my new coworker is my childhood bully, casual dates at the holiday party, and more

I’m on vacation. Here are some past letters that I’m making new again, rather than leaving them to wilt in the archives.

1. My new coworker is my childhood bully

I recently started a new job. A colleague, who has an unusual name, was a childhood playmate turned middle school bully of mine. Until now, I have not had contact with this individual since that time and have worked hard to sever ties with a painful past. He introduced himself and seemed friendly enough, as one does with a new coworker – no direct indication of recognition but I think my name gave him pause. Should I address it, or is it better to not bring it up if he doesn’t mention it first? (I don’t mean addressing the bullying, rather more as “are you from X town? So am I. I think we went to school together way back when.”) How do I maintain a professional working relationship with an individual who made my life hell for a number of years, but one whom I hope has matured and changed in the many years since?

This is 100% up to you and what you would feel most comfortable with. If you’d feel better acknowledging that you went to school together, your proposed wording works perfectly. If you’d really rather not address it, that’s fine too.

For what it’s worth, judging by first-person accounts of former childhood bullies and people who confronted their former bullies, it’s not uncommon for the bullies not to even remember that they were horrible to a particular person! Which seems shocking when you were treated badly, but it’s possible that this person doesn’t even remember it. It’s also possible that he remembers it and feels terrible about it, or that he remembers it and take glee in what a jerk he was, who knows. Regardless, though, I think your comfort here is what’s paramount.

As for how to have a professional working relationship with him, I think the best thing you can do is to treat him the way you would anyone you’d just met, and let him reveal through his current-day behavior what he’s like now. If you were just in a social situation with him, I’d say to feel free to be Extremely Chilly if you wanted to, but in this case your own professional interests dictate being at least neutral toward him.


2. I don’t like the sound of my wife’s company party

My wife recently took a job working for a large corporation three months ago. They are having a big blow-out dinner Christmas party, and no spouses or guests are allowed. I find this odd, as every company I’ve ever worked for allowed a guest when having a dinner party. A Christmas lunch is different only because you’re not expected to get trashed and more than likely the guest would be working at their job.

These people are a wild bunch who love to party and get rowdy. This place of business is about a half hour drive from where we live. She is insisting that she get a hotel room nearby, and she thinks this is acceptable behavior.

I haven’t expressed my dissatisfaction at this point and looking for an answer on how to best handle this situation. Also, last week she mentioned this and, most likely from the look on my face, she indicated that I could join her in the hotel room. It did make that situation more acceptable, but last night over dinner she basically excluded me and reserved a room for herself just down the road from the restaurant.

I can’t tell if you’re suspicious about whether the party is really employees-only, but it’s certainly feasible that it is. Some companies do have employees-only parties in the evening, although it’s not as common as parties that include partners or plus-ones.

Getting a hotel room nearby so that she doesn’t have to drive home from a party where she’ll be drinking is in theory a responsible choice; presumably the idea is that she doesn’t want to drive after drinking or maybe drive home late at night.

But it sounds like you’re distrustful of the whole situation and that there’s an issue between you and your wife, totally separate from the issue of this particular party. Do you not trust her to attend by herself? If not, why not? I’d focus there and not on the party itself. This is a relationship issue more than a work issue, and I’d argue that the party is a red herring.


3. My manager leaves to get her hair done during the workday

I work for a small firm with a fairly laid-back environment. One of my bosses regularly schedules her multi-hour hair appointments for workday afternoons. Every other month or so, she leaves work at 3 and comes to work the next day with freshly styled hair. She will leave meetings and reschedule work activities (conference calls, etc.) around her appointments, and it seems unlikely that she’s using her vacation/personal time for the time she’s taking off.

I understand that hair appointments are important and do take a significant amount of time. I have also scheduled hair cuts and coloring appointments during the week, but always after work hours. I don’t really want to confront her about this or even try to get her in trouble for it, but I do wonder if this is more acceptable than I’m thinking it is. To me, it seems unprofessional to run out to a grooming appointment during work time. Is this appropriate?

Yes, in lots of offices, this would be perfectly fine, especially for someone senior enough to make decisions about how to manage her own time (and your manager probably falls in that category). Particularly in jobs where you end up doing work in the evenings and on the weekends, reasonable employers are fine with people stepping out mid-day to take care of something personal. Hell, even in jobs where you’re not typically working outside of regular hours, reasonable employers will be fine with people occasionally stepping out for personal reasons. (You also don’t know if she’s using PTO for that time or not. She very well may be.)

For what it’s worth, if I were your manager I’d be pretty annoyed that you thought this was an issue. Assuming she’s generally competent at her job and the department is not falling apart because she leaving work a couple of hours early now and then, you should stop thinking of this as a problem.


4. My office has a mandatory employee-spouse dinner — but I’m separated

I’m an attorney in a small office. Every year, the partners plan a dinner for lawyers and their spouses (everyone is married), and attendance is absolutely expected. It’s usually planned months in advance so that everyone, including spouses, can clear their schedule to make it. I just got the email with possible dates in January.

Alison, my husband has been staying elsewhere while we work through stuff in our marriage. I’m keeping it quiet — I’m pretty private anyway — and I DEFINITELY don’t want to discuss my separation at the office while things are still so unsettled. How do I respond?!?

Explain that your husband had a last-minute work emergency or family emergency that he needed to attend to and is sorry to miss it. You’re allowed to create polite cover stories in situations like this, where people aren’t entitled to know the real situation. (And frankly, “He has some urgent family stuff going on that he needed to deal with” is true.)


5. Pointing out to my office that its holiday expectations are expensive for some of us

I was hired a few months ago as an entry-level professional (read: my salary is minimal and is just enough to cover expenses) after having recently graduated. We have a December staff meeting coming up, and the office mandates the purchase of a gift valued between a set range (so there is a minimum and maximum) and bringing food to the meeting.

I do not want to start any huge conflicts, especially as a new employee, so I already purchased the ingredients for the food item I decided to make and the gift. However, I am wondering if there is anything I can say or do to address this moving forward without creating unnecessary conflict or severely negatively affecting my relationships with my colleagues and supervisors.

Yep, you could say something like this to your manager or the person organizing the event: “On my salary, this really stretched my budget and was tough to pull off. I figured that might not be on the radar of people more senior to me, and I wanted to mention it in case next year the dollar amount can be lowered or more flexibility can be built in.”


{ 318 comments… read them below }

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      This is so common. Or “Ha, yeah, middle school was rough but we all made it through and bonded under the pressure” or “Hey, my good bud! I used to rib you all the time in a mutually fun way!”

      1. AnonEMoose*

        It was honestly kind of a breakthrough for me when I realized that my childhood bullies were, in their view, “just having fun,” and likely had no real clue of the damage they’d done. The fact that their idea of “fun” at the time was emotionally and mentally torturing the person who was the target of their “fun”…says a lot more about them than about me. I’m not in contact with anyone from high school, and I’m good with that.

        1. NCKat*

          I was bullied in high school, and once I graduated, I left and never looked back. I have never responded to alumni mailings, and I certainly never have been to any reunion. I got a letter this past year announcing a “delayed reunion dinner” and on the back was a list of objections and answers. One was “I was bullied and I don’t want to see anyone.” The answer? “Hey we are all nice now, honest.” I did not go.

          1. AnonEMoose*

            I went to one reunion – the 20 year one, because I was mildly curious and was able to fit in a visit to my parents at the same time. It was…ok. I got to see a few people I didn’t mind seeing, and my wonderful DH assured me afterwards that I was definitely better preserved than some of my tanning enthusiast classmates. I don’t feel the need to go to another one. It helped a bit that the bullying was much worse for me in grades 7-9 than in grades 10-12, because I had at least some more neutral memories that were more recent than the bad ones. But I don’t feel any need to go another one, if there ever is another one. I don’t think there was anything for 30 years, or if there was, I didn’t hear about it.

          2. Koalafied*

            Wow, what a persuasive argument for going out of your way to attend an event with specific people. They’re not mean anymore! That makes it totally worthwhile because it’s not like you can interact with people who aren’t mean without having to travel to a reunion.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              At least the “Queen Bees” that run the reunion committee at my high school are honest. Every five years I get the “your presence is neither requested or required at the upcoming reunion” email.

              Not that I would spend money to travel and hang out with people who don’t want me around.

              1. NCKat*

                Wow, at least you won’t have to expend any time or energy wondering if anyone is curious about how you turned out. But that is pretty bad.

        1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

          The (human) axe knew – it just didn’t care! That’s why it chose to be a (human) axe.

          It always amazes me when bullies (of any age) go into a wide-eyed innocent act, claiming that they didn’t realize that their insults and digs were actually hurtful to their victims. OF COURSE they knew that! If they’d only wanted to spout those insults and digs WITHOUT actually hurting anyone, they’d have gone outside and spoken the to a tree or a stone…but they never, ever did that. They CHOSE to verbally attack people that they WANTED to hurt and knew exactly what they were doing WHILE they were doing it.

          And yes, bullies can and do change, but this takes hard, painful work; the bully must acknowledge exactly what s/he did, how damaging it was and, honestly, what a rotter s/he was to have done those things. Very few bullies are really up to this soul-searing self-examination…if they were, they wouldn’t have been bullies in the first place! It’s much easier to flip off or rationalize one’s bullying, after all. That’s why so many bullies do exactly that.

          1. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

            I think this depends. There are definitely moments in my own life where I’ve said something that seemed innocuous and it turned out that, for reasons that were very real to them but unknown to me, that the person I said it to found it hurtful or rude. If they express that in the moment, I obviously don’t do it again, but if they say nothing and just decide I’m an awful person, well… no one’s obligated to like me! For young kids who are still learning social skills (on both sides) I think it’s very likely that at least some people have experienced being bullied without the person who hurt them being A Bully in some platonic sense.

          2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            I disagree. Bullies at school are children, and research shows that they’re most likely being bullied in some way at home. Children don’t necessarily know much about empathy, some take a long time to develop it (this is at least partly determined by how they have been parented: if they are left to cry it out, their brain doesn’t grow properly and empathy is apparently one of the things they find hard to develop). Most bullies are victims. If you ask a bully why they do it, they mostly answer “I don’t know”. I mean, a 9yo isn’t going to say that they are repeating learned behaviour from being left to cry and told they’re stupid and beaten.
            If they do manage to grow into a decent human being later on, they have no way of understanding what their victims suffered, even if they remember doing it, they suffered much worse so they have no idea that their victims still feel sick to the stomach when seeing them.
            I’m not excusing their behaviour in the least, nor am I saying that you should go to those school reunions. I’m just pointing out that people hurt because they hurt, not because they want to hurt, it’s not a choice but an irrational learned behaviour.

        2. L'étrangere*

          The axe knew. But chooses to forget, in public, and/or rationalizes it away, in private. I like to emphasize how much I have changed, to give them just a touch of discomfort, and prevent any thought of trying again

    2. Tisiphone*

      I thought immediately of the “To me it was Tuesday” trope in which the villain doesn’t remember the victims, but the harm done was considerable.

      It’s easy to forget something that isn’t important, and to a bully, the bullying is rarely important. If the bully remembers at all, it will likely be embarrassed remorse.

    3. Mrs. Hawiggins*

      I called out a bully before our 30th and all the things she said – ver batim to me.
      “I don’t remember that,” she said.
      “Why do I then?” I asked.
      “Oh.. I don’t know!!” she responded. With a very awkward pause.
      “Yeah well you know I call conference calls for everyone’s embarrassment and inconvenience,” i told her. I dropped the call and never looked back. People told me she wanted to apologize but I didn’t care.

