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

Remember the letter-writer whose needy boss tried to invite herself on the letter-writer’s vacations and nights out with her husband. (First update here.) After I reprinted it last week, the writer saw it and sent in a current update:

What a surprise to see this pop up again! It’s been a long three years.

Our work unit remained fully remote for over a year, which was glorious. Productivity soared, and even though my unit’s workloads skyrocketed during the pandemic, we managed to meet our objectives accurately and timely. And remote work – plus Bob and Daisy – continued to be integral in helping me dodge Wanda and her demands for friendship.

In mid-2021, our unit was required to go to a hybrid schedule of two days in-office and three days remote each week. I wasn’t enthused about that, but the good thing was that our in-office days were staggered so that our team was not all there at the same time – and miraculously, my assigned in-office days were different from Wanda’s. So even though I’d far rather still be 100% remote, the fact that I didn’t need to deal with Wanda in person made things more tolerable.

The needy, demanding calls continued, of course. Wanda is a desperately lonely person, and that desperation pushes her to great lengths in her attempts to find – or force – friendships with others, including her own staff. But that Oblivious Meter just stayed stuck on MAXIMUM CLUELESS, no matter how hard she hinted, and I was able to keep healthy boundaries in place.

You’ve probably noticed the past tense by now.

About a year after we returned to hybrid work, Wanda’s sister was diagnosed with a serious illness. The sister’s husband and adult children were struggling with caregiving, plus Wanda was in a tizzy because she was so far away. So she took early retirement last fall, sold her house, and moved to the city where her sister lives.

I still occasionally hear from her. I mostly let the calls go to voicemail nowadays, and then reply by email a day or two later. I keep my tone friendly but not solicitous, and I maintain hard limits on what I share about myself and my family. I am fully aware that I don’t have to interact with her at all, but I genuinely feel sorry for her. While I can’t solve her problems, I can be kind. And ultimately I think the world would be a better place if more of us brought kindness to our interactions with others.

I am still working fulltime, though I am in active planning mode for my own retirement in the next six to nine months. I’m writing reams and reams of process manuals, updating policy documents, training others in my unit, and have been asked to be on the search committee for my replacement later this year.

Bob, my very beloved and romantic-as-a-box-of-hammers husband, retired in January, and is impatiently awaiting my retirement date so that we can head off on our long-planned meander around the country. After Wanda moved to live near her sister, he reworked our itinerary to circumnavigate that region of the country to prevent any possible encounters, with my enthusiastic support. He’s especially looking forward to being away from the landline; since I don’t own (or want) a cellphone, Wanda won’t have any way to call me once Bob and I hit the road together. That is definitely a major advantage to my cellphone-less state.

And Daisy the Wonderdog is still the goodest good girl ever, truly a sanity-saver. She even forgave me for exaggerating the frequency of her potty trips to get out of Wanda’s interminable phone calls. Everyone should have a Daisy the Wonderdog in their life.

Thanks to all for your comments, and be safe out there!

{ 90 comments… read them below }

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      “After Wanda moved to live near her sister, he reworked our itinerary to circumnavigate that region of the country to prevent any possible encounters”
      Bob is the hero we need but don’t deserve!

      1. Jaydee*

        I don’t think a box of hammers would rework a travel itinerary just to avoid the city where Wanda now lives. Bob sounds like a pretty great guy! I hope he and LW and Daisy the Wonderdog have a wonderful time traveling and make many great memories together.

          1. allathian*

            Yes, me too. I married a Bob. He doesn’t do romantic gestures, like he’s never bought me flowers even though I’m very much a cut flowers person and it’s my preferred gift from family. He’s only said “I love you” to me once, just after our son was born. And even then I’m not sure if he said it to me or to our son, or possibly both. His go-to phrases are “you’re very dear to me” or “you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me” and I’m happy with that because I’m not someone who says “I love you” often, either.

            But he’d absolutely help me avoid running into someone I wanted to avoid, and he’s often thoughtful in other practical matters, as well.

            I wish you a great retirement trip when the time comes, LW!

            1. parsley*

              If somebody said or did those things for me I would feel very romanced – it doesn’t have to be flowers and poetry to be romantic!

