. c-*

            Another queer lady here, and I agree with your friend. Please use the words “I don’t want to commute together again. I will be commuting alone from now on. You’ll need to make your own way home without me” without qualifying or apologising. No “I think”, no “for a while”, no “I may”, no “sorry, but”: blunt force. It may feel mean to you, but judging by your comments, serious bluntness is needed.
            Also block her number, unless she absolutely needs to be able to reach you on your phone for work. If she does, only reply to texts about work during working hours and absolutely ignore the rest. She sees contact from you as a reward for her efforts, so stop rewarding the behaviour if you want it to stop.

            If it helps you reframe, treat her as you would a creepy dude who won’t take no for an answer. Firmly polite, then coldly polite if she escalates, then coldly distant if that doesn’t work. Good luck!

          2. Ellie*

            This additional context puts it in a much more serious light – you have a stalker situation brewing. Your regular appointment plan is a good one, but don’t tell her what it is, or she might try to join in too, or make her own plans and then meet up later. You’re going to have to tell her directly that you need your commute to yourself (its your time to unwind, you like to read – whatever you can think of) and then stick to it… if you see her, wave and then keep walking. Get into another carriage, tell her you’ll get the next Uber, and if she manages to follow you anyway, take out a book/open up your organizer/phone someone for a chat, etc., and ignore her completely.

            I know you said you liked her, but her circular conversations on top of making you late is incredibly rude, and I don’t see how you’re going to be able to preserve the relationship, even if you want to. She just sounds too irritating. That’s not your fault.

          3. Momma Bear*

            Sounds like she’s perseverating.

            And if she’s going on and on and on, walk away. “This is no longer a productive discussion. I have other work to do. You need to talk to your boss.”

            I do think you need to break the cycle and hard. Never commute with her, because she can’t understand boundaries. Ignore any personal non-work related texts.

          4. Aggretsuko*

            Oh my god, this woman isn’t going to listen to you unless you set off a nuclear bomb. Hell, you DID set one off and literally it did not stop her at all!!!!!!!!!!!!! She just IGNORED “I will die if you keep talking about this?!?” She’s even worse than people I deal with.

          5. Olive*

            Oh, WOW, that is…exhausting and alarming. I can’t believe your boss would not shut down HOURS of talk like that.
            Honestly I think you’re putting way too much on yourself by focusing on how to set boundaries/ make her stop- when it sounds like she has some possible mental issues/ fixations going on that you cannot fix..

          6. allathian*

            Oh my goodness. Honestly, she sounds like a stalker. It sounds like you need to go completely brick wall on your coworker. It sounds like she’s creating a hostile work environment (in the colloquial if not the legal sense) for you, and I totally understand that you don’t want that to extend to your commute.

            Are you out as queer at work? Whether or not her interest in you is sexual, it’s still too intense for a professional relationship and you have the right to keep her at arm’s length. Stop responding to her texts off the clock.

            Sounds like you have a supportive manager. Is your manager also your coworker’s manager? If that’s the case, you’ve already done what you can to get her to stop and maybe it’s time that the manager did something about it.

            Certainly if this becomes an issue of harassment and stalking, it’s in your employer’s best interests to get it to stop and they may be legally obligated to take action to get it to stop. Especially as it sounds like your coworker isn’t particularly competent at her job and it wouldn’t be a big loss to the company if they let her go.

            I know you don’t want to hurt her feelings, but hurting her feelings may be the only way to get her to stop. You don’t want it to get so bad that one day you’ll just say “I hate you and I wish you were dead,” even if that’s the way you feel… I know you said you like her, and maybe you did at first, but now it sounds like it’s a BEC situation and anything she does just annoys you. When was the last time you had a pleasant interaction with her that didn’t end with you feeling annoyed with her?

            1. Charlief*

              Please be careful- I had an older women stalker who I had to seriously shut down. She moved into my friend, who I supported and shut her down again (my friend did but I was there).

              The person she moved onto next she stalked for over 6 months and stabbed and went to prison for it.

              While most danger to women overwhelmingly comes from men, some women pose a real risk to. Please take it seriously. This person has shown that she pushes boundaries, has a delusional idea of how close she is to you and doesn’t take no well. In a man this would be a lot of red flags for abusers.

              Finally- a lot of abusers seem pathetic and sad and genuinely need help. It’s just sad that there is no way to safely give it.

          7. Dona Florinda*

            Oh no, this is stalking behavior. Honestly, the waiting around for you (without you asking!) and joining you in the Uber (!!!) were red flags enough, but could be interpreted as poor social skills. But you rightfully snapped at her and she went on? If she were a man, you’d probably think of this as harassment.
            She’s disregarding your feelings and boundaries that you made by saying YOU WOULD DIE. This is not a clueless person, this is someone who is choosing to disrepect you and making you feel guilty about it.
            Is there anyone who can give you a ride after work, or maybe a friend to pick you up so you can go somewhere else without her following around? I have a feeling that if someone else shuts her down, she might not be so persistent. Then you can see how she reacts and decide if it’s time to look at this at a more seriously light.
            But regardless of her intent, you don’t have to be considerate of her feelings, because she’s not being considerate of yours.

          8. Creeped Out*

            OP, I’m so sorry to hear that. It’s a really awkward situation.

            I had an extremely creepy male coworker years ago, who apparently some sort of crush on me and who liked to “share” my commute, and the only way I was able to get rid of him was to make plans with family or friends after work…and have them come and meet me at the office. They would then make it perfectly clear that no one else was going to be invited to tag along. It took a couple of weeks, but it did sink in.

            It’s good that your boss is already in the loop, and is being supportive. My own (male) boss was extremely unsupportive during the stuff above, which only made things one thousand times worse.

          9. BlueberryFields*

            Fellow queer lady here and your update confirmed what I was already thinking (without knowing how you identified)…of course this is just speculation, but from personal experience, I do think it’s possible that there is a crush or infatuation going on. It seems like there are a lot of Big Emotions coming from your coworker. Not that it matters at the end of the day. This woman is driving you bonkers and that’s not fair.

          10. McdC*

            Reading this thread I noticed 1 thing no one else has said. Put it in writing. Send a text or an email. If she cant “hear” you tell her no, maybe she can read the words. Also if she continues to stalk you – you have proof you asked her to stop.

      3. earl grey*


        There’s a point with boundary setting when someone is just Not Getting It where it’s actually kinder to make the boundary really, really firm, with no softening or wiggle room, and it sounds like OP has more than reached that point with coworker. I’ve been on both sides of this sort of thing and as much as it stung when someone went full brick wall, it always ended up being less drama than when they tried to set a bunch of subtle changeable boundaries instead.

      4. Beth*

        Yes, I would definitely be feeling this way in OP’s shoes. I’m happy to commute with people in general, but this sounds like such an intense and bad experience so far that I wouldn’t want to continue to commute with THIS person even if she promised to change. It’s really stressful to be sitting around prepared for a boundary violation so you can reassert it quickly if it happens.

        1. They Don’t Make Sunday*

          “It’s really stressful to be sitting around prepared for a boundary violation so you can reassert it quickly if it happens.”

          Thank you for this! It helps me articulate why I avoid a family member who to a passing observer would seem very warm and friendly.

    2. Heidi*

      It sounds to me like the OP has given up on the possibility that this coworker would be able to commute together without the work talk. Hence, the need to stop commuting together.

      I feel you, OP. If this happened to me, I’d consider moving to a part of city that requires a completely different commute instead of having this conversation. But since we’re wearing grown-up hats, OP might consider explaining to the coworker how much the talking stresses her out and ask her to stop as a personal favor. If the OP has been politely listening the whole time, the talkative coworker might be assuming they’re fine with her going on and on.

      1. BlueberryFields*

        I agree, but it’s so unfair to the LW to have to move to accommodate this person. Next thing you know, coworker is moving, too. But then again my read on this situation is very much “she’s stalking you.”

        1. Heidi*

          I also had a brief moment when I wondered if it was entirely a coincidence that this coworker happened to get a job at the place where OP works. But I think that’s reading way too much between the lines. More likely the coworker is really insecure and has attached herself to the one familiar face in an unfamiliar environment.

        2. singlemaltgirl*

          it sounds very much like stalking behaviour. ‘hanging out in the neighbourhood till you showed up?’ that goes beyond social norms. often, we’re too polite and try to brush stuff like this off. women can develop unhealthy obsessions, too and this sounds like one.

          i’d take alison’s very direct approach. but if it doesn’t show immediate results, i would start making people aware of what’s going on from a safety and security standpoint. and i would begin the process of documenting all these incidents.

          1. None*

            I’m surprised to get so far down into the comments before anyone noted that this is stalking behavior and could be a serious risk. I think a direct conversation is a good step, but so is a conversation with a supervisor and/or HR.

            1. LisTF*

              That, and the last minute changing mode of transportation too is really creepy. “Oh actually I’m not taking the train I’m getting an Uber because I’m going in the other direction today” should not be met by any sane person with “oh cool I’ll ride with you and let’s split it then” like whut?!

            2. Momma Bear*

              You know, that’s a valid consideration. This person has deliberately waited for OP for an hour. That’s not appropriate after OP has said not to.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      Not OP, but my commute is sacred, and I need that time to decompress from work before I walk into dinner cleanup, homework, and kids’ activities. The hour each way I spend commuting is essentially my only “alone” time until I fall asleep, and I just want to listen to my podcast/music and not deal with people at all on the train. (My MIL once remarked that she didn’t understand why people on the Metro didn’t talk to each other, and I was horrified by the thought. I’ve no problem helping a lost tourist read the map or get somewhere, but I do not want to make small talk with strangers on the Metro. That’s my time.) I do see coworkers on the train often, but all are the lovely sorts who will smile, nod, and then settle into their own book/audio/video.

      1. No Name Today*

        Your MIL is in for a ride awakening about office life. My group of 4 of us live in adjoining towns along the 30 mile commute.
        “Anybody want to carpool?”
        “Nothing personal, but…(select one of the following) no, heck no, hell to the no and ha, yeah, lemme jump right on that.”

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          She’s from a small town where running into people at the grocery store usually results in a 10 minute chat every other aisle. She’s also home a lot during the day since she retired and then my FIL sold the family business where she was working part-time, and even when she worked, it was at a government office that had light traffic at best most days. I don’t think she can relate to being wall-to-wall people all the time and being around people without at least making pleasantries.

          1. quill*

            Ugh my mom is overly social and taught, so… every time I go anywhere with her it takes forever because she’s 1) starved for adult conversation at work 2) Knows about everybody in town’s everything (If they have any kids) 3) is midwestern so you can’t just IGNORE someone if you bump into them outside, who knows when they’ll be trapped in their house from the snow / the heat / the cicadas again!

            1. BeenThere*

              My mum too! Small town in Australia, she wasn’t a teacher she would socialize where ever she could. Grocery shopping was a small nightmare, all my friends would run in other direction when they saw her so they wouldn’t be late for anything. My teen years were difficult… I’ve had a breakthrough, I understand why as an adult I dislike grocery shopping.

          2. Galadriel's Garden*

            Ha, my MIL is the same! We recently had a conversation about why it is Not A Thing to make eye contact and smile at complete strangers on the sidewalk in big cities. I work in the Chicago Loop in normal times and I’m like, we have places to be! Like now! Also if we don’t know you, it’s weird! People are going to assume you’re trying to fleece them for something if you go around smiling and making direct eye contact with everyone, lol.

      2. Marillenbaum*

        For me, the thing about the Metro really depends. There are some people (men hitting on you) who cannot and should not be given an inch; there are also people who might reasonably be in need of assistance (out-of-towners asking for directions). In between, you might occasionally have a brief, pleasant chat with someone if both parties are open to it–usually, for me, this is other women of roughly my age. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t, but on those occasions, it can be nice. It’s not a requirement, but it’s a little improvement to the experience.

      3. allathian*

        Yes, this. Now that my son’s 12 I love being able to WFH with no commute because he’s a fairly easygoing kid and I love spending time with him when I’m on my breaks, and of course, for most of the year he’s at school during the day. But I would’ve hated it if circumstances had forced me to WFH when he was younger. Even if he’d been in daycare while I was at work, I really needed that 45-minute commute to reset my brain from mommy mode to work mode and back again. I would have hated to be distracted by a chatty coworker on what was essentially the only me-time I was guaranteed to get during the week.

    4. Aerin*

      If they did want to give this a try, they’d have to be really firm and explicit about it. Like leading off by saying, “I’ve realized that talking about work when I’m not at the office is really bad for my mental health, so I’m putting a hard limit on it. So if you want to bring up work once we’ve walked out the door, I’m going to ask you to change the subject. I really appreciate you helping me with this.” Then when she inevitably brings up work, you can just say “Work-free zone, remember? Let’s talk about something else.” Or “I really can’t talk about this, I’m gonna put on headphones now” if she persists.

      Of course, typing that all out it still sounds exhausting. But if OP wants to give her one last chance before declaring that they can’t commute together at all, that might be the way to go. Who knows, though, maybe the “this is something I need and you’re really helping” angle might get through where establishing a boundary isn’t.

  3. row row row your boat*

    I feel like when AAM breaks out the “is something else going on here” verbage, you can almost guarantee that there is a missing piece of critical information. And something is very much going on here!

    1. PT*

      The fact that she is hanging around for hours in the neighborhood, and ignoring clear directives of “Don’t wait for me/I have an appointment” indicates there is in fact something else going on. This is not someone not taking a subtle hint, this is a stalker.

      1. Venus*

        Not necessarily! A stalker seems like a big leap. I’m thinking much more likely that she’s lonely and has no social skills so can’t easily expand her social circle.

        1. BlueberryFields*

          I agree with PT. Even if she isn’t stalking with intent to harm, etc. she’s still engaging in behavior that can be defined as stalking. She may not mean to be doing it and if someone was like, “yeah you’re stalking Letter Writer” she may be horrified by the idea, but her behavior is not normal.

          She may very well need to work on expanding her social circle, but from the Letter Writer’s point of view I think it’s concerning, albeit probably not life threatening, behavior.

          I do think that being colleagues previously probably plays a part in her attaching to Letter Writer, but it’s still not a good enough reason to lurk about and follow LW home after work!

          1. myswtghst*

            Completely agreed – she might not fit the typical stalker mold, but that doesn’t make the behavior okay. Just because her intentions may be relatively innocent (poor social skills, desire for friendship) doesn’t mean OP is required to tolerate behaviors having a negative impact on her life.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            Stalking wasn’t the first thing that occurred to me, especially since the attachment hasn’t seemed to extend outside work hours or the commute. It seems more like clinging. But that doesn’t make it okay or any less overwhelming.

            1. Venus*

              Yes, clingy is a great word.

              In my mind a stalker has an interest in a specific person and could become aggressive if pushed away.

              Someone clingy is almost the opposite, where I suspect she would be mostly oblivious if OP was suddenly replaced by an inanimate object that nodded regularly. She wants to rehash her day, and OP is convenient, unfortunately. I want to suggest the distinction because I would want to completely avoid a stalker, whereas I have had coworkers who like to talk and complain a lot, and we have given them time limits.

              If this were someone I had known for a while then I would feel comfortable saying “I think you are a great colleague, but I need to do my own thinking on the way home. I suggest we spend 5 minutes talking, I can have a timer on my phone, and then I will need to move to another seat.” It’s an awkward offer in most contexts, but it has worked several times in my workplace. It was already in place with one team and has been used elsewhere too.

              1. Blarg*

                This is actually an excellent way to explain the distinction. Specific person vs literally anyone just unfortunately happens to be OP that she has repeated access to.

        2. Myrin*

          I mean, I don’t think it’s a big leap, but I also agree with your more likely scenarios.
          Not least of all because I’ve known literal dozens of people who behaved like this when I was still in school. Yes, several dozens. And I doubt all of these kids/teenagers were stalkers, although some had tendencies towards it for sure!

          1. mcl*

            Yeah, I agree with you, Myrin. I am a naturally friendly and Midwest Polite person. Where I grew up and now live, there’s a huge tendency to hint rather than being direct. What has happened several times in my life is that a somewhat socially awkward person has mistaken my friendliness and politeness as “let’s hang out all the time, I am lonely and we are now best friends!” I have had to train myself to be more direct about boundaries, which feels really awkward. This doesn’t read stalker to me (though I guess it could be, I just am not getting that vibe from the letter), it does sound like a socially awkward and lonely person who really wants a friend/someone to process to.

            1. GothicBee*

              And just to add on, usually people who don’t/can’t take hints are used to the fact that people have to be very blunt with them. So while it can feel rude to outright tell someone that you don’t want to commute with them, if they behave like this normally, they’re probably familiar with that type of response. Which isn’t to say it won’t hurt their feelings, but it probably won’t be nearly as bad as you might imagine, and they might even appreciate it because they might be picking up that something’s off, but they might not understand what the problem is.

              1. Aquawoman*

                So much this. As Alison said, it’s actually much much kinder to be direct with people like this than it is to simmer in resentment and let them reach BEC status.

              2. Them Boots*

                THIS! I am one of those that keeps rolling once I start & wanna hang, etc. While it stung the first few times as an adult to be ‘boundaried,’ I came to appreciate those people as their clear ‘enough now’/‘here’s when is good again’ meant that we stayed friends AND I could make other plans for myself vs the ones who hinted gently, didn’t get the message across (not their fault! I can be oblivious!) and then just ghosted me, thus completely losing the relationship. Bummer. Ah well, I’m learning to puck friends who tend to either be direct or who will take me at my word that it’s ok to interrupt/be blunt to me!!!

              3. ceiswyn*

                Unfortunately people who are just not willing to take hints, and abusing other people’s tolerance and politeness, can get very unpleasant when their plausible deniability is taken away. So bluntness isn’t always as ‘safe’ am option as assumed.

                Though in this case, bad on the LW’s other comments, she’s been pretty DARNED blunt at times and still been completely ignored!

          2. earl grey*

            I was definitely one of these people in high school and college. (I’m a queer nonbinary person, FTR, and it was usually more about wanting friendship than romance.) It was a combo of terrible social skills, a bad home life, and mental health issues I was getting treatment for but hadn’t yet resolved, and even though it never crossed into full-blown stalking, I’m mortified and horrified by my behavior today. Later on I did end up being stalked by someone who behaved similarly to my younger self. (What goes around, I guess.) Setting VERY firm boundaries is the way to handle it. If the coworker escalates then the OP should get help right away, but I’m hopeful that a firm boundary will help the coworker pull back from the brink. Either way I hope the OP enjoys a quiet, solo, guilt-trip-free commute from here on out!

            1. Heffalump*

              A while back I asked a favor of a friend. It was definitely a medium-size ask, and I didn’t assume that he’d necessarily say yes. He said, “Let me think about it.” I took this to mean that he’d rather not do it, and I left it at that.

              1. Heffalump*

                Posted b4 I was done writing!

                4o-odd years ago the message would have totally gone past me. After a week or two I would have touched base and said, “So, what’s the 411–can you do me this favor?”