  1. M*

    Our party this year was outdoor and employees-only, to minimise exposure.

    That said, although I agree that it’s more a relationship/trust issue, if the party venue is a half-hour away, could she not get an uber or ask her husband to pick her up? Hard to say without knowing the dynamics of the relationship but, if I were the wife, this would likely not be a hill I would choose to die on.

    1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

      If I were the wife of someone who seems as suspicious as the LW, I’d love to get away even for a night.

      1. MK*

        And if I was the wife of someone who was trying to get away from me even for one night that they were using their work holiday party and silly excuses (if you want to drink at an event half an hour from your house, you book a car/taxi/uber, not a hotel, barring some other extraordinary), I would be suspicious too.

        1. WellRed*

          Maybe she’s feeling suffocated. Also I wouldn’t want to risk getting an Uber from 30 minutes away (doubt Uber was even available when lettter posted). At any rate, the actual issue, as Alison answered is not the party: it’s that he doesn’t trust his wife.

        2. J.B.*

          Wow you don’t believe that spouses might want to get away for a night without being suspicious? Well ok, but I wouldn’t want to be with someone with such low trust in me.

          1. MK*

            No. I don’t believe a perfectly reasonable desire for some alone time or time with people who aren’t your spouse involves a work party and specious excuses.

        3. un-pleased*

          It’s interesting how differently people handle their relationships. I admittedly have a bit of an independent streak, but some space between partners is a healthy thing in my experience. My partner is not and cannot be the sum total of my socialization, nor can we have only the same interests and friends. I cannot see any reason in the world I should not on occasion have nights away without it being weird or suspicious.

          1. Jackalope*

            Yeah, I’ve generally slept in the same location as my spouse since we got married, but I could totally imagine choosing not to for a night, probably for something like this – spending a night socializing with people where he couldn’t or didn’t want to come, and getting a place to stay so I wouldn’t have to worry about driving home safely. (Which is not to say that I would be getting drunk; exhausted from a late party is also a reason to avoid being on the roads.)

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              Yes. The annual conference of the NGO I volunteer at is held just half an hour from my home. I cycle there. Then after the session, we start drinking and suddenly it’s midnight and I realise I’m in no fit state to ride home. There’s always a bed that’s been paid for but the participant had to cancel at the last minute, so I just crash out there.
              On occasions when I have made it home, my partner is already tucked up in bed when I get home, and still snoring soundly when I get up the next day for the next round of presentations, so it’s not like the relationship is getting much out of me coming home.

              I found it weird that the wife had suggested the OP joined her at the hotel… if he could get there, surely he could simply take his wife home rather than incurring the expense of a room?

        4. LinuxSystemsGuy*

          Not really true at all. If it’s an evening party, and “everyone parties hard”, it perfectly reasonable to think the party won’t be over until one or two in the morning. Half hour to get a cab (it’s late, so cabs and Ubers are not going to be as common), and another half hour home and your suddenly looking at two or three in the morning. I’d encourage my partner to get a hotel room. Just treat it like a short business trip.

          I’m with Allison on this. Dude has trust issues. They may be justified or they may not, there’s no way to know, but regardless they’re real and need to be dealt with. Whether it’s personal therapy, couples therapy, or both, something isn’t right here.

            1. Smithy*

              I think the point of booking the hotel and not getting a car is traveling 30 minutes later in the evening after a party with “festive” drinking (however that’s defined for anyone) simply isn’t as pleasant a choice for everyone.

              A 30 min commute in a cab/Uber at 1/2 am which (depending on where you live) may not even be that much cheaper than a reasonable hotel room for the night. I think the point is that certainly someone could book a car, but booking a hotel room isn’t weird or wild unless there are other issues at play in a relationship.

              When I lived in NYC, I had some friends who lived more like 45-60 min away depending on time of day/mode of transportation. And I would have been FAR more thrilled to go to parties at their places if a hotel room a block around the corner had been a possibility.

            2. Rainy*

              Where I live you can’t get a cab at 1am. Like, they *say* they’ll dispatch a car, but it will never come.

            3. Anonymous Bosch*

              The only way to book a car is if you know what time an event will end. This isn’t like a night at the opera (or a day at the races).

              If you book a room, you’ve paid for it and it will be there for you whatever time you arrive.

        5. Observer*

          And if I was the wife of someone who was trying to get away from me even for one night

          Except that this is not how it started. The OP’s wife was originally OK with the OP joining her for the night.

          On the other hand, the assumption that the wife is lying about it being no +1s is a major red flag.

        6. JSN*

          I agree with you but unfortunately, you will get a lot of pushback on this (I probably will too). I’m married and I would not be happy if my husband chose to spend overnight somewhere else after a work party. It has nothing to do with being jealous or possessive or whatever. It has to do with that fact that I expect my husband home, in our bed, at night. Not in some hotel after partying all night. I trust him and I know he would not cheat on me. Same with me. I’m a married woman and my place is home with my husband, not in some hotel after drinking.

          It seems like spouses aren’t allowed to have expectations for each other. If someone dares to say they are not ok with their husband/wife staying out all night, other people always have a problem with it. If other people are fine with their spouse doing that, good for you. But for me, I would not like it nor would I tolerate it. Either find a way to come back home or don’t go. We have kids and they don’t need to know that mommy or daddy is all drunk and partying instead of getting their butt back home. I don’t care if it’s only once. We’re married adults and it’s ok to expect your spouse to come back home at night.

          1. pancakes*

            “ It seems like spouses aren’t allowed to have expectations for each other.”

            Eh? If you both agree on your expectations for each other, it’s of no consequence whether other people agree with your expectations. Particularly strangers online.

          2. Kella*

            “It seems like spouses aren’t allowed to have expectations for each other.”

            When the expectation is based on a set of agreements that the two of you have already negotiated, based on your combination of needs of what you both are willing to offer, then expectations are fine.

            But without that agreement already in place, emphasizing what you do or don’t expect your spouse to do begins to sound controlling. You don’t actually decide whether or not your spouse comes home at night. They do. You also don’t decide for the relationship as a whole whether it’s acceptable to stay the night at a hotel instead of coming home. You decide that together. You can decide that *you* have a boundary that you’re not okay being in a long term relationship with someone who see’s no problem in staying out all night. And you can enforce that boundary by altering *your* actions in response to it being crossed. But in the end, your spouse is the one who decides what *they* will or won’t do.

          3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            That’s what you expect, I hope your husband has the same expectations as you. If so, fine. If not, it sounds very controlling and stifling. The language you use “nor would I tolerate it” “they don’t need to know that mommy or daddy is all drunk and partying instead of getting their butt back home” and “I don’t care” sounds pretty judgemental and controlling to me. If you’re not jealous, if you trust your partner, why should it be an issue? My partner and I have often travelled without each other, with or without the kids, and we find it’s great to have a break and also great to meet up again afterwards.
            Mummy or Daddy don’t have to be “drunk and partying”, they can also have made the very sensible choice not to drive home when they’re too tired to think straight. This is possible even without drink being involved. I’ve done that.

    2. Kay*

      Uber isn’t available everywhere. There is no public transportation to my town. And I could see if it’s this time of year with winter weather not wanting to worry about in the dark late night driving on potentially snowy and icy roads

      1. Malarkey01*

        Ha! I think you meant taxi and not tacos, BUT then I wasn’t sure because tacos at 2 am after a night of drinking is something I’ve always done and I can always find a taco place open then but finding a cab that time of night can be harder so I then I wasn’t sure again.

        1. Salymander*

          Ha! I was just thinking the same thing!

          My area of California, a major metropolitan area, has great tacos (and anything else you could want) readily available 24/7, but public transportation is in short supply, especially after about 9 pm. I think our priorities might be a bit off. But the tacos are delicious.

    3. UKDancer*

      Staying in a hotel is fun though. I would definitely choose to do that if I could afford it simply because it’s enjoyable to get away and have the luxury of a hotel rather than struggling to get home. It’s one of the things I’ve missed about lockdown, staying in nice places with those little bottles of bath gel and a really fluffy white duvet.

    4. Purt’s Peas*

      I’d die on that hill out of pure spite if I was married to someone who characterized my decisions as “acceptable behavior” or not. That’s what you say about a child or an unruly teen—and tbh I already thought it was patronizing as a child—and not what you say about your partner making choices and moving through the world.

      1. un-pleased*

        Yeah, that language is at least an orange flag to me. There’s so much context missing here, which Alison was correct to point to when she said this is a relationship issue. There’s just a lot going on here.

        1. EPLawyer*

          A VERY lot. The office party is just the outward symptom of the real problem.

          Who knows maybe they are both very happy with this dynamic. OR the wife is using the excuse of the office party to do some heavy thinking.

          January is THE busiest month for divorce lawyers. Everyone either 1) just spent two weeks with their family and realized they can’t take a second more; 2) know what is coming but don’t want to ruin the holidays by announcing they want a divorce; or 3) new year, new you, fresh start all that.

          December is busy on the consult front — all the people who want a divorce by the end of the year. Then get all huffy when we laugh and laugh and laugh. Court system doesn’t work that fast.

          1. pancakes*

            When people are happy with a dynamic like that, it’s because they don’t know better relationships are possible or don’t think they deserve one for some reason(s).

            1. Cringing 24/7*

              That is the *absolute truth*! I see people always posting about how, “Love is so hard, but you fight to make it work,” and I’m here thinking, “Okay, you may go through hard things *with* people you love, but love, itself, shouldn’t be a war…”

          2. Dino*

            Also, getting divorced early in the year has different tax implications. I divorced in October 2019 and having to file as single when my deductions all year up until Fall were for married filing jointly SUCKED. Big ass tax bill. So now I tell all my friends to get divorced in January, lol.

      2. That IT Guy*

        Yeah, this is another one of those letters that sounds like someone not even all that thinly veiling an unhealthily controlling attitude. My wife and I have both been on whole-ass vacations separately from one another and it’s never been an issue. In fact, post-vaccination we both did it. Why not? We’d been cooped up together and *only* together for way too long at a stretch!

        1. L'étrangere*

          Yeah, I hope the wife reads AAM too and recognizes the warning signs. Time to dump him before he gets worse

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      I predict the work party is just the latest context in which this dynamic is playing out.

      They don’t seem to trust each other, or care about making the other one happy. Not good signs. Regardless of where I would land if I could observe a week of their interactions and then rule that one was purely at fault and one purely innocent. (I’m guessing it would be more like “You’re right in this narrow instance, but you’re also being an asshole about it” and “Party A was wrong on Thursday, but then Party B escalated rather than try to fix things.”)

      1. pancakes*

        It’s not clear from the letter that the wife doesn’t trust her husband, and if caring about making him happy would require turning down invitations to events she wants to go to so that he doesn’t spend a single evening alone, the sooner she stops caring, the better.

    6. I'm Just Here for the Cats*

      for #2 why doesnt the husband just spend the night with his wife at the hotel? He could go do something fun on his own and she can go to the party and not worry about driving late at night. But that is a logic that I don’t think the LW had. I think there were some other underlining issues and he was using the party as a scapegoat.

      1. Leenie*

        That’s exactly what I’d ask my husband if he’d like to do. We’ve done that kind of thing before. I’ve also had him, a friend, or a sibling (or him and my brother and SIL, or whatever) meet me right before or after a business trip in a cool city, because that’s way more fun than just hanging out at a conference and flying home. But if I were married to the LW, I might really value the space and alone time, if only for one night.

      2. comityoferrors*

        He says he was OK with that option, but she suddenly booked a room for herself. I thought that was an implication that she’d retracted the “stay at the hotel with me” offer, though it’s not really stated so I’m not sure.