            2. NotBatman*

              As the Bob in my relationship, I joke a lot with my spouse about how many “romantic gestures” I need on the same nights as his invasive, exhausting golf outings with his invasive, exhausting boss. My parents grew up telling me that I could cast them as demanding strict jerks with a curfew any time I found myself uncomfortable when out with friends, and I’m happy to play the same role for spouse as needed.

              1. Working Hypothesis*

                When my kids entered their teens, we worked out a code phrase by which they could ask me for permission to do something, in front of their friends, while signaling to me that they wanted me to refuse so they had an excuse not to go. I wanted to make sure that I served as the bad guy when they needed one, instead of making them do it.

                Then they made me incredibly proud, by only choosing friends whom they felt comfortable telling on their own when they didn’t want to do something, which was best of all.

    2. GreyjoyGardens*

      I am very proud of Bob and Daisy for being so supportive. Bob may not be a “romantic” in the box-of-chocolates sense but he’s 100% there when it counts, and agreeing to circumvent the Location of Wanda is actually…pretty romantic!

      And may Daisy enjoy an endless supply of treats of her choice!

  1. Goody*

    Love this update. Love Bob the romantic box of hammers and Daisy the Wonder Dog. Enjoy your last few months and especially your retirement and travels!

    1. Mercurial*

      Agreed. And you know what? A box of hammers may not be romantic, but it is exactly what you need when dealing with a stubborn and awkward nail…

  2. evens*

    “While I can’t solve her problems, I can be kind. And ultimately I think the world would be a better place if more of us brought kindness to our interactions with others.”

    This is such a lovely thought. Thank you for the reminder!

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        The world would always be better with more kindness – but nothing says that one must break their own boundaries to give that kindness.

    1. Morgan Hazelwood*

      Same! I teared up at these words. This is what I try to live by — while maintaining healthy boundaries.

    1. Needy Boss OP*

      I wish I could oblige, but it wouldn’t be prudent. I camouflaged the identifiable details in my original post and in my updates, but posting a photo of “Daisy” would be a total giveaway to anyone who has met her.

      She’s a sweet little rescue pup who is about five years old at this point, a total Heinz 57 mutt who is smart as paint, and we absolutely adore her. I am afraid I’ll need to leave the details to your imaginations, but I can promise you she’ll get ear scritches on behalf of all her fans here.

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        Tell her she has fans who wish her treats and fields where she can romp to her hearts content! And the coziest and comfiest of dog beds.

  3. Rosyglasses*

    And ultimately I think the world would be a better place if more of us brought kindness to our interactions with others.

    Absolutely LW. Thank you for this update and I wish you all the best in your future road journeys.

      1. ThatGirl*

        The worrywart in me hopes they have one in the family (Bob’s?) in case they need it on their travels. But yes, truly impressive.

        1. Jessastory*

          Yes, since payphones are pretty much gone, a cellphone really is needed for travelling. But they could get a simple prepaid flip-phone and not give out the number (or only give it to immediate family.

          1. Sara without an H*

            Good suggestion. OP & Bob could get a burner phone and give the number only to trusted friends and family members. That way they can, if necessary, reach roadside assistance, but Wanda can’t reach them.

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Yeah – even a pay as you go phone these days can be a smart phone. There’s nothing that says you have to give Wanda your phone number – but these days since pay phones have pretty much gone the way of the Dodo, pay as you go – and you can even get them that work overseas as well in case the wander includes foreign travel.

        3. Needy Boss OP*

          Bob does have a flip phone, precisely because we know there aren’t many (or any) pay phones along the highways and byways in 2023, and we don’t want to get stranded on our road trip.

    1. Tom*

      I agree, that was the most shocking part of the update. But if she likes it that way, don’t fix what ain’t broken!

    2. goddessoftransitory*

      It’s pretty easy; neither Husband or I have cell phones. Of course, we basically live like old world peasants and never go more than five miles from home, but it’s doable.