        3. rachel in nyc*

          I was wondering if coworker has some concerns about commuting home alone. I think it’s the politest way to interpret what is otherwise stalker-like behavior.

          1. TheMonkey*

            That’s where my mind went, too. Something about commuting alone is aversive to this coworker. Alison’s ‘is something else going on’ question could help figure out what it is.

            1. Greige*

              I thought so, to, but then, why all the obsessive-sounding conversation? She doesn’t seem to be just reaching for any conversation topic. OP says she rehashes the same thing for hours.

              1. Insert Clever Name Here*

                The two aren’t mutually exclusive — LW could have a coworker who is afraid to commute alone who also won’t shut up about sports, conspiracy theories, facts about musicals, or her dog.

              2. Amaranth*

                Maybe coworker needs an excuse to travel together and its the only thing they have in common.

            2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              LW said elsewhere they’re both queer women, so it’s a crush probably.

          2. LunaLena*

            Yeah, this is what I thought of too. And if she does, then that might explain her persistence in traveling with OP too – she probably assumes OP has the same concerns and needs the same kind of “safety in numbers” protection.

          3. sociolx*

            I’d thought of this as well, but I’m hesitant for two reasons (though I don’t want to read too much into a short letter):
            1. Specifically waiting around for LW, rather than *any* coworker heading vaguely in the same direction (does no one else in the office also take transit? Does she feel unsafe riding transit in general, or walking around her own neighborhood?)
            2. The Uber. I can see someone who is nervous about a commute wanting to Uber home instead of taking transit, but then why ask to split an Uber with someone going in a totally different direction? And if Uber is within her budget, and safety is the issue, why not Uber home more frequently if LW says she has another commitment? She wants to spend time specifically with LW.

            My generous interpretation is that the coworker thinks she’s found a friend who also enjoys chatting on the commute home – but in doing so, her behavior comes across as stalkerish, as others have noted.

        4. JRR*

          We don’t have enough information to decide if this person is a stalker. But in general, a stalker can still be a stalker even if they have ostensibly innocuous motivations for their behavior.

          “Lonely, poor social skills, and trying to make a friend,” probably describes a lot of actual stalkers.

          1. BlueberryFields*

            Yeah. I don’t think this person is a capital S stalker, but I do think the behavior can be described as stalking. Like she literally lurks about waiting for Letter Writer until she spots LW on the walk to the train! Like she’s not even waiting in office, she’s out and about.

          2. LTL*

            Not really. Stalking implies that you’re following and/or with someone when you know they don’t want you around. If coworker is just abysmally bad at taking hints, she doesn’t realize that OP doesn’t want her there.

              1. LTL*

                I’m really wondering how it’s useful to the LW to characterize her coworker as a stalker before she tries being more direct. The point is that if coworker does respect the LW’s boundaries when she understands them, then there’s no reason to be concerned.

                1. ceiswyn*

                  Did you see the LW’s comment above, in which she had a total meltdown at the colleague, telling the colleague to stop taking about something in no uncertain fashion, and the colleague continued anyway?

          3. JM60*

            I think they aren’t mutually exclusive. You can stalk someone due to loneliness and poor social skills!

            Not all stalking is just as bad. I would consider the coworker’s behavior – waiting hours for her when the OP has given indications that this is unwanted – to be stalking, even if she doesn’t have malicious intent. Hopefully, that stalking would stop after the OP directly asks her to. If she still continues after being directly told to stop, then that’s a bigger problem.

        5. Falling Diphthong*

          a) Lonely and no social skills. “Make friends at places you go often” and “follow a routine” are tried and true advice for making friends as an adult.
          b) I wondered if she might have her own stalker, and that’s why she doesn’t want to ride home alone.

          1. Fashionable Pumpkin*

            If she has her own stalker, why would she wander around the street they work on alone? That would give her stalker more opportunities to catch her alone, not less. And it doesn’t explain why she would also keep chattering at LW during the commute?

            I had a customer “take a shine” to me when working retail. I was usually alone in that store, but I worked 3 retail jobs in the same mall, and was so worried he’d find me at the other two jobs that I’d take the employee only backways into the other stores. I quit the job where he was showing up daily and hanging out while I was alone in the store. But I did mention him to management at all my jobs, and asked security to escort me to my car after dark. I didn’t attach myself to my coworkers’ hips. Everyone handles things differently… but engaging in stalker-like behavior to avoid a stalker seems like a stretch.

          2. earl grey*

            b) is a lot of speculation about something that doesn’t change the advice for OP at all. Even if it were true, it’s still not the OP’s problem. The OP has no obligation to help someone who is behaving towards them in ways that are disruptive and even frightening, especially since the coworker has not even said that they need help. I say that as someone who (as I wrote above) has behaved similarly to the coworker in the past, for reasons that were fairly “sympathetic,” including abuse at home. The reasons don’t cancel out the fact that I caused the people I targeted a lot of annoyance and distress, and even though I wanted nothing more than for them to spring into action to help me, I’m glad they didn’t. They didn’t owe me a thing and I needed to get that help from more appropriate/sustainable sources, which eventually I did.

            No matter what the cause of the coworker’s behavior is, OP is asking for something eminently reasonable here. They don’t need to spend any more time second-guessing whether or not they deserve to ask for a little time to decompress at the end of the day.

        6. Marketing*

          I also see this dynamic a lot with children—kids who call friends even though the friends say they are busy. These children aren’t trying to be stalkers…they are lonely and haven’t learned yet when to back off. I think avoiding boundaries can be about emotional immaturity and loneliness vs. something more me a ding.

      2. OhNoYouDidn't*

        Could be she’s uncomfortable taking public transport alone, that she feels unsafe.

        1. Chantel*

          But why single out the OP if that’s the case? Fear is fear, and anyone’s companionship will do when we’re seeking protection.

      3. Yorick*

        It’s entirely possible that “Don’t wait for me” sounds like “You don’t have to wait for me, but it’s ok if you do,” whether that’s because OP isn’t direct or because CW doesn’t take a hint easily.

        Some people enjoy a social routine. In grad school I had lunch with a classmate every Wednesday. Until all of a sudden she didn’t want to go anymore, but she didn’t say that so several more Wednesdays went by with me stopping at her office and her saying she’s busy today, which made me think next Wednesday is still fine.

    2. Sylvan*

      But what could be the missing piece of critical information? I think this coworker just wants somebody to talk at.

      1. i babysit adults in the sky*

        YES. Why the coworker is behaving this way is immaterial. How the behavior is affecting OP is what matters.

      1. Sparkles McFadden*

        …and the “why” of it all is totally irrelevant. The only reason to know why the coworker is insisting upon being a permanent commute buddy is to find a way to make it stop.

      2. Properlike*

        The neurodiversity piece is an important consideration. Not for diagnosis, but for recognizing that someone might not be able to process “indirect” hints, but direct talk about boundaries and expectations is often helpful and gets the results you’re looking for.

        You wouldn’t say “please don’t drag up that disability stuff again” so let’s apply that same reasoning here.

      3. Aquawoman*

        A proposed incomplete guide re when to bring up neurodivergence:
        -when you are ND and want to highlight a way your brain works that maybe people don’t know so they can be more inclusive
        -when the ND is central to the issue
        -when the behavior in question is neither universal to nor unique to the ND group [e.g. some NT people can talk your ear off and not take a hint, and some ND people are quiet and can take a hint or a collection of hints]
        -when the effect of bringing up ND is to reinforce a negative view of ND people
        -when the effect of bringing up ND reinforces the current social tendency to pathologize anyone who exhibits nonsocial behavior rather than to recognize that jerks exist and society itself is not that healthy and some of that dysfunction causes dysfunctional behavior, not ND.

    3. Person from the Resume*

      I wondered if she might be scared to commute alone, but it doesn’t matter. It’s not the LW’s responsibility to solve whatever reason she doesn’t want to commute alone.

      I do think the constant talking points to her being intensely social and talkative and prefers to waste hours of her life waiting for someone so she can talk to/at them during the commute home.

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

      Agreed, but honestly it’s still not the OP’s problem to solve and I disagree with Alison about asking that unless you are really prepared to do something about the “something else”. So let’s say the coworker says she has anxiety about commuting alone…now what? The OP has to either acknowledge openly that they aren’t going to help, or they’re permanently on the hook to help with this woman’s anxiety? I think it’s best to just state the boundary and hold firm.

      1. Observer*

        but honestly it’s still not the OP’s problem to solve and I disagree with Alison about asking that unless you are really prepared to do something about the “something else”.

        No, the “is something else going on?” does not obligate the OP to solve CW’s problem. All it is is a way to clarify that the CW is not respecting reasonable requests and then either get relevant information from CW or respond by electrifying that the “something else” is not their problem to fix.

        Like if CW says that “Boss told me that I should talk to you on the way home if I still don’t understand something” then OP goes to Boss and points out to Boss that it’s creating a real problem. So that’s useful information. On the other hand if CW says something like “I just like to be with someone when I’m on public transportation.” the OP responds “Well, as I said, I need to commute on my own. I’m sorry, but I can’t be your traveling companion.”

        Of course, that doesn’t guarantee that the CW will be reasonable. But at least it makes it crystal clear that the OP is not going to accommodate. And at the point, the OP may still need to deploy headphones, if CW refuses to let go.

        It’s also possible that CW might say something really concerning to the OP. In which case, that’s useful for the OP to know. I don’t think that’s highly likely, but I don’t want to totally dismiss it, either.

    5. hbc*

      I disagree–in most cases, the “is there some reason for this?” question is basically a way into a much more direct shooting down of the person. It’s good to leave open the possibility that OP will hear something that will make them say, “Oh, cool, we should definitely be commuting buddies forever,” but it’s very, very unlikely. More likely:

      -“I’m scared to take any form of public transportation alone [despite being able to hang out solo in the neighborhood after hours]”–> “That sounds difficult, but I can’t match my schedule to yours and I need alone time. You’re going to have to find another way to get comfortable with your commute.”

      -“You’re my only friend outside work.”–> “I like you too, but I still need time to myself after work. I’ll let you know if I’m having a more social day, but you should make plans based on me not being available.”

      -“I just need to talk through all the work stuff.” –> “You’re going to have to wait until the next day, because I really need all things related to work to cease once I walk out the door.”

    6. EmbracesTrees*

      My guess is that they have opposite and incompatible ways of decompressing from work. OP wants to completely disconnect from it while her coworker wants to process it to make sense of it. And, of course, to her mind a coworker who understands the issues is the *perfect* person to process it with!

      Consequently, I think OP really has to make it 100% clear that she doesn’t want to talk about work At All, and be 100% direct that she, in fact, prefers to completely and unequivocally disconnect from everything work-related. People here who are saying “but she did tell her: OP said she ‘prefers quiet commute'” are not accepting that this is not actually clear or unambiguous language.

      Alison’s suggestions are good and if OP wants to resolve this she has to be willing to set a very clear and nonnegotiable boundary. It isn’t at all unkind to do so — it’s simply a matter of differing needs — and her coworker’s needs should never trump her own!

    7. No Name Today*

      Coworker is using OP as free therapy. “I’m a verbal learner. That’s how I process.”
      Well, thank you for letting me know. I will be happy to show you how to something, call instead of email (ugh, but ok) and confirm any questions you have about shared documentation.
      I cannot and will not listen to you say the same things for hours because you want to talk about it.
      I do not want to talk about something that is “done and done” and I have just as much right to that.

    8. Goody*

      I do get a stalker vibe from OP’s description of CW’s behaviors, although I will acknowledge it may be more socially-clueless than harmful stalker.

      The CW lives in the same neighborhood as OP, takes special pains to match commutes with OP, is on at least the second company working with OP (this in particular is pinging warning lights for me, even if they are in a very niche industry), and is apparently heavily relying on OP to teach her how to do her own job. I definitely feel like this CW has deliberately latched onto OP in ways that extend far beyond being just clingy. And I wonder if CW has neurological challenges that are contributing both to her apparent inability to learn/retain knowledge and to recognize that she’s crossing personal boundaries on a regular basis.

      OP needs to be very brutally honest with CW, and may need to explore alternatives like shifting their work schedule a bit earlier to get out of the office and onto mass transit before CW can finish her own day, or taking an entirely different route (if that’s at all possible) paired with the “appointment after work” comment. I’d also consider talking to a manager about CW’s impact on OP’s work performance (because having to constantly re-teach CW and fend off the ongoing discussions of same has got to be slowing OP down) to determine if a reassignment might be an option.

      Sadly, OP *is* probably going to hurt CW’s feelings, especially if my hunch about CW being neurodivergent is correct.

    9. JRR*

      There’s definitely information we don’t know–no one knows everything–but I don’t think the missing info is necessarily “critical”.

      Regardless of whatever personal issues the coworker is dealing with, the best next step for the LW remains the same: be more direct in saying what you need.

      Speculating about the coworker’s motivations, personality and mental state is fun but not helpful.

  4. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Okay but I already resent and dislike this coworker of yours, and I’ve never met her.

    You’re a much nicer person than I would be, OP!

    P.S. I say this as someone who intentionally avoided coworkers and those coworkers would avoid me on my commute. Unwritten rule here!

    1. Boo Radley*

      I think it’s always fun to discover one’s triggers here on AAM. I got half way down the post and I was already tears rolling down my face furious. I would have already (inappropriately) shouted, “LEAVE ME ALONE!”

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Username checks out. :)

        This would stress me out, too; I don’t want to be badgered with work talk when I leave the building.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        Same. I’m an introvert with people in my face day and night. My commute is the only waking time I have to myself. I find OP’s coworker’s behavior horrifying and would likely have snapped myself.

      3. No Name Today*

        Same. I’m guessing you’ve met people like I have:

        Reading this, I flashed back to a friend of a friend.
        My dad died from Covid in December. No viewing. No funeral. My best friend took point. She contacted our friends with details and my request that “please don’t call. If you want to text, that’s fine. No Name needs nothing, wants nothing.”
        Got texts from people and some cards.
        Friend of friend INSISTED on calling. (Best friend gave me a heads up) so I answer and it took three minutes for her to turn it into all the things that happened when her dad died.
        Now, I’ve known this person for forty years. Her dad died twenty two years ago. I’ve heard all the stories. Because I was there. I was at the viewing. I was at the funeral. I was at the wake.
        But at the time of the phone call, my dad was still not buried because Covid.
        But hey, let me tell YOU not to cry, it’ll be ok. Because yeah…
        (I think OP’s coworker particularly triggered ne because yesterday best friend told me she saw friend of friend on weekend and had to tell her yes, it’s too late to send a sympathy card. No, don’t call and explain why you didn’t SEVEN MONTHS AGO)

      4. meyer lemon*

        Ugh, yes. I have issues with being monitored or followed, and this would make me extremely uncomfortable. I think the LW is treating the coworker with a lot more grace than I would be able to muster.

      5. Jules*

        Me too, Boo. Or I might turn and loudly ask things like “OH ARE YOU GETTING A PAP SMEAR TOO THIS EVENING? I DIDN’T KNOW WE HAD THE SAME GYNO”

        In other words, this letter is my nightmare.

      6. Letter Writer*

        I did kind of flip out recently and told her that I would quite literally burst into flames and die if we continued rehashing a subject haha! It is really good to hear that I’m not alone and I really appreciate the support from your comment

    2. Ponytail*

      I am quite a chatty person and get on with most of my colleagues, but they are all very happy to acknowledge that we HAPPEN to be on the same bus/train and then we go back to reading/staring out the window/listening to our headphones. And after reading this leter, I appreciate my colleagues all the more!

      1. Despachito*

        In fact, whenever this happens to me (a colleague/acquaintance HAPPENS to be on the same bus), I am always a bit at a loss what to do – if I come up and chitchat, will it be OK or will it appear too clingy? And if I don’t, will it be OK or will I come across as rude?

        I know that this is a “read the room” situation, but still.. If the person is a colleague I see every day, I’d probably hesitate less to just acknowledge her/his presence and mind my own business, but otherwise I am never completely sure.

  5. TimeTravlR*

    All I can say is, I feel your pain. Mine, unfortunately, was self-inflicted as I agreed to carpool with this person. I didn’t realize how it would go and was really relieved when we moved to full time telework! When we had an additional person in the car from time to time, she wouldn’t talk as much, so that also provided a break! I’d have ended the carpool eventually anyway (the time was coming) but the move to WHF took care of it for me!

    1. Office Chinchilla*

      Same, same, same. Mine would pontificate for ten minutes about how she didn’t know the answer to a question rather than ask (or take a breath so I could interject) when I knew the answer. Our office is going to move to a hybrid in-office/WFH model and you know, I think I won’t be in the office the same days as her. It will be such a coincidence! (I’m actually still fine giving her a ride home once every couple weeks or so, but no more waiting outside her house for 10 minutes because she’s “putting on her shoes right now!”) LW, I don’t know how to be direct enough without feeling mean or rude – and goodness knows I suffered for not figuring that out – and I’m afraid you might have to be mean or rude. And try to figure out how likely she is to talk with other people at the office about it and whether they will believe her or if they know how she is. And then we should form a support group.

      1. TimeTravlR*

        LOL Even when I gave my carpooler the right answer, she would decline to believe me. Why would I lie? And I was in a position to know (due to my actual position at work). Fortunately, she was pretty good with being on time coming and going. But, seriously, woman, please stop talking!!!

      2. Free Meerkats*

        With these people, never give them an answer unless and until they actually ask the question. Make a game of it in your head to see how long they’ll not ask the question, hoping you’ll answer it for them.

        And my rule, plainly stated at the beginning, for carpools is that I won’t arrive early, then won’t wait more than 3 minutes after I beep for you to be out the door. If I’m a rider, I’m ready to head out the door before the car arrives. One wouldn’t expect a bus to wait 10 minutes for you, why would you expect a carpool to?

        1. Office Chinchilla*

          “Make a game of it in your head to see how long they’ll not ask the question, hoping you’ll answer it for them.”

          The answer is “more than two hours.” It doesn’t feel like a game anymore at that point.

          Sometimes I had the energy to interrupt her and we would have something almost like a conversation and it was fine. Even fun! But sometimes I just did not have the energy. And sometimes I interjected and lived to regret it. I suggested once, very gently, that she wasn’t comfortable sitting in silence and you’d have thought I suggested she kicks puppies for a hobby. She didn’t even try to prove me wrong, just brought up “and I AM comfortable sitting in silence!” on a regular basis for the next six months, complete with death glare. (And yes, my parents also feel personally responsible for the health and well-being of people without resources, how did you guess?)

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Thing is, some people can’t stand silence so they just keep talking until interrupted.
          One woman I knew would only shut up if you made bodily contact, like touching her arm to grab her attention. She was lovely, but that’s how people talked in her family.

          The joke:
          Wife: “I want to divorce my husband because he hasn’t spoken to me in 30 years”
          Judge: “Husband is that true?”
          Husband: “Well, I was taught never to interrupt”

      3. Stefie25*

        I would have left at the 10 min mark. And have done so. I’m not going to be late because someone I offered to give a ride too can’t be ready at the specified time.

