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Hello, all.  I am not even sure if I should post this in here, but I honestly wasn't sure where to post this, so I apologize in advance if it's not the right place.  I am looking for opinions to see if I overreacted to the situation I am about to describe. 

A little background - I work as a department assistant at a law school and assist multiple professors (20 years on the job).  My job has changed a little since COVID-19, but I'm grateful to be working at all right now.  At any rate, I now work with and for a lot more people than ever before because our jobs were consolidated to save money.  Because of this, I don't know several of the people I assist very well, despite having been at the school for so many years. 

About 10 days ago, a professor approached me at the last minute and was frantic for me to help him format and print letters, and I was able to do this before leaving for the day.  He hadn't seen me in a long time because we're only physically in the office two days a week.  I've always known him to be a friendly person when I've seen him casually and in group interactions.  He asked me how I was doing.  This was a loaded question (he didn't know) because he hadn't seen me since March.  I lost a dear friend and co-worker in late August who was also a faculty support assistant. Her name was Deborah.  Deborah had a really good and friendly relationship with "Prof. G" over the years, as I had seen them talking together a lot.  

I told him that I was really struggling at work without Deborah and that I missed her terribly.  I did tear up a little bit and get somewhat choked up.  He said he missed her too and then left my desk.

Today, he asked me to help him again.  I work from home on Fridays, so I would need to do everything remotely, but he didn't realize that.  He asked me what time he should come in to see me and he then told me in an email, "I miss Deborah, but let's keep it light at the office." 

I was stunned.  Ten days have passed since he saw me in person.  I guess my feelings and emotions bothered him so much that he figured he needed to send me a warning before he approached me again.  I am so surprised because he didn't seem this way to me, and then suddenly I got embarrassed for being "the emotional crazy woman" in his eyes...I guess.  Did I misinterpret this?  I appreciate your advice/insight.  By the way, I didn't even address what he said about keeping my emotions in check.

Thanks for reading!


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Tangy Bee

There are some people who keep their emotions to themselves. When they see others express emotions freely, it really freaks them out. Sounds like you made him uncomfortable and that's really his issue not yours. I might have an example. In the south, at "some" funerals, I've witnessed people so grief stricken they faint and cry out in despair. Also seen casket huggers. I was very embarrassed and sad for them at the same time. Yes, I too have great sadness when relatives and friends pass away. I have what people call, quiet tears. I just cry and don't have the emotional energy to do much else. I've learned to respect how others grieve and express emotions.

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I honestly wouldn't know how to respond or take that either. He may just be very bad at dealing with emotion - and you being upset triggered off his own feelings, which he has been conditioned to not show, especially at work. (Two big taboos here for men: Big Boys Don't Cry and No One Gets Emotional* At Work.) The email might be a way of him subconsciously trying to fend off anything that could expose him (I'm not wording this well, sorry) and he hasn't actually thought about how it might come across to you - he may well think he's keeping it light and informal.

If you can deal with him remotely rather than in person for a bit I think that might be helpful.

Personally I think expressing that you are upset about the death of a colleague you both worked closely with is perfectly normal, understandable and acceptable. It has only been a couple of months after all. I don't know how you bring up how you felt about the email with him, or if that is possible. If you have an assistance program at work it might be worth asking for suggestions as to how to raise this with him effectively.

*"emotion" here is usually redefined to exclude anger, a perfectly acceptable emotion for men to express, within certain parameters. 

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I think you were nice to help him considering that he came to you at the end of the day.  I would suppose that his next ask was within reasonable limits -- or at least you feel obligated to help because of your job parameters.  

As others have said, this is his issue and not yours.  It might not have come off as so dismissive if he'd waited until any emotional discussion occurred again.  Then he could have said that he'd rather not talk about it.  To warn you to "keep it light" was patronizing and dismissive.  My opinion is along the lines of "who does he think he is to tell you what you can talk about?" but I'm old and tired of men who think they can put me in my place.  

You shouldn't feel embarrassed.  He overstepped.

ETA:  I love that you asked this.  I can't tell  you the number of times I've called my sister and asked her if something I did or said to someone else was okay.  I tend to worry.


Edited by Xan
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I don't have advice for you but wanted to tell you I'd have felt hurt by his email, too. I'm sorry your friend died.

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His email seems strange. I'm guessing, like others said, he is deeply uncomfortable with emotions (we know our own...) and perhaps just a bit socially inept.

I'd just ignore his comment and pretend none of this happened. I doubt he'll retell the story to anyone, and if he did, they'd quickly realize you aren't the crazy emotional woman and that he's just kinda weird. 

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I agree that, by the sound of it, the guy has just no idea how to deal with emotions on the workplace, how to comfort someone who is crying etc. That's not necessarily misogynistic, just somewhat socially awkward. You made him feel bad (for some people, seeing someone cry is a nightmare) and the poor man is trying to protect himself from being confronted with his own helplessness again. Absolutely nothing you did, and probably no bad intentions from him either. Just different styles and personalities.

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