      1. Beth*

        Ding ding ding we have a winner!

        Back before the plague years, when my firm sent me to conferences, if my wife could get the time off, we bought her a plane ticket and she came along. She got to enjoy the lovely hotel room and local points of interest at whatever destination it was, and I joined her when I could. But it would NOT have been any fun at all if there had been this guly aura of “I have to come along to make sure you don’t get up to something.”

    1. Chocolate Teapot*

      My experience too. Although one company did a Saturday afternoon family event with games/activities, Father Christmas and presents for the children.

    2. ed123*

      I was also thinking if ” it’s not as common as parties that include partners or plus-ones.” is true. Cause I’m not sure I can think of anyone in my social circle that have plus ones in company christmasparty.

    3. GraceC*

      Yep. My current workplace, the Christmas party is in the office (decorated, desks pushed aside for mingling purposes, caterers set up in a meeting room) and there’s no way people could bring a +1

    4. Bagpuss*

      Me too. Where I work now we have had other events where spouses/partners/family were invited – things like a summer BBQ, and a quiz night

    5. Dr Sarah*

      Ditto here. I mean, surely it’s a cost issue? If everyone brings a guest, that’s double the amount of food needed. No doubt it’s different for big well-off companies, but for small nonprofit-type places it might well just not be feasible.

      1. Humble Schoolmarm*

        I think it is largely about cost. Our parties are either funded by staff social fees or money we get from agreeing to do lunch monitor duty. If we’re having a sit down dinner, I haven’t been at too many schools with the budget to accommodate +1s. If it’s a house party with drinks and nice snacks, some people will bring a guest, usually new staff who don’t know too many people or people with partners who are also in education. Teacher party talk is almost all about school and education, so it’s not usually the most fun for people who work in other industries.

        1. quill*

          It’s when the teachers go out for appetizers and wine before finals that things really get strange. (I’ve attended several of those… who knew that squirrels ate drywall?)

    6. Nanani*

      Same, all work parties were for WORK. We were there to socialize/team build with each other.
      TV dramas put dates into work situations because they’re TV dramas.

      LW2 may not have encountered it before but it is normal and they sound really weirdly out of sorts over it.

    7. sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

      Worked at places where both happened. And my hubs has been to exactly one where we’ve had a Plus One. He’d rather stay home – he’s shy and if he doesn’t know anyone, it gets loooooooooooooooong for him and he’s itching to go home.

      So, I’m 90% of the time on my own, enjoying myself with my work friends. He doesn’t mind it, especially if I’m able to bring home leftovers (rarely but it’s happened). :)

  2. Dark Macadamia*

    I think it’s weird that LW2 says their wife suggested they stay in the hotel room with her but somehow moving forward to actually book the room is “basically excluding” them? Unless they sleep in separate beds and she booked a room with only one or something like that, how does this suggest she changed her mind about LW joining her?!

    1. PollyQ*

      I’m not finding LW2 the most reliable narrator, but I think this: “last night over dinner she basically excluded me and reserved a room for herself” could describe a conversation they had where she rescinded her invitation and then followed it up by reserving a room. I say “could,” because “basically excluded me” is so vague it’s impossible to know what actually happened. This is such an odd letter me to me though. I can’t tell if the LW is concerned his wife is lying to him & planning to cheat, or if he’s afraid the whole thing will turn into a drunken, swinging orgy.

      1. AJoftheInternet*

        Agreed. That bit about, “I haven’t said anything yet, but my wife guessed from the look on my face… then excluded me.” For the folks keeping track at home, you still haven’t SAID anything, and your wife can’t be expected to make adjustments for preferences you keep internal.

        LW#2, if you can hear me in the past, please start clearly communicating before internet commentariats crucify you for controlling, passive-aggresive behavior. Just nip it in the bud.

        1. Salymander*

          And “basically excluded” is not the same as saying that she doesn’t want him to go.

          Though maybe she wants to stay in the hotel because she is trying to escape from the evil bees at home.

      2. WellRed*

        That’s how I read it, she changed her mind and realized bringing Clingy Clarence could cause further issues. (Texting her incessantly about when she’s coming to the room).

        1. Workerbee*

          Aw. I get that we are receiving a nuanced take that raises eyebrows, but I’ve found through the years that the “clingy” designation is often an unfortunate shorthand for “my needs have changed from their needs,” and boom, the other person is perceived as being clingy now.

          Of course, #NotAllClingers, et al, ad nauseum, etc.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            He’s suspicious, she’s pulling away. It’s possible that an objective outsider would look at their interactions and say to one “Hoo boy is this the right reaction to have! Any normal person would be suspicious/pulling back.”

            They don’t seem to have mutual interest in working to get back on the same side.

            1. pancakes*

              And the people who become clingy after “their needs have changed.” I don’t think it’s unfortunate for people to call it what it is. It’s not flattering, but that’s not quite the same thing.

      3. Smithy*

        Often, letters that invite the most speculation are when it feels like the actual question is about something else and is hiding behind a work question.

        The letter from the woman asking about taking extended leave for a new puppy comes to mind. Her letter back this week was perhaps a very extreme version where she was looking for a dog to fill in for challenges she was facing with her job and her personal life, but it does make her initial letter make so much more sense. Pre-pandemic, I had a job where a) many people had dogs and b) the request to take any kind of long-term work from home accommodation for a new puppy would have been seen as wildly out of place. But seeing it through the lens of her follow up email, the initial question made a lot more sense even if AAM’s workplace answer wouldn’t have changed wildly.

        It may be that this couple is having issues or that this workplace has some other major issues that have contributed to issues within the relationship. All very possible. But ultimately it feels impossible to know because what the main issue(s) is(are), it doesn’t feel like those made the letter.

    2. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

      I interpreted it as “she had the audacity to book a hotel room without asking me what my room preferences were, so obviously she has no intention of me joining her”, rather than, I dunno, her making the booking to take advantage of a good deal, or to ensure she actually got a room, or even just “well we’d already discussed it, so I should book now and get it out of the way”.
      I mean, it is possible that she turned around and told him that she didn’t want him there after all and she’d be staying by herself, but given how strong his reactions are through the rest of the letter.. I wouldn’t bet money on it.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        My read on “she excluded me” basically translates to “I didn’t want her to do it but she did it.”

    3. Junebug*

      This sounds an awful lot like that LW who thought his wife’s boss was encroaching on their relationship.

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      I think they’re deep down “Everything you do is wrong.” “No, everything you do is wrong.”

    5. Caramel*

      What for? OP says they party hard. When I did that on nights out we didn’t stop til after 4 and got home 5 or later. What would the point be of him waiting in the hotel room? She’ll be hammered, she’ll go to sleep and when she wakes up it is check out time!

    6. Imaginary Friend*

      I read “last night over dinner she basically excluded me” to mean that they didn’t talk at all. Maybe because she was looking up hotels on her phone while she ate? But yeah, when someone gives you their interpretations of actions rather than actual descriptions of them, it makes it hard to know what’s what.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        On the contrary, you get to know how they feel about it, which is usually more important. The “basically excluded” means she just went ahead and booked without waiting for his input – like she just chose the closest hotel, that he wouldn’t like because it doesn’t have a sea view or whatever. I mean, single rooms barely exist any more, so there would be room for him if he were to go along.
        I’m not sure what the point of going along could be unless it’s to make sure the wife remains faithful, because why would anyone prefer to spend the night in a hotel when they could be in the comfort of their own home? Unless your home is not very comfortable at all of course, but if you don’t have the money to make your home comfortable, you won’t have the money for a swank hotel either surely?

  3. Mark Roth*

    I couldn’t imagine being obligated to go my wife’s job’s holiday party. I went once. Wasn’t my thing and I never had any issues about not going again.

    1. Indisch blau*

      Partners used to be invited to our holiday parties as a way of thanking them for their part in dealing with our work stress (I think that was the argument). Of course, attendance for partners wasn’t mandatory. Then we had a difficult couple of years and an employee suggested leaving partners out in order for the party to be more of a team building event.
      My boss was reluctant to “disinvite” anyone used to receiving an invitation and asked is if any partners would be disappointed not to be invited. In fact, mine was disappointed – he liked our parties much better than his own work holiday party – better conversation, better food, better wine … I didn’t dare say anything because I knew many other partners would be relieved not to be invited anymore.

    2. Librarian of SHIELD*

      Yeah, when I saw the mandatory spouse event my immediate thought was that you can’t make something mandatory for a person who doesn’t work for you.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Well, you can, but good luck enforcing anything mandatory on anyone who isn’t an employee, supplier, or customer.

  4. Emu*

    I met my worst former bully at a social occasion, who not only appeared to have no memory of what they’d done, but waxed lyrical on how anti bullying they are, and claimed that if they’d ever seen me get bullied they’d have stuck up for me! But I also had the rather touching experience of a former school friend apologising deeply for her behaviour at school, when I had no memory of anything other than a few mildly annoying incidents. Memory is a strange thing!

    1. WS*

      +1, I ran into a former bully (Grades 5-6, so 11-12 years old) who was now a child psychologist and running an anti-bullying campaign! I managed not to say, “I guess you have a lot of insight into that!”

          1. Salymander*

            One of my middle school bullies saw me at a Mom’s club event. There were maybe 50 mom’s and their kids in a park. I didn’t recognize her, and spent the first half of the event happily chatting with other moms while making sure my 2 year old didn’t run out into traffic or make the food pretty by dumping leaves on it. The bully stomped over to me and complained that I had been purposely ignoring her to punish her for behaving like a normal middle school kid, and it wasn’t fair, and blah blah blah. I just started laughing because she described daily death threats and frequent physical attacks by groups of girls as “normal middle school behavior.” I never said a word to her because I just couldn’t stop laughing.

              1. Salymander*

                She really hadn’t changed in any way that really mattered. Looked totally different, but same mean/aggressively insecure personality.

                1. Salymander*

                  I mean, she wasn’t violent anymore. She was just unpleasant and very much in my face. The real difference was that, as an adult in my mid-30s I could see that she was really just horribly insecure, really super sensitive, and quite rude and thoughtless to other people. It is a bad combination that made it hard for her to make friends and she didn’t deal with it in a very useful way. At age 12-13 I didn’t have the maturity to understand. And at age 12-13 she dealt with things violently, but as an adult she is just tiresome. I am not saying she was not responsible for her actions, just that I can understand things now and that makes me feel better. I could be polite to her, even work with her. I just didn’t want to be friends with her.

            1. quill*

              The fact that we lump what in adults would be considered violent crimes along with ostracizing another child, spreading rumors etc. is one of the reasons people unfairly dismiss bullying, I think.

              1. Salymander*

                You make a good point, Quill. Also, the idea some folks have that bullying is some kind of rite of passage doesn’t help.

      1. WantonSeedStitch*

        You know, in a case like that, I would probably bring it up, but in a way that assumed the best about the person. Something like, “I’m glad to hear that this has become a focus for you! I have to admit, when we were in grade school, you were the last person I would have expected to get involved with an anti-bullying campaign: I remember a lot of hurtful things you did/said to me back then! But it’s good to know that people can grow out of that and change.”

      2. Beth*

        I would absolutely say it to their face. But I’m unlikely to do so; I was so badly traumatized by bullies that I have made certain, as an adult, that my high school doesn’t have my contact information and can’t find me for reunion pressure.

    2. Sleeping Late Every Day*

      I ran into a high school bully (although I’m more comfortable in saying she picked on me, rather than bullied – it wasn’t such an extreme situation). But she did write insults all over my yearbook. Somehow, that yearbook attended a class reunion with me and got passed around. :) She was horrified by what her younger self had written, and we had a nice little chat. That’s been several years now, and on the occasions I’ve gone back to other reunions, she’s been genuinely nice – including in another way I don’t want to specify. So yes, people can change. And some could have gone through bad times themselves and lashed out by taking it out on others.