    1. Well...*

      Yes, this is really strange. I’ve had coworkers try to wait me out so they can prove they work harder but never “run into me” consistently on my walk to the train. Super unsettling.

  6. CmdrShepard*

    OP I think you can try the suggestions, but I don’t think they will work. I would say I can sometimes be a bit oblivious to hints, but I think you have been pretty clear even I would have picked up on it by now. Now I think you just need to actively ignore her on the commute. Buy a pair of bigger over the ear headphones. That you can put on and listen to music/podcast etc… When she tries to talk to you say/mouth “I can’t hear you.” then just ignore what she says. Normally this would be rude, but in your situation you have been clear, and she is the one being rude to you by trying to talk to you.

    1. Frank Doyle*

      I think that Alison’s suggestions are direct, but yours is a bit passive-aggressive, no? I think that speaking to a person is more direct (and more likely to get a response) than ignoring them. Ignoring them is just another “hint” and those haven’t worked so far.

      1. little chatbot that could*

        I think this could be a good follow-up to the direct conversation – first, you let her know that you’re not available for conversation on the way home, and then if she tries to talk to you anyway you drive it home by keeping your headphones on and not responding. In theory, after you’ve told her you don’t want to talk while commuting, you could skip the headphones and just stay silent if she tries to talk to you, but it will probably feel less awkward if you are visibly focusing on something else.

        1. Blushingflower*

          Yeah, I think she needs to have the conversation of “I really need my commute home to be a time to decompress, the work day uses up all my social energy” and then reinforce it with things like headphones, getting in a different car, deliberately positioning yourself in a different spot on the bus/train, etc.

      2. CmdrShepard*

        I think OP has been direct, they told the coworker that OP wants a quite commute, and the coworker didn’t listen. OP can try to be direct again and say “Do not talk to or sit next to me during the commute”, but based on the coworkers past behavior, I just highly doubt that the coworker is going to actually listen.

        Maybe our definitions differ, but I don’t think ignoring someone is a hint, I consider that a direct message an orange neon sign that someone does not want to talk to you.

        1. NotCreativewithNames*

          I think direct is “I don’t want to commute with you. When you wait for me at the bus, it makes me think you didn’t understand when I said I didn’t want to commute with you”. Ignoring is a signal that leaves room for interpretation. It could be interpreted as, so and so just doesn’t hear me, I should talk louder/repeat myself/etc.

          1. anonymath*

            Yep, direct is, “When I leave work, I need to not talk to people for 45 minutes (or an hour or whatever). You are a person. I cannot talk to you after work.”

            It’s ok to make this statement. My husband had to tell me that early in our marriage: “just don’t talk to me for 15 minutes after I get in the door, I’m still decompressing.” I had a more solitary job, he had a people-heavy job, we’re both sociable introverts. But I’m happy with direct. ok, ignoring spouse for 15 minutes after arrival will make him happy! I can do that!

            Or direct is my preschooler: “WHY are you TALKING at me??!!! STOP TALKING AT ME! STOP TALKING!” Permission for OP to channel peak 4/5-yr-old.

    2. Susan from HR*

      This suggestion is even more uncomfortable than just telling the coworker she doesn’t want to commute with her and requires a lot more effort too.

    3. Akcipitrokulo*

      No, not going to work – actively getting up and sitting elsewhere, with actual words ” I like to be alone on commute” would be better.

    4. Free Meerkats*

      I think the OP has not been clear, every method they listed to get the message across was indirect.

      Here’s my recommended script, “I need my time alone on the commute to decompress. I don’t want to talk with anyone, please leave me alone after (and before if she does this on the commute in as well) work.” When that doesn’t work (and I predict nothing the LW says will work the first time), Be blunt, “I said (not ‘asked you’) to leave me alone on the commute. Go Away.”

    5. Observer*

      Now I think you just need to actively ignore her on the commute.

      I suspect that the OP will need to do something like that. But I agree with the others that they should talk to CW first.

    6. Who is the asshole*

      Having someone talk at me while I pretend not to hear would stress me out far more than telling them clearly to back off. and I see no indication why being direct wouldn’t work. it might need some repetition, but other than that I am optimistic as long as it is truly direct.

      1. Who is the asshole*

        OK having read LW’s info above about one of the recent conversations, I am a little less optimistic, but still wouldn’t give up/definitely go the very direct and then enforce route (by making yourself unavailable in whatever way you have at your disposal after the conversation).

        Two more things. One: With chatty coworkers I have found that saying their name is often a great way to get their attention long enough that they will give you time to cut in and say your piece. Doesn’t work for very long, so it’s really just to state your boundary and LEAVE (the conversation).

        Two: If you really find no way of shutting this down, use your manager if they are at all reasonable. Let them come up with a solution so you don’t lose your mind (at work).

        Wait,there is a last part: Become the most boring person your coworker has ever talked to. Don’t argue with her, don’t try to convince her of things, always speak in monotone and whenever possible (e.g.afterwork interaction) don’t text/speak to her at all or in one-word sentences. This is just a bandaid to get her focus off you. the real action is setting direct boundaries and leaning on your boss to help.
        If you need more fodder (and validation) how to deal with highly difficult people, I recommend heading over to Captain Awkward. Com.

  7. LinesInTheSand*

    OP, you don’t have to be “fine” with all of this during work hours either. This sounds like a huge drain on your time.

    1. RabbitRabbit*

      THIS. OP, it is NOT your burden that she is a “verbal processor.” She can go talk to herself somewhere. It is not your job to do this work for her.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        Also “verbal processor” means it gets processed and solved at some point in the conversation. It doesn’t sound like that’s the case here

        1. RabbitRabbit*

          Yup. It has to go back on the coworker to deal with whatever this problem is – not just the commute stalking but also the endless questions and talking and everything.

          For commutes, state kindly but firmly the way you will be handling YOUR commute. The current situation has not worked for you and you NEED alone time to decompress – you will probably want to start the transition by specifically, clearly stating that the past commuting situation is not productive for you. If coworker pushes this boundary, simply restate that and indicate that you require solitude. Maybe practice beforehand until you can make this sound matter-of-fact. This is your reality.

          For hours of “verbal processing”, set training time (specific times and/or time limits). Push back on her boundary-crossing and state that you need to do X now, more training will be later. Or that her “verbal processing” is not working if she has not come to a solution, and she should go do something else/work on it herself/come back at a future time/whatever is appropriate.

          (You might also need to report up if she is showing inability to acquire new skills without hours of talking about something.)

      2. Jack Straw*

        As a verbal processor myself, I literally go on walks or drives while at work to talk to myself. I’ll put on headphones so it appears that I’m singing, but yeah, it’s not everyone else’s job to help me process ideas.

        Additionally, as Snarkus mentions, it doesn’t sound like many decisions or plans forward are being made, which is a different problem unrelated to the way the person is processing.

        1. Alexander Graham Yell*

          As part of a company-wide initiative to help understand team dynamics, we took one of those work styles tests and one of the things they identified was verbal vs. non-verbal processors. So now those of us who process verbally know who we can talk things out with and it’s honestly been a HUGE gift to all of us.

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Apparently this is an extrovert thing. My extrovert partner has to say things out loud to see whether that’s what he actually thinks or not. He’s said some terrible things out loud, only to retract them once he realises that it’s really not on, no he doesn’t actually think that, he was just wondering how far that argument can go.
          I prefer to think things through in my head, and only speak up once I’m sure of my position.
          My partner has said I’m pretty rigid in my thinking, but that’s because I only say what I’m sure of, with evidence to back me up, whereas he’ll blurt all sorts of things out to see what happens.

    2. Chilipepper Attitude*

      Came here to say this.
      I am one of those people who likes to talk out loud to figure things out. When I was younger I had no idea this could be disruptive to people and even now, in an open workroom, I am not bothered by other people talking. I can focus on my work AND hear them and even sometimes join in while working.

      But once someone pointed it out to me, I could see that the talking is my process and it is not everyone else’s. I really appreciated the person who said something to me and I hope you find a way to address this at work too.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Me too—I do it a LOT when I’m working out dialogue in a scene. I can’t / don’t do it in a situation where other people are around. That’s one reason not having my own place sucks so much.

        I have been known to mutter to myself at work, but this is something I’m aware of and can mitigate by keeping an open Notepad file where I can type when I feel a strong urge to vocally process.

    3. Charlotte Lucas*

      It sounds like OP is responsible for training, so might need to be available for questions, etc., during work time.

      If this is the case, there’s the added wrinkle that some people (especially new employees) get emotionally attached to their trainers. It’s both flattering & draining.

      I agree with Alison’s direct approach, but I would add something to the effect that I need to decompress & can’t talk about work once I’m done for the day.

      1. Lizzie Bennet*

        Wonderful advice, which makes sense coming from someone who is married to Mr. Collins! I can imagine that Charlotte is well-versed in asking for space on a daily basis.

        1. UKDancer*

          I think that’s why Charlotte arranged things so Mr Collins was working at the front of the house and she had her sitting room at the back. She made sure she arranged their lives so she got her time to herself and didn’t have to spend too much time with him.

          I always thought she was a very smart woman.

    4. Sara*

      Agreed. During these many hours that she is talking to you at work…how are you getting your actual work done???? Are you making it up at home in the evenings or just not meeting your goals or what? I think it is totally appropriate to meet with her during scheduled meeting times and then at other times say “I really need to work on this report/presentation/spreadsheet/whatever. Feel free to email me to set up a meeting if you need to discuss this in more detail.” (And then spread out the meetings!)

      1. Letter Writer*

        It’s usually decompressing between clients. We are essential workers who don’t really have a traditional desk job where we are at a fixed location. But there are multiple times where I just have to cut her off and exit the conversation to be able to do my job, thus re-orient her to her responsibilities.

    5. Nanani*

      Thanks for saying that. I get “talked at” by some people in my life and it’s good to hear a reminder that it doesn’t have to be fine.

    6. Threeve*

      The commute conversation needs to be firm and direct, but there can initially be a more gentle approach to “I cannot talk about something with you for hours once I’ve given you the information you need.”

      “Why don’t we put a pin in this for now, move on and revisit in a day or so?”

      “I don’t think going in circles like this is helping; why don’t you let it marinate for a while and we’ll talk about it more tomorrow.”

      “I need to work on something else for the rest of the day, I’ll leave you to review this.”

      Walk away, headphones on, fake a phone call if you have to.

      1. Who is the asshole*

        Or maybe use science to your advantage: “Did you know that we literally need to sleep over things to learn them? Give it a try and see whether it has clicked tomorrow.”

    7. WFH with Cat*


      OP, it’s really not on you to listen for hours to a co-worker, regardless of … anything! While you are certainly trying to be kind, and not hurt her feelings, you will be doing her a far greater kindness by making it clear to her that she cannot use you or any colleague as her sounding board throughout the entire work day (not even counting the commute). That is not acceptable behavior from anyone in the workplace, and the sooner she adjusts to social/workplace norms, the better.

      FWIW, I work in customer service so I understand it is *exhausting*. By the end of my workday, I don’t want to talk to anyone, even people I love most dearly ….

      But, question for you: Is your colleague’s nonstop “verbal processing” directed at you specifically? I WFH now but used to be in a call center, and all the reps chattered a lot between calls, including sharing info/ideas — but it fairly easy to ignore thanks to headsets and having to focus on customer calls. If your co-worker is expecting you, specifically, to follow and respond to her endless commentary, and answer all of her questions, etc. you may need to take this problem to your supervisor/mgr. Providing peer support does not mean you should be endlessly bombarded by that co-worker’s questions, complaints, etc. — especially if her constant interruptions could negatively impact your job performance.

  8. Admin 4 life*

    Does she have a fear of commuting alone?

    Either way, it looks like it’s time to be direct. I love over ear headphones for making it clear that I’m not feeling social (but I usually leave one ear out because I’m a woman using public transportation).

    1. Jack Straw*

      Yeah, this is what I thought with the “is there something else going on” addition. Either a fear of commuting or a very narrow social circle.

      1. FisherCat*

        But neither of those are LW’s problem!

        If LW is put off by coworker’s behavior, and I certainly would be, no amount of “good reason” would remedy that. Coworker has majorly overstepped. If Coworker is legitimately concerned about an alone commute, she has to make her own arrangements for that (rideshare service? carpool? paid parking?) and cannot expect LW to solve her problems when LW makes it clear that a joint commute is not of interest to her.

        1. Admin 4 life*

          I’m not saying it is OPs problem. My thinking process is OP will be direct and the coworker will come back with “but I don’t feel safe.” A follow up script may be necessary and the times when they just happen to be on the same transport, then OP could find ways to signal that they want to be alone.

          1. Self Employed*

            Another female freelancer wanted me to promise to always be at the coworking space when she planned to be there because (for understandable reasons) it was triggering to be the only woman around. Unfortunately, the hours she wanted me to be her safety buddy were not compatible with my own schedule, so I said I was sorry that I couldn’t do that. She got very upset with me and made a lot of ableist insults that pretty much burned any bridges. At least then I had a good reason not to be any kind of buddy with her.

  9. Two Chairs, One to Go*

    Good luck OP. I find it disturbing she pretends to leave and then catches back up with you when you’re leaving. That is truly bizarre.

    I’ve commuted part way with some coworkers occasionally when it happened that our schedules lined up. But I’ve also said something along the lines of, “I’m going to read my book now. See you tomorrow!” and took out my kindle to read. But I doubt that would work with this person.

    If you are direct and she still follows you around, can you work an earlier shift? If that’s a possibility, you could leave while she’s still at work.

    1. Training Manager*

      If this were a man doing the same thing people would be VERY concerned. It is not normal and should not be brushed off as such.

      1. LTL*

        Yes because a situation where a man uses plausible deniability to give a woman unwanted attention and time happens way more often.

        This isn’t normal but a gender reversal would objectively make the situation worse. It’s not the same thing. I don’t think it’s helpful for OP to deliberate whether or not coworker is a full-on stalker before being direct with her. If coworker is still doing this after OP is direct, the OP can cross that bridge *if* it comes to that.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        LW has said elsewhere they are both queer women so yes, she is crushing and stalking big time.

    2. BlueberryFields*

      Yeah. It’s such a weird situation since technically, no one can prevent her from taking the same public transportation as the Letter Writer. So then it leaves the LW in the awkward position of having to ice out the coworker in order to get some alone time. Honestly, I feel like even if LW changed their shift, this person would find a way to commute with them.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, but if icing out is what it takes to get the coworker to leave her alone, then that’s what it takes.

    3. desdemona*

      I’ve tried to get into the habit of asking coworkers, when it seems we’re commuting in the same direction, if they’re a person who likes to chat on the train or if they’re a person who likes quiet train time. That way I’m giving them an out if they feel obligated.
      I’ve also had a few times where I often commuted with someone, where I said “hey, sorry, but I’ve gotten REALLY into this book I’ve been reading, and I have to return it to the library soon, so I’m going to read today!”

      1. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

        This! I like to use the phrase “of course no is always an acceptable answer” when I ask friends or coworkers if they’d like to do something. I recently moved and there is a neighbor lady who walks for exercise (something I needed to get in the habit of doing) I approached it as “If you ever feel like company, I’d love to go with you or if you need alone time that’s understandable just let me know” I can’t imagine lurking in the neighborhood like OP’s coworker.

        1. Despachito*

          I think this is great, and I wish all of us could be as direct as this.

          I think that the more we beat around the bush the more awkward it feels. If it is possible to say outright “I feel exhausted from communication at work, and I do not feel like talking/company on the commute. It is nothing personal but I absolutely need alone time after work. Thank you for your understanding, and see you tomorrow”, it is clear and if the person is just a bit clueless and nothing more serious is going on, this should be enough.

          There is no need in overthinking it (as to why she does this – it is completely irrelevant and only becomes relevant if she turns out to be indeed a stalker or otherwise dangerous), and it should be FIRM and KIND.

          I say it as a person who used to be very clueless in my earlier years, I did not understand hints very well and when they did not work, the person in question became angry and I did not understand why. A clear and kind explanation of what the person wants would probably have worked for me.

          But I understand that easier said than done, and with some people it is more difficult to be direct.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      Absolutely agree.

      She is making it awkward; not you.

      I do not want to hurt her feelings as she’s really truly very sensitive and insecure about her role,

      If you wanting to not hang out during the commute home hurts her feeling that is also on her. You have tons of support in these comments. You don’t have to be her friend because of proximity. You don’t have to have your peaceful commute ruined to keep her feelings from being hurt. If she’s attaching more importance / friendship to you than you are to her and demanding your time and attention during your personal time, well she’s the cause of her own hurt feelings, not you. A kind person doesn’t want other people to suffer in order to make them feel good.

      1. ThatGirl*

        She also will never learn to be less sensitive if people don’t draw boundaries with her. Sometimes it takes some minor hurt feelings before people adjust to new realities.

        1. UKDancer*

          This definitely! I was a rather socially awkward person in my 20s and sometimes didn’t notice boundaries. I was very grateful to the bosses who explicitly told me when I was trompling on someone’s boundary so I could learn from it. This has made me a lot more socially aware and aware of how to behave.

    2. Jessica*

      Yeah, your feelings also matter! Ideally I’d suggest being very clear and firm with her about the commuting, but then when you see her in the office next day (you know, when it’s actually Time to Interact because we’re at Work), be maybe a notch extra warm and pleasant, to make it clear that you don’t hate her (even if you do by now), you just want to commute in peace.

  10. Where’s the Orchestra?*

    With the fact coworker is female – could it be a case of programmed to want someone she knows on the commute just to make her feel more safe? I know there are articles out there about things that women do to keep safe that men never have to do, could this be a very poorly explained version of that?

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I seriously doubt it, simply because she bothers the LW so much. If it were just, “someone I know”, then there would probably be quiet.

      Also, the LW does not need to decipher the reasons behind this behavior. It doesn’t matter, because the LW doesn’t have to sacrifice her comfort every single day to appease this woman.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Oh I agree – OP shouldn’t sacrifice their comfort/routine for coworker. However the description of coworker reads as they are young and insecure (or at least presenting themselves that way). Sometimes knowing the “why” behind an action can help come up with a more productive solution to the problem though, because you can address the why as well as the action you want to change.

      2. Corporate Lawyer*

        Yes, this. Even if the coworker feels unsafe on her commute, that’s not LW’s problem.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Strategy that was actively taught in my small hometown to female presenting folks leaving for use on public transit: actively be engaged in conversation with another person, preferably a coworker, so the “boogeyman creeps” will leave you alone.

        No coworker should be leaving OP alone, but like I said above, it’s just a possible “why” for the action – not a command for OP to put up with behavior she doesn’t like.

        And, I never followed those directions – but I know some of the girls in those “lessons” probably did and bugged the hades out of other people who just wanted to commute in peace.

