You Can Ignore the Bridezilla in the Breakroom

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Mute Those Wedding Bells

I work for a nonprofit and live check to check. My colleagues and I have a shared lunchroom and lunch break. One of my colleagues is getting married and has spent many lunches discussing her extravagant wedding plans. My husband and I rode our bikes to a courthouse to tie the knot, so listening to the challenges of organizing a wedding that costs at least $100,000 is quite shocking. I find the entire wedding industry to be ridiculous, and this level of privilege is unfamiliar to me. I try to tune out as much as I can.

My colleagues plan to host a lunch and purchase a wedding gift for her. My budget is extremely tight and I bring my lunch to work every day because I don’t have any extra money. I do not want to purchase lunch or donate to the gift. I donate to most causes (colleagues who lose family members or are having a new baby). However, I just can’t see myself purchasing a gift for someone who presents as entitled. I’ve decided to ignore the email and avoid work that day. How should I handle this situation?

— Anonymous

It sounds as if you’re harboring some resentment here, and given your circumstances, I understand. It’s frustrating to live paycheck to paycheck while having to listen to someone blithely discussing the economics of her impending nuptials as if everyone can afford an extravagant wedding. Your colleague is probably sharing about her wedding because she’s excited. She’s also being a bit gauche and inconsiderate because you’re her co-workers, not necessarily her close friends with whom she might more appropriately discuss such things.

You clearly don’t like this person, so don’t contribute to her wedding gift or lunch and don’t give that choice a second thought. Social pressure is always at work when the workplace passes around the proverbial collection plate, but you can either abstain silently or explain that you can’t afford any additional expenses right now. There is no shame at all in declining to contribute to something like this.

Overcoming Internalized Ableism

I’ve been sick with various chronic conditions my whole life. For most of my career I’ve been a workaholic, frequently working multiple jobs and well over 40 hours a week to make ends meet. For the past couple of years, I’ve had a full-time position I love and that I’ve been really good at, with a nonprofit whose mission I truly believe in.

However, my chronic pain and fatigue have been worsening. In January, I was struggling to focus and make it through the workday. I asked my boss to switch to a new, more exciting project. However, I crashed and burned anyway and had to take three weeks of medical leave. I returned to work, but after only a couple weeks full time I was struggling again, so I asked to reduce my hours to 32 a week to try and prevent another crash. In the meantime, my original project has remained untouched.

In recent meetings, my boss has been highlighting my current projects and singing my praises to supervisors and colleagues. Instead of feeling happy or proud, I find myself thinking, “You’re just saying that to convince everyone — including yourself — that I’m still worth it.” I know that’s my anxiety and internalized ableism talking, but I can’t get that voice out of my head. How do I convince myself that I am, in fact, still a worthwhile employee?

— Georgia, Austin

Please stop undermining yourself! It can be difficult to overcome the internalized negativity we harbor toward ourselves, particularly in an ableist world. It’s easy to buy into the idea that if you’re human, if you can’t work yourself into the ground without consequence, you are failing. This is simply not true. To live in a body means that sometimes, that body will struggle in one way or another. It is not a reflection on your inherent worth or your professional merits.

Managers aren’t going to expend the effort to sing your praises unless they mean it. They don’t need to convince themselves that you’re doing so well. You have convinced your boss with your great work. I would encourage you to not worry about being a worthwhile employee. Decouple professional performance from self-worth. You are not your job. You are not a problem because you deal with chronic illness. The only person who needs to be convinced that you’re worth it is you, and I hope you’re able to do that.

Bad Work Grandma

I have a co-worker I absolutely adore and who calls me her work grandson. There’s just one small thing: She takes every opportunity to ask me to pray with her or to talk about Jesus and I am Jewish. At first it wasn’t too bad. When I returned to the office after Yom Kippur, she asked why I was out. After I told her, she asked what that was. This led to her saying, “Oh, well you know Jesus though, right?” I’ll admit my response of “No, they don’t teach us about him in Hebrew school” was a little snarky, but she and I have a relationship where we can joke around. She asked a few more questions about Judaism and said: “It’s OK you haven’t found Jesus yet. I’m sure you will.” I laughed it off and chalked it up to her being older.

More recently, though, she has taken to telling me about “a cabal of rich Satanists” who are “praying for the downfall of Christianity” and is asking me to pray with her for her safety (and the safety of all “children of the Lord”). I was at a loss for words, which she took to mean I agreed to pray for her. Now, she keeps asking me if I’m praying and “sharing the good word.” I don’t know how to tell her I’m getting uncomfortable — especially the language she used, cabal in particular, is a pretty common antisemitic dog whistle. I know she didn’t mean any harm by it, but I feel really uncomfortable talking to her now.

Do you have any advice on how to talk to her about this? I don’t want to escalate it to management because I don’t want her to get in trouble, but this feels like really inappropriate workplace behavior.

— Matt, New York City

This is really inappropriate workplace behavior. Just because someone does not mean harm does not mean harm is not done. Your co-worker may be charming and older, but I think she also knows exactly what she’s doing. She is not merely ignorant about Judaism. She is firm in her belief that Jesus saves or whatever her Christian ideology is. Her dog whistling is mighty loud. She is proselytizing and trying to convert you. She is disrespecting and dismissing your faith.

Your discomfort is telling you something; heed that. I would confront her directly. Broach the subject by sharing how much you enjoy your friendly rapport but also make clear that your faith is as important to you as hers is to her. Then ask her for whatever would make you more comfortable in this dynamic. And just in case she really is unaware about her antisemitism, point out the tropes she is regurgitating that are thinly veiled ways of demeaning Jewish people. If she can’t modify her behaviors, it is time to escalate this.

The Unbearable Sound of Others

I have several work associates who make loud and distracting noise during Zoom and call conversations and meetings — routine loud sniffling and snorting. They seem totally oblivious. I may be more sensitive than most, but find it distracting, annoying and unprofessional. I can sort of deal with it but worry about them doing it during important meetings and can see it as detracting from important messaging and hurting our shared goals. I find it a hard subject to raise, what would you suggest?

— Anonymous

People make noise. We take up space and do annoying things, and unless these behaviors are genuinely disruptive, we have to learn to live with others. I do empathize with what you’re saying. I live with someone who has misophonia, and there are certain sounds she simply cannot tolerate, through no fault of her own. I’m not sure if you’re dealing with misophonia or if you’re just otherwise sensitive to sounds but I’m not sure there’s much you can do about this.

This is an awkward subject to raise because most of the time, people don’t realize the sounds they’re making. They might have allergies or heart burn or a cold or who knows what. How can you fault them for that? If it’s the same people consistently making the same noises, you might send a gentle email asking them to mute when they aren’t speaking, which is just good Zoom etiquette anyway.

Write to Roxane Gay at [email protected].

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