    3. Cherry*

      Yeah, I had an old school friend get in touch once and apologize deeply – what she had done was clearly eating away at her on some level. I mean she did do some bad things but so did I on an equal level, and nothing worse than any other pair of overly dramatic teenage girls would be expected to say to each other. I was completely baffled by her response and I hope I convinced her it was all okay!

      Haven’t bumped into any of the awful bullies yet, and hope I never do.

    4. Riley and Jonesey*

      Yep, I ran into the girl who made our bus rides to our comprehensive pretty nerve wracking experiences. This was the 80s so imagine a tall, harsh-looking teen girl who dressed like an extra in a Bananarama video sitting at the back making mean comments and occasionally slapping the backs out the heads of us little square nerdy mullet-haired kids at the front of the bus.
      She was delighted to see me! She was managing the Ann Summers (people in the UK will know that store ;-)) and gave me a huge discount on the things I was buying for a hen night. Honestly, I felt a warm glow after meeting her because she was so nice and i truly don’t think she had any idea of how crappy she made the trip on the Number 59 bus every day for 4 years. Brains are weird.

    5. NforKnowledge*

      Wow, I don’t think I could have resisted a flat response of “you did [worst behavior] to me [frequency] in [time period]”
      Just to see how they’d respond!

      1. Curious*

        In the words of the Prophet Nathan (in rebuking King David for, umm, abusing his authority), “Thou art that man.”

    6. EPLawyer*

      Yeah I know one of those. Fortunately never bullied me. but sooo convinced she was great in HS when what she was AND still is, is a petty narcissist who made fun of people for not being as cool as she thought she was.

    7. OHCFO*

      My middle school bully, who made every bus trip to school into a nightmare, set me & my spouse up on our first date (in an entirely ornery way— he told me that future spouse thought I was really smart & interesting & told future spouse that I was easy & would definitely make it a “fun” night—I didn’t). Nearly 27 years later, we’re still together & I’ve got bully to thank for it.

    8. Golden*

      Mine died from an overdose a few years ago, and her entire family included openers in their Facebook obituaries like “I know she could be hard to love, but…” or “We didn’t always see eye to eye, but…”.

      Damn, seeing that even her own family had trouble saying nice things without qualifiers about her upon her death, its unlikely she changed for the better. I can’t imagine running into her in a professional context, I hope OP was able to navigate that situation ok!

      1. Anonymous Bosch*

        She sounds like one of those people who really fit the excuse people tend to make for bullies, which is that they were miserable people who took it out on those around them.

    9. Cookie Monster*

      Ugh, that’s so frustrating! Did they say that about bit about ‘if they every saw you got bullied’ because you told them they used to bully you? Or did it just randomly come up?

  5. PollyQ*

    #5 — Gift exchanges & potlucks should always be optional. A company shouldn’t be able to demand that employees spend their money on “mandatory fun.”

    1. WellRed*

      Right? And it sounds like a meeting they tacked FUN onto. At least provide food for employees, don’t make them self cater a MEETING!

  6. Anonymous mouse*

    Re letter 1: appreciate that this post is five years old but similar posts do crop up intermittently – this is something I’d be very cautious about, as approaching it the wrong way could make you the bully instead.

      1. bamcheeks*

        Your memory of what you experienced when you were 11-13 and the feelings you had about it is yours to keep, and nobody should tell you you’re wrong about it. But that’s not the same as knowing what another 11-13 year old was experiencing and holding them responsible for it. If you tried to confront, undermine or punish another adult for what they did in middle school, you could very quickly become the problem yourself.

        1. Bagpuss*

          I’m not sure I agree. You are responsible for your actions, whether you are 12 or 21 or 31, even if you have other things going on in your own life.

          Certainly if you tried to take revenge on a childhood bully, or undermine them, then yes, you could become the problem, but I think there is middle ground between doing that and doing nothing .

            1. Shirley Keeldar*

              Keeping the social meter firmly set at “colleagues, not friends”? Being polite but declining to trust the person fully until you’ve seen more of their behavior as an adult? Deciding that, while you’ll be pleasant, you don’t want to be close even if the person has truly changed because you don’t like having painful memories poked at? There’s quite a lot of middle ground.

                1. Librarian of SHIELD*

                  It’s not doing nothing. You don’t get to choose how anyone else behaves or responds to the world. You choose your own behaviors, and in a situation like this one doing what Shirley Keeldar describes is work. And it’s hard sometimes. But doing anything else could risk your own professional reputation, so it’s the right thing to do in this case.

                2. Anononon*

                  No, I agree that that is how a person should behave in a work situation with a prior bully, but just in my head, that is doing nothing (as you’re essentially treating the bully as you would any other new colleague, maaayybe a little frostier). Because I see that as “doing nothing”, I was wondering what the middle ground would be, but it looks like we just have different definitions but agree on the ultimate outcome. :)

                3. RagingADHD*

                  Anononon, I agree.

                  When people talk about the idea that childhood bullies should have adult consequences, it suggests some action far more overt or drastic than simply…not being their friend.

                  I doubt many people would even notice, much less perceive it as some kind of social consequence.

                  I wonder if perhaps intense bullying or familial abuse leave people far more sensitive to other people’s social responses, so that having a colleague be merely civil instead of cordial seems like a bigger “consequence” than it might to people who didn’t have those experiences.

          1. Amethystmoon*

            As someone who was bullied all through elementary school and high school (and while my mother was dying of cancer no less), who also became extremely depressed by it, I have to agree that this here should be some consequences for bullying. Mine never faced any, so far as I know.

            1. Roscoe*

              I mean, this idea of karmic punishment is just not a good way to go about things. Sometimes people who do bad things prosper, and people who are good don’t.

              Either way, its not your place to make sure they get consequences.

              And you likely don’t know their life, so they may have faced it in other ways that you don’t know about. Which is another thing people often think, that they deserve to know the details of how someone got their comeuppance. You don’t.

              1. pancakes*

                Who said anything about karmic punishment? It seems that’s what you’re suggesting yourself, if you believe that people targeted by bullies aren’t the right people “to make sure they get consequences.” Who are the right people, then?

                1. Anononon*

                  My response would be that, perhaps, no one is the right person to make sure a childhood bully is punished decades later.

                2. pancakes*

                  No one should socially exclude them, even the people they bullied? It isn’t self-evident what you mean by “punishment.”

                3. Roscoe*


                  Amethystmoon says “I have to agree that this here should be some consequences for bullying. Mine never faced any, so far as I know.”

                  But my point is, why is it her business if they faced any, or to decide that there should be consequences. That isn’t their decision to make.

                4. pancakes*

                  Roscoe, I don’t think it’s all that unusual (or somehow illegitimate) for people to feel that bad behavior should be followed by consequences, regardless whether the consequences are their decision or not.

              2. Anononon*

                I’m just using the words from the prior comments, punishment, consequences, etc. Consequences might be the better fit.

                I’m assuming, because you said socially, that you mean in social situations and not work situations (and not, like, socially at work). I think it’s 100% fine to not socialize/deal with prior bullies (in social, non-work settings), but I don’t see that as causing the bullies to face consequences, unless they’re, like, begging the person who bullied them previously to hang out.

                I see Roscoe’s comment as not one’s place to take affirmative action to ensure that actively bad things happen to bullies (rather than just ignoring them).

                1. pancakes*

                  That makes sense, but I’m still wondering about Roscoe describing punishment as karmic. Being frosty toward a bully seems like a pretty fair consequence to me, though of course not to the point of being self-destructive in a work context.

                2. Anononon*

                  I think by karmic, he means that people think that “bad” people should get punished (somehow), and therefore it’s not fair if bad people are allowed to live unscathed lives where they never face consequences for their prior actions, which is something that happens. (I’m using bad in quotes, as I think it can run the gauntlet from childhood bullies to people doing actively bad things in the present.)

                3. Roscoe*

                  Anon, this is exactly it. People seem to want some kind of thing where because they were bullies, that there is something that will happen “bad” to them later. Many people seem to have this idea that “this bad person will get theirs in the end” and kind of hope for that to happen. I just don’t think that is a good way to think, because then people get unreasonably upset if it doesn’t. People often HATE that the people who wronged them are living good lives.

                4. Falling Diphthong*

                  I’m with Anononon and Roscoe: The best revenge is living well, and that means decades later when you hear from an old classmate “Bobby Fergus suffered a terrible tragedy” you are like “Do I know a Bobby Fergus?” or “Gosh, that is sad.”

                5. Amethystmoon*

                  Roscoe, I’m saying the bullies should face consequences when they are young, presumably not long after they did the bullying. I am not saying 20 years later. But I will say for sure I’ll never go to any high school reunions.

              3. Cringing 24/7*

                Amethystmoon used the term “consequences” while you (Roscoe) used the term “punishment” and I think that this is something that Alison has denoted a distinction between in a recent post, and it may be resulting in a miscommunication. Certainly, I would say that I wouldn’t condone “punishing” a 30-something for their bullying actions as a 13 year-old, however, there *are* going to be consequences for that behavior that have no statute of limitations.

                1. Amethystmoon*

                  Right, I don’t mean something like fining people for something they did 15 years ago. I will say though, if I ever had to work regularly with one of my former bullies and they weren’t contrite about it, I would be seeking another job. I guess that is a type of consequence. I wouldn’t mentor a former bully of mine in Toastmasters either.

            2. quill*

              I mean, for me it depends on the extent not just of the consequences, but of the actions.

              One of the people who bullied me is undoubtedly a danger to society as an adult, because the things he did before he had a car or money to buy weapons were that extreme.

              Another is just an unpleasant adult. Who I will never like and who, last I bothered to find out, had burned most of her old bridges by being exactly the way she was when we were “friends”

              1. Salymander*

                Right. My middle school bully never was punished for what she did at age 12-13. I don’t think she is still terrorizing people now, though, so she either had some kind of consequence that got her attention or she just grew up. If she was still doing the same things now she would likely be in prison.

                Nowadays, she is still very unpleasant, and I don’t really want to be friends. So, being a rude person has the consequence of making people not want to spend time with her. We worked on a committee together, and I was polite, but we didn’t get friendly with each other. She eventually quit the committee and left the club because she didn’t like the other club members. I didn’t tell anyone about her middle school transgressions or anything. She just alienated everyone she came in contact with and then complained that people didn’t like her much. It was kind of sad, really.

          2. Glomarization, Esq.*

            responsible for your actions, whether you are 12 or 21 or 31

            You really aren’t as responsible at age 12 as you are at age 21 or 31, which is why we don’t treat juvenile offenders the same way we treat adults.

            1. pancakes*

              It’s why we shouldn’t, but it’s not accurate to suggest we don’t do it anyhow. The US is the only country in the world that allows juveniles to be sentenced to life without parole. Last I checked, Pennsylvania alone has over 500 kids sentenced to JLWOP. We also have many juveniles in solitary confinement. The Supreme Court had a chance to rule JLWOP unconstitutional in April of this year and it didn’t.

              1. Glomarization, Esq.*

                Fair enough. My point stands, though, that adults who encounter people who bullied them years or decades ago need to think hard about how blameworthy a tween should be for their conduct at the time (even if the criminal justice system ignores the science of brain development, and the injustice of juvenile life without parole). And also how blameworthy the now-adult bully should be held for their past conduct.