        1. Self Employed*

          I can see the logic of the advice, but if Coworker just wanted to natter to fend off creeps, she could do it about non-work topics. Which would be much more relaxing for both of them, compared to perseverating on work problems.

    2. Fashionable Pumpkin*

      I wondered this at first, but if she’s hanging around the neighborhood *alone* waiting to catch up with LW much later… As a woman, I’d feel less safe walking around alone than on public transit alone. At least on public transport there are witnesses- it’s much easier to catch or follow a woman out on foot.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Seriously, this–if I’m on the bus there’s at least one other person (the driver) there, and where I am most of the buses have cameras. I’m a lot safer there than hanging out in the street after hours.

        Which doesn’t mean that’s not why she’s doing it, just that she seems not to have thought it through if it is.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Seen done by someone in college: claimed they were doing errands in neighborhood, was actually waiting in the work bathroom for any coworker so they didn’t have to ride transit on their own.

    3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Well no. She’s hanging around outside waiting for OP – if she were afraid to travel alone, she’d be afraid to hang out too.

  11. BlueberryFields*

    The part where she waits for you and then appears on your walk to the transportation hub freaks me out–like how does she know when you’ll be there? It seems like she’s just waiting and watching, which feels a bit stalker-y (and I don’t say that lightly). She probably doesn’t intend to stalk you, but that doesn’t matter.

  12. KHB*

    I think you should be even more direct than Alison suggests in her scripts. She has you framing this as a “want” or something you “prefer” – I’d go straight to making it a “need.” I.e., “This is absolutely nothing against you personally, but because my commute is some of the only time I get all day to be alone in my own head, I’m going to need to do it solo from now on.” “Like I said, I need you to stop following me, because I need this to be time for myself right now. I’m happy to talk more about XYZ when we’re back at work tomorrow!”

    1. KHB*

      …and what’s more, not only is “need” more direct and less negotiable than “want” or “prefer,” I think it might even be less “mean.” (Not that drawing a personal boundary is ever mean, but sometimes it can still come across that way.) Consider:

      “I prefer to commute by myself” = “I’ve considered both options, and the one I find less appealing is the one that involves you.”
      “I need to commute by myself” = “This isn’t about you at all, and it’s not something I can choose or control, it’s just one of the quirks of my own psyche.”

      1. cosmicgorilla*

        Yes, yes, yes. I also took the “I prefer” suggestions to not be strong enough for someone who has already shown themselves to be incapable of reading overt signals. LW may find themselves needing to be even more direct. “I’m going to commute home by myself, in this other subway car. Do not follow me.” LW may need to name the behavior. “You’ve waited around for hours for me? That’s creepy.”

    2. TWB*

      +1000. Was scrolling comments before saying it myself. This is an approach (whether it should or shouldn’t be necessary in the first place) that is direct, while also giving this co-worker a bit of a face save with the :”It’s nothing personal but continuing to talk about work related stuff after work is done is affecting my mental health in a negative manner. I need to decompress on the commute home, so I’m going to be listening to podcasts on the way home. I hope you understand, it’s nothing personal.” It also means less potential for awkwardness when back in the office.

      Do I agree that people shouldn’t be responsible for other someone else’s emotions? Yes.

      But life is very rarely that cut and dried, especially when having to work effectively with others.

  13. Xavier Desmond*

    You can definitely be direct without being rude. You just need to depersonalise the message. As in “I prefer to commute on my own because I need time to myself after work. It’s nothing personal it just I need the alone time”

    I can already see people piling onto the coworker but I’ve found that otherwise nice, well meaning people often don’t understand that some people genuinely don’t mind being on their own.

    1. High Score!*

      I tell people this all the time. Once I explained to a friend that while, yes, my Sunday was free, I was keeping it that way on purpose bc that’s my day that I like to be alone.
      I would not listen to a coworker babble for hours either. I would say something like, “well our meeting time is up and I’m going to get back to work on the llama pants project. You can email me if you have more questions. ”
      And, if necessary, “I can only handle so much verbal discourse each day. Thanks for understanding”

      1. CmdrShepard*

        This might just be semantics, but I would say/argue that your Sunday is actually not free. You already have scheduled some “you/me time” to do nothing, catch up on a show/book etc… Usually after a vacation, or several busy weekends of fun activities I plan/schedule time to do nothing, lounge around, and not step foot outside unless the house is burning down.

        For my friends, if I ask them “are you free/available to hang out x or y day?”, that means is your schedule open and do you want to hang out. If a friend was constantly saying “I’m free” and I say “great do you want to meet at the park?” and then they say “but I don’t want to hang out those days”, I would be annoyed not at them not wanting to hang out but at the added step in the communication. If you don’t want to hang out you are not free. Even if the friend said “I’m free but don’t feel like hanging out those.” that’s cool and avoids an extra back an forth.

        1. Shad*

          Agreed! Just because my plan is “veg out at home” doesn’t mean I don’t have plans. I’m still not taking offers on my time.

    2. twocents*

      “Nice well meaning” people don’t hover for hours on end, even trying to get into someone else’s Uber to join them on their errands.

      Hopefully coworker is just harmlessly a creep, but this is seriously creepy behavior.

      1. Xavier Desmond*

        Not saying the coworker isn’t in the wrong but I think that’s going too far. It’s worth pointing out that the OP says herself this is someone she likes.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        Sure, they do. This is totally something somebody with anxiety would do. It’s something that much-younger me would have done. But it would still have been annoying. But I assure you, I’m harmless.

        1. CmdrShepard*

          I would say that waiting for someone to leave work or any activity (unless they know and/or asked you to wait) crosses the line from annoying into creepy. While the behavior and the person might be physically harmless, it can cause mental harm. This letter is a good example of that, it does seem like OP’s mental health is suffering to some extent, due to not getting what they need and having to worry about how to deal with the coworker.

          1. LTL*

            I think the shift of blame to the coworker in the comments section is very unproductive. OP’s mental health isn’t suffering due to the coworker’s behavior, its suffering because she hasn’t set firm and direct boundaries with her coworker for fear of hurting coworker’s feelings.

            To be clear, I’m not blaming LW. I don’t think blame is a useful concept in this scenario. While I do think coworker’s behavior is over the line, the responsibility for the LW’s mental health is on the LW. Unless and until the coworker chooses to ignore clearly stated boundaries, it’s not useful to characterize the coworker being the source of mental harm.

            1. J.B.*

              I disagree because of the context given by the OP early in the comments. Although I also think the OP should put some of this on her boss’ lap and expect some intervention.

      3. LTL*

        There are people out there who never want to be alone and think everyone else is the same. They may think that if someone says they have an appointment, waiting for them is a favor.

        It’s rare but it is a thing.

        1. Extrovert married to introvert*

          My husband is an introvert. We have three children. Our middle child is the only extrovert. My car is bigger and nicer than my husband’s. When my husband and I meet at an event that the whole family is attending, my middle child always rides with my husband in his cramped car because she’s worried he will be lonely. The other two come with me because my car is better. Hubby would actually LOVE to have the drive home to himself (see: introvert). She goes with him out of love and misunderstanding of his preferences. He has not told her that he would prefer to be alone because of how cute she is.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            OMG my in-laws are like your middle child!
            First time they came to stay, we had like 15 people round to dinner every night. At one point I asked BIL to host dinner so I could have a night to myself. MIL was adamant that she’d stay so I wasn’t all alone. Like, they don’t understand why anyone would ever want to be alone. I feel blessed that they don’t live in the same country as us.

        2. emmelemm*

          Yeah. That is the opposite of me, obviously, but I know people who really and truly think this way and they’re not doing it maliciously. They just think so differently that they can’t even conceive the opposite.

      4. Charlief*

        Even if she’s not a creep- This behaviour would cause me harm if I was the OP. I need a lot of time alone and this on top of work would affect me mentally and long term physically because it would stress me out.

        Harmless to me means not doing harm, not not meaning to do harm.

  14. Junebug*

    She sounds like a full-on stalker. Did she show any signs of it at the last job? I would try one more time, being VERY blunt, before talking to her supervisor.

    1. Aquawoman*

      I feel like applying the term stalker here dilutes the word. Stalking is one of those serious crimes that happen to women and so don’t get taken seriously, and applying it to people who are not dangerous or delusional doesn’t help. She is being clingy and needy and demanding emotional labor that she’s not entitled to, but there’s nothing that suggests she’s dangerous or delusional.

      1. Fashionable Pumpkin*

        I think it sounds like it could be stalking, and I don’t think mentioning that diminishes other people’s stalking experiences. If anything, saying it’s not serious enough to consider applying the label could be diminishing to LWs experience if it turns into something more serious or continues unabated after LW directly asks her to stop.

        1. LTL*

          Saying that it’s not serious enough to be called stalking currently does not diminish the seriousness of a future hypothetical situation where things are worse. One could say “this doesn’t classify as stalking but would classify as stalking if it escalated”.

      2. GothicBee*

        A stalker doesn’t need to be dangerous or delusional to be a stalker. I mean yes, stalking is harassment, so in that context anyone who stalks you is harassing you (and therefore “dangerous” in some respect), but that person doesn’t need to be violently dangerous to be a stalker. I think it’s fair to say that some of the behavior here is serious enough that LW should keep it in mind going forward, especially if the behavior doesn’t stop after being direct with the coworker. And while I agree that women who are victims of stalking aren’t always taken seriously, it’s equally dangerous to dismiss the idea that someone could be stalking you just because they don’t seem dangerous and are a woman themselves.

      3. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

        A. Stalking happens to people of all genders.
        B. As the LW confirms in comments, she is a woman; the fact that the person following her around demanding attention is also a woman doesn’t mean that it couldn’t escalate to something threatening.

      4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        It never seems dangerous until it is, and by then it’s usually too late. Just because she ‘s a woman, doesn’t mean she’s not stalking. Just means she’s less likely to slit OP’s throat.
        OP said elsewhere that they are both queer women, so she’s probably crushing hard on OP. Makes stalking that much more possible.

  15. Bossy Magoo*

    If you’re worried about hurting her feelings, it probably would help to also add in “I don’t want to hurt your feelings…” and then Alison’s script.

    1. KHB*

      Honestly, that usually just makes it worse, in my experience. “I don’t want to hurt your feelings” gets read as “I think you’re a delicate flower who can’t handle the honest truth, so I need to walk on eggshells around you.” Nobody wants to feel like they’re being treated that way.

      1. londonedit*

        Yes, or it just leads to them saying ‘Oh, no! You’re not hurting my feelings, it’s fine! It’s just really nice that we’re able to commute together, I really love having someone to chat to on the way home from work!’ and ignoring the actual ‘Please leave me alone’ message.

  16. i babysit adults in the sky*

    Headphones are your friend, the more noticeable the better; little AirPod-style buds give her an ocean of plausible deniability to swim in: “Oh I didn’t see you have headphones in haha sorry ANYWAY back to the conversation we had eleventy-hundred times today…” NOPE, you’ve got on big noise-canceling/gamer/DJ/whatever headphones. She’s obviously interrupting if she continues talking at you, that’s weird, EVERYTHING she is doing is weird, so make it weird FOR HER.

    She’s already behaving in such a way that makes you uncomfortable, so worry less about reacting in ways that might make her uncomfortable; things are already awkward, take that Awkward and return to sender (to quote the wise and beloved Captain Awkward).

    Good luck, you got this!

    1. Nanani*

      I was going to recommend OP go through Captain Awkward’s archives for advice on setting boundaries. CA deals less with workplaces but this kind of situation also crops up in friend groups and hobby meetups and the like. I’m 99% sure there are applicable letters in the archive.
      Search for phrases like “setting boundaries”

  17. Mike*

    Is it a long commute, possibly to or through a scary part of town? It’s possible she’s afraid to commute alone but doesn’t want to come right out and say that.
    If you think it might damage your work relationship to outright cut her off, I do like the suggestions of making work talk off-limits. “I’m happy to commute with you when our schedules line up, but I’ve recently made a promise to myself not to think or talk about work when I’m not in the office. Can we talk about X, Y, or Z, or maybe just sit together while we each read/listen to podcasts/etc?”

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      If she’s afraid to say, “Hey, would you mind commuting home with me?”, it is not on the LW to decipher that. The LW needs to be direct here. If that is indeed the co-worker’s issue, she needs to say it outright– but that doesn’t mean the LW is responsible for her.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Yeah, I have a diagnosed panic disorder and commuting occasionally triggered that in the past, but I would say something like “I’m having a panic attack, will you talk to me as a distraction” or something. I can see wanting to sit by someone familiar instead of potentially dealing with a creeper, but you have to use your words to explain what you want and then STFU and commute in silence.

    2. Colette*

      If she’s not comfortable with her commute, that’s her problem to solve, not the OP’s.

  18. DataGirl*

    I used to be on a 2 person team with someone who also lived in my neighborhood, whose kids were friends with mine, and who was part of the same volunteer organization as me- in other words our lives were pretty heavily intertwined. We also took the same bus to work, so early on she said something along the lines of- we spend so much time together already, I really need my commute time to decompress and have time to myself. I respected that a lot.

    It sounds like the colleague isn’t picking up on subtler cues, but perhaps if you said something very direct like in Alison’s scripts she’d get it. At this point you also need to not worry to much about hurting feelings as it seems directness is your only approach. Good luck!

  19. Dark Macadamia*

    The fact that she *tells you she’s leaving* and then like, lurks for a significant period of time until she can pounce? makes me think that she DOES understand the hints you’ve been dropping and is actively forcing her way past your boundaries. Suuuper weird and would make a hilarious montage in a sitcom but has to be miserable to deal with in real life!

    1. Jean*

      Yeah, this stuck out to me too. This behavior is intentional, at least on some level, not to mention inappropriate and unwelcome. Not having her feelings hurt is a luxury she’s not entitled to at this point.

      If it were me, I’d use that angle to call it out, every time: “Why did you tell me you were leaving earlier if you were still going to hang around and wait for me?” Let it hang in the air. Maintain eye contact. Return awkwardness to sender and make her explain herself. 2 can play these games, and often the people who behave this way depend on the other person doing whatever they can to defuse the awkardness. Don’t let her have the high ground. best of luck OP. Please update and let us know what happens here!

      1. However comma*

        I think Jean has the correct way to handle this. The coworker is deliberately ignoring social cues and even stalking. The OP needs to grab the upper hand and believe she has the right to be as assertive as Jean says, using exactly the suggested words and behavior. I would also really like an update!

  20. Lorena*

    You are obviously going have to move, so that you commute in a completely different direction. ;) Just joking, but ya i think she’s only going to get it if you are direct with her. It will likely hurt her feelings, but she’s not picking up on the hints. It is possible she’s quite lonely – but she’s coming off as extremely needy as well, which is never attractive.

    1. Buni*

      Not quite this bad, but I have on more than one occasion gone just one or maybe two stops in the wrong direction to get rid of someone, with a cheery “Oh, I’m going this way, c’ya!”.

      Might depend on how far apart the stops are on your system…

  21. Nap Queen*

    OP, you can’t hold yourself responsible for her emotional and social needs. She is at the point in her life where she should be managing this on her own. I understand you don’t want to be rude or hurt her feelings, but you have to put yourself first in this case.

  22. Homebody Houseplant*

    I feel awful for you, OP. I am very bubbly but also very introverted, so I have had to have these types of conversations more times than I would have liked. I value my alone time over almost anything else, and it is a need, not a want. If I gave my time to every person that would like to be closer to me because I have a friendly face I’d lose my marbles. One time that was especially bad was when I had an (unchosen) roommate that would always try to make on the fly plans with me and our other roommates despite us all being very busy with work. Then she would explode when we couldn’t (or didn’t want to because we were exhausted) attend the plans she set up of her own accord. It didn’t end well.

    It really sucks that she hasn’t taken the hint. Keep in mind that being direct may very well burn a bridge which sucks, but hopefully she will be reasonable with kind but firm directness. Wish you luck!

  23. animaniactoo*

    It also sounds like you’re missing a pretty big key here. One of the reasons she keeps doing this is because she keeps getting what she wants which is that you talk to her about the work stuff that you don’t want to talk about!

    If you end up on the same commute however it happens, THIS is where you need to draw the biggest boundary:

    “Sorry, I’m done with work talk for today. Check in with me about that tomorrow when we’re at work.”
    “I’m off the clock now and am not up for talking about this any more. When we’re at work tomorrow, I can talk to you about it then.”
    “I understand, but I’m not going to give you work related answers when we’re not at work. You’re going to have to wait until we’re at work to discuss this.”
    “If you’d like to talk to me about that tomorrow while we’re at work, that will be fine, but right now I need to decompress and read my book and focus on NOT being at or thinking about work.” (and then go ahead and read your book. Or put your headphones on. Or whatever.)

    Thwart every impulse you have to give her even a quick opinion or answer. No. She can’t force you to talk about work even when she’s right there in front of you if you won’t talk about it with her. She can talk at you. That doesn’t mean you need to respond with work comments. You can respond to what is actually happening instead – which is that you are off work and not available for work talk.

    You are not obligated to continue the work talk outside of work hours, no matter how much you generally like her. You’re not. Take that pressure off of yourself, draw that boundary, and it is very likely that you will see a change in behavior on her part.

    1. Dark Macadamia*

      Yes, this. I’m especially wondering how LW reacts when she hides in the neighborhood and then “happens” to cross paths later with apparently no explanation why she was wandering around for the exact length of time it took LW to leave the building. I don’t think I’d be able to conceal my discomfort/annoyance and I don’t think LW should in that case – if Coworker is obviously waiting and doesn’t even offer a plausible excuse I’d be tempted to say something like “it’s kind of weird that you said you were leaving but didn’t” or “wow, that’s strange you left half an hour ago but somehow ended up on the same bus as me”

      1. animaniactoo*

        Yeah, I thought about that too – should definitely call that behavior out for what it is with the length of waiting around, etc. “This is creepy to me.”

    2. JustaTech*

      And be prepared for her to be upset or hurt. Not because *you’re* doing anything wrong, but because 1) you’ve enforced a boundary and 2) she’s not getting what she wants from you.

      I had a coworker who got incredibly upset at me because I didn’t immediately answer her text (not urgent, not about work) at 7pm, while I was cooking. When I said, “Hey, I didn’t answer because my hands were wet” (which is something we have already had to talk about, that sometimes I don’t answer right away not because I hate you but because I literally can’t touch my phone right now) she accused me of not caring about her. My coworker did not like me enforcing the very basic “I don’t want to think about work in my off hours and that includes coworkers”, and held it against me until she left.

      So the OP should be prepared for her already-known to be unreasonable coworker to not take this boundary well, but that’s no reason to not set the boundary.

      1. animaniactoo*

        Good point. Her being upset or hurt is about how she chooses to respond to LW not being available to talk about work outside of work hours. She can make a different choice and what choice she makes is up to her and LW should not take on the responsibility of that choice.

      2. Nanani*

        A -coworker- is upset at not getting your immediate attention? For something that doesn’t sound work related at all?

