Ask The Insider columnist Ashley Lutz answers all your work-related questions, including the awkward, sensitive, and real-world ones. Have a question? Email [email protected]
I’m a 26-year-old female professional who been at the same company for three years. On my first day, I quickly bonded with another female coworker named Penelope. We became fast friends, establishing traditions like going for coffee in the morning, grabbing salads for lunch, and gossiping about everything at work.
We also established a friendship outside of work and would often do dinners, happy hours, concerts, manicures, you name it. I counted Penelope among my closest friends.
Everything changed when a new girl, Heather, started at our company. Heather and I get along but don’t mesh as friends. Now, Penelope and Heather often go out for coffee in the morning.
I also see their weekend escapades on Snapchat and Instagram. I am never invited. I have given up on asking Penelope to coffee or lunch because Heather is always invited too, and I don’t feel comfortable speaking as freely about work stuff.
I’ve been going through a rough time at work lately because I am overwhelmed with projects. Feeling distant from my work best friend is hurting my morale even more. I’ve stopped looking forward to any aspect of life in the office and feel depressed.
Is there a way I can address this with Penelope without seeming petty? How can I be happier at work?
Deserted By My Work Spouse
I found myself in a situation similar to yours several years ago when I was at my first job out of college. I had just moved to the city and didn’t know many people. Then one day at a work event, I met a girl around my age we’ll call Judy, and we started hanging out. I was ecstatic! I had finally checked off the box of having a buddy for coffee, lunch, and happy hours.
Before long Judy started pulling away. She bailed on a dinner invitation after I had already starting cooking the food, leaving me sadly eating alone. I didn’t take the hint and kept inviting her to coffee and lunch, but she always found an excuse for why she couldn’t make it. Eventually I stopped trying. Years later, Judy apologised to me, sheepishly saying that she found me overbearing and overwhelming. She was right: In my vulnerable state, I leaned on her too much.
What did I learn from my experience with Judy? That relying too much on one person is dangerous.
Deserted, you and Penelope had a great connection for years. Your coffee-and-gossip dates became something you looked forward to at work. Now, she’s hit it off with someone who you don’t share the same chemistry with, at the same time as you’re feeling overwhelmed and dissatisfied with your job. The days feel longer and lonelier without a work friend.
But the difference between my old work friend situation and yours is that it doesn’t sound like Penelope is intentionally avoiding you. She’s simply made a new friend whom you don’t share the same camaraderie with.
There are a few things you can do to improve your situation.
I’d tell Penelope you miss her and would love to catch up just the two of you. When you get coffee or dinner, keep it light and fill her in on what’s happening in your life. Ask questions about how things are going for her. You can communicate how you’re feeling by saying, “I’ve missed talking to you! We should get coffee again soon.” I bet she will respond positively.
Another thing you should try is expanding your horizons at work. Are there other people close to your age in your department? Ask them to coffee or lunch one day. Then you won’t feel as dependent on Penelope or as hurt when she leaves you behind for someone else.
But there’s also another issue to address: your dissatisfaction with your job. Is your stress a passing thing, or a big-picture issue with the company? I’ve known many people who have stayed in jobs they didn’t like because they were close with coworkers. When their coworkers inevitably moved on, they felt jilted and bitter.
The benefit of more independence is you can evaluate what YOU want. Do you like your job? Or is there a new opportunity to pursue? You are young and in a position to explore your options. Being close with colleagues is not a reason to stay in a job that is a bad fit. Use this transitional time to figure out what is working for you and what isn’t.
Once you focus on what makes you happy, the rest will fall into place.
Ashley Lutz is a senior editor at Business Insider answering all your questions about the workplace. Send your queries to [email protected] for publication on Business Insider. Requests for anonymity will be granted, and questions may be edited.
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