Mike is the work friend I’ve referred to a few times. I thought I’d write a bit about that relationship, since it seems to have imploded.
I started getting to know Mike shortly before the police issue unfolded last year. He always seemed happy and friendly and I always enjoyed bumping into him in the kitchen. I was a bit surprised when he opened up about having mental health issues of his own. He has had severe anxiety issues and is on medication for it. Outwardly and superficially, you wouldn’t have realised, but as I got to know him I started to see it more.
In the aftermath of the police issue I found him quite valuable in keeping me sane. He didn’t know anything about it, of course, but I could always rely on him to distract me for a while. 20 minutes in the kitchen chatting about anything or nothing was enough to lift the fog for a while.
Over time I started to confide in him about my problems with Becky. He seemed understanding.
So far so good, but things become a bit strained at times. He’s 40, I’m 32, but in a lot of ways I tend to see him as being a bit immature. I couldn’t have a conversation with him about investments for example, despite the fact he used to work in a bank he seems to be pretty clueless about finance, which is a big bell ringing in my mind that he hasn’t really got his life together. Planning for future security and independence, it’s important you know?
He’s very friendly, but his life is filled with drama, which just goes on and on. It’s one minor disaster after another. You’re allowed a few, but at some point I start to question just how random these events are. We have students who work here on placement years who seem to be full of disaster. One went through 4 different phones, 3 laptops, and 2 TVs during his year here. They all mysteriously broke. He moved flats because his flatmates were mean to him. He was often late because his bus didn’t turn up. It was never that he missed it, it just didn’t turn up. With students you tend to give them a bit of a pass because they’re very young and it’s their first time away from home and they’ll probably grow up quickly. But Mike is the 40 year old version of this. He seems to function well in general, but his girlfriend mothers him a lot. He complains to me sometimes about the food that his girlfriend (who works full time) packs for him. He’s a nice guy, but his journey through life has been more of an aimless meander than a process of maturation.
His supportiveness over the Becky situation tailed off and he started being sceptical of the things I’d tell him. “If she’s doing that then that’s crap” was the first one. No, not “if”. He just plain doesn’t believe some of the things she’s done, which is annoying because she’s been kinda gaslighty and for a long time I questioned my own perceptions until I started to pin her down on things.
Then I had a breakdown in November/December which had me do something a bit stupid – I emailed Becky and called her a bully. Which she is, but it wasn’t a smart thing to do. The reason that it happened is because she was bullying me, but also, I had a huge amount of stress outside of work, AND I had internal bleeding in my intestines which had led to me becoming anaemic shortly before. I did not feel well at that point and I stopped functioning as humans should, mentally and physically (some fainting was involved). I’m not proud of that, but I’m not really ashamed of it either. People break down when life gets too much. There are no end of celebrities who have imploded very spectacularly and very publicly when life got on top of them, and it’s only after it happens that they look back and realise they need help. You’re handling it fine, until you’re not. This is a biological limitation which is not specific to me. It happened, I regret it, but I moved on, so, whatever.
But he’s never let me forget that. Every time something happens now it’s “did you email her again?”. It’s 8 months ago now and he still brings it up.
Over the past months he seems to have got closer to Becky. On three occasions since then he’s had me justify myself to him because she’s said something to him that has led him to believe that she really wants to get along with me but I’m just not cooperating. He once believed that I’d Cc’ed her on a complaint about her. I ended up showing him the email so he could see that 1) it wasn’t about her, 2) it wasn’t a complaint and 3) I didn’t cc her, her boss did! He suggested to her that if I don’t want to get along then she should just ‘treat me like a student’ (we have foreign student placements, who mostly stick to themselves and don’t interact with the rest of us beyond whoever is managing them, probably because they find the language difficult), which was really unhelpful because… urgh, I’m a fucking senior developer, don’t treat me like a temporary foreign student.
I feel that as his relationship with her has grown, he’s become less of a friend to me. And I find this confusing, because he’ll happily make nasty remarks about her to me in private. I can’t resolve how one minute he’s casually suggesting she gives sexual favours to her boss (I mostly filter out the stream of inappropriate remarks) and then adding in that she must have to “have a paper bag over her head though” (because that’s a really necessary addition), and the next he’s being friendly with her. I just don’t understand that. I couldn’t be nasty about someone behind their back and then friendly to their face. My brain just isn’t wired like that.
He suffers a lot of insecurity and he wants desperately to be liked. But the two-faced routine I see him do with Becky makes me distrustful. He’s insecure and he wants to have it both ways.
He projects that insecurity too. He’s a failed software developer who now works as an assistant to a manager (for a lot less money than me), so obviously the reason I’ve had trouble at work is because software development isn’t for me. I find that a little bit annoying. He dropped out of university whereas I have a master’s degree. His assumptions about himself do not apply to me. Writing code to make computers do stuff comes very easily to me and I do not appreciate him suggesting I’m not very good at it, especially when he’s never worked on a project with me.
A few days before the WhatsApp argument, I upset him (also on WhatsApp) when he was working from home. I commented that the person he sat next to had moved into another room so it was quiet in the office. He decided it was because of him, even though he wasn’t there(!). I just said “yeah, probably” thinking he was joking. He wasn’t and he got very upset about it and told me that he’s left jobs before because he’s upset someone.
He’s very sensitive to the possibility of someone not liking him and I’ve learnt to manage this situation. I immediately stop. I apologise. I acknowledge his feelings even if I think they’re irrational. I empathise. I try to see where he’s coming from. I empathise. I listen. I really, really try to empathise.
So it pissed me off a few days later when the situation was reversed and he upset me that he just dug in and started arguing with me. I uninstalled WhatsApp. That was a few weeks ago and haven’t reinstalled it. Although I didn’t technically block him, I would not be the first person to block him on WhatsApp after he refused to back down from an insensitive statement. Why do you keep dying on this hill, Mike?
This week at work he’s been tiptoeing around it, trying to be pleasant to me and I am being superficially polite in response, but… it’s just not going to reignite our friendship and I’m expecting a confrontation when he figures that out. I’ll be honest when that happens. I’m not sure how this will be affected by his assertion that he leaves jobs when he upsets people. I don’t want him to do that, but I’ve also learnt not to try to solve other people’s problems.
At the moment I feel empowered by my response here. Someone makes me feel bad repeatedly and I put up a boundary. That’s healthy. My mental state has not been healthy for the past year. This is progress. I will care what you think, but not at the expense of my own mental health.
But will it bother me when we drift apart and I see him getting closer to Becky? Hmm… Time will tell.