Q: Soon after starting a new job I was invited to join a group of co-workers who eat lunch together in the cafeteria. At first I was happy to be included, but I quickly realized this group hates the job, regularly takes more than our allotted break time, and may not be in the best graces with management. Furthermore, I don't seem to have much in common with the group, so most of lunch I just sit quietly studying my water bottle. What is the best way to extract myself from this clique?
A: Shades of the cafeteria scenes in Orange Is the New Black. Fortunately for you, you are not in a penal institution, even if your lunchmates act as if you are. I agree you need to break away from this group, but you want to do so without becoming a target of these malcontents. Start by mentioning to a couple of them that you've decided to use your lunch hour for exercise — then actually go out for a walk and grab your lunch outside. After a couple of weeks of this, you can mix it up by showing up in the cafeteria at a time that they generally are all leaving. Or take a book with you and say you've got to finish in time for your book club. Also feel free to sit with more pleasant colleagues. Sure, these whiners will notice you're no longer part of their group, but maybe to your benefit management will too.
Love at first sight?
I work for a large company, and one day shortly after I started, while walking down the hall, I was literally stunned by a girl with an incredible smile. I mean literally. I was stopped dead in my tracks and my mind just went blank. I know who she is but she has no idea who I am. I have never and would never jeopardize my career to hit on her or even talk to her without a reason. Mostly because I don't trust myself to not end up saying something stupid. Should I deny myself the opportunity to get to know her? Or should I nut up, ask her for coffee and risk her taking it the wrong way and going to HR?
Most workplace prohibitions on personal relationships preclude supervisors from getting involved with subordinates, but you neglected to mention whether this is the case here. What you describe is what the French call a coup de foudre, literally translated a bolt of lightning that figuratively signifies love at first sight. It's so great when that happens and it's mutual. What's not great is when it happens for one person and the object of affection discovers she or he has a stalker. I'm a little concerned with your subject line. I believe you that this co-worker set you aflame, but "a smile that can shatter the sky" makes me uneasy. So, too is your concern that if you were to casually get to know her and invite her out for coffee — normally a harmless gambit — she'd go running to HR. So I say, cool off for a while. Then, if you honestly can say you're both not a nut and not in a supervisory position, there's nothing wrong with introducing yourself to a colleague, then feeling her out (not literally, please!) and going from there.