                1. pancakes*

                  I mostly agree, but some people here are talking about older, high school-age bullies. Being that cruel at that age is pretty gross, and I can’t get upset about classmates wanting to give them the cold shoulder years later.

                2. Falling Diphthong*

                  I recall a letter about the OP’s kid (age not given) being really a snot about the brother’s new girlfriend and how she had better not ruin Christmas, and a reasonable question was whether she was actually, literally twelve. Because sometimes burning through a few more years of time is what’s needed for people to find better ways of addressing issues than 12 year old them could manage.

                  (I’m fine with the 12 year old bullies facing consequences when they are 12.)

          3. Seeking Second Childhood*

            When greeted warmly at an early reunion by a 9th grade bully, I burst out laughing, said “I have to go deliver these drinks”, and made a beeline for the guys I was hanging out with. She had made my life hell, and now I just didn’t care. That realisation alone made reunion worth it.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          I was bullied really badly in middle school, less severely in high school.

          Every time the discussion here turns to “How you should be able to confront your bullies from 20 years ago and make them really feel sorry as they admit their many wrongs” I cringe. At the office or the holiday party, I want to sit by the people who have either managed to move on from age 12, or can throw up a fair fascimile of that in general social situations. (What sort of support and venting you ask for over tea with a couple of people on Team You is different.)

          1. Amethystmoon*

            Some of us it was very traumatic and too well over 20 years ti get over it. It probably did not help that I only got a reprieve from bullying when I went to another country for 6 months where I didn’t speak the language fluently. For all I know, they could have been bullying me too.

            It also did not help that my mother was my earliest bully and continued until she was too sick from cancer to bully. Some things take many, many years to heal. Don’t underestimate what people went through.

          2. Omnivalent*

            I want to sit by the people who have either managed to move on from age 12

            You could just say that you don’t care if you bullied others and wish the whiners would get a grip already.

            1. Roscoe*

              I think jumping to from “move on” to “that person doesn’t care that they bullied others” is a big leap. That person says they themselves were bullied, so assuming they did it to others seems ridiculous”

          3. Anon for this*

            I tend to agree, I was bullied pretty badly in middle school and it was pretty traumatic. Yet I’m almost 40 and there seems something terribly wrong about someone pushing 40 holding a grudge against an 11 or 12 or 13 year old.

            You know what? I would love to hope that everyone who bullied me grew up and isn’t a bully any more! I hope their brains developed and they became functional adults who learned better social and coping skills and are getting through life as better grown people than they were kids.

            I will say, I did not come to this all on my own: I worked with a wide range of kids for years. Some of them are real jerks sometimes, and a lot of kids don’t just hop out of the womb with adult social graces. They have to be taught, piece by piece by piece. Really, the people I am mad at from when I was younger and bullied are the adults who were purportedly in charge. They had the power to step in and stop the bullying and teach everyone proper behavior and they simply didn’t bother. They just made excuses and went about their day because it was easier for them to do nothing.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              Being mad at the adults purportedly in charge resonates. My kids recited the anti-bullying stuff with a sigh, yeah yeah don’t be a bystander, but in my small corner of experience things really have changed in a generation.

              A story that I always remember when this comes up: Someone went to her reunion, struck up a conversation with a lovely woman attending with her spouse, and at one point new friend shared that she’d had a child who died at age 2. Later OP realized that the woman was married to her childhood bully. Who in the intervening years had managed to attract this lovely person, and then suffered something OP would never have wished on anyone.

        3. Myrin*

          Hm, I guess I’m not sure where “confront, undermine or punish” comes from in the context of this letter – the most OP says is whether she should “address” the fact that they have a shared history by going to the same school.

      2. Roscoe*

        I wouldn’t quite say it would make you a bully, however the fact is, memory is fallible. Especially from those ages.

        There was a great Malcom Gladwell podcast that went into this. Essentially, we don’t remember things as they happened, but we remember the last time we thought about it. So the fact is, the “victim” may not really remember things accurately. They showed this in an extreme example by an experiment where they interviewed people who were living in NYC on 9/11. Every year they asked them to recount their experience. The story they recounted 10 years later was VASTLY different than the one they recounted the first year. And it was recorded, and the people were shocked at how much it changed.

        Or for something else, there is the 30 Rock episode where Liz went to her HS reunion. She thought everyone else was mean to her, while they all found her to be the bully.

        So its all to say, its easy to see how people have different memories of what happened, and if OP approached the alleged bully, or told other people about it, it could all be based on things that didn’t go down exactly as they think

        1. Green Goose*

          This is so true. I briefly had a step sister when I was 6-8 who was a year younger and then my sister was a year younger than her. Her mother had had an affair with my dad and then they were together for a few years (we were too young to know about the affair, we found out about 20 years later). Step Mom had a huge house, with many bedrooms but my sister and I never had a space there. We remembered our Step Sister being extremely spoiled, never hearing the word “no” and just being pretty unpleasant. She ruined a lot of outings by having tantrums over small things, and the biggest offenses was that routinely when our dad would get someone for my sister and I, which was pretty rare, she would say she wanted it and her mom would rescind the gifts from us and give them to her, including pets. I still remember crying as my Step Mom explained why it was “fair” for her to take our new pet rats and give them to Step Sister.
          I was pretty surprised when we met her as teenagers years later and all she remembered was “how mean” my sister and I were. So who knows, I think my version is right but shrug.

          1. Roscoe*

            This is exactly it.

            Everyone is the hero in their own story. I had step brothers growing up too, and I often wonder how many situations there are that I remember very differently from them. And there is no way to decide who is right, because if they discussed it amongst themselves over time, well yeah, their stories are probably going to line up much more. I thought they were jerks to me. They probably thought, as an only child, I was spoiled. What is likely is that our feelings remain, but the situations that caused them may not be what we remember.

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            I try to remind myself that everyone thinks their version is right.

            Ted Chiang had a great short story about this, where the character used new tech to rewatch a formative event in his relationship with his daughter. And it turned out he had remembered it wrong–specifically, who said the really awful thing. But I could absolutely see over time how you redo that story in your head. And how in some cases that rewriting even was needed to go on and become a better person.

            Kind of like how it’s bad that the internet preserves our worst moments forever. Sometimes people need time to sand away the rough edges of a memory. (And sometimes people use time to sharpen all those rough edges into blades.)

            1. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

              Not sure if you’ll see this since it’s been a couple of days, but could you share the title?

          3. Observer*

            I was pretty surprised when we met her as teenagers years later and all she remembered was “how mean” my sister and I were. So who knows, I think my version is right but shrug.

            I’m betting that your version is mostly right. Which means that either she, who also sees herself as a victim, is wrong. Or you are both partially right – she was a bit of a brat, her mother was awful, and you made your feelings clearly known to her in an unpleasant way. And because she was a brat and probably didn’t recognize how awful her mother was being in her name, all she saw was the meanness from you.

              1. Observer*

                Know? Obviously not. You seem to have missed that I said “betting”. My bet is based on patterns I’ve seen. But, I’d never claim to KNOW.

        2. Asenath*

          Memory is really, really fallible. Although I wasn’t bullied as bad as some, there was one boy in my class in school who apparently sent me home crying. Years after I left the town, I very occasionally heard something about him – prison term, biker gang, money invested in legal business but supposedly originating from drug deals. So I felt like his life story, starting when he dropped out of school, was a kind of punishment for his nasty behaviour. Only he didn’t drop out of school. Years later, when visiting with relatives, a friend of the relatives hauled out a school yearbook showing me, a couple siblings, the relatives’ friend’s children…and the bully. Who was in my tiny high school graduating class, so I must have known that he in fact graduated with me. Somehow, I came up with a new version of his life that fit with his earlier behaviour to me and the gossip I heard about his later life. I would have sworn my version was true, and there I was staring at documentary evidence it wasn’t.

          1. Roscoe*

            I mean, that doesn’t mean the ideas described in this episode were wrong. It wasn’t an experiment he did, it was one someone else did and he reported on. And even if he was a lobbyist for tobacco, I’m not exactly sure what that has to do with what I wrote.

            1. pancakes*

              There’s no shortage of people who do far more substantial and credible work on memory. Elizabeth Loftus, for a start.

              1. Roscoe*

                Well, I don’t know who that is. So I’m relating to something that I’ve heard personally. If you disagree with what was reported, I guess that’s your choice. If you don’t like the person reporting, that seems like a petty response to what I wrote.

                1. pancakes*

                  One of the reasons I don’t like him is that he’s made a lot of errors and misrepresentations over the years in repacking and riffing on other people’s work in order to sell pop psych airport books.

                2. Quack Quack No*

                  It’s not like you could look up Dr. Loftus or anything, although considering yesterday’s discussion I can think of some reasons you might not.

                  But then I concur with Pancakes on Mr. Gladwell.

                3. Roscoe*

                  @quack, i can’t look up a person I had never heard of to make a point that I made before hearing of them. If you don’t like Gladwell, that is your choice. But I was reiterating a story which was told on his podcast to make a point. Nor would it do me any good right now to look up EVERYTHING that person wrote right now.

                  And your implication is pretty ridiculous as well, just because I don’t think every single issue in the world is sexism, has nothing to do with the level of respect I give women experts on something. But go ahead, keep trying to push a narrative on me.

                4. pancakes*

                  Roscoe, I thought we were good where we left off, but now you seem to think the reason I recommend someone else’s work on memory (and that someone else agreed) is her gender. That’s ridiculous! There is a lot of criticism of Gladwell’s work out there that you don’t seem to be familiar with, and that’s fine, but none of it revolves around the simple fact that he’s a he.

          2. Anonymous Bosch*

            “While Gladwell was an undergrad at the University of Toronto in the early 1980s, he had a summer internship at the National Journalism Center in Washington.”

            This is from a Huffington Post article explaining why Gladwell has been mischaracterized.

            Apparently, this was a right wing funded group and they were pro tobacco. It’s not clear that Gladwell was even aware of that as an intern, though he admits he was politically conservative back then.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            I find that really fascinating. And I do wonder how much being able to blur things over time might be a positive, allowing humans to adapt as the world around them changes.

            When my father-in-law went to his 40th(?) reunion they discovered that they all remembered the same stories, but the details were all different. “That wasn’t Steve, that was Fred.” “You’re both wrong, that was Cal, and it was sophomore year not senior” and so on.

        3. Smithy*

          I agree with this – I also think that for this OP and memory, there’s a relevant piece of social/cultural geography where if you happen to live in community/work for an employer where this is a detail you can forever skip and it won’t be weird. Or it will be.

          I went to high school in one of those Midwest cities that has the joke of when people ask you where you went to school, they mean high school. It’s been a long time since high school and I haven’t lived in that city in a while, but on the rare occasion that I am asked whether I remember X from school – if its someone I genuinely don’t remember it’s just a community more inclined to go “oh that’s weird”. However, I then went to a very small liberal arts college with less students but the social context of that school is such that remembering/forgetting people isn’t the same.

          For the LW or someone else in a similar situation, while the points of the feeling being real but memory being fuzzy are important….I also encourage people to be mindful not to paint themselves into more awkward corners than necessary. If I had a job back in childhood Midwest City with someone from my high school, no matter the bad memories, pretending I had forgotten them could easily make things unnecessarily weird. Because it’s the kind of city where I would inevitably be asked where I’d gone to school, someone would make connections – even if not the former bully – and I’d just be waiting around for situations I couldn’t control. In that case, I would want to be like “hey I went to Sweet Valley High, am I remembering this wrong or did you also go?”.

          But there are other parts of the world and other schools where this isn’t the case and doesn’t need to worries about at all.

