Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence Uncensored: The Acquaintance’s Job

Danny Ortberg is joined by Isaac Fellman to discuss a Prudie letter. This week: the acquaintance’s job.

Danny: I would like to GENTLY encourage this letter-writer to reconsider some of the ways they approach their relationships

Isaac: They’re just working very hard to build a case for what they want—whether it’s wanting the job or not wanting to be Beth’s friend. And these are very simple and understandable things to want. It’s normal to pull away from people we no longer feel close to, and to want to advance out of precarious and into stability.

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Out of precarity, rather. Autocorrect. But they seem to have so much bound up in their self-image as someone who’s chill and loyal, and they don’t see these as chill and loyal feelings, so they’re tying themselves into knots trying to explain away the contradiction they see

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Danny: Right.

Isaac: That also means they’re not thinking at all about Beth or Beth’s internal life, other than the idea that she is sometimes either angry or not angry.

Danny: I also want to resist the framing of “should I pursue this job” or “am I a terrible person?”

which strikes me as obviously manipulative

Isaac: They really want a particular answer from you, and the fact that it actually is the sensible answer—pursue the job, don’t be personally unkind about it, you are not apparently responsible for this coincidence—doesn’t change the fact that they’re trying to stack the deck

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Danny: right, and I think the bit about “I basically just see her as an acquaintance” is a weird dodge

if I knew an acquaintance’s job was being advertised, I’d give them a heads up!

It’s also possible, of course, that the job’s being posted because she’s moving on voluntarily and just sticking around to train someone

I don’t think you need to deliver the news as you would a fatal diagnosis

just give her a brief heads up, say something like “You might already know about this, of course, but I’d want to know in your position, so you can make other arrangements if you need to”

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and let her handle her business from there

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Isaac: Yeah, it’s very specifically the fact that they have a complicated and once-close friendship that makes this difficult. If it were an acquaintance it’d be simpler

Danny: given how you’ve described Beth, I actually think she might respect getting a straightforward heads-up as well as a frank admission that you’re going to pursue the opportunity

but when I look over their history I think the letter writer had real opportunities to have low-level interventions that would have made a real difference!

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like, if she changed the subject a lot, you could have said something like, “Hey, I’d love to keep talking about X but I notice you’ve changed the subject—have I been talking about this too much? Or seemed closed off to advice?”

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I mean, being unsupportive about family deaths is genuinely shitty. I think you have real grounds to be upset there.

I don’t want to make it seem like this is all the LW’s fault and that Beth is perfect

Isaac: Right, I also suspected that Beth might know about the listing because she’s leaving voluntarily. The letter writer seems to think little of Beth, and thus assumes the situation is that she’s both unqualified and out of the loop

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You are very fast, I need to catch up with what you said while I was writing—

Danny: right, and there’s that implication “obviously she’s not really qualified for the job she’s had for years because she doesn’t have a Ph.D like me”

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(sorry will slow down)

Isaac: Yeah.

I was also going to say earlier that I have a lot of anxiety around people not taking me or my instincts seriously, and I am often drawn to the same kind of almost legalistic case-building as a result.

We also don’t know whether Beth is someone who makes it particularly easy to question her acts or assumptions

Danny: yes, and it sounds like Beth can kind of cheerfully/easily move into an argumentative mode

and if the LW is more avoidant I can see why they’ve, you know, avoided addressing this

Isaac: But seriously, you seem to have contempt for this person, and I think it really is best that you step away from being friends, regardless of the job matter. Very few of us can hide the feeling of contempt, and it hurts the other person and it hurts to feel as well! I never feel good about being contemptuous!

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I’m saying this regardless of whether the contempt is justified—it’s a pearl of irritation that can grow around a lot of different things, some major sins and some just frustrating differences of style

Danny: Right. And if you’re straightforward with her, and you pursue the job, and she’s mad at you for it—you will have to find a way to make your peace with Beth being mad at you. I don’t think you have to give up pursuing a job you want/are qualified for.

But the key here is that you’ll have to own whatever choice you make. I think the worst combination would be to avoid her, pursue the job while secretly thinking you’re doing the wrong (but strategically powerful) thing, and then panicking if any of your new friends seem slightly cold or distant, terrified you’re going to lose their approval.

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Isaac: After a certain point, tension in a friendship is potential energy that has to be spent somehow. It’s a boulder that will roll down the hill somehow!

Yes

That will convert

Into a Secret

Don’t do that to yourself

Act in a way that you can really accept, or you’ll be ashamed and assume others will also be ashamed of you, which makes friendship hard.

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And like seriously I’m avoidant as hell and my OWN first thought about this was “oh no, someone would be mad at you, you’d better head that off,” which is not the good advice slate plus subscribers are paying Danny for

So I speak from experience, just be politely honest and brief with your friend and then pursue what’s best for you

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Danny: and I feel like I’ve been very hard on you, LW! I understand that figuring out how to pursue healthy conflict with friends can be daunting and difficult. I mostly just want you to be able to bring issues up with your friends in the future BEFORE you’ve decided you no longer want to be friends with someone at all.

and good luck! I hope you’re able to find a job soon.

Isaac: Seconded! Be kind and honest to yourself, it will make it easier to be the same to other people. Easier said than done—I know that from painful experience too—but worth doing.