DEAR CAROLYN: I went to college with two friends who are now a couple. I currently work with the boyfriend while his girlfriend works in a different organization down the street from us.
When the three of us get together or I ride with them to see mutual friends, the topic of work inevitably comes up between me and the boyfriend, including some inside jokes. This is perfectly natural!
But I think the work talk makes the girlfriend jealous. On a couple of occasions, the boyfriend has asked me not to talk about work when his girlfriend is with us, and recently when I talked about work he kept explaining to her what I was talking about. If she has a problem with me, shouldn’t she address it directly with me?
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I feel like she is talking about me behind my back to her boyfriend, and I’ve noticed she’s been rather cold to me. I just don’t think I’ve done anything wrong, and I worry my co-worker and friend is caught in a dysfunctional relationship with someone I’m now realizing is very possessive and insecure.
What can I do to convince her I’m just making conversation, especially if she’s avoiding me?
DEAR ANONYMOUS: You can start “just making conversation” that includes her, instead of excluding her and defending it as “perfectly natural!”
That means you stop talking shop when you’re seeing these two socially, because, besides the fact that you risk boring even colleagues to tears, it’s plain rude to hold a conversation that denies entry to others.
The inside jokes, meanwhile, may come up organically, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t also a toxic combination of topically and emotionally exclusive. You might as well just say out loud to the girlfriend, “See? We share an intimacy that you and he don’t.” Cut it out.
Even better, recognize that your friend is doing the right thing by providing explanations to his girlfriend. Not only does that (somewhat) alleviate the problem of her exclusion, but it also serves as a clear, polite hint to you that you’re being serially rude. When he jumps in to explain something you said, treat it as your conversational two-minute warning: Wrap it up and start a new topic that’s inclusive.
Or, get used to her being rather cold to you. That’s what people do when you repeatedly leave them out. …
And then judge them harshly for it. Yes, maybe she’s insecure and you have other reasons to think this, and, yes, she should address you directly, but please change your vantage point for a moment: You reach often for your common interest with him, you defend that despite knowing it displeases them both, and you’re vilifying her for it. That’s quite territorial on your part.
If you’re attracted to the boyfriend, or like the little ego boost from steering his attention your way when his girlfriend is right there, or just value his friendship more than hers — not judging here, just laying out options for easy selection — then please admit this to yourself. Know your ulterior motives, because worrying that “my co-worker and friend” (isn’t she your friend, too?) is “caught in a dysfunctional relationship” doesn’t pass the sniff test. You’re invested, and digging in. Time to figure out why.