      3. Librarian of SHIELD*

        Have you ever seen the movie You Again? Marni was bullied in high school and years later, her brother gets engaged to a woman he doesn’t realize was his sister’s bully. Marni gets so focused on making the former bully confess and pay for her past behavior that she does some really, really awful things and heads down the bully path herself.

    1. Melody*

      Telling someone they bullied you doesn’t make you the bully. Telling someone that they hurt you horribly doesn’t make you the bully. Unless OP decides to start an ongoing campaign bullying this person, I see no way that she becomes the bully. This is such an unfortunate narrative that people push and it just hurts people who have been bullied.

      1. Jaybee*

        You are an adult, right?

        I’m so bewildered by the idea of ‘people who have been bullied’ as some kind of group.

        I was bullied by pretty much my entire class in school. (Yes, really.) Many of them were also bullied. Are you saying it would be somehow helpful – for anyone – for me to go around to all of my former bullies and remind them of how they treated me? What is the goal?

        Bullying among kids is an issue that needs to be addressed AMONG KIDS. There’s absolutely no point in trying to settle it as adults, just like there would be no point to one of your old school teachers bringing you an assignment you did poorly on in middle school and scolding you for it now. The time to meaningfully address it has passed.

        1. Roscoe*

          I completely agree. The time has passed. Bringing it up 20 years later really serves no purpose.

          I fully believe you can associate or not with whoever you choose. But I just feel rehashing this does nothing. Talk about it with your therapist if you need to.

        2. Pool Lounger*

          This isn’t necessarily true, it depends on the individuals. There have been enough essays and podcasts where people confront old bullies or old bullies apologize to the people they bullied to show that for some people apologizing or confronting is worthwhile. I’d never do it expecting a perfect outcome. But the times I have had a conversation about a troubling/traumatic incident from decades ago it actually has helped to mend relationships and bring closure.

        3. pancakes*

          Who here suggested going around to speak to childhood bullies?

          It’s pretty extreme and pretty badly out of step with science and human development to suggest that people should simply try to forget about their childhood traumas rather than go to therapy or take other steps to grapple with these issues as adults.

            1. pancakes*

              I didn’t (and after rereading it, still don’t) take that as a recommended course of action so much as pushing back on an idea someone else brought up that “If you tried to confront, undermine or punish another adult for what they did in middle school, you could very quickly become the problem yourself.”

              1. RagingADHD*

                Jaybee’s interpretation of the comment is perfectly reasonable, whether you read it that way or not.

  7. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

    How can a firm mandate spouses attendance at an event?

    Requiring all employees to attend is one thing, although I’m not a fan, but spouses?
    What happens if a spouse refuses to go?

    1. PollyQ*

      They couldn’t do anything to the spouse directly, but they could discipline or hold it against the employee any way they felt like.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          And yet, since everyone involved in this is a human, crappiness is on the table.

          The oddest things can become Our Tradition and then people get salty with the first person to try and break away from Our Tradition.

          (Alison is right: Your possibly soon-to-be-ex partner had an urgent work thing. People will recover from this wobble in the celestial spheres.)

    2. WellRed*

      I suspect this was an old fuddy duddy tradition when partners were predominantly male with dutiful spouses. Probably still mostly male partners but hopefully they’ve lightened up on this.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        I am sure you are right: the wife as the happy homemaker, an accessory to her husband’s career. Attending hubby’s work-social functions is a central part of this. Who will watch the kids? The “help” will be happy to work late. This is all very Mad Men, which is to say a half century out of date. This is why the organizers have to schedule so far out, and make dire threats about non-attendance.

      2. Blarg*

        In law firms where marriage is still an unspoken requirement for partnership cause … that’s the only way to prove you’re “stable” and aren’t going to bolt. It’s wild but still happens.

    3. Imaginary Friend*

      It’s a small law practice. People could totally freeze out the person whose spouse didn’t attend. Doesn’t even have to be employment-related, like getting a write-up. Just stuff like not talking to someone, ignoring what they say in meetings. You know, petty human stuff.

      1. pancakes*

        I suppose, but a place where people are such conformist busybodies is going to have problems year-round, not just with holiday parties.

    1. TiredEmployee*

      And then *somehow* both parties are at the same hotel bar with everyone staying overnight and there will be a huge misunderstanding about which room OP2 is staying in. Possibly involving them climbing across balconies to avoid being seen walking through the corridor.

  8. bamcheeks*

    In my experience, nearly everyone has a visceral memory of the person who bullied them, and fewer than one in ten people has a memory of bullying someone– and if they do, they mostly remember themselves going along with the general consensus that X was to be excluded, or that they were forced to exclude X by ~person who was higher up the social hierarchy who’d have bullied them if they didn’t, or that sure they were nasty to X a couple of times but it was mutual dislike, X was just as nasty to them back, and so on.

    I think the thing is that bullying is about power and hierarchy, and the feeling of being powerless and excluded from the hierarchy is such a visceral and defining thing, whereas the times that you’re “in” you’re scrabbling to stay in with your attention totally focussed on the people above you in the hierarchy and you don’t pay any attention to the people outside. What the bullied person remembers as a campaign of systematic exclusion and misery, the bully remembers as, “oh yeah, I was kind of horrible to them a few times.”

    (I don’t think I bullied anyone, but I was really shocked when someone I barely remember from school added me on FB about twelve years ago and said, “I always admired you so much and wanted to be part of your friendship group!” I was at the centre of a bunch of a really solid–albeit dramatic– group of about ten girls, who all came together at about 12-13 after being considered “the weird ones” for a couple of years. But I was so focussed on the way that our group was being excluded from “the popular ones” that I never noticed the people that we excluded. There’s only one time that I remember our group being actively nasty to someone (which I feel horrible about!), but it’s completely possible that that person or some of the others remember it as us deliberately excluding or bullying them.)

    1. Melly Melz*

      “But I was so focussed on the way that our group was being excluded from “the popular ones” that I never noticed the people that we excluded.”

      This applies to so many, including dozens of formerly-outsiders/now-insiders I met in college. They seemed worse than any bullies they could have had in their younger years.

      1. Olivia Oil*

        Some of the meanest people I’ve met as an adult (including a recent ex-friend of mine) are those who still view the world in terms of high school hierarchies, and by extension, themselves as the victims of those hierarchies. In the case of my ex-friend, this just meant she automatically hated any other woman who was conventionally attractive and/or socially well-adjusted, because she must be one of those stupid popular bitches amirite?? Meanwhile, she was the humble nerd, always. It got to be a tiring attitude to be around. I should mention that we are nearing 30. I even tried to gently call her out on the logical failings of her outlook, but she just got offended and doubled down. It kind of reminds me of how the Harvard students treated Elle Woods in Legally Blonde. They projected their own insecurities onto her even though she was actually nice.

        1. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

          Yeah, hanging out in sf/fantasy writer circles I unfortunately see this a lot. It’s especially grating now that we’ve got a significant population of adults raised after “nerd stuff” became mainstream who nevertheless still carry that chip on their shoulder through cultural osmosis.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      A bit of social science that really rang true to me is that the people at the apex of the social hierarchy tend be confident and don’t feel they have to scrabble. The people in the middle, though, are desperately committed to keeping a lower underclass around so they can be above someone.

      (I was reminded of this re some of the discussion of returning kids to school last year, where some parents seemed to fear that if the kids who were the main bullying targets all opted for remote learning, then their own kids might move into that lowest slot.)

      1. Filosofickle*

        That’s exactly what my high school looked like. There was a set of genuinely popular kids who were confident, kind and generous — and of course not coincidentally also attractive and athletic. The jerks were all found the 2nd or 3rd layer turning on each other and everyone else in an effort to claw their way up.

        This reminds me of an article I read about sex in Victorian times, that it wasn’t as uniformly prim as people assume. The richest have often been able to do what they wanted, because they can get away with it. The poorest have always been busy getting busy, too, because they are already on the margins and have little to lose. It’s the middle class that most zealously enforces the morals because they have the most to gain and the most to lose. (Obviously that’s painting with very broad strokes. But you get the gist of the pattern.)

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          I read a fantasy novel in which the characters were from the middle class–not the poor, not the powerful–and I really loved that aspect. That their position in society felt precarious, one run of bad luck away from shifting to the bottom. It really affected what they focused on.

          (The Maradaine Constabulary, after wracking my brain a bit.)

          1. Salymander*

            That sounds really interesting. So many books are about people at the extremes, either wealthy or poor.

    3. RagingADHD*

      Even your first premise really depends on the severity, and how long ago it was.

      I distinctly remember a couple of situations where I was bullied, one year in grade school and one year in middle school. I have vague memories of the bully themselves.

      I have no idea what their names are, and couldn’t recognize them now for a million dollars.

    4. Olivia Oil*

      This happened to me too! I was a painfully shy, socially awkward kid who was also very self conscious about my appearance (glasses, acne, frizzy hair, the works). I got teased all the time in middle school by students and teachers alike, and had zero friends. When I entered high school, I actually met a couple of people I started eating lunch with and slowly got introduced to more classmates through them. By the time I was a junior, I was actually part of a solid group of friends. However, we were the goody two shoes nerds – straight As, didn’t party, had strict parents that didn’t allow us to date etc, so I always still thought of myself as an unpopular nerd. Later in college, I reconnected with some HS classmates and learned that apparently some people either found us intimidating, but wanted to be a part of our group, or that we were stuck up and insular. I can safely say that I never purposefully excluded anyone, but didn’t go out of my way to include people either. Sometimes aloofness can be enough to deter people.

  9. Janet Pinkerton*

    Oh man that third letter makes me so mad! I cannot even imagine considering being upset about this, or honestly even noticing it. Like, literally all that is happening is that the manager is leaving slightly early for an appointment six times a year. The LW doesn’t even know if the manager is taking PTO! It’s fine to schedule work stuff around personal appointments within reason. The letter writer’s objections are absurd.

    1. bamcheeks*

      I think it depends what the expectations are on the worker herself! If she’s in or she’s come from the type of role where she’s dinged for being five minutes late or leaving ten minutes early, then yeah, it’s going to feel a bit jarring to see someone leaving two hours early.

      And there ought to be clarity about how this translates in her role: if she’s non-exempt and never expected to work evenings or weekends but also not in a coverage role, there ought to be flexibility of 10-15 minutes around start and finish times in her role. If her role does involve coverage, then it ought to be clear that the requirement to be in place bang-on nine until five (or whatever) is a specific part of her role and not a general expectation on all employees.

    2. turquoisecow*

      I could see being unhappy of the boss doesn’t give them a head’s up about leaving and then the employee needs them and they’re not around.

      There was once a snowstorm at my office that cropped up in the middle of the afternoon. Not really bad but with the potential to get worse and affect the commute home. My coworker was wondering if it would be okay to leave early. The boss was nowhere to be found. We both figured he was in an important meeting of some sort, and ended up leaving a little early – maybe not as early as she would have liked, but a bit earlier than normal. The next day we found out boss had skipped out early due to snow and not given us a thought. He was a good boss otherwise but that always rubbed me the wrong way because he didn’t tell us he wouldn’t be there.

      So if something is happening where OP needs boss’s approval or assistance for something urgent that crops up at the last minute and boss has skipped out for a hair appointment without telling anyone, I could see that being an issue. But if boss says “I’m leaving at 2:00 today, ask Bob for help if there’s anything urgent,” or it’s the kind of job where last second urgent issues needing the boss don’t pop up that often, then yeah, OP needs to just let the boss do what she wants and let boss’s boss worry about it.

    3. pancakes*

      Yeah, same. For a couple years I was a contract attorney at a small firm with mostly women partners, and they had a particular rule that hair appointments were sacred and shouldn’t be put off. Everyone’s hair appointments, not just theirs. I thought that was pretty cool, not a mark against them.

