Welcome to Friendzone, Jezebel's column devoted to dealing with the valuable people in your life who you're not humping. Got an issue and looking for guidance? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'm a teacher and I love my job. About a week ago, a parent came in and threatened to beat me up. She stood in the hallway and screamed that she was going to hit me if she saw me. She then went on to have a meeting with my supervisor that ended in laughter from both parties, and left the building. She has been back to the school twice since then, and both times she has announced how much she hates me. My supervisor, principal, and school board president are all good guys who are friends of mine, but they all downplayed it when I expressed my fear and discomfort. I'm genuinely afraid for my safety and I'm so embarrassed, too. People look down on informing the union, and I'm scared of being told again I'm blowing this out of proportion. Am I overreacting?
My dad says, "Well, no! For one thing, frankly, I think the supervisor and principal are guilty of permitting a hostile work environment to exist. The most fundamental thing someone should expect is that they are in a safe environment. This woman has threatened her, right? To me, that's certainly something that should be brought forward with the union for action. I would also insist that the child in question should be transferred out of her class. That particular parent should be accompanied by an administrative official every time they enter the school. "
He adds that if these "good guys" were really good friends, they wouldn't react in this way. He says, "They are trying to mollify the parent and blame the victim. They lack backbone and leadership. They are certainly not friends."
I can speak to this from personal experience as a teacher, once upon a time. I was ostracized by some coworkers for reporting abuse perpetrated by a school employee on a student. Schools can be clannish, cliquey, and altogether unfair places to work. And you don't get paid shit. Don't be a martyr. Go to the union, and commence looking for other jobs. Your superiors clearly do not have your back. You deserve to find some who do. Until then, keep your head held high and do your job as well as you can under the circumstances.
I'm having trouble with some friends who, like me, are parents. Some people call it "mompetition" but it seems like dads are pretty into it too. Somehow you find yourself making different decisions than your friends and even if everyone says the right supportive things, you find yourselves growing apart as your one friend embraces full-on hippie attachment parenting and you let your kid eat non-organic fruit and watch TV once in awhile. How do I get past the feeling that all my friends are judging each other (and me)?
Okay, so I'm on a book tour for my new "Gatsby"-inspired, gender-flipped YA book, GREAT (shameless plug!) and it has taken me to my sacred native homeland of New Jersey. I'm hanging out with my dad, and since he is a smart, good guy, I figured I'd ask him to weigh in on these questions. I'll provide his analysis, then my own analysis.
My dad says, "I moderate the amount of time I spend with very judgmental friends. If it begins to dominate our relationship, I spend less and less time with them. I don't respond in ways that feed into their competitive spirit. I wouldn't engage in discussions that are putting some other parents or children in a bad light. If they're really happy about something their children have done, then I compliment them on it. I make them feel comfortable. I don't judge them if I don't want them to judge me. But if they judge me, I can't do anything about it. I'm just not going to get caught up in that world." He adds that he wishes them success and that "happiness is the goal."
I think he's absolutely right on with his advice. I know it must be difficult because you can't avoid socializing with these people at least once in a while. I suggest you take careful note of the fun friends who don't actually play judge and jury with parenting. There may be only one or two of them, but they're worth their weight in gold. Collect them like precious stones and hang on to them.
As for the rest of the folks, grit your teeth and smile. Or even try this: when a friend goes on and on about his perfect fabulous child and wonderful child-rearing techniques, say, "I'm glad you've found something that works for your family, too. Doesn't it feel great?" Then change the subject to religion, politics, or money and make it REAL awkward. Or discuss mucous plugs. This will be particularly effective with over-competitive Little League dads.
I reeeeaallly don't like my best friend's boyfriend. He's a pretentious hipster pretty boy. He makes fun of overweight people (not okay) and comments on my friend's eating habits (REALLY not okay). He's a total snob to top it off. I recently moved to a small rural community outside of the city we lived in and when they ventured out this way, we met up to have a beer. He proceeded to shit-talk my quaint little town the whole time to the point where I just wanted to leave. I have my reasons for leaving the city and maybe I took it a little personally but I was pissed. It's guaranteed anytime you spend more than 20 minutes with him, he's gonna criticize something like he's so above it. Now they're planning on moving in together. Is this something I should talk to her about before it's too late or should I just keep my mouth shut and plan on girls-only hang outs with her from now on?
My dad says, "I would say that if this is her best friend, then she has an obligation to share her observations and her concerns about someone who is so critical of others. He seems to gain his own sense of self-worth by trying to diminish people. I mean, that's a form of abuse. I think she should warn her about that and ask her to be very careful and thoughtful about taking that major step of moving in with him. Beyond that, I think she should restrict her time with this friend to one-on-one time."
I agree with my dad, but I would add a note of caution here. It is entirely possible that she will carry your concerns to her boyfriend. Weigh the consequences of your words before you utter them. I still think you ought to do it, but know that some people will choose their lovers over their friends any day of the week. It sucks, but it's true. My hope is that your longtime friendship with this girl will outweigh her loyalty to this boyfriend. But even if she reacts poorly, I still think you will do the right thing by speaking to her with kind honesty.
Image via Lonely/Shutterstock.