      1. Lani*

        my bf has no cell phone and no, were not old– hes 25
        everyone thinks hes crazy but he likes it that way! ‍♀️

      2. allathian*

        Mmm possibly. I live in Finland, the land of 5.6 million inhabitants and 10 million cell phones. Yes, most people who’re 7 or older have at least one phone in active use. The vast majority of office employees have two, a personal one and an employer-provided one, largely for privacy and security reasons. In urban areas, kids as young as 7 go to school on their own if they live within walking distance of the school, so the vast majority of kids get a phone when they start school, or a smart watch with a SIM card and their parents’ numbers preprogrammed. Dumb phones are cheap, you can get a second-hand one for 20 euros or less, and the cheapest plans are less than 10 euros a month, although if the phone’s meant for emergencies only, it’s probably cheaper to get a prepaid/pay-as-you-go plan.

        The phone companies are dismantling the landline network at a fast pace, in many areas it’s simply impossible to get a landline. In some remote areas where cellphone coverage is spotty at best people have been forced to get ridiculously expensive satellite phones for emergencies.

    3. yala*

      Was gonna say. Even my Granny has one, and she’s 94. (She absolutely refuses to get a smart phone, or a computer of any kind.)

  4. Bill and Heather's Excellent Adventure*

    What a lovely update. Enjoy your retirement, OP! And give Daisy some scritches from me.

  5. GreenDoor*

    A lot of people mistake “I should be kind” for “I can’t ever say no to this person, lest I be mean.” I’m happy you were able to find the right balance between kindness and boundary setting!

    1. ariel*

      This. It’s so hard, congrats to OP on finding your sweet spot and for sharing this reminder with us.

    2. Sea Glass Princess*

      This is especially true for women raised to “Make nice!” above all else. But of course, there are times when setting reasonable boundaries for others is not only the best choice for ourselves but for those others as well. Just look at what happens to children who are spoiled by parents who think it’s “mean” to say a firm “No!” and to make it stick; they soon find out that other kids won’t indulge their every whim, that teachers won’t let them rule the classroom by having pouting fits and that employers have no use for them either.

  6. Supporter of kindness*

    I admire how you have balanced being kind with having boundaries.

    And yes to the statement “…Ultimately I think the world would be a better place if more of us brought kindness to our interactions with others.”

  7. Belle of the Midwest*

    Your romantic-as-a-box-of-hammers husband Bob sounds amazing. As does Wonderdog Daisy. What a great family you have. And you are so right about being kind. You’re doing a good job!

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Agreed – Bob is an amazing husband – and he may not be traditionally romantic, but he is romantic in the best way possible – he backs up his spouse when they need backed up.

      1. Random Bystander*

        Agreed — he might not be the flowers, chocolate & wine romantic, but he’s definitely romantic in the ways that matter.

        1. TeaCoziesRUs*

          Exactly. Nothing like having a spouse who you KNOW has your back when the feathers hit the fan… and knowing you have their back, too. My love is DEFINITELY not the chocolates-carrying wooer of romantic comedy gold, but his loyalty, devotion to our family, and willingness to try everything from pulling apart the dryer to moving us across the country but packing and loading the truck mostly himself are the ways his love shows through loud and clear.

          Huzzah for Bob, and bless both of your hammer-loving souls. May the road bring you so many happy memories, tough patches that become family lore and legend, and the quiet contentment of enjoying a life well-lived. :)

    2. Large and in charge*

      Came here to say this. While I would probably find Wanda intolerable, I relate to her on one level – you seem like someone I’d want to befriend! No wonder she’s spent all these years trying to become a part of your family.

  8. Kind of Waiting*

    We’ve got to see the blog (if you can handle that level of tech on your wanders), or your book (if you cannot) of your travels! I can’t get enough of your writing, both in style and attitude.

  9. TeaCoziesRUs*

    As a woman whose husband is also about a romantic as a box of…. skillets?.. (I do love to cook and have no doubt he loves me with every fiber of his very practical being), I love that your beloved totally and absolutely earned at least a decade’s worth of excellent husband points! What a hero!

    And yes, we need a dog tax.

    Also, can I request a place in the FAQ for the commentariat to post any books or other written things they would be willing to share??

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Yeah, my husband can be overly practical as well – but practical doesn’t mean that they don’t love – just that they show that love in different but very practical ways. And to be honest, I’ll take supporting me when I need it over flowers and dinners any day.

  10. SJ (they/them)*

    Great job OP! These kinds of boundaries are so difficult to get started, it does get easier to maintain with time but it’s also very easy to backslide with a change in circumstances. I’m so impressed with how you’ve navigated this! Bob and Daisy sound wonderful as well.

