Photo: The Cut
I know you’ve talked before about people who don’t want to invite co-workers to social events outside of work, but what happens when you’re that co-worker?
I’ve worked for the same company for two years in a small department of six women. Between the six of us, we are all within a variety of life stages (married, dating, married with kids, etc.), and probably have about 15 years in between us all. I was the third person to get hired and the newest member of our team was hired a year ago, so I am not the newcomer.
The other women have always alluded to hanging out in the past. Recently they’ve been posting pictures on social media of them hanging out (some were even sent directly to me on Snapchat). This week was particularly hard because they talked about one of these events in front of me all week. I also found out accidentally that there’s a group chat going on that I’m not a part of, when one of the women texted everyone in it some big news that we all had been cheering her on for (I had made a point of reaching out on multiple occasions to inquire about it and be encouraging). I only saw it because another co-worker was showing me a photo on her phone at the time.
I understand that they’re not required to hang out with me outside of work. They’re all friendly with me at work, which I appreciate. I eat lunch with them regularly at work. However, it’s hard not to have my feelings hurt — that out of everyone, I’m the one who’s not invited to these outings.
I’ve limited a lot of my social media use for a lot of reasons, but also to help decrease these feelings of being the odd one out. But it’s hard to ignore when they talk about it in front of me.
Do you have advice on how to not take this personally when it feels very personal?
I’m sorry — that really sucks. There might be perfectly innocent reasons for why this is happening, but regardless of the explanation, it still feels awful if you seem to be the one person left out of social relationships. That’s especially true at work, since you spend so much time around your co-workers.
But the reality is that not everyone clicks with everyone else. At times, you’ve probably experienced that from the other side yourself, where you connected strongly with some people in a group but not with others. That didn’t mean you necessarily disliked the people you didn’t click with or thought they were bad people. For whatever reason, you just didn’t develop a deeper connection with them. And frankly, sometimes guessing who will become good friends can be just as mysterious as knowing which two people will pair off romantically.
But of course, even when you know that intellectually, it can be tough when you feel like no one is connecting with you — and especially when everyone else is getting along great and you’re the odd one out.
I’m curious if there are any obvious differences in your situations that might be at the root of this. For example, are you by chance the youngest or the oldest of the group? Or the only one who’s married, or the only one who’s single? Or the only one who doesn’t go to their church or the only one who’s not from the area originally, or anything else you can identify that differentiates you from them in some way? Sometimes those sorts of differences can “other” you in ways you might not have anticipated. And if that’s the case, it could be that they like you just fine, but the thing they have in common gives them a special connection to each other on top of the normal work friendship they have with you.
And it does sound like you have pretty good work friendships with them! If you didn’t know about the group chat or the outside-of-work socializing, it sounds like you might be perfectly happy with these relationships. These colleagues are friendly with you, they’re sending you photos on Snapchat and showing you pictures on their phones, you eat lunch together, you’re talking about each other’s big pieces of news … that sounds pretty solid, as far as work friendships go!
So it might help to focus on the fact that you actually have what sounds like fairly warm relationships with your co-workers when you’re at work — which is a pretty great thing, especially considering all the terrible co-workers you could have gotten stuck with instead. It might be that if you decide to just appreciate those relationships for what they are — pleasant companions for eight hours a day while you’re working — you could take some of the sting out of this.
I also wonder if you’ve tried making social overtures of your own. If you click with one or two of the group better than with the others, what about asking them to grab coffee with you or suggesting drinks after work? Or the next time they send you photos of them doing something social together, you could say, “That looks like so much fun! I’d love to come along if you do it again.” It’s generally true that you shouldn’t invite yourself along to someone else’s plans — but they’re talking to you about it and showing you photos! In that context, there’s nothing wrong with mentioning as they’re talking to you about the fun thing they did that you’d be interested in joining them if there’s a next time.
And who knows, they may not have realized that you’d want to come. Or maybe they’ve gotten in a rut of inviting the same people each time and haven’t given it much thought. Or yes, it is possible that they’re intentionally leaving you out because they don’t want to hang out with you — but showing you photos and talking with you about their plans isn’t typical behavior of people who are trying to leave you out. It’s much more the behavior of people who for some reason haven’t realized you’d be interested in joining them.
But I don’t want to be overly Pollyannaish. Maybe it’s true that they like you just fine at work but don’t feel the kind of friendship with you that they feel with each other. If that’s the case, that’s okay! It would be nice to make those sorts of friendships at work, but it’s also nice to have co-workers who are warm and friendly to you while you’re at work, even if it doesn’t go farther than that. And there can be upsides to having boundaries on work friendships — like making it easier to leave work at work when you go home in the evenings, and not getting caught between loyalty to a friend and the demands of your work.
You didn’t mention what the your social support system looks like outside of work, but now might be the time to lean into it. Initiate a few more plans with your friends, reconnect with people you haven’t talked with in a while, schedule more time for hobbies or classes or whatever else brings you satisfaction, and generally try to fill up your social universe with people and activities that make you happy. If you feel good about how you’re spending your time outside of work, the work friendships may carry less weight.
Order Alison Green’s book, Ask a Manager: Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work, here. Got a question for her? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Her advice column appears here every Tuesday.