      1. un-pleased*

        I love the idea of this. My job doesn’t have an appearance rule per se, though we do sometimes have visits with clients where the expectations are higher because we work with C-suite folks at other businesses. In that regard, hair appointments, etc., are important to keep both for our own sense of feeling tended outside work and also because being neat and tended enhances our credibility. I appreciate the idea that the time spent here is valuable.

        1. pancakes*

          Yes. I don’t think many people feel they’re at their best while knowing they’ve been putting off a haircut.

    4. Imaginary Friend*

      I had to re-read, and thank you! I had misunderstood it as “every other week”, not every other *month*. HUGE difference. (And every 2 weeks is still not a problem unless causes problems.)

  10. Turingtested*

    For #3, I’m not sure I agree with all of the advice. It doesn’t seem quite right that the manager leaves meetings and reschedules conference calls around her hair appointments. It seems fine to me to leave at 3 when you’re work is done and nothing is on the calendar. It also seems fine to decline unnecessary meetings and leave the office. But I don’t think the manager is handling this in the best way and I understand why the letter writer is annoyed.

    However, it’s not the kind of thing you should complain about. Of all the bad things bosses do, this is pretty minor.

    1. Liz*

      This is my former boss to a T! Several times a week, she’d leave for lunch to “run errands” and be gone for a couple of hours, minimum. Added to that the coming in late, leaving early, making all appointments during working hours, there was a LOT of resentment. I get that as salaried employees no one is tied to a time clock, but when it happens on a regular basis, it does get old fast. we were convinced that she didn’t like using “her” time for personal stuff, so she did it on work time.

      1. Curious*

        What are this person’s *normal* hours? As someone who works 9-10 hours most days –and sometimes more– I have no problem with occasionally taking a few hours off.

      2. Groove Bat*

        I do this once a month as a manager and I don’t feel bad about it at all. I always have my phone and computer with me and I am never out of touch. I would be really creeped out if I thought any of my employees were tracking my movements and the condition of my hair the way LW seems to. Then again, we are very relaxed around attendance. My employees know that I expect them to get their work done but I don’t really care where or under what conditions that happens.

        To me, this letter just seems weird and Petty.

      3. Imaginary Friend*

        But it’s not! Your former boss did things “several times a week” and LW’s boss is doing this once, every two months.

    2. KateM*

      OP doesm’t even know it’s just because of hair appointment. Maybe it is for Crazy Medical Appointment Which Leaves Boss With Truly Bad Hair and that’s why boss always schedules their hair appointment to the evening (after work time) of that day.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        This kind of fantasizing… I get what you’re trying to say, but it doesn’t matter. The manager doesn’t need an “acceptable” excuse to do what she’s doing. Unless it’s seriously interfering with the LW’s ability to do her job, it is not her problem.

        1. Middle Name Danger*

          Kind of fantasizing but I’ve been in that exact situation – a medical appointment every other month that I left work at 1:30 or 2, then I tended to schedule my hair after for convenience and feeling a little better afterwards.

    3. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

      It depends on the frequency. Leaving at 3 once every 2 months per the letter is quite little. Lots of people have weekly appointments (therapy, PT, doctor) that happen during work hours.

      Your comment seems to imply that one should only leave early if one happens to finish early. But the fact of reality is that most things one has to do during the work day (dentist, doctor, even hair) have to be scheduled in advance, sometimes a lot in advance. You can’t “drop in” at your PCP or your orthodontist or whatever, so often will have to pause work to do these necessary life tasks.

      1. Lady_Lessa*

        And often professionals do not provide for after 5 pm hours or Saturday ones either. So, you either leave work early or don’t get the appointment at all.

      2. Turingtested*

        I completely understand that there are things that need to be done 9-5, but I also think it’s reasonable to make sure you decline meetings for that day and make sure work flow is minimally interrupted. My manager frequently does stuff during the day but makes sure the team knows and that they’re available if needed. Also there is flexibility extended to staff.

        I can’t tell if letter writer is being not picky or has genuine complaints.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          They don’t say anything about the manager’s absence impinging on their performance in any way, there’s no “I couldn’t ask her about project X even though I had to hand it in early the next day”.

    4. Roscoe*

      I think it depends on a lot. How time sensitive are these thing, how many people are involved, is it all her team, etc.

      In my experience, if these calls are after 3pm, most people won’t be sad to have them rescheduled to another time. Especially if this isn’t to discuss something very time sensitve.

    5. Purple Cat*

      Meh. This boss has drawn a line in the sand. Getting her hair done is important and 3pm is the best time to get that done. This absolutely falls under the self-care umbrella and OP3 is out of bounds. You can’t randomly leave work early to get your hair done, you need an appointment. OP3 even admits they have no idea if Boss is using PTO or not. She probably is, in which case absolutely no issue, we’re allowed to use PTO for whatever reason we want. And even if she isn’t, it’s highly probable (although speculation on my part) that she works plenty of extra hours but nobody ever wants to talk about those, they only want to complain about the 6 days a year the boss left “early”.

      1. ThisIsTheHill*

        Not to mention that some places don’t even require you to use PTO if you’re gone under a certain amount of time or use your “lunch” break. My current employer allows up to 2 hours off for appointments, with manager approval, without having to claim PTO. The last few places I’ve worked wouldn’t bat an eye if I said I was taking a late lunch & tacked an extra half hour or so onto it.

    6. AvonLady Barksdale*

      It’s not happening every week or even every month, and in many jobs this would not be a big deal at all. Maybe I’m biased because I do similar things myself– I’ll schedule a mid-day hair appointment and tell people I’m unavailable for meetings during that time– and so do my colleagues. My boss took off early the other day to take his wife to a movie. I imagine the manager has a lot of flexibility and a role where it’s not simply a set of tasks that need to be completed.

    7. anonymous73*

      How would you feel if your manager gave you grief for leaving a little early sometimes, but you were actually coming in early/skipping lunch breaks/putting in an hour or 2 at night or on a weekend to finish up a project? This is no different. And frankly because it’s OP’s manager, unless it is significantly impacting OP in getting their job done, it’s none of their business.

    8. Malarkey01*

      My work is pretty much never “done”. People would schedule 15 meetings/calls a day with me if I didn’t draw boundaries and I’m routinely having to reschedule meetings because I also need time to work on things. At the end of each day I’m never done, just done for the day. If on a rare occasion I decide I’m done for the day at 3 pm to make up for the days I wasn’t done until 8 pm I don’t think it’s a probably at all. I wouldn’t move an important exec meeting, but rescheduling a call for an issue that could wait isn’t a big deal.

  11. Indisch blau*

    A somewhat off-topic story about spending the night in a hotel after a company party.
    We had an open house at work after we moved into a new building – a big shindig with lots to eat and drink. One employee who lives quite a ways outside of town planned to spend the night in a 4-star hotel around the corner from the building – a gift from her son who thought she deserved a night in a good hotel.
    To get to the hotel, you go out our front door, 50 yards down the street, cross the intersection cati-corner. The employee goes down the street, crosses the road, but not cati-corner. She thought it was strange that they didn’t have her reservation, but spent the night. The next morning she found out she was only in a 3-star hotel. Her reservation was for next-door. (I’m not sure how she made the mistake since she’s actually not one to get too drunk to know where she is.)

  12. J.B.*

    I think 2, 4 and 5 have pretty high demands on employees. If you have kids then both 2 and 4 put lots of extra time pressure on an already stressful season. Even aside from the marital issues 2 is my nightmare. I hope 5 was able to push back.

  13. Oy oy oy*

    I am having AAM-withdrawal. Two weeks without new content has been challenging for me. I admit I’m an addict, and hoping there is a 12-step program I can join.

    1. Dino*

      Me too. It’s nice to get updates but not so nice as to replace my need for new content! Plus I have a question I wanted to send to Alison but don’t want to encroach on her vacation. Glad she’s taking the time to recharge but I probably won’t be checking regularly until January.

  14. Roscoe*

    I took some of this from a response I wrote to someone else:

    RE: bullying

    I’d be cautious about bringing it up, because its very likely that you both remember this situation differently, and very possible that neither of you is 100% correct in how you think it went down.

    There was a great Malcom Gladwell podcast that went into this, called “Free Brian Williams”. Essentially, we don’t remember things as they happened, but we remember the last time we thought about it. So the fact is, the “victim” may not really remember things accurately. They showed this in an extreme example by an experiment where they interviewed people who were living in NYC on 9/11. Every year they asked them to recount their experience. The story they recounted 10 years later was VASTLY different than the one they recounted the first year. And it was recorded, and the people were shocked at how much it changed.

    Or for something else, there is the 30 Rock episode where Liz went to her HS reunion. She thought everyone else was mean to her, while they all found her to be the bully and in flashbacks, it showed that she WAS pretty awful.

    So I’m by no means saying that people should just embrace people they feel wronged them, you can feel however you like. I know people don’t want to believe that this horrible thing they think happened didn’t, but if our memories of something as bad as 9/11 can change over time, it would be ridiculous to think your memories of elementary and high school can’t.

    1. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

      I’m going to add a little bit more nuance and say that even if you’re 100% correct in remembering things, you’re lacking context for the other person’s memory. Like, I was bullied to the point of wanting to commit suicide at 12, but I am absolutely sure that none of my bullies remember it being that way because 1) I certainly didn’t tell them and 2) I didn’t have only one bully. Each person might remember only being mean to me once or twice and be accurate, but for me, that was part of a litany of bad experiences. One of my bullies (who was so bad that even the other kids in the class who disliked me tried to defend me from her) just friend requested me on Facebook. I am absolutely sure that I am missing context for how she was as a kid (though I have my suspicions), and would not be surprised if she remembers an even worse school experience than I do. Still not accepting that friend request yet, though.

      1. MommaCat*

        I probably would friend that person out of sheer curiosity, but my worst bully was more of a frenemy. But my bullies have never friended me, probably because I was a pretty weird kid (undiagnosed ADHD will do that…).

        1. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

          I will say that’s the reason I haven’t outright deleted it. I am EXTREMELY curious about what she’s doing and if she’s changed as a person.

    2. Melody*

      Why are so many people here so focused on convincing OP that the bad things they experienced didn’t happen? Yes, human memories are not 100% reliable or even close. But OP didn’t just black out and have fake memories implanted in their brain that made them think they were bullied. Why not believe OP and think about the advice their asking for, which is how do I navigate being a professional adult interacting with someone who was horrible to me?

      1. Roscoe*

        I’m not trying to convince them that they didn’t happen. I’m saying why its not smart to bring it up

      2. Jaybee*

        Why do you read ‘you and another person may have different memories of an event’ as ‘the things you remember didn’t happen’?

        1. Roscoe*

          Thank you. The idea that I was implying OP was making things up is kind of weird. Different memories of an event doesn’t at all translate to “that thing never happeend”

          1. Melody*

            ??? “I know people don’t want to believe that this horrible thing they think happened didn’t, but if our memories of something as bad as 9/11 can change over time, it would be ridiculous to think your memories of elementary and high school can’t.”

            You wrote: I know people don’t want to believe that this horrible thing they think happened to them /didn’t/, but/…

            I genuinely am unclear as to how that is interpreted as something other than you saying the OP is likely wrong and they weren’t bullied. Why are you bringing this up otherwise in this context about someone asking for advice of how to professionally navigating dealing with someone who bullied them now that they’re in the workplace. Also, your references don’t make sense. As another commenter pointed out, that 9/11 study found that people have pretty decent of important details related to traumatic events. Also, 30 Rock is a TV show; a writer’s room is not a solid foundation for accurate social science. I also don’t think OP should confront the bully because it doesn’t seem like it would benefit them.