    There is a phrase I sometimes like to repeat to myself in my own version of this situation, which is “I do not understand subtext”. Much like you putting the oblivious meter to MAXIMUM, I find repeating this to myself helps me respond to literally the actual words a (manipulative, passive-aggressive) person is using, instead of the bait right under the surface. Can’t respond to something I didn’t hear in the first place! And if I do not understand subtext, which I do not in these cases, then if they didn’t say it outright, I didn’t hear it. Ta-da.

    1. 2 Cents*

      Ooo, I’ll have to remember this. As someone who often reads in subtext and others’ feelings too much, it would help!

    2. higheredadmin*

      Same. I always make it very clear to work colleagues that they have to say exactly what they mean. If they are relying on me to pick up on subtext then they will be waiting literally forever.

  11. Momma Bear*

    This is a good update and sounds like it mostly resolved itself. Bob and Daisy are a good backup team for you. :) Enjoy your retirement!

  12. GrowthOpportunity*

    Maximum clueless!! Sometimes I’m like this on accident and think I’ve missed out on some legitimate friend making (oops!).

    Hope you have an amazing trip!

    Check your healthcare plans with a fine tooth comb to figure out in/out of network/etc/etc costs in case you need healthcare on a trip (even if it’s just that someone got strep throat).

    Phones are better at multi-tasking now, but the last mega roadtrip that I went on, there was a surprising number of times that the person navigating had both of our phones out, doing searches and/or maps, etc on both phones in some trickier areas.

    1. Boof*

      There is something to be said for the good old paper map/itinerary – no GPS lost reception flailings!

      1. AF Vet*

        I was a Navigator in the Air Force for years… Gypsy (GPS’ name to me) can lie very easily and very fluently. I tend to trust but verify, especially in new areas. :)

  13. Elbereth Gilthoniel*

    Thank you for the update OP! Your sentiment on kindness was so lovely.
    I’m very glad to see the boundary setting you established worked well for you.

    I am amazed at the level of effort needed to keep that boundary though. Replanning your state by state trip to avoid this person and not purchasing a cell phone seem like a lot! But you have made it work for you.

    Also, I want to recognize your kindness in describing Wanda. You could have easily described her in a way that would have made her look awful. Yet your words instead convey someone who seems extremely lonely and sad, and someone who we as readers could extend compassion/pity and understanding. Thank you for that! It is easy to make someone a villain, and you took another path.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Agreed. I felt both sad for and frustrated by Wanda. She actually reminded me a bit of the Josh Gad version of LeFou in the live action version of Beauty and the Beast – so desperate to be liked and have friends that he would do whatever Gaston asked in order to get a few scraps of compliments. Only in this case the desperation comes out in trying to glom on to whoever she thinks will accept her.

    2. Boof*

      Maybe I read it wrong, but I think the lack of cell phone was for LWs own preference rather than due to Wanda

  14. Dark Macadamia*

    You’re a very kind person, LW. Your first update was one of my favorites I’ve seen here, and it cracks me up that you’re reworking the trip to give Wanda City a wide berth lol

  15. Katrine Fonsmark*

    That is a good update, but the part that shocked me was an adult human in 2023 not having a cell phone.

  16. Susannah*

    LW, I just wanted to say that you’re a very nice person – more patient than I might have been. And “Bob’s” willingness to to take the heat means he actually is very romantic!
    Enjoy retirement and well-deserved trip.

  17. RJ*

    OP, you are a kind person. Thank you for reminding me of the importance of kindness. Enjoy your Wanda-free retirement with Awesome Bob and Daisy the Wonder Dog!!

  18. Jessica*

    Her husband reminds me exactly of mine. Not very romantic, but he’d totally plan a trip in a way to circumvent a person I may not want to see or run into. He’d find that fun, actually. It’s grand to have family in your corner when you’re going through a fraught situation.

  19. Apple Townes*

    This is undoubtedly the most charming thing on the internet today. Wishing the LW and Bob and Daisy a wonderful trip!

  20. Free Meerkats*

    Since you’re government, you’re likely on a state retirement system.

    One piece of advice, start early with the system once you have an idea for when you’re going to retire. Our HR has been advising people to start a month in advance; my benefits estimate (which I had to get before I could actually file for retirement) took 17 weeks, 2 days! Luckily for me, I started the process 6 months in advance, so my payments won’t be delayed.

