Reddit's "Am I the A-hole?" is full of fascinating human problems, and this one is actually quite interesting. There is no doubt that office culture has gotten out of hand these days. Companies expect employees to give all their time and energy to their job. They call their teams of workers "families" and expect you to willingly devote much of your personal effort to making everyone at work feel like you want to be there and want to get to know everyone and be chummy.
So I totally understand the impulse to push back on that. Why can't you just show up, do your job, and go home anymore? Why isn't that enough? Why do you have to talk about yourself to the people you work with? In most if not all industries, being open about your personal life isn't going to make your work better. So why do it at all?
The woman who took to Reddit to share her story had been keeping her personal life secret from her coworkers for nine years. She's a private person who believes in the "clear separation of work and home life," and so she never talked about her home life with her coworkers. She's not embarrassed about it. She just didn't want to discuss it at work.
And that's her prerogative. But then, Melinda arrived in the office, and "she took it upon herself to become the office snoop." According to our storyteller, "[Melinda] spent several weeks getting as close to everyone as possible. However, she does this to seek out potentially useful information she can hold over people's heads."
I'm not sure how she knows this about Melinda — whether she's already demonstrated these "ulterior motives" in a few weeks or the poster is just being paranoid. In any case, she doesn't like Melinda. So she would deflect any personal questions Melinda tried to ask.
But then, Melinda came into work one day "looking like the cat who got the goldfish." At lunch, she announced to everyone that our poster is married with two daughters, a dog, and a nice house. She also learned that she plays softball, kayaks, and mountain climbs. She'd stalked around and somehow found her Facebook page, even though she uses her married name and a diminutive version of her first name there.
So, the poster reported Melinda to HR. And now her coworkers, one of whom she considers a friend, are claiming they're "hurt" that she doesn't trust them and "hold them in 'such low regard.'" Now, her coworkers are being cold toward her and won't talk to her about anything other than work. She doesn't get it. She has always tried to keep work and her home life completely separate. She never lied to them; she just didn't talk about her family or her hobbies or anything she did outside of work.
Here's the thing. You can decide not to talk to your coworkers about anything other than work. But you shouldn't expect anything else in return. Most commenters agreed with me that, while it's fine for her to decide to keep her home life completely separate from work and while Melinda was absolutely in the wrong for snooping and spilling the beans like she did... it's still a little weird to be so extremely private. I don't blame her coworkers, especially the ones she calls her "friends," for reacting the way they did.
"You're totally justified in wanting to keep personal and professional lives separate," one person wrote. "Your business is your business, and you're entitled to keep it that way. Of course, I'm not sure you can call people friends and actively hide your life from them. It's reasonable for people who thought they knew you to feel pretty [terrible] about the fact that you've been lying by omission for years.
"And honestly, it's also reasonable for them to give you what you wanted: work life separate from personal life. I wouldn't be social with someone who told me they don't want me to know even the most basic things about them (like their marital status or kids' names) either. I'd stick to work and leave them be."
While I think it might be going a little far to say she was "lying by omission," I generally agree with this response. Just because you met a person at work doesn't necessarily mean they aren't a human being worth making a real connection with. Usually, those "friend" connections happen when you are willing to chat about things other than work.
Maybe this woman has a warped sense of what her "friendships" with these coworkers were actually like. I know if I was working with someone who deflected every conversation about anything other than work for nine years, I would assume this person didn't want to be friends, and I would just move on.
Even if you are a private person and not close friends with your coworkers, there is a reasonable amount of personal information that most people tend to divulge, just because that's how we form human connections. "I always kept my private life separate too," one commenter wrote, "but this is just bizarre. My coworkers all knew some basic biographical information."
She was working there for nine years without giving away the very nice, normal fact that's she's married with kids. Nine years! I can't get over that. I feel like it takes so much effort to not say anything about your life for that long. If I was her coworker who realized she'd been keeping her personal life secret this whole time, I think I would only forgive her if she was like, secretly a superhero or in the CIA or something.