I am NOT Made of Glass

I have a new coworker who annoys the crap out of me. Oh, he means well, and I’m sure in any other context I’d think he was just fine. But within five minutes of meeting me, he called me a girl.  Great. I’m 49 and have almost 13 more years of experience on this job than he does, and he is already not taking me seriously.

At the end of shift change as I’m walking off the bridge, he insists on standing outside on the sidewalk and watching me go all the way to my car to make sure I’m safe. That’s a nice gesture, very gallant, so it took me a while to figure out why it bugged me.

Don’t get me wrong. I like having doors opened for me. I like common courtesy, evidence of respect, signs that people think I’m special and deserve to be pampered. I’d be forever grateful if someone pushed me out of the way if there’s a safe falling out of a 25 story window. And if I do see one of our crazies on the bridge, I will ask my coworker to watch, and I’ll do the same for him or her.

What I resent is the implication that I’m somehow incapable of protecting myself even on the calmest of nights, the concept that I’m so flaky and incompetent that I am unable to take reasonable precautions for my own safety. I also take exception to the fact that I’ve been walking off this bridge for nearly 13 years, past all manner of drunks and oddballs, and have done so effectively and safely, and yet this guy comes along and thinks I need him to be my hero all of a sudden. (And frankly it gives me the creeps that he’s probably staring at my butt the entire time I’m walking away.) Even when I tell him it’s not necessary, he insists on doing it anyway, as if my poor judgment needs to be vetoed for my own security.

So here’s what I plan to do when I see him this week. First, I’m going to ask him if he watches the male bridgetenders walk to their cars as well. If he says yes, then I’ll say, “Fine. It’s really not necessary, and it actually makes me really uncomfortable, but do what feels right for you.” If he says no, though, I’m going to hand him a link to this blog entry.

If you are reading this, coworker in question, it offends me that you perceive me as weaker, less capable, and by implication somehow inferior to you. If you haven’t figured out yet that I’m no shrinking violet, you’re painfully out of touch with reality. This does not make you a hero in my eyes. It makes me view you as a deluded throwback to the 1950’s, and I kind of feel sorry for you.



The Emotional Space Theory

Yup. Here comes another one of my theories that probably isn’t original with me. We often measure people by how we feel about them. We talk about how much we love this person or dislike that person. My theory is that there’s an entirely separate system of measurement which should be taken just as seriously—that of emotional space.

Some people just take up more emotional space in our lives than others do, and for the most part that’s not a good thing. Quite often you can measure how resistant you are to change, or how low your self-esteem is, by how much emotional space you allow people to take up in your life, often to your detriment.

For example, let’s say you have two brothers and you love them both equally. But one, Andy, just seems to have more in common with you. Andy is comfortable to be around. He “gets” you. He’s the person you go to for advice. You finish each others’ sentences. He is a positive force in your life. You love him to pieces, but he doesn’t take up much emotional space, and that’s the healthiest relationship you can possibly have with another person. That’s what you should strive for.

Your other brother, Leroy, on the other hand, just seems to suck the life out of you. When he calls you, it’s just as likely to be to bail him out of jail as it is to tell you happy birthday. He shows up intoxicated for Thanksgiving and makes an a** of himself. He’s always bringing drama into your life. You love Leroy, but he makes you worry. He makes you cry. He makes you shout. And he makes you feel guilty because when he leaves your house, you’re usually relieved. If ever you want to have a healthy relationship with Leroy, you need to find ways to reduce the amount of emotional space he takes up in your life. Because, you see, that is your choice, not his. He doesn’t get to decide. You do. My advice would be for you to start by reading the book Codependent No More by Melody Beattie.

The emotional space yardstick also works with people whom you dislike. For example, you really can’t stand your Aunt Lola. She’s Uncle Carson’s third wife, and why he bothered marrying an exotic dancer who is 50 years his junior you will never know, but there you have it. She’s now a part of the family. She doesn’t take up very much emotional space in your life, however, because they live 600 miles away, and you only run into them at the occasional wedding or family reunion. She looms much larger in your cousin’s life, because she is convinced that Lola is trying to get her written out of the will. While you can commiserate with your cousin, you’re not losing much sleep over the situation yourself.

But you also dislike your coworker, Dave, and he’s making your life a living hell. You lose quite a bit of sleep over Dave, as he undermines your work every chance he gets. You also are developing ulcers and a nervous twitch. You are pouring so much of your energy into the situation that you’re actually starting to undermine your own work. You might want to consider learning whatever lesson you’re supposed to learn from Dave, then gain some perspective, take disciplinary action if absolutely necessary, and move on to more productive obsessions.

Take a moment to think about those people whom you have allowed to take up the most emotional space in your life. Now ask yourself what would really happen if you reduced that emotional space to a more manageable size. How would you do that? And what would happen if you did? In what ways would your life improve? Only you can determine your boundaries, and only you can make those boundaries perfectly clear to those around you. You are the surveyor of your own life. Only you can determine what’s out of bounds.

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When She’s Just Not into You

I have this coworker who doesn’t like me. I don’t know why. I’ve tried to figure it out for years. I suppose I could come right out and ask, but what would be the point? It would just open me up to insults, and her mind is already made up. She is the type of person who doesn’t change her mind very easily. I’ve seen her get into an argument with someone and never speak to that person again. Ever. It must be exhausting, trying to keep track of who you’ll speak to in any given crowd. She does speak to me, but it’s safe to say we’ll never be besties. We’re polite to each other, but she’s not going to invite me over to her house for an “It’s a Wonderful Life” movie marathon or ask to borrow my sweater. This used to hurt my feelings, but then I realized that, well, frankly, I don’t particularly like her, either.

Now and then, when things are slow on the bridge and I need a giggle, I imagine ways to disarm her, such as giving her a really big hug. That would definitely freak her out, but I can also see it backfiring and me getting punched in the throat. It could go either way.

It’s a pity that we can’t seem to connect because I bet she has a fairly interesting history. She’s six months younger than I am, but she looks at least 20 years older. She doesn’t appear unhealthy. She just seems like someone who has squinted into the desert sun during a sandstorm her entire life. I know she has had some interesting jobs in the past. And SOMETHING must have happened to make her a cast iron, rigid force to be reckoned with. But I have resigned myself to the fact that these are mysteries that I’m never going to solve.

Sometimes you have to let a junk yard dog be just that. Let her roam the yard and have her routine. Yes, occasionally you’ll have to hop onto a car when she goes on a rampage, but other than that, just leave a sufficient amount of kibble in the bowl and live and let live.