    In contrast, Social Security went quickly and was relatively painless compared to the state system.

    Enjoy retirement!

  21. Moonstone*

    Enjoy your well deserved retirement with your husband and Daisy! I loved everything about this update and wish you all the best!

  22. Dill pickle*

    Regarding romantic-as-a-box-of-hammers husband Bob, my hubs actually gifted me a bright orange screwdriver. On Christmas. Darned if that stupid screwdriver hasn’t come in handy a million times!

  23. laser99*

    I’m guessing this will be an unpopular view, but it might be a kindness, in the long run, to let Wanda know why you were so reluctant to engage, LW. I say this is a person with (former) boundary issues. I will be forever grateful to the boss who sat me down and explained that my frantic and desperate attempts to get everyone to “like me” were accomplishing the opposite.

    1. Jenny*

      This heavily depends on the person, and asking someone to take that gamble (on the person “seeing the light” vs. being horribly offended) is a huge ask. I personally wouldn’t be comfortable even maintaining the level of contact the LW has, but she seems comfortable with the boundaries that she’s set up. At Wanda’s age, if she hasn’t figured this type of thing out for herself I honestly doubt that she ever will.

      1. laser99*

        You’re right, of course; this should have occurred to me. I was very young when this took place, it makes all the difference.

    2. SereneScientist*

      I agree with Jenny that this is heavily dependent on circumstance and the people involved. Plus, while I totally understand your point of view given your own experiences, not everyone can or wants to have such a conversation with the boundary-adverse folks in their life. LW is comfortable in her approach and we have no indication that Wanda is open to hearing this kind of feedback. It would also be a kindness to trust her judgment and assessment of the situation.

  24. Mrs. Hawiggins*

    I want to be in a place where I say, that I do not own a or want a cell phone. I dream of this, and I am so happy that the OP can do it. I am glad to read this update. Healthy boundaries are priceless. OP is one of the most empathetic souls around but even we empaths must know when the party’s over. And if nothing else I would love to read the Adventures of Daisy the Wonder Dog someday… I bet it would be a good book. Best to OP!

  25. Another Librarian*

    Thank you for this! Feigning ignorance is usually not a good thing but in some cases is justified and can be an excellent tool to cope with the crazy.

  26. Me*

    Although it sounds like it’s not a hardship, I’m not sure I would avoid an entire region of the country just to make sure that you don’t run into Wanda. That’s giving her a lot of power, especially since it sounds like you don’t even speak to her regularly so she wouldn’t pry it out of you.

    I will also say that it is kind of you to continue to respond to Wanda. It sounds like she’s more of a lonely mess than a bad person.

  27. Quake*

    These three letters might be my favourite AAM saga of all time. And so, so wonderfully written! I wish you all the best in your retirement, OP and Bob and Daisy.

  28. Sister Sympathy Brigade*

    Oh no. Lovely update, but as a person with a serious illness I feel deep sympathy for the ill sister who moved away (possibly to escape Wanda?!) and has Wanda literally move house and state to be close to her again! I have had to say ‘no’ to visits from even well meaning, generous relatives, because illness can be a nightmare of a balancing act and a relative can put the balance out and make things more hellish. The less sensitive the relative, the worse it is. Someone as domineering as Wanda could be a heavy burden. Oh I feel so sorry for the sister.

  29. Ginger With a Soul*

    These were very well-written posts, OP. Have you considered writing a travel blog as you hop around the country? I’d read it! Mazel tov on the upcoming retirement!

  30. Old Hampshire New Hampshire*

    Such a lovely update! Enjoy your retirement travels with Bob and Daisy the Wonderdog.

  31. marvin*

    Oh, Wanda. She’s the reason boundaries were invented. I’m very impressed by the letter writer’s ingenuity at keeping Wanda at bay, but I’ll also admit that from a distance I find her pretty fascinating. A real case study for the unexamined life.

  32. BottledPoetry*

    Sorry this just warmed my heart how you got hella manipulated but you still want to be Kind™ (now with boundaries!) And that your husband reworked the road trip to avoid Wanda is hilarious and probably the most romantic thing ever. I hope you have an awesome retirement and life.

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