        JustaTech, you are NTA. Wow.

    3. Paulina*

      Yes. The boundary against work talk (or talk in general) must be drawn hard. Have a brief explanation about the change if necessary, but freeze out afterwards. And her hanging around to grab OP is weird and deserves to be commented on.

      For a while we had an adjunct who could talk everyone’s ear off, and whose conversational style could best be described as interrogating and demanding. He sometimes showed up to our end-of-week, mostly-social gathering and was just as demanding as if we’d been in our offices. “That’s too much like work,” was a common response I gave, rather than trying to answer his out-of-place interrogations. The CW is demanding that OP continue working because CW wants OP’s ear to help her process, and since hints are not being taken it’s time to shut it down. Explain that you need your commute time for your own mental processing and you can’t listen to her any more, and then enforce hard.

      1. Coffee every morning*

        I totally agree, you can’t always avoid commuting together because it is public transit, but setting that boundary that we don’t talk about work outside of work will go a long way. It might even make her stop talking in general if work is the only thing she wants to talk about.

  24. Aggretsuko*

    I feel like you may very well need to be blunt and/or mean to her about wanting to not be with her all day. She sounds hell bent on being with you and isn’t going to take hints.

    However, I would not be surprised if she gets angry/resentful/hard to work with after that. She gives me that vibe reading this. I think you need to think really hard as to whether or not having quiet after work is worth having her pissed off at you for 8 hours every day. I think I’d rather put up with her than have open hostilities at work, but that’s me.

    1. Junebug*

      That’s a false choice. Most likely management is competent enough to not allow such unprofessional behavior at work. If they aren’t, then coworker won’t be the biggest problem for long.

    2. Jean*

      “Let her hold your commute hostage so she doesn’t overtly terrorize you during the work day” is an interesting take, but OK

    3. Paulina*

      No. CW is exhausting. If CW becomes a problem at work afterwards, that can be tackled then. OP shouldn’t have to put up with this just in case the CW gets punitive.

    4. Kita*

      If that happens, OP can address that as an issue with her and her manager. That’s a performance issue and can be addressed professionally and appropriately in the workplace. It’s absolutely not a reason to put up with this behavior! And frankly, the fact you think it is makes me deeply concerned about YOUR professionalism and understanding of appropriate behavior too. Do you work somewhere deeply unprofessional, with poor boundaries, weak management, and bad behavior going unchallenged, by any chance?

    5. Observer*

      I think you need to think really hard as to whether or not having quiet after work is worth having her pissed off at you for 8 hours every day.

      As if she’s making the OP’s life at work a bed of roses.

      OP, if your workplace is at all functional you have nothing to worry about. She doesn’t have any power over you, and I can’t see any supervisor giving YOU a hard time if she starts acting up at work because you listened to you headphones on your way home.

        1. J.B.*

          I think OP already has enough to go to her supervisor about, from her response in the comments. Not in a sense of meting out punishment but to raise the awareness. If the coworker continues to talk for HOURS preventing work completion and does not stop even after the OP lashes out, then coworker is a work problem.

  25. agnes*

    I think the LW needs to be even more direct. “I want a quiet commute” still leaves the slightest wiggle room for this person to still show up on the train and sit beside you. It sounds to me like the LW wants to sit alone, without a coworker in sight, and do their own thing. “I want to commute home alone” is a better representation of what the LW wants.

  26. Delta Delta*

    You shouldn’t have to do this, but maybe start scheduling things immediately after work. And make sure they’re things she can’t tag along on, like a fitness class, because she’ll want to talk after that. (Or, if you’re a runner, join an evening running club and tell her she can talk to you while y’all do your daily hilly 8-miler. Heh.)

    Or be direct and say, “I like you but you talk way too much and at the end of the day I need to be quiet and decompress.”

    1. Colette*

      She’s tried that; it hasn’t worked. But that script is rude, not direct. She’s better off using one of the scripts Alison provided.

    2. Blushingflower*

      I definitely had the thought of “add some other stop to your route” but based on the description I wouldn’t put it past the coworker to either join the OP’s gym or just hang out at a nearby coffee shop while OP attends her silent meditation class so they can continue commuting together.

      1. londonedit*

        Absolutely, and it’s really unfair on the OP to suggest they have to add yet more stuff into their own evening just to try to get away from this co-worker. OP is already staying later at work than they have to, which would seriously annoy me (I want to leave the office on my own terms and get home at a decent time so I can enjoy my evening, thanks!) and I don’t think it’s reasonable for them to feel they have to go to the gym/get off somewhere different/go to the supermarket when it’s the co-worker who should be able to take the hint and leave OP alone to get on with their commute in peace.

        1. Blushingflower*

          yeah, that was the other thing that occurred to me when I was like “oh, just start going to the gym” (or even SAYING that you’re going and then taking a different bus home) – she shouldn’t have to radically alter her schedule just because this one colleague can’t respect a boundary

          1. Blushingflower*

            The one routine change that MIGHT work without being a huge burden on OP is like, just ghost at the end of the workday, maybe 30 minutes earlier than normal. Don’t say you’re leaving, just get up like you’re going to the restroom and then peace out. The degree to which this is feasible depends a lot on the office layout (can she see that you’re grabbing your coat and bags?) and how flexible the work schedule is. And also how frequent the buses/trains are

  27. Charlotte Lucas*

    It sounds like OP is responsible for training, so might need to be available for questions, etc., during work time.

    If this is the case, there’s the added wrinkle that some people (especially new employees) get emotionally attached to their trainers. It’s both flattering & draining.

    I agree with Alison’s direct approach, but I would add something to the effect that I need to decompress & can’t talk about work once I’m done for the day.

    1. High Score!*

      Even when I’m training people, I schedule training time for them. They don’t follow me all day long.
      If coworker does have to shadow you and she starts to rehash something, say “yes, we’ve covered that and I do not want to rehash. So let’s take a break while you go over it with yourself and meet back here in 15 minutes”
      I’ve found people will just assume that I have my issues and do as I ask when I’m firm.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        Hard to say. I used to do all-day training classes for new employees. They were a month or more long. But if the OP can schedule specific time, they should

  28. staceyizme*

    This would be so hard! But, definitely, for your own sanity, you’ve GOT to shut it down. No more discussion. Don’t share an Uber. Don’t go with her to the bus stop. Literally, take out your ear buds and listen to a podcast or whatever it takes. Don’t engage. She can’t talk to you if you don’t agree to listen. It sounds like she’s been holding you hostage to her own preferences for how things go. That’s an outsized ask for anyone, even a spouse or best friend! Don’t talk about it anymore, DO your own life differently. Because the talking is not working, apparently. It might be an upset for her, initially. But this was going to blow up sooner or later based on her determination that you’re Burger King and she can “have it her way”. “No” in actions will be a better, final gatekeeper of your time, attention and energy than “no” in words.

    1. Colette*

      I agree. Use one of Alison’s scripts, then enforce it with actions. If you end up at the same bus stop, get on the bus second and choose a spot away from your colleague. If she starts talking to you, say “Sorry, I need this time to decompress, I can’t talk now.” If she waits around for you after work, ignore her if you can; if she starts talking to you, repeat that you need to comute alone so you’re going to pretend you don’t know anyone on the train.

    2. Susan from HR*

      This suggestion feels very scorched earth given that LW hasn’t yet tried asking for what she wants directly. After she’s done giving coworker the silent treatment, LW still has to work with her everyday.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        LW doesn’t have to ask for what she wants. She can just say what she needs. I agree that she needs to be more direct and blunt than she has been, before she puts in the earbuds and ignores, or moves to a different seat/car. But she’s not asking, she’s telling.

  29. Detective Amy Santiago*

    As much of a fan as I usually am of being direct, if you want to break the cycle, could shift your work hours a half an hour earlier for a week or two? Or get a friend/relative to pick you up to “go somewhere” after work that’s not home? Maybe even splurge on an Uber or Lyft?

    1. Ya Girl*

      It sounds like she’s even following her into the Uber! I think this needs to be a firm conversation before anything else. Then maybe the LW can have someone pick her up for a day or two just to really send the message home.

      1. Sara*

        Yes, ultimately it sounds like the LW has just had a hard time saying no — like you can’t stop her from getting onto a bus, but you can certainly say “No, I don’t want to share an Uber today.” But at some point you’ve got to just say no!

  30. Afiendishthingy*

    This reminds me of an old coworker who asked constant, I mean CONSTANT disruptive and repetitive questions to anyone in the vicinity. Once she was asking another coworker a question approximately once a minute even after that coworker told her repeatedly she was on a deadline and was not available to answer questions. Busy coworker got up to go the bathroom and Question Coworker started to FOLLOW HER, asking “do you mind if I talk to you while you pee?”

    (Busy Coworker DID mind, as it happens. She’s weird like that.)

    You are going to have to be VERY direct, LW. You have my sympathies.

  31. cmdrspacebabe*

    I’ve had this kind of situation at my first career job and it wound up seriously damaging what was initially a great work friendship. I ultimately could not help starting to dislike them after it went on too long, and I’m sure they noticed and were hurt by it (I was too young/inexperienced at the time to address it properly and my resentment showed). It also affected my relationship with other coworkers who had been mutual friends and picked up on the change in my behaviour. We worked together again a few years later and got along fine, but those friendships never came back and it’s always been a bummer. If you can bring yourself to set the boundary, you might still be able to preserve the friendship, even if it’s awkward at first.

  32. SheLooksFamiliar*

    My job requires me to interact with clients and partners all day. I can be engaging and chatty, but I’m a total introvert and empathize with the OP. Work travel is a special kind of nightmare because my clients and colleagues usually insist on group meals, sightseeing, or just hanging out because they’re bored. I need my alone time, and I’ve gotten good at being direct when people don’t take hints.

    I practiced saying things like Alison recommended, over and over until they didn’t feel so blunt to me. I didn’t soften my comments with, ‘I hope that’s okay with you…’ or ‘I’d really prefer to be alone…’ or ‘I hope you understand.’ Still, I chose my words and tone of voice carefully, so the message was pleasant yet direct.

    I can’t remember a time when people didn’t respect my position, which made it easier for me to unclench a little and hang out or go for a drink after dinner or somesuch. Building and maintaining harmony is always a good thing.

    1. Anja*

      I’m the same way. And agree that creating firm boundaries in a friendly way definitely makes life a lot easier. At work I eat my lunch by myself facing the windows (bar seating) and then go for a walk – I have explicitly told people “I need this hour of my lunch to just disconnect from humans for a bit and hang out in my own head.”

      Being clear on these things up front usually does make things a lot easier and keeps people from being offended. Waiting to create those boundaries can lead to the additional negative of embarrassment in the person who didn’t realize they were annoying you or causing stress.

      1. Despachito*

        “Being clear on these things up front usually does make things a lot easier and keeps people from being offended. Waiting to create those boundaries can lead to the additional negative of embarrassment in the person who didn’t realize they were annoying you or causing stress.”

        Spot on.

    2. UKDancer*

      Definitely helps to be direct and pleasant. I am more extroverted than some (although I usually type as borderline I/E) and I definitely need time to decompress after a day of work travel / meetings / conferences. It’s a lot easier to be tactful yet direct. “I need some time to prepare for tomorrow so I’m going to get room service and be grumpy” works quite well for me.

      I find it’s a lot easier travelling on business if people are being clear and honest about what they want to do. Sometimes that’s meeting for coffee or going for dinner and sometimes it isn’t.

  33. Cobol*

    Removed. Please do not armchair diagnose here, even as speculation, per the commenting rules. – Alison

  34. Susan from HR*

    So many comments recommending headphones. Headphones are not warding charms. Passivity works with most people but the coworker is clearly not “most people.”

    There is nothing wrong with being assertive in a situation like this.

    1. Sara*

      I see headphones as the next step after being direct. This coworker sounds like they may very well just ignore/reject a direct boundary. So if the LW tries being direct and that doesn’t work, headphones so at least she doesn’t have to listen are the next step.

        1. Delphine*

          She has–telling the coworker she wants a quiet commute *is* direct. So if the coworker chooses to ignore an even more blunt conversation, headphones might be a good option.

            1. Paulina*

              Sticking to the boundary drawn, which headphones will help with, is part of being direct. You have to show your words mean what they say, or some people will just wave it off.

          1. Free Meerkats*

            That’s not direct; it’s hinting via stating a preference that still requires the chatty Cathy to make the connection which she’s obviously incapable of doing as exhibited by her previous hint-missing.

            Direct here would be, “I want a quiet commute, and you’re interfering with that.”

    2. Windchime*

      Yeah, I have to say that in a perfect world, my giant 10 year old Bose headphones would serve as a signal that I want to be alone in my own head; unfortunately, they seemed more like a “come and bug me!” beacon. People had no problem tapping me and interrupting my train of thought while I was wearing them.

      I think direct + headphones is the way to go. People like this won’t get subtle hints; “I have an appointment” doesn’t mean anything other than “we are taking a later bus” to this woman. OP is going to have to be direct; there have been several good scripts suggested so I won’t add another. Good luck, OP! I feel for you.

    3. Observer*

      So many comments recommending headphones. Headphones are not warding charms. Passivity works with most people but the coworker is clearly not “most people.”

      The point of headphones is not that they will magically make the CW shut up. But they WILL make it easier for the OP to enforce their boundary and IGNORE the CW. Because there is a really good chance that even once the OP states the case and tells CW that the “shared commute with a rehash of work” is not acceptable, CW is STILL going to keep trying.

  35. CreepyPaper*

    Can you not sneak out while she’s in the bathroom or something? You shouldn’t have to do this but I have literally done that to avoid a clingy coworker in the past.

    Otherwise it may be time for a Firm Conversation and honestly, stuff it, if her feelings get hurt, that’s a Her problem and not a You problem. I personally would have snapped weeks ago and told her to Stop Following Me And Shut Up. OP, you are a very patient human.

  36. Janet Rosen*

    I disagree with suggestions to use headphones. Many of us don’t like or want to have to isolate from our environments, so it would be being made very uncomfortable in order to keep pushy coworker from feeling uncomfortable.
    “I need my down time to be in my own head while traveling to and from work, so it would be best if we traveled separately. See you tomorrow.”

      1. Sparkles McFadden*

        While traveling or commuting, I sometimes wear headphones that aren’t plugged into anything to discourage chatty people. I can still hear everything but I look less approachable.

      2. Observer*

        Sure, when the OP is waling, it may make sense to not wear the headphones or not play anything. But when sitting on a bus or train, that doesn’t really apply.

    1. CmdrShepard*

      I get what you are saying and completely agree in theory OP should be able to use your script and the coworker would accept it. I just don’t think telling the coworker to leave OP alone will do the trick. In this case the headphones are to help reinforce and make it easier for OP to ignore the coworker. OP can’t really control if the coworker talks to them, what OP can control is how much they listen and if they respond. You can still tune someone out and ignore them without having anything in your ears, but I think it would be easier to tune out what the coworker is saying if you can focus on a different audio stream movie/tvshow/podcast/music etc… The hope would be that after enough time of being ignored and not getting what they want the coworker will give up and stop talking to OP, but maybe even give up having the same commute.

      1. Charlief*

        You can though. You can say you aren’t going to commute together and if they make it weird you make a scene- restate boundaries, say you get on this bus, I’m getting on the second one. If they still hang around, I told you I need this time alone what is the matter with you?

        When someone is unreasonable you can be louder. Honestly if she won’t listen then it’s a safety issue and should affect the persons work. You can have a row.

        A lot of people who aren’t great at setting boundaries assume the world will end if they stand up for themselves. In reality, it’s uncomfortable but then makes things a lot easier.

  37. Alex*

    When I’ve run into someone I’d rather not on my commute, I take out a book and say, “I’d actually like to get some reading done during this time, but nice to see you!”

    You can also play a podcast and say, “This is my only time to listen to my favorite podcast, I hope you understand” or something. It’s one thing to say you don’t want to talk, but it’s not really going to happen unless you have some pivot away from her.

  38. Seal*

    Ugh. A decade or so ago, I was getting my masters degree in the evenings while working full time at what was then a new job. The school I was attending was an hour or so away and classes were 2-3 nights a week. The commute was fine when I was able to do it by myself because it gave me time to listen to music and unwind after the stress of my new job. However, a classmate lived in the same town and wanted to carpool. I had a brand new car at the time, but her car was absolutely disgusting! It was always dirty inside and out and full of trash, plus the air conditioning barely worked and everything smelled of stale smoke. She was a good 10 years younger than I was and we had nothing other than the degree program in common to talk about on the way to and from class. She was also rather woefully uninformed about current events , so I almost bit my tongue off regularly so as not to get into arguments about politics (she was very conservative and I’m very, very liberal). At first I agreed because I wanted to be nice, but I soon found myself making up excuses to not ride in with her. Fortunately after a year of this she moved out of the area. In retrospect, I should have set boundaries with her and said I’d be happy to carpool once in a while but not regularly. That would have made the entire thing far less stressful.

  39. Training Manager*

    My original comment got nested, trying again:

    If this were a male coworker doing the same thing people would be VERY concerned and recommending drastic action, not saying to wear headphones or try working a different shift.

    I find it very disturbing that this person will leave work but wait around for hours to ‘commute’ with the OP. It is not normal.

    1. Susan from HR*

      I actually think these passive/avoidant responses represent how most women (and the majority of commenters here are women) would respond to male harassment. Women have been taught to avoid conflict with aggressive men because the sad truth is that it can be incredibly dangerous for women to stand up to cat-callers/stalkers/creeps in any way. Women have actually been shot for refusing to give men their numbers. So most women learn to avoid harassment by doing the things commenters are recommending, like wearing headphones, changing their hours, changing their commute, slipping away while the creep is in the bathroom, etc.

      The coworker lurking after hours and then “bumping into” LW sounds like a huge red flag. But LW really wouldn’t be able to report coworker for commuting with her because she hasn’t actually asked the coworker not to. But even if she does, the reality is most stalking complaints are not taken seriously, even as they get into bunny-boiling territory.

      I was afraid once that I was being stalked by a female coworker (I’m a woman) once. I ended up telling her not to contact me anymore after she sent me dozens of unanswered texts all night. She was hurt, but ceased all contact. It was always awkward after that of course, but I got what I wanted, and thankfully we didn’t have to work together closely. So it may actually work for LW to just be direct with the coworker and not escalate it. Eventually, LW may need to escalate things, however.

      1. Nanani*

        This. People are recommending these tactics -because- we’re concerned, not instead.

        Don’t “what about the menz”. Just don’t.

      2. Despachito*

        I see where you are coming from, and was wondering a bit myself what the likely outcome would be if both LW and the colleague were male (and I assume that on average, a man would have less problems to be blunt from the beginning).

        It is possible that the reluctance to be firm and blunt comes from a fear that if someone feels offended by me they will probably retaliate – but how realistic is this in practice? There are cases of psychopaths who kill people who they think wronged them, but how likely is this to happen? And there are also cases of psychopaths who killed a person who was kind to them out of pity (both cases actually happened in my city, the former just a few days ago), but I dare say that both cases are rather an exception than a rule, and it would be a pity to be afraid to stand our ground for our whole lives for fear of something which MIGHT happen but in practice is not very likely?