    3. Olivia Oil*

      This comment comes off a little dismissive. Yes people don’t always remember things accurately, but I would rather err on the side of believing someone when they say they were hurt or mistreated.

      I mean yes, the LW shouldn’t embark on a massive revenge scheme or start spreading gossip or drama, which Alison covered in her answer, but I don’t see the point of writing this comment dismissing the LW’s experiences.

  15. Yes Anastasia*

    I don’t think that’s a great analogy – people do forget supporting details, but it’s not like those people forgot that 9/11 happened in the first place.

    An adult remembering childhood trauma might not remember all the details of their trauma, and they might be missing a lot of the nuance since they were, y’know, kids. But my understanding is that people have pretty decent recall of the important facts of traumatic events (and if you look at the original 9/11 study, it actually supports that).

    I agree with the original advice to not confront the bully. But I think we can trust that this LW is correct about the basic facts of their bullying.

    1. Olivia Oil*

      Also worth bringing up that intent doesn’t always equal impact, and that even if you didn’t intend the impact, you are still accountable for it.

      I had a childhood friend up until I was 12 who was pretty mean with a racist slant. It wasn’t until I was in college that I realized through therapy that a lot of horrible beliefs about myself stemmed from my interactions with her (like that I was ugly because of my dark skin).

      Now…I logically contextualize her actions as: she was just a kid, she was probably projecting a lot of beliefs she inherited from her home life, and for these reasons shouldn’t be held fully accountable for them. I have zero interest in reprimanding her as an adult for what she said and did. But do I want to be friends with her again? Also no.

      1. Salymander*

        Exactly. You can be polite and professional, and wish someone well because that is what you do with work colleagues. You do not have to be close friends with them.

        I probably wouldn’t say anything to the former bully, because I just wouldn’t want to deal with it. I can be polite and professional without getting my more sensitive emotions involved. They can be just like any other colleague I am working with but am not particularly friendly and close with.

  16. GooglyMooglies*

    I want to point out for #3… the manager might be a black woman. Hair is a sensitive topic, and there are a lot of rituals surrounding hair in the black community, and yes, getting your hair done – braids, locks, whatever – is a several-hours-long ordeal. So it’s possible to me that LW3 doesn’t fully grasp the situation from a racial standpoint.

      1. GooglyMooglies*

        Right? Like, imagine how the manager might be treated by the rest of the company if she DIDN’T go to the trouble of these hour-long hair appointments. The ways in which black women get “punished” for having natural hair is unreal… And besides all that, the frequency of leaving early once every two months is hardly worth even blinking at! I have doctor’s appointments that require me to leave an hour early once a WEEK for goodness sakes, a coworker has to be gone from 2:30 to 4 every day to help drive her kid to an advanced class… we both make up the work and plan around it and no one so much as bats an eye.

    1. quill*

      I had a thought that if the hair appointments are multiple hours that may be the case. OP wasn’t really clear on the frequency to the point that we could confirm it, but the last time I visited a salon for a cut I was out of there in thirty minutes.

    2. Jennifer Strange*

      In the comments of the original post the OP does confirm that that manager is a woman of color (the OP also clarifies that she and the manager are the only women in the office which may also feed into why they are concerned about the situation).

      1. Quack Quack No*

        Did anyone point out to OP that 1) a hair appointment for a WOC can legitimately take some hours and 2) that her internal reaction to reporting to a WOC might be causing her to be extra resentful of the situation?

        1. Quack Quack No*

          Heh, I realized my phrasing sounds like I expect you, Jennifer Strange, to go look and report back. I don’t. It’s just what makes most sense on learning that salient fact.

          1. Jennifer Strange*

            Haha, no worries :) People definitely pointed out the first one, though I don’t think anyone pointed out the first one.

      2. GooglyMooglies*

        Aha! I’m glad to hear my first instinct was right… Honestly, whenever the subject of “hair” is mentioned these days, my first thought is always regarding the race of the people involved because of such strong cultural differences and unconscious bias present in America’s culture – the policing of braid styles at schools or in the military, for example, or the perception of locs being “dirty” when it’s a legitimate way to maintain hygienic hair for someone with type 4 hair. In someone with type 1 or 2 hair, it signifies a destruction of the hair shaft and IS often dirty, but that’s not how type 4 hair works. There’s an entire subculture surrounding how black women maintain their hair and the various options for styles. I can understand OP’s concerns in a sense of “I don’t want other people thinking it’s a *woman* thing,” but it’s not just that. A black woman deals with a lot of stuff that other women, especially white women, can’t understand or appreciate… not out of maliciousness but just a lack of context or background! This is why intersectional feminism is so necessary!

  17. Caramel*

    2. Yet another controlling person who thinks it is acceptable to put a spouse on a leash. Like a dog. If I were her I would be busy arranging the paperwork for the divorce in the hotel room

        1. Quack Quack No*

          Sorry, I was agreeing with you in abbreviated fashion. As in “I honestly agree with this statement.”

  18. anonymous73*

    #2 – sounds like hubby is looking for validation that her plans for the office Christmas party are unusual and unacceptable. But the issue here is trust, not the logistics of the holiday party.
    #3 – it’s none of your business. This is no different than a manager tracking every minute of you day to make sure you don’t leave early or come in late, even though you may put in extra hours at some point.
    #5 – I’m sorry, your office MANDATES gift giving?!? That would be a big nope for me, even if money were not an issue.

  19. Humble Schoolmarm*

    LW1, I have been in a similar situation at work, although in my case the new coworker was a by-stander who laughed and encouraged the bullies when we all at summer camp together. I didn’t say anything about our prior connection when we were introduced, although I remembered her right away. A day or so later, she asked if I might have gone to Camp X in 19mumble mumble. I did the old “My goodness, I thought I recognized you from somewhere, how have you been?” without mentioning how I best remembered that summer (not happily, I was bullied, lonely and homesick). I stayed polite and professional, but I tried to be cautious and, particularly because we’re both teachers, keep an ear open for how she was getting on with staff and students. Turns out she’s a pretty awesome teacher and the students are very fond of her. We’re not friends (I’m still not sure I’d want to be, and we work in different departments so there aren’t a ton of opportunities to interact) but we are friendly. I’m happy with the result and I don’t think much would have been accomplished with a re-hashing of that summer.

    1. AS87*

      I have no sympathy for the by-stander. It’d be one thing if she didn’t stand up to the bullies but just stayed quiet but she sided with the bullies and laughed at you.

  20. Katy*

    Letter #2 sounds like abuser language to me, and I’m surprised that you reposted it here without context or an update. “She thinks this is acceptable behavior” is alarm-bell language in general, but when you’re talking about something completely innocuous like your spouse going to a holiday party without you and getting a hotel room so she won’t have to drive home afterward, and you use the word “acceptable” twice, it’s clear that you’re being dangerously controlling. This guy is looking for backup for when he tells his wife she can’t go to the party, or when he punishes her for going.

    1. Observer*

      Letter #2 sounds like abuser language to me, and I’m surprised that you reposted it here without context or an update.

      How is Alison supposed to provide an update if the OP hasn’t provided one? And what “context” is she supposed to provide?

      1. Katy*

        I’m just suggesting she not repost it unless she has an update to add, because right now she’s giving a platform to a very controlling and dangerous POV, with only a fairly mild comment about “trust” issues as a corrective to it. One thing abusers are looking for is confirmation that their way of seeing things is normal – it’s a way to tell their partners, “this is all in your head and no one is going to listen to you.” I generally like Ask A Manager, but in this case I think she missed a very serious red flag for controlling behavior. I would be careful about responding to a letter from a potential abuser at all; if you don’t call him out on his language, he’ll take that as evidence that it’s reasonable language to use; if you do, he might take it out on his partner.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          There’s a different opinion though that if these kinds of letters/statements etc are answered – and answered well like Alison does – then it can help people who might be heading towards a similar situation recognise it’s not on early enough. If I’d known the signs that a former relationship of mine was heading into trouble when the joints of possessiveness started…well, can’t change the past.

        2. Caramel*

          Exactly. He is clearly saying he thinks something will happen. Unlike other letters this response doesn’t address it. Providing confirmation is spot on and is exactly what troubled me about the response

  21. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    OP1: there are a number of bullies at school who made my life so miserable I considered ending it at age 12. Some strangled me, one dislocated my shoulder, I was ostracised by damn near everyone.

    I got a friend request from one the other day, saying how she was so glad to see a fellow classmate doing so well in life. I sincerely think she doesn’t even remember holding me underwater so long I blacked out.

    I am never, ever speaking to her or any of them again. I don’t care if it was 30 years ago. If they turn up at this firm? I’ll be the icy cold professional. There are some things I cannot forgive.

    1. quill*

      Yeah, the idea that people just forget injuring someone still baffles me. I mean, I still cringe when I remember accidentally giving a guy a nosebleed in gym. (Basketball partners should have at least one person who actually possesses hand-eye coordination.)

      There are plenty of things from earlier than my tweens that I don’t remember, but your memory forming mechanics are pretty well established by late elementary / early middle school.

      One of the people who was socially unpleasant in high school, rather than actively endangering my safety / threatening to do so, reached out to me on facebook after what I assume was an attack of conscience? I can’t remember which specific incident of mockery she was referring to, and I have no desire to find out, and / or discover a rumor she spread about me that I didn’t previously know about. Anyway, I didn’t respond, because if you went to middle or high school with me and I still talk to you? You won the Not-A-Bad-Person lottery.

  22. All Het Up About It*

    As mentioned, there are lots of things missing from #2. But the other thing is “about a 30 minute drive” can mean different things. In my larger city, it might take me 30 minutes to get across town, and yes, cab or car service would be the route I’d most likely go.

    Where I grew up, 30 minutes away usually meant the next town over and included back country roads, interstate, and some small town streets…. I’d 100% be down for a hotel room in that situation. And yes, that would have been the more cost effective choice.

    The letters like this that are really obviously not about work stuff, but the work question is just a cover are so intriguing.

  23. OP4*

    OP4 here. A bit of a shock from seeing my years-old question pop up on AAM! It felt like an entirely different person wrote that question.

    For those who are curious, I’m still married but no longer working for that firm. My husband and I weathered a tough patch following our last medical intervention to try to get pregnant, and for a good while there we were at an impasse of how and if we were going to pursue adoption or further fertility treatments, which led to the separation I wrote about. It truly sucked, but we finally decided together that divorce wasn’t going to make us any happier. I did 100% lie about why he didn’t make that dinner, though.

    Work wise, it became increasingly clear during my tenure that the firm culture was not one in which I could thrive long-term. This past July, with my husband’s support, I launched my solo practice. Even though I no longer have coworkers or management to deal with, I’m still a daily AAM reader!

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Yes, I’m glad this resolved and you managed to keep the firm out of evaluating your marriage.

  24. LGC*

    So with #3 – I also feel like a missing ingredient is how often this happens. The first thing that I’m hearing is that every other month (so probably like 5-6 times a year), LW3’s boss leaves work early to get her hair done.

    I’ll be honest: that doesn’t sound that bad even for a more junior employee (let alone the boss). I can imagine it’s a bit disruptive on days it occurs, but not that much if it’s once every two months or so. Unless your boss is Michelle (in which case I hope this LW sent in many, many updates), it’s not something I’d make a big deal about.

    (I’ll admit, some people would make a big deal about it if a more junior employee took the occasional afternoon off to get their hair done. Although there can be actual reasons for making a big deal, I’d only do so if there’s actual business interests – like, you’re the receptionist.)

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