        1. Observer*

          You ask “How likely is this fear”. The answer is that for a woman being treated this way by a man, the likelihood of things not going well is quite high. The fear is not unfounded and it’s not based on myths.

          1. Despachito*

            I by no means say that the fear is unfounded – just a couple of days ago,in the city I live in, a man severely injured a woman he was making propositions to and she refused (he also thought she was responsible for his firing from work), and before he was caught he killed a city clerk because she dismissed his application for unemployment pay.

            So there definitely IS a risk that if you anger someone he will retaliate, but is it really a reason to tread our whole lives on eggshells around everyone and be nice and comply for fear of retaliation?

            (And unfortunately, being nice does not help either – I remember another case several years ago when a female colleague tried to interact with a newly hired young man out of pity and purely on a “work-friendly” way, he mistook it for interest in him, stalked her and eventually killed her).

            So I am thinking along the lines – there indeed are situations that end very bad, but they are fortunately quite few and far between, at least where I live, and I am afraid they are not preventable by being evasive and lying low for our entire lives.

            1. J.B.*

              You’ve talked about several situations, one of which you have personally witnessed. So I think calling them “few and far between” is a stretch.

              1. Despachito*

                I didn’t witness any of them personally (thank God), they just happened in my city and made the headlines so that’s why I know about them. (Perhaps it was misleading when I said “colleague”, I meant HIS colleague, not mine).

                The first incident is recent, as to the second, I had to check and it actually happened 15 years ago.

                I do not want to digress, I just wanted to acknowledge that things like that unfortunately can and do happen, but they are by no means daily occurrences and that we should be appropriately wary but not paralyzed.

        2. Birch*

          Well, that would make sense if men who abuse and harass women *were* actually treated like psychopaths in our society. But they’re not, they’re treated like upstanding citizens who made a mistake. It’s incredibly ignorant to ask women to roll those dice on “how bad could it be.” Sure a small percentage of these cases end in death (?arguably any percentage is too high, one would think? and your own example suggests that there’s no way to know if you’re at increased risk or not!) but the spectrum of other bad stuff from assault (including groping) to verbal and psychological harassment to online harassment to work-related consequences is staggering and you need to include it in that calculation. Then you’ll realize that it’s much safer to try to de-escalate the situation passively.

    2. Sylvan*

      Most of the suggestions I’ve seen here are things that many of us do to avoid harassment.

      1. Despachito*

        I know (and from a certain angle, the coworker’s actions could be seen as borderline harassment) but I perceive it as a completely different dynamics than sexual harassment, and potentially much less dangerous in terms of retaliation.
        I agree with those who think that LW has not yet clearly communicated to the coworker what she does and what she does not want, and before this is done, there still is a possibility that the coworker is just very tone-deaf. I’d be in favor of being firm and kind, and my heart goes out to LW because I can imagine it can be difficult.

        1. J.B.*

          From the OPs responses, there could well be a sexual element. And are you automatically assuming that women never become violent? Have you thought about why that is?

          1. Despachito*

            You are right, I (wrongly) assumed that as they were the same sex the dynamics was different, and only later revealed in the thread that it indeed can be sexual.

            I was not assuming that women never become violent though, but I in fact did assume that it is less likely that they will turn violent in a situation of refusal. (Not wanting to bother you all the time with real-life examples, but there was a case of a woman who stabbed a complete stranger to death in a mall), so I think that in fact you never know who will eventually become violent.

  40. Purt's Peas*

    Ways to make this request feel kinder without making it less direct:

    “Hey, heads up, I’ve realized that I need to have a solo commute” <– politely indicates that you haven't been sitting there hating her; that you've enjoyed her company previously

    "Let's wave to each other on the bus or platform when we see each other of course" <– emphasizing that you're still friendly

    "but otherwise let's sit separately and pretend we're strangers" <– said with a smile, can be a way of putting you on the same team, you're requesting what you need but you're making it feel more mutual.

    I've said variations of this before, but also oh man I totally sympathize with avoiding coworkers during a commute…one of the reasons I bought a coupe as my first car was to get out of carpool responsibilities with my nemesis. So I toooootally get it.

  41. Akcipitrokulo*

    If she is just clueless, being direct and saying “I want to commute alone. See you tomorrow!” will be a kindness. Speaking as someone who does miss cues (not to this extent, I hope), it is a relief and there are genuinely no hard feelings if someone states their preference directly.

    If she is being manipulative and banking on the fact you didn’t actually say no, then saying it is not only fine, but necessary. When she is causing the awkward, you are fixing issue, and have no need to feel bad.

    So either way, be direct! Kind, but firm and direct.

  42. Amethystmoon*

    I once had a very chatty coworker but of the opposite gender. He could not take a hint at all. Not even earphones worked with him (and I got the most obnoxiously big stereo headphones I could afford, to make the point). My clingy, chatty coworker also did things like follow me, to the point where I wound up having to mention it to the boss. The following happened when we didn’t even have the same meetings or I just was going out to the parking lot, or somewhere different to eat lunch so I wouldn’t get Judgy McJudgersony Judged by him. The only thing that ever worked well with him was constantly being busy, or at least, pretending to be constantly busy. I got very good at always looking like I had something extremely urgent to do, even on days when there was absolutely nothing to do.

  43. thinkin*

    Removed. Please do not armchair diagnose here, even as speculation, per the commenting rules. – Alison

  44. Rusty Shackelford*

    LW, what do you think would happen if you very directly said “You know, I need to stop thinking about work right now. I’m happy to talk about other things, but I’m putting work behind me after I walk out the door, and I need to not talk about it on my commute. This is a thing I’m doing from now on.” And then, when she tries again (as she almost certainly will), DO NOT REWARD HER. Do not hint. Do not even sit and quietly stew. Just say “Excuse me, but like I said, I need to not talk about work on my way home.” Or do you not want any conversation with her, even if it’s not about work?

  45. esmerelda*

    As someone with overly chatty (though kind) coworkers who are boundary crossers and very unaware people… I feel your pain, OP! Wanting time to yourself is not a crazy request. I agree that you will need to be more direct, and I think you may need to be more direct than the wording suggestions that Alison gave. To an already not self-aware person, hearing someone say “I need to commute alone. Bye, see you tomorrow!” may mean that you need to commute alone for *tonight* only. And then tomorrow you’ll talk to her on your commute (as opposed to at work tomorrow, which I know is how a normal person would take that). You may need to literally spell out for her that you want to commute alone *everyday,* that you are starting a new thing with commuting alone daily. Should you have to spell it out so clearly? I mean, no. But dense coworkers, no matter how kind or sensitive, require absolute directness if you want to be understood.

  46. Sparkles McFadden*

    I had this exact issue and I resolved it by saying this: “I’ve realized that being around people at work all wears me out and I really need to be alone on my commute in order to calm my nervous system. In the past you’ve waited for me so we can commute together, but I now know it’s best for me if I am alone on the ride hope. Thanks for understanding.”

    I thought this was an appropriate “It’s not you, it’s me” for the workplace. It was also very true. So go ahead and tell the truth LW. It’s not unkind to be very direct.

      1. Sparkles McFadden*

        There was a little sulking and a minor amount of pushback (the occasional dramatic “Oh, don’t you know that Sparkles doesn’t like have to talk to people outside of the building?”) but I didn’t respond and it stopped…and that was what I was going for.

        1. Pikachu*

          That is the best part about setting firm boundaries. If someone is upset, you did it right.

          1. Wisteria*

            “If someone is upset, you did it right.”

            Wow, no. You can’t control how another person responds, but somebody being upset is not a *desirable* response. It will happen sometimes, but a response of “Of course, I had no idea it bothered you!” let’s you know you did it right.

            1. Pikachu*

              I didn’t say it was a desirable response. We’d love for every person to say, “my bad!” That is a reasonable reaction if you are not a toxic human being.

              Many people don’t find themselves struggling to set boundaries with reasonable people, because like you said… a simple sorry is sufficient. The hardest people to set boundaries with are the ones that will have the strongest emotional reactions… avoiding those reactions is literally the reason no boundaries have been established.

              If you draw a line and the other person gets defensive, angry, sad, or tries to manipulate their way out of it, then you were right to draw the line–they were somehow benefiting at your expense.

  47. Keymaster of Gozer*

    I had a coworker way back who kinda started doing that and I’m a very ‘I don’t do social outside of work’ person. Waiting hours for me to finish work, following me to the bus, sitting by me, following me into shops when I just wanted to get some milk before going home….

    She was perfectly nice, just…needy. She needed to have someone listening to her to feel good.

    26 year old Keymaster wasn’t as direct as my current 40 (cough) something self so I tried this:

    First day in the office after I decided to do something I told her I’d need to do the journey home on my own today because I got stuff to think about. She was ‘oh of course, I’m so sorry, anything I can do?’ To which I said no.

    Thing is, that ‘I need alone time to think about things’ carried over to the next day. And the next. And several more. Eventually she kinda got the point – I think a LOT.

    (Note: this is not my preference on how to deal with it now – I’m older and care less about people not liking me – but just my experience.

  48. Seeking Second Childhood*

    OP I’m getting flashbacks to a bad ride-share arrangement. (He was buying gas for my car, because he didn’t have one.) I told him when I agreed to try it that I just listen to the radio I’m driving. The guy would not stop talking even for the duration of a traffic report. When I  directly told him I need quiet when I’m driving, he said it was his role to ‘keep me entertained’!  I snapped “not in my car!” And he zipped it for ONE DAY. Repeat three days, so I told him it wasn’t working, he would have to find an alternative for the next week. ​He kept coming by my desk asking to try again!
    I jumped at a chance to change my standard work schedule to work with a group in another time zone. With his coverage-based job, this made us compatible in a way that he could understand. The only idea I had after that was to ask my manager if he could be kept out of the department. ..and that would have been extreme.

  49. Shad*

    This. If coworker feels unsafe, it is on coworker to figure out how to feel safer. A month ago, before she burned the quiet co-commuting bridge (not scrolling back up to check the actual timeline; the order of events matters more than elapsed duration), plan A could have been to safety-buddy with LW, but that would’ve involved actually *asking* LW if that could work, and respecting the set conditions on it working.
    But after coworker has repeatedly failed to respect LW’s boundaries on overlapping commutes, it’s eminently reasonable to say that ship has sailed and coworker needs to find a different solution.

  50. cncx*

    this is completely tangential but i have a point. once in college i had a “friend” in the same major as me who would come into my cafe while i worked, and i was working so i wasn’t hanging on for twenty minutes or leeching, and one day he was pretty forceful after literally like 30 seconds about telling me that he only came to the cafe to study and not to talk to him.

    then another classmate came up and they had a social conversation (not studying, it was social, i heard it all) right in front of me in the cafe for an hour. it still stings twenty years later. setting the boundary didn’t hurt as much as he only set the boundary with me. it felt personal and it was, and i still don’t know why he didn’t want me to literally talk to him for 30 second max. you know, i never spoke to him again after that, not even hi. It would have been a totally different story had he blown her off too, but he didn’t.

    If i were in OP’s case (and i have been with a coworker who wanted to use luncthtime as complain about work time which stressed me out) my biggest concern would be setting the boundary hurting the relationship on the clock. So all that to say OP most certainly isn’t responsible for her coworker’s boundary issues or feelings, but it would be a kindness and help the work relationship that if she set that boundary to make sure it’s equally enforced with everyone at least the first few weeks, say if there are discussions with another coworker has a similar commute or if OP grabs drinks after work with someone else. That’s what i did with my lunch complainer, i made sure not to talk shop with anyone at lunch.

    1. Colette*

      I disagree with this. The OP is allowed to set the boundaries she wishes to set outside of work, so if she wants to hang out with one coworker, she’s allowed to do that without ceding her commute time to another coworker.

      The clingy coworker might be hurt! While the OP shouldn’t go out of her way to hurt her, she can’t let herself be held hostage to the fear of hurting her feelings while setting reasonable boundaries.

      1. Sparkles McFadden*

        I fall in the middle here because, with people like the LW’s follower, it helps to have that person see you are holding the line for awhile…at least until she’s used to the idea of not following the LW. Otherwise, it opens things up to “Oh, so you’ll commute with Fergus and not me?” People like that need a transition period… and being low key is a gentler (and surer) way to do the transition.

        It’s not that the LW owes this person anything. It’s just a better way to make the change stick and avoid workplace drama (even if LW is not the one bringing the drama).

        1. Colette*

          But the OP isn’t looking to commute with someone else – that doesn’t mean she can’t do anything social with anyone she works with, if that’s what she wants. What cncx said (and I replied to) was “if OP grabs drinks after work with someone else”.

          A lot of times when people start doing this kind of management of someone else’s feelings, they get more and more bitter about it – person A to what (they think) person Bwants, but they aren’t getting recognition or credit for it. And then person B (who, keep in mind, has no ideas that person A is doing anything other than what they want to do) asks for something minor, and it’s the last straw. Person A blows up, person B gets hurt, and it all ends badly because person A didn’t speak up and set a reasonable boundary and allow person B to manage their own feelings about it.

    2. Delphine*

      I’m sorry your friend treated you that way. I do agree with your point that one way the LW can help maintain the on-the-clock relationship with this coworker is to ensure that she is applying her quiet commute rule broadly–but it seems like she would do that anyway.

    3. Anonymous Today*

      The OP seems pretty up front about not wanting to talk about work after work.

      I suppose it’s possible that there’s another coworker with whom the OP shares a particular interest or hobby, so if they were to commute with her and want to talk about the latest addition to their anime collection or the most recent Stephen King novel, the OP might be up for that, but wouldn’t that be completely different?

  51. FD*

    I think other people have given good advice here. That said, if you’ve been put in a position where you’re expected to at least mentor this person, I think it would be good to talk to her in a more big picture way. In most job contexts, rehashing a particular thing for hours simply won’t be acceptable. If she really needs to do this level of processing, it probably shouldn’t be at work, as it’s going to be difficult for other people to get work done in that setting.

    “Jane, I want to talk to you about something I’ve noticed. In general, it seems like you want to keep going over things that have happened, sometimes for hours at a time. In this job, we need to be able to focus on the situation at hand, and continuing to focus on things that happened in the past makes it hard to do that. Going forward, I would recommend” (this phrasing is softer because you’re not her manager–I would probably use ‘I need to see you’ or ‘I need you to’ if I was) “dropping topics after ten minutes.

    “In addition to that, for myself, I use the commute home as a time to decompress and to stop thinking about work. Taking time to myself to relax and breathe is part of that for me. So going forward, I won’t be commuting with you, and if we happen to be on the same train, I won’t be sitting together with you.”

    This will feel very harsh but it’s honestly the kindest thing you can do right now. Whatever the reason, her behavior both on and off the clock is unacceptable. If she’s not aware of that, setting this boundary and telling her honestly that it isn’t okay is a huge kindness if she isn’t picking up on the social cues. If she *is* aware of it and is crossing boundaries, then it makes it clear that you aren’t playing that game anymore.

    You should be prepared for her to have an intense reaction–she might dramatically blame herself and call herself worthless or behind or she might get angry. It will likely be your natural reaction to comfort her. But your goal here is to stay as neutral as possible and let her feel whatever she’s going to feel.

    1. Vina*

      I think this could be helpful (especially if it happens inside work hours).
      You might also offer, or think about, a tactic I’ve been using since undergrad. I used to be everyone’s “listening post” and I finally got to the point where I’d stop them when they started and say “Are you asking for advice or do you just need to vent?” and then, depending on their answer, I might tell them that I wasn’t available for that (mostly for venting – because I didn’t have the energy to deal with someone complaining about their haircut when my grandmother had recently died!)
      The point is that eventually my friends and I learned to Check In with the person to whom we wanted to verbally process. So you might encourage your colleague to ask “Hey, do you have time for this” or “Hey, can I talk over X topic with you” before launching in and emphasize that she has to Respect The No.
      And I’ve got to say, as someone who hates/hated conflict, giving myself permission to tell people “I am not available to listen right now” turned out to be Amazingly helpful, and not as conflict-producing as I thought!

      1. FD*

        I agree it’s a useful tactic in general…I don’t know that I would necessarily offer it in this case as the person’s biggest problem seems to be that they are legitimately ruminating on things more than they should (for whatever reason that is). Now, that’s not the LW’s problem to fix but I feel like in this specific context it’s more likely that the person will say that and then put people in a situation where they feel uncomfortable setting that boundary over and over again.

        It really isn’t okay to vent this much at work even if you are getting permission from coworkers first so I feel like focusing on that tactic in this particular case wouldn’t be helpful.

        1. Vina*

          Good point about the coworker – they probably aren’t likely to take the implicit “talking people’s ear off is a Big Ask, don’t do it all the time” and instead just pass the burden on.

          I do hope the OP find a way to be comfortable being direct in shutting it down. I know how hard that can be.

  52. cubone*

    Great advice all around here, I would just add that you should try to make a point of having this conversation NOT at the end of the day/commute time. Find a moment to have this one on one to be direct that you want alone time on your commute. This gives the other person some time to digest it and not in the moment when they’d been expecting something different.

    1. Anononon*

      This is a very good point. I’m (hopefully) nowhere near as bad as the coworker, but I do recognize some of those clingy, awkward tendencies in myself. If I’m used to going home daily with someone, and I was told right before the commute, I think I would be a lot more upset than if I had time to process it and, essentially, mentally prepare during the day.

      Obviously, if this isn’t feasible or convenient to OP, she should do what’s best for her, but it’s something to consider.

      1. cubone*

        Yeah, I think it would give the person some space to process if it does feel a little upsetting or uncomfortable and not be quite so painful as if it was in the moment when they’re standing there, expecting to leave together?

        I was also thinking that in this method, the first conversation is Setting The Boundary and then that second moment at the end of the day is more like Reinforcing The Boundary (whether you have to repeat it, or just put on your coat and walk out, acknowledging again what the new boundary is….).

  53. Archaeopteryx*

    It can allow her to save face of you frame it as if you’re just now realizing you want some quiet commute time, rather than having wanted it all along. It’s much less embarrassing to have her think “that’s too bad, I guess OP wants to switch it up now” than for her to dawn on the idea that she’s been annoying you this whole time.

  54. Liane*

    As has been pointed out in at least 1 other comment, LW says she does the same kind of thing at work: latches on to LW to babble “for hours” about some Work/training Thing she doesn’t get. Is coworker’s desk/workstation/cube possibly in a “scary part” of the office?

    1. Liane*

      Meant to be a reply to Mike’s 11:18am comment: “Is it a long commute, possibly to or through a scary part of town? It’s possible she’s afraid to commute alone but doesn’t want to come right out and say that.”

      1. allathian*

        If it’s a scary part of town, any coworker would do, not just the LW. Also, even if the CW is scared, that’s not the LW’s problem to solve.

  55. Zoe’s mom*

    I would try it this way” I’m super stressed out at work and need to try new things to help. That means I need to commute on my own from now on. I have to do something b/c this stress is eating me alive.” Clear boundary. Not her fault.

  56. Tired of Covid-and People*

    Why does this commentariat always veer into fanfiction when trying to explain odd behavior, when the reason why doesn’t matter anyway? In this case, it’s folks saying that maybe this stalker-ish person is afraid to commute alone. If this was the case, what would be stopping her from saying this to the OP?

    Most folks can’t wait to be on their way home after work, waiting around for hours after being off duty is weird, I wouldn’t do this for my spouse. OP’s coworker is getting everything from the present arrangement, OP is getting nothing, and it has to change. OP, ASSERT YOURSELF. If you lie down, you’ll get walked on, and you are not your coworker’ keeper.

    1. Pikachu*

      I agree… it is so common to see commenters (in this thread and tons of others) recommend OP make up stories, change their routines, wear headphones, and do all kinds of things that just kick the can down the road. These “solutions” all come at OP’s expense and don’t fix anything.

      1. Windchime*

        It’s because they are hoping that if they drop all of these “hints” (which seem obvious to the commenters but are NOT going to work with someone like this), they won’t have to come right out and be politely honest. Dropping hints (headphones, etc) won’t work. She’ll just gesticulate and laugh and ask you to take them off so she can talk at you.

    2. Sparkles McFadden*

      Yes, it does not matter that the coworker’s backstory is or why she is doing what she’s doing. The LW just need to focus on setting boundaries and holding the line.

    3. Wisteria*

      Calling the coworker stalker-ish is a little fanfic-y. Could you have said the same thing without the adjective?

      1. Anonymous Today*

        I would have agreed with you up till the point where the coworker pretended to leave, hung out in the neighborhood, and then met up with the OP at the bus/train stop.

        That’s where it started to get weird for me.

  57. A Non E. Mouse*

    Aside from the commute, can you explain to your supervisor/manager that you don’t feel the training is working well, and you think someone else could have a go at it?

    You could just frame it as “this isn’t working as well with Weird Coworker as it has with others, and I’ve tried a few different communication styles in an attempt to rectify it. It’s taking a lot of my time, and hers, so I think we should have Coworker I’m Throwing Under The Bus try for a while instead, and see if their unique style meshes better with hers. We can re-evaluate in X weeks.”

    It sounds like you are at a breaking point with it, so less interaction at work and on the commute home could take the edge off a little quicker.

  58. Pikachu*

    This level of dedication to commuting with you is creepy af. I honestly don’t see how it is any different from the letter writer whose coworker was copying her clothes and hairstyles. Leaving to kill time and coming back to find you? That might not meet the legal definition of stalking, but it is really weird. What if she shows up at your house?

    I wouldn’t even ask her if something else is going on, because it doesn’t matter and is not your responsibility, even if it is something out of her control like being neurodivergent. I also don’t think you should explain why you want to commute alone. Whether you want to just decompress or try to fit as many marshmallows in your mouth as possible, your reasons are private and irrelevant and it just opens the door for more rebuttals.


    The exception to that might be if you feel as if all these conversations are focused on things she doesn’t understand or feels behind on. You should still set a firm boundary around your commute, but you might need to decide whether her inability to learn or retain new information needs to be escalated to your manager.

  59. Rachael*

    I’ve noticed that people are generally weird about commuting. I do not like to carpool or commute with someone either because I would close my eyes and sleep or just relax after a hard day. I did not want to share that time with anyone, even if I enjoyed that person’s company. Several times, I had someone find out that we “have an opportunity to carpool” and I found that the only way to keep my alone time was to be direct. I just instituted a blanked “I don’t carpool or become bus buddies” with everyone. No exceptions. That way, I felt better saying no to one person….because it wasn’t personal. I made that rule for everyone. The only way you are going to be able to take back your commute is just telling her that you love chatting with her at work and you didn’t want to hurt her feelings but you don’t commute with people and would like to get back to your alone time.

  60. Can relate*

    I have a huge fear of public transit and when I was traveling to new cities for work, I would cling to my coworkers to not be alone. The first few trips for business, I was probably this person on a smaller scale. I was in my early 20s and so afraid, even after years living in a far more “dangerous” city (or maybe because of it). I loosened up on my own and didn’t need a talking to, but I also didn’t see my coworkers as mentors or even friends yet. It was probably varied degrees of annoying, though, and I had to do work to make myself feel more secure in new places.

    I dont know what kind of mentorship you are obligated to. You say “responsible for” but also “informal”, which makes me sorta curious as to why mentorship is part of the relationship if you are hired at the same level. I dont want to read into it too much, but if work is already sort of draining (and its not actually part of the job) it might make it a bit easier to set these sorts of boundaries if you aren’t acting as a peer to peer mentor.

    If you aren’t her boss, but also dont see her as a close enough friend that you could just say “Hey girl, I’m trying to get a little space. I’m going to start taking the bus alone, can we meet up at x time instead?” It might be good to back off in other ways. I think its a little boundary blurring that you might be a big part of her personal development, teaching social queues and investing a ton of your professional energy into helping her when its (I’m assuming) not part of your job description. She might see *herself* as being a really great friend by checking up with you and encouraging you to not work as late and making sure you have a buddy on the bus, after all, you invest so much work time in her! Maybe she feels like she’s repaying the favor but also cant wrench herself away from work chat, or sees no other subject to bring up (if you are keeping your interests separate from work and her relationship with you)

    I said I didn’t want to speculate, but I just did a bunch, so I guess take that all with a huge grain of salt. Being direct is for sure the answer, and you aren’t responsible for her attachment, but I would look at the whole of your relationship and see if there’s anywhere else that needs fine tuning.

  61. Yellow*

    I used to share a commute with a coworker as well. We would often sit next to each other on the train ride in, and chat for a few minutes. Then I would tell him I was going to listen to a Podcast, pop my headphones in and that was that. Some days we talked the whole way to work, other times not much at all. He and I got along really well, and it was easy to be direct and firm with him. Just tell her what you’re going to do, “I’m going to listen to music/read a book/listen to a podcast”, then do it and tune her out.

    1. Sparkles McFadden*

      I used to share part of my commute with a coworker and it was just like this.

      But…You can’t do that with someone like the LW’s needy coworker. If you put on headphones or ask to sit quietly, this sort of person will go on for the whole commute on how they totally understand why you want to do that and they get it and they feel that way too sometimes and oh, by the way, didn’t you hate it when Sheila said that thing during the 2 o’clock meeting? Such people will literally pull a book out of your hands or grab an ear bud cord to pull out your ear bud. It really is something else. LW has to set firm boundaries and not stick to them.

      1. Yellow*

        That’s why you hold firm on your boundary by not participating in the conversation! Or you say, “I don’t think you understood- I don’t’ want to talk right now” and put the headphones back on and ignore them. Or get up and move if you have to.
        This is not going to be an issue that’s once and done for the LW… they are going to have to keep doing it again and again. Like training a dog.

        1. Br*

          OP doesn’t want to travel with this person, and they don’t have to. No training is needed here. They get to choose not to travel anywhere near this person. They are not obliged to sit with them and teach them not to interrupt!

          1. Elsajeni*

            But one of the complications here is that, if they’re both taking public transit along the same route and around the same time, I don’t know that OP really can choose not to travel with them! You can try to hang back and get into a different train car from the other person, or wait for them to get on the bus and then suddenly decide that you’re waiting for the next one, but you can’t stop them from saying “oh, I’ll wait with you!” or moving cars to sit near you or whatever. Assuming the OP doesn’t want to (or can’t) stop taking public transit altogether, I think their only choice is going to be to engage in this sort of boundary-setting and -enforcement.

            1. Who is the asshole*

              Except you absolutely can. There is nothing obligating LW to sit next to boundary pusher. If they happen to be in the same bus, they can sit at opposite ends. LW can actively move or tell boundary pusher to move or even get out at the next stop if boundary pusher doesn’t listen.

              I don’t mean to imply any of that is easy, but LW is a free person and can enforce whatever boundaries she needs.

        2. New Jack Karyn*

          This sounds like more work than LW is willing to do at this point. I think she just wants to not chit-chat at all, and have the solid boundary of Not At Work Now on the commute.

  62. WT..*

    It baffles me how people lack room reading skills. If someone was even remotely stand-offish about anything, I’d get the hint pretty quickly.

    1. Dancing Otter*

      There are probably things that come easily to other people and not to you, right? We all have different strengths and weaknesses. Don’t assume because something is obvious to you that it’s clear to everyone.
      This coworker either doesn’t understand hints or doesn’t care. Being unmistakably, crystal clear is the right approach, either way.

  63. Yup My Former Coworker Wouldn't Leave Me Alone Either*

    Unfortunately, I’ve been in a somewhat similar situation before. I’ll keep the details generic here: I’m a woman, and another female coworker wouldn’t leave me alone. I was direct to say to her that she needed to stop talking to me, and not to contact me outside of work, but she kept escalating. At one point I felt extremely uncomfortable and even unsafe. But what helped me was realizing that with all my initial concern about hurting her feelings, her emotional and social needs, etc., she was not AT ALL concerned about my feelings and needs. She decided that her needs for contact with me trumped all my needs. She was completely selfish. The only thing that worked at the end was I had to pretend she didn’t exist, and completely ignored her. Luckily, the project that we worked on together was coming to an end soon after she escalated, and I didn’t have to keep any contact with her afterwards. She quit soon after.
    I did report it to my boss, who took it seriously, and he helped report it to his boss and HR.
    LW: if Allison’s approach doesn’t work, you might want to loop in your boss. Maybe your boss (or someone else) can have a word with your coworker. This is one of the situations where having a 3rd person outside of this dynamic might be more effective than handling it all yourself.

    1. Sparkles McFadden*

      Yes, all of this. LW needs to document everything if the behavior continues and/or escalates.

  64. Lifeandlimb*

    Hey OP, I agree with Allison’s suggestions but wanted to add a body language note for afterwards in case you run into her. (I’m an introvert who loves conversation, but I need to be clear with my boundaries so I can recharge my batteries and make sure conversations don’t go on too long.)

    A couple years ago I started instating the “Ok. I gotta go bye!” and Breaking Eye Contact rule. Either I look away toward wherever I’m going or focus intently on the bag that I’m packing. Don’t renew eye contact with the person, no matter how tempting it may be or long they stand there. Just pretend they’re already gone. Don’t talk, don’t look. If they talk to you, just ignore them and pretend you’re too focused on whatever you’re doing. I’ve found this goes a long way.

    1. Poppy*

      Refusing to make eye contact is excellent advice. I also found quite by accident that wearing sunglasses can really put a Talker off their stride.

  65. Joielle*

    Ugh, I have a “bus buddy” too – not nearly as bad as the LW’s, but it’s still annoying. I don’t dislike them as a person, but they’re just really chatty and I am not. And they don’t take hints, so I’d have to be very direct to put an end to it. AND they’re kind of a drama magnet, so there’s a chance it would become a whole awkward thing.

    We only end up on the same bus a once a week or so (and that was pre-covid), so it hasn’t been worth it to me to address it. But once we go back to the office I’m fervently hoping we won’t be on the same schedule!

    1. SoloKid*

      What kind of drama? Them saying things like “Joielle doesn’t want to talk to me on the train, what a weirdo”?

      I had a coworker say that about another, and I said “I don’t want to talk to people on the train either!” You may find more people that agree with you! (But I get it. People are hard sometimes.)

  66. Saint Dorothy Mantooth*

    Speaking as an introvert who shuts off like a light switch at the end of a work day: this scenario is my literal nightmare.

  67. HiHello*

    She may not even get offended if you are straight forward. I have a problem with not shutting up/overstaying my welcome sometimes. I am an extreme extrovert so I don’t always notice that I am being too much.I am aware, though, that I can get like that, so I told my friends to just let me know straight up when it’s happening. I don’t want to be that annoying friend. They do tell me and I never get mad. And it works for them too because they don’t feel bad when they have to tell me.

  68. X*

    You’re being too nice, op. You’re going to have to be a little mean. People like this don’t listen to niceness or politeness, they just ignore it and stomp all over boundaries. You’re going to have to tell her point blank that you do not want to commute with her at all, period.

  69. WantonSeedStitch*

    A while back there was a guy who was chatting and flirting with me at the bus stop every day when we took the same bus from near where we lived and into the city for work in the same neighborhood. He asked me out, and I politely turned him down, but he was still chatty and sat with me on the bus every day and sometimes coming home too–he wanted friends in the area, he said, as he’d just moved there. But it was pretty clear we had ZILCH in common, and I didn’t really think of him as someone I could be friends with. Someone I could politely interact with? Sure, but I didn’t want to spend my commute politely interacting with him every day. So I eventually had to tell him, “listen, during my morning commute, I like to spend time knitting or reading or listening to music, or else prepping for the day ahead at work. No offense meant, but I’d really prefer to sit by myself on the bus so I can do those things.” He was a bit sulky, but let me be. I still made a point to say good morning to him when I saw him at the bus stop and make a little small talk, and then when we got on the bus, I’d say, “well, have a good one!” and go get a seat by myself.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      I’m happy this story has a happy ending.

      I get lectured about “Boundaries! You should try to have some!” in my life, but I unfortunately have spent a lot of time dealing with people who don’t respect my no’s and I have to keep escalating until I’m screaming bloody murder and they STILL WON’T STOP, so reading the OP’s responses later has actually really been triggering for me.

      For me, “boundaries!” really boils down to, is the person going to respect them if you try to have them? And what are you going to do if they flat out do not? How much are you willing to escalate your behaviors and no’s when they aren’t respected? Is it worth the fight that you are engaging in?

      Reminds me of Harry and Meghan saying they tried to stick it out for years and finally had to deploy the nuclear option–and now there’s constant feud that nobody’s going to get over now. Great.

  70. trying again*

    So my original comment was deleted and I 100% understand why (refraining from armchair diagnoses), but I do wanna reiterate that the amount of vitriol and pathologizing as a “stalker” in the comments for someone basically exhibiting zero ability to understand social cues and boundaries in a professional space is really disturbing to me. As an autistic person of color who exhibited some very “unprofessional” behavior when I first entered the workforce, including poor social boundaries around trainers and supervisors, I know what it’s like to not pick up on social cues and having the person whose cues I’m missing resent me for it. I usually lurk on this site for the excellent advice but I was taken aback at the number of comments expressing disdain, anger, or resentment towards someone who might just be inexperienced with or incapable of understanding certain social cues. (This stacks double, triple, or more if you’re not white/if your first language isn’t English in a predominantly white/English-speaking setting.)

    OP – I think being direct with your coworker – and reaffirming those boundaries regularly – would be a kindness, but I’d also like to call for more grace in the comment section instead of jumping to associate behavior like this with ‘stalking’ and other malicious, abusive, or otherwise intentions.

    1. twocents*

      This isn’t a person who doesn’t pick up on social cues. This is a person who waits for a significant amount of time, after she has pretended to leave for the day, to pounce on LW as soon as LW leaves for her commute. This is a person who has changed her own commuting habits to coincide with LW. This is a person who, upon being told LW is getting an Uber to run her own errands, has tried to invite herself along.

      I am actually angry at people dismissing this as someone with autism, because my own experience with people who have autism is that they take great pains to understand social expectations. They don’t follow people around.

      1. Dark Macadamia*

        +1 people who genuinely believe someone wants to share a commute with them don’t usually lie about leaving, wait out of sight, and then “happen” to bump into them later

      2. Aggretsuko*

        Yeah, I’m really really really tired of people bringing up autism at every opportunity. We’re not diagnosing people, and this lady is more stalker than neuro-whatever.

    2. Tired of Covid-and People*

      FWIW, I said “stalker-ish” as a descriptor of the behavior, not the reason for it.

      We know nothing of the coworker’s neurological state.

    3. Yup My Former Coworker Wouldn't Leave Me Alone Either*

      I think many commenters are reacting to this specific coworker’s behavior, and not directing them at you. I appreciate your first paragraph but not so much the 2nd. Sorry maybe it’s not your intention but I can’t help but feel like you are veering into tone policing with your comment. I think the commenter’s emotions of resentment, fear, anger, etc., are as valid as any emotions you have. Some or even many of us who shared out experiences here are also POC/Women/English-not-first-language, we feel particularly vulnerable to coworkers’ intrusive behaviors, and we want to feel heard too. Coworkers are only human. They probably also have multiple stressors they have to deal with in their lives too. It is considerable extra emotional labor to have to reaffirming the boundaries regularly.

    4. Violetta*

      Stalking is a behavior. This behavior. Intention isn’t what counts here, impact is. Whether the coworker intends anything malicious or is simply cluelesss/neurodivergent, they are causing harm here and it is not kind or helpful to minimise that.

    5. Observer*

      basically exhibiting zero ability to understand social cues and boundaries in a professional space

      Well, firstly, this goes well beyond “professional space”. It’s also behavior that goes well beyond “poor social cues.

      The CW is probably not a monster. And they probably are not dangerous either. But their behavior IS absolutely out of line, and a functional adult should really know better. And whatever her intentions may be, her BEHAVIOR certainly has a lot of commonality with garden variety stalking. And that’s a genuine problem. Intent is not magic. Google the meme about getting of someone’s foot. It applies here.

    6. Pikachu*

      That’s just it though–OP and her colleague aren’t new to the workforce. They have been in this job a while, and both worked before at the same company. OP doesn’t mention this kind of behavior taking place at their previous company, so I would guess that it probably didn’t. It doesn’t seem to be happening to their other colleagues either.

      I don’t think it can be explained by misunderstanding social cues or professional norms if it’s brand new behavior focused entirely on OP.

    7. username-needed*

      trying again, I agree with you on all points. OP being direct with the coworker is good, and I would definitely make sure it is a private, quiet and gentle conversation, wherein “I like you a lot as a person, and I like spending time with you, and I do not want to hurt your feelings, I just need to commute home alone sometimes to decompress” and/or “I can’t talk about work during our commute”.

      I’m not suggesting that OP’s coworker is neurodiverse, but as a neurodiverse woman who was diagnosed with ADHD at 30, I can speak on my own experience with stuff like social cues and seeming clingyness in the workplace. My closest work friend was diagnosed with ASD at 26. (She’s five years my junior.) We can both struggle with social cues and both carry some serious scars from dealing with social exclusion and bullying at school, due to no diagnosis or treatment until we were adults.

      In order to avoid something happening like what has happened with OP and her coworker, we talked about it (privately and away from work) so we knew what each other’s boundaries were. This was important as she and I live a few streets away from each other, and were often commuting home together.

      We have a system where we commute home together if we’re finishing around the same time and we’re both heading straught home, but if we need either some time to ourselves, we just send a text and let the other one know. If one of us really wants to catch up with the other person after work to speak about something important whether work related or not, we also text, to see if that’s okay, which is particularly important on days where we aren’t sure if we’ll finish around the same time. If it doesn’t suit the other person, we make alternate plans for a catch up.

      It works really well for us, and it was the directness mixed with gentleness (“I really like hanging out with you, and I want to be friends and don’t want to hurt your feelings, I just sometimes need to use the commute to decompress and/or not talk about work during it”) which made that work so well.

      1. allathian*

        In this case, that probably wouldn’t work. The LW has commented above that they’re both queer women and that she thinks the CW may have a crush on her, and she isn’t interested in her that way. So no, I don’t think she really likes hanging out with the CW. Although she said she likes the CW, I honestly don’t think that’s true. She may not hate her, but the CW sure annoys her.

        1. Despachito*

          I think so, too.

          I think that “I really like you, but…” could be dangerous if the coworker indeed has a crush on LW, and I am afraid it is often used as a “softener” when it is far from true for fear of upsetting the person.

          And I also can’t imagine that LW likes hanging out with the coworker – if I was her, I’d passionately hate CW’s guts. And the episode with CW talking and talking DESPITE LW’s outburst outright creeped me out.

      2. Who is the asshole*

        Please read letter writer’s longer update above (first or second answer of hers) and tell me you see yourself in co-workers behavior. Because I assume you won’t.

    8. J.B.*

      Trying again, I am sorry for your experience. I have recently observed someone in my own family who (given my experience) really really really should be evaluated for ADHD. The behaviors were a problem, but the reason we have gone extremely low contact is that the coping methods escalated to emotional abuse. Get off my foot.

      My own tack when someone is not picking up on indirect communication is to communicate very directly without softening language. No “sorry” either. As a female presenting person it took a long time to become comfortable with breaking out of the way many of us are socially conditioned to behave.

  71. Amanda*

    This may be completely off base, but it sounds to me like this woman struggles to pick up social cues. Saying things like “You don’t have to wait for me” implies that you do actually want to travel with her but you don’t want to inconvenience her. Being direct like Alison said would help if that is the case.
    And if the issue is mostly just the talking, you can avoid the inconvenience of trying to avoid each other’s commutes by changing the phrasing a bit. “I need to be able to decompress on my commute, and I can’t do that when I’m having a conversation. I’m going to be listening to music/reading a book/checking my phone during the commute from now on.” Then if and when you do ride together, you have shut down the conversation.

    1. File Herder*

      She leaves, then hangs around outside in order to “accidentally” bump into OP. It’s happened multiple times. This is not the behaviour of someone of someone who doesn’t pick up on social cues. This is the behaviour of someone who does but thinks they can rules-lawyer their way around OP’s not particularly subtle social cues. *This* is the behaviour that made so many of us go “Oh hell no, stalker”, including some of us who are neurodiverse and frequently sublimely unaware of social cues unless said clues are painted in six foot high letters in screaming neon pink and glitter letters on a giant billboard.

      She may even be very aware of her behaviour and embarrassed by it and unable to help herself. Been there, done that. Still not OP’s problem to solve.

  72. HelenofWhat*

    I don’t know if this is the best strategy, but as you’re in a mentoring position, in your place I would probably approach the coworker in this way: “Hey, I noticed that when I politely let you know I’ll be commuting alone, you seem to miss that request. When someone says ‘go on ahead without me’ or ‘ I have an appointment’, it means that they really do not want or need anyone to hang around waiting for them. Does that make sense?” (All in as kind a tone as you can.)

    While this might be patronizing, I think the coworker either really isn’t getting these hints and probably would benefit from having this explained to her, or the coworker is aware of what they mean and is being knowingly rude. This might embarrass them a bit, but that’s not always a bad thing! Everyone embarrasses themselves
    Then next time they linger around waiting for you, you can say, “Remember when we talked about this? I’m commuting alone today.” If they disregard your requests to be left alone, then you know it’s a serious boundary issue and should probably be escalated to a manager.

    1. Wisteria*

      The best strategy is what Alison suggests: Stop dropping hints and make a direct request.

  73. Sleeping Late Every Day*

    From OP’s letter, part of the problem is that she really does like Chatty Coworker, so she doesn’t want to completely piss her off. My suggestion is to look her in the face, say “I’m off the clock and can’t do any more work talk,” and STICK TO IT. If CC starts to say work words, OP should hold up her hand and say “Nope, no work talk.” This can be combined with earphones if necessary. It’s direct without being offensive to someone the OP otherwise likes.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Right. I feel like OP is going to have to be actively rude and offensive in order to get this woman to stop, because she’s not going to stop–and that may have consequences at the workplace she can’t get away from.

  74. I edit everything*

    Honestly, if I couldn’t get her to stop, I’d probably move to a different neighborhood. This whole letters makes my introvert alarm go full claxon and flashing lights.

    1. 1234*

      THIS. I’d purposely move somewhere that is in the other direction of work so that this person has no reason to join me on my commute, ever.

    2. Mannheim Steamroller*

      I thought the same thing, but…

      If OP moves to a different neighborhood, is Coworker likely to also move there to keep sharing the commute?

  75. Maureen Dance*

    Not that sensitive, if she hasn’t gotten that you don’t want to travel with her. If she acrts all hurt, that’s on her. She’ll probably give you the cold shoulder, but unless that affects work, consider yourself lucky. I had a co worker like that once. It wasn’t even that she wanted to talk, she just didn’t like commuting alone at night. Also, she had to ride in the middle of the train, incase there was a collision in the tunnel. Well, I wanted to ride at the front of the train, because it would be closer to the escalator to the bus platform, and I trust y city’s transit system. That’s how I shook her.

  76. Beth*

    OP, the only thing to be done at this point is to directly tell your coworker, “No, I don’t want to commute with you. Please leave me alone. I’ll see you tomorrow at work.” You’ve done all the less-direct options already. Your coworker chose to not take the soft ‘no,’ so now you have to be really blunt. If it hurts their feelings…I mean, that sucks, but it’s a direct consequence of their own choices, not something you can control. If this person was concerned about not getting their own feelings hurt, they’d have taken you at your word when you told them not to wait for you, that you wanted quiet, that you didn’t want to talk, etc. You can’t be more concerned for their feelings than they are!

    1. Wisteria*

      There is a huge middle ground of directness between the indirect hints that LW has been using and the nuclear options you propose. Alison’s suggestions live in the middle ground. LW should really try, “Thanks, I prefer to commute alone,” before she jumps to “Please leave me alone.” Even with a “please” in front, “leave me alone” is bound to be alienating.

      1. Beth*

        OP has already tried a pretty wide range of softer options, and a lot of what they’ve described sounds reasonably direct to me! “I have an appointment, go without me” is pretty clear.

        But more than that, I don’t think it’s a ‘nuclear option’ to tell someone you don’t want to do a specific thing with them. I don’t think asking someone to leave you alone for the moment is that extreme, either. Both are things that people have to tell each other sometimes, part of living in a society where we interact with each other a lot. In my experience, unless the person being told ‘no’ responds very badly, they don’t generally destroy relationships. They might decrease the intimacy level a bit (asserting boundaries can often do this, at least temporarily, as people adjust to the new line), but that’s not necessarily a bad thing in a case like this.

    2. Jen in Oregon*

      I typed out response that was supposed to go here, but I somehow stuck it in the wrong place! So, I will just say that I concur. See my comment below for some possible scripts if you’re interested!

  77. HereKittyKitty*

    This is my literal worst nightmare. But I also think being direct will (hopefully) solve the problem! At my last job I could tell my coworkers were very /together/ all the time and often ate lunch as a large group so literally the first week during my 1:1’s with everyone I said something like “Just FYI, I can get introverted sometimes so you might find me eating lunch by myself and reading a book to recharge! So if you invite me along and I decline, I probably just need a bit of alone time, it’s nothing personal!” That phrasing did the trick and it worked out for me!

    1. Jen in Oregon*

      If you have the sense of humor for it, you can do a riff on Bradley Cooper’s line from the Hangover “It’s the weekend/after 5pm! I do not see you, coworkers; you do not exist!” If you can say this in jest with an audience as you get up from your desk, you can refer to it when she tries to join you on your commute.

      If that’s not your style, maybe try a direct and friendly “Hey, I’m going to say good-bye to you now. Today and in the future, I am going to spend my commute alone. I need to decompress and I cannot do that with company. Thanks for understanding and I will see you tomorrow. Actually, I’m going to stop here for a moment**. Goodnight!”

      (This wording is simply telling her what you need and want in a way that shows it’s not personal, and you are treating her with dignity of not assuming that she’s someone that needs to be coddled. )

      **Best case scenario is if you do this in a place where you can step away immediately, like to the restroom, or a coffee shop or store, or even an uber where is would be either impossible or at least very awkward for her to follow you. If she does get her feelings hurt by this, it also gives her a chance to collect herself in private.

      If she does try to follow you, stop and say “Please don’t follow me.” If she still persists, you’re going to have to get very blunt and say “I have asked you politely, and now I am telling you: leave me alone.”

      Hopefully that first bit will do it, and being that blunt won’t be necessary. But it might be best to be prepared. Good luck OP, whatever you decide!

      It will feel weird and maybe even a little mean

      1. Jen in Oregon*

        Ack! The last bit got cut off!!

        As I was saying, it may feel weird or mean to do this, but if you otherwise like her and want to be friends, or at least friendly, maybe ask if she wants to go to lunch or grab a coffee. This isn’t necessary unless you want to. And if she tries to make that an every day thing, it’s much h easier to say not today or maybe next week, etc.

  78. Vermont Green*

    It sounds as if you like this woman, so my suggestion is to temporarily take on some kind of project to do during your commute—like a meditation practice, learning a new language, reading all of Shakespeare, etc., ideally one that involves headphones. Tell her that you have made a commitment to yourself to do this, but (optional) offer to commute with her on one certain day of the week. On the day you say you’ll spend with her, be attentive and friendly, otherwise, ignore her completely.

  79. AKchic*

    “I’m not on the clock so I am no longer in work-mode.”
    Put in headphones, pull out a book, and ignore. If she tries to discuss work-related things off the clock, be blunt: “that is a work hours discussion. Schedule time when we’re *at* work to talk about it during work hours. I am working to separate work and personal life with a vengeance.” Be ruthless about it. If she can’t separate the two, that’s a her problem.

  80. Raida*

    “because we constantly talk about work and I’m being obligated to give my opinion and teach her socially.”

    Noise cancelling headphones, and tell her “I need to switch off from work” “I need to decompress” “I need some time to myself”
    and also, very explicitly, you say “Sorry no I’m not at work, I am not spending my personal time working. If you have questions keep them until tomorrow and if you need ot process out loud that’s fine, I won’t hear you because I have my headphones.”
    You should have been honest up front about no-work-during-the-commute or no-chatting-during-the-commute.
    But now you know, frame it as “I’m trying something new that [person] has suggested for me that they said worked well for them.”
    And sit down, arms crossed, eyes closed, with music or an audiobook or a podcast going.

    You do not actually need to walk away from her and *refuse* to commute together, but you should take away the constant talking with you so you can see if that works for both of you or not.

    She CLEARLY wants you as a friend, dude. She’s wasting time just to talk to you, and hopes because you live near each other that means she’s made a friend as an adult. Consider if you do want to be friends or not before dciding if you want to deliberately walk away from her or not. And if you DO wanna be friends – friggin well tell her “no work outside work hours” because a good friend is someone who’ll be helpful and expect some consideration in return.

  81. Jessica Fletcher*

    I wonder if she or someone she knows has been attacked on a commute, or has had a stalker in the past, and maybe she’s afraid to go alone. If she feels unsafe, maybe she would agree to a mutually silent shared commute, where you walk/ride near each other, but listen to separate podcasts, read books quietly, etc.

    It sounds like you’ve tried telling her you don’t mind going alone, but you haven’t tried telling her you don’t want to talk about work after hours.

    1. username-needed*


      I used to commute with a former co-worker all the time, but we spent most of our time reading our own books. We’d talk sometimes, but not very much. It was an extremely comfortable silence but made us both feel safer in a new part of the city that didn’t have the best reputation at the time for safety for young women.

  82. RagingADHD*

    “Stop following me and waiting for me. I am going to ride home by myself.”

    “No, I don’t want to share an Uber. I am going to ride home by myself.”

    You can dress up the descriptions however you want, but the words you need are No and Stop.

  83. Harriet Vane*

    There are a lot of headphone suggestions here, but the LW says above that she isn’t comfortable wearing them on her commute.
    I have no further suggestions, just popped on to say PLEASE update us! I’m invested in the outcome.

  84. Wisteria*

    I feel I’m forced into this obligatory commute where I am still sort of “on the clock” because we constantly talk about work and I’m being obligated to give my opinion and teach her socially.

    I notice that there is an aspect of your own beliefs going on–you feel that you are obligated to be on the clock and give your opinion. It might be easier to use direct scripts like Alison’s if you change how you see your obligation to your CW. You really aren’t obligated to give your opinion and teach her socially during your commute home just because she wants you to. Give yourself permission to say no and change the framing that makes you feel obligated.

    Be kind about it, though. There are a lot of unkind and unnecessarily escalatory scripts in the comments here. You can be direct without being mean.

    1. Despachito*

      “You can be direct without being mean.”

      Exactly. And the rest of what you wrote, too.

  85. latticedfence*

    This is tough one, and I’m afraid I’ve had a similar problem before, more than once. I’m really sorry, OP!

    It sounds like you do genuinely like your coworker, and if you do want to be friends, and are happy to commute together either sometimes, or are happy to commute with her but just do not want to talk about work, you could work with that. You may have already tried this, but the thing that usually worked for me with my similar coworkers was finding shared interests outside of work to talk about on the commute instead. this could be literally anything: movies, books, TV, trains, politics, philosophy, cooking, gardening, arts and crafts, computer/video games, etc. It will get your commute buddy off the draining work topics, and might make any shared commute you have going forward more pleasant.

    If need be, you could even say, “I’m really sorry, but is it okay if we don’t talk about work anymore on our commute? It really stresses me out and I don’t want our time together to be all about work”. If need be, you could say that you have a lot going on at the moment, and you really treasure your commutes as the time when you decompress and don’t have to think about work at all.

    I would definitely keep changing the conversational topic away from work stuff, like, “hey, I know you’re really into Lord of the Rings/gardening/17th Century Russian poetry. I love that, too! What’s your opinion on if Balrogs have wings/how much pruning do roses really need/who the best poet of the era really is?”

    If you just want to commute with your coworker just sometimes, you could even say something like, “hey, I have a lot happening outside of work at the moment/some family stuff/friends in town/urgent appointments/a night school course/a friend going through a bad breakup right now, and it is really playing havoc with my schedule outside work. I just wanted to let you know that I’ll only be able to share a commute with you on Wednesdays for the next four or five weeks while I sort all this out. I knew you’d be understanding, but I just wanted to let you know”. Emphasise that you’re fine, it’s just that you have a lot on your plate, and it means that commuting together isn’t possible at the moment other than on Wednesdays.

    Putting things in place which mean that there are a few days wherein you aren’t commuting together also may be enough to break the cycle, so that it falls into a “hey, let’s commute if we’re finishing around the same time and it’s convenient, but no big deal”. A “circuit breaker” effect, where you don’t commute with her for a few days or a week, basically.

    For example, say you have an appointment (as you already have) and then dash straight out the door and into a pre-booked Uber or either your own car or a friend/family member who is able to pick you up. (I know this can be easier said than done!) I would also emphasise that you are going in the exact opposite direction to the usual commute for this appointment, so splitting the Uber fare makes no sense.

    Or you could also try the “I have to help a family member with something, so I have to leave straight away” or “I have a family matter to attend to, and need to go straight there” (and then jump in the pre-booked Uber). If that’s not enough, add in something like, “I need to have a difficult conversation about it during the Uber ride, and need privacy” or “I need to have a difficult conversation about it and need some quiet, private time during the commute to prepare for it”. You could even say something like, “I’ll be riding in the car/Uber with my sister/brother/cousin/aunt, and I need to have what I know is going to be a difficult conversation with them”. If she still doesn’t get it, and asks to come along, say, “thanks for offering to be there for me, but it’s not necessary. I just need to have this conversation and get it all sorted out”.

    You could also try making plans after work with a friend, or friends (or, again, with a family member or members). If you not going home straight from work, but actually going out socially (as in, you will NOT be commuting home) isn’t enough for your colleague to get it, you could ask your friend/s to come and meet you at the office.

    Your friend/s could even meet your colleague and say hello to them, and then say something like, “thank you so much for catching up with me after work. I know you’re busy, and it means so much to me that you’re willing to help me with all this”. If that isn’t going to be enough, switch out “all this” with “the divorce/death/breakup/other Really Private Thing that doesn’t actually have to be true, but should be a signal to everyone that no one is going to be allowed to come along as an Uninvited Third Wheel”.

    (This one worked really well on my cousin’s co-worker, who was oblivious to social cues: I met her after work, said hello to the co-worker, and then thanked my cousin for “helping me deal with the aftermath. It’s been awful”. I wasn’t any more specific than that, and it worked a treat. The co-worker and my cousin actually still work together now, and get along well, and the serious-but-vague statement I made just made her look like a really supportive, helpful cousin.)

    From my own experience, being super direct – “please leave me alone!” – isn’t necessary at this point (and is only needed in the most extreme of cases), and it may only make things worse. Your coworker seems to have some trouble with social cues, and may be lonely, stressed, and/or feeling socially isolated. This is not your responsibility, but I do think kindness – which is obviosuly your instinct – is the safer way to go.

  86. kms1025*

    This has been said and its really this simple, and this hard. Sit coworker down and have some version of this convo. “I need to talk to you and I need you to hear me. My commute time is my alone time to get ready for the day or leave the day behind me. I dont want to talk, I want to think. For me to accomplish this, I need to be solo. I hope you’ll understand that from now on I want to commute alone and on my own. I have no wish to hurt you and I hope you’ll understand.”.

    1. AllTheBirds*

      Yes to this.

      LW, I would also directly ask if she hears what you’re saying:
      “I don’t want to ride the bus with you. Do you understand?”
      “I am telling you directly NOT to wait for me after work. Do you understand?”

      The time for hints and subtlety is over. Speak as if she’s 5 YO. If she starts blathering about why/what/because, raise a hand to stop her. “I don’t want to discuss it any more and I will NOT change my mind. So I need you to agree with what I’m asking you NOT to do.”

  87. kaw-manager*

    There’s so many red flags here. OP did this person follow you from old job to new job? Did you know before applying and getting this new gig that this woman was also looking/applying? I’m getting so many creeped out stalker-y vibes here. Be clear, set boundaries, and tell someone (HR, manager) if/when this person doesn’t respect them.

  88. LondonLady*

    I agree that it’s worth trying the headphones and combining that with something very clear – eg “I’m using my travel time to do a meditation progamme so won’t be able to chat”. Combined with a sleep mask if necessary. Then just settle into your seat and ignore her.

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