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You Asked: How Do I Politely Tell Someone to Leave Me Alone?

DearSugar --

I'm a university student majoring in Computer Science (I just returned to school after a break). I work hard, generally enjoy my classes, and overall feel positive about my classes and choice of major. A girl (let's call her Amy) who is in two of my three classes this semester has sort of latched on to me, sitting next to me in class, chatting, even suggested studying together at times. While normally I would welcome a friendly face, Amy is incredibly negative.

Sure, she's very smiley and friendly and giggly about it, but she talks incessantly about how much harder CompSci is going to get (apparently she has friends who are higher level CompSci majors) and how terrible it's going to get, ánd how you have to be a math "genius" to get anything, and how she's thinking of switching to a different major because "I just can't see myself sitting in front of a computer for HOURS a day."

She can even be a bit passive-aggressive about it, saying things like: "I mean, you have to be super dedicated and not have a life to do well. You're dedicated, so you might be okay" (did she just tell me I have no life?) or "I guess if you're fine with sitting in front of a computer for, like, 50 hours a week..." I'm not so insecure that comments like this from someone who really doesn't know me will put me off of my chosen major. However, it is really irritating and discouraging to hear this litany of moans and doom-and-gloom day after day.

I don't particularly like Amy to start with, but this negativity is quite draining. I can't figure out a polite way to somehow get rid of her, though (I would say "to get her to stop with the negativity," but I get the feeling that's just an ingrained character trait that will flow out of her regardless). What would you suggest as a polite and kind way to dislodge this intensely negative person? -- CompSci Sarah

To see DEARSUGAR's answer

Dear CompSci Sarah --

I can completely understand that after returning to school and making that kind of emotional and professional investment again, the last thing you need is a steady diet of negative or insensitive remarks when you're in class. Since the two of you are not friends, there's nothing really to discuss or work out between you, which means I'd recommend taking the easiest route possible for you.

Try not to sit near an open seat, so she won't have the option to join you. Or, enter class later than you usually do and sit a good distance from her seat. If she does find an empty seat and begins her habitual routine, I'd suggest telling her that you've become quite busy and need to focus more. Something like, I'm sorry, I hate to interrupt, but I'm having a hard time concentrating lately. I just need some quiet time to pull my thoughts together. If she keeps talking, move seats. You can repeat that you're trying to find good strategies that work for you in class, and talking has become too distracting.

If she asks again about studying together, you simply say no thank you. If she pushes, you can say that you prefer to study alone or in larger groups, as study pairs usually turn out pretty undisciplined for you. Should she continue to seek out your company and use that time to complain, you'll need to tell her directly that you need to limit your time talking together. At that point, you've already told her more than is required for the circumstances or relationship.

As long as you're respectful, there's no need to worry excessively about nice. Having preferences and needs, and finding a way to assert or protect them, isn't mean, rude or unkind. There are a few classic books that provide practical advice around sticking up for yourself comfortably while showing respect to yourself and others. Many us don't quite know how to be polite but powerful, and none of us likes to trip our own guilt wire. Still, we need these skills!

The first book to check out is Too Nice For Your Own Good and the second is The Power of Positive Confrontation. I hope you'll soon get a little more peace in class, CompSci Sarah. And I think it's very impressive that you took a break but returned to school. Good luck to you.

Ladies, anyone else have a tip or two for handling situations like these?


Join The Conversation
nicachica nicachica 10 years
I think PopGoesTheWorld is right. This girl sounds like she's a bit insecure and she probably sees you as the woman that has it together. It really does sound like she's scared about the major. Why not have a sit down with her and ask her straight up if this is what she really wants to do or if she is just a bit intimidated by so many men around her? And tell her that you really like the major and that it makes you uncomfortable when she says negative things and to please not say them around you anymore because you don't want to hear it. If she starts up again, just nod politely and change the subject.
Marci Marci 10 years
We have all had the person that latches onto us. And no one likes to be mean to anyone - well, MOST people don't like to be mean, anyway :D - so that makes it really difficult to shake loose of someone like Amy. I think Dear Sugar hits the nail on the head throughout in her advice. Combine it with grl in the world's suggestions on giving positive, upbeat responses to her negativity and you should be ablet to nip this little problem in the bud. Good luck, and don't let ANYone derail you from your goals.
popgoestheworld popgoestheworld 10 years
It sounds like she's trying to bond/commiserate with you. Perhaps because you are also female she feels like she can confide in you about her doubts. Honestly, it sounds like she's afraid she isn't going to make it. I was a comp sci major and there were very few women in the program. I felt incredibly intimated at first since I had no computer background. The men would intimidate me and I felt like I wasn't going to make it. I had a mentor who just kept telling me over and over again that I was smarter than all the boys and would be just fine. In the end, I did more than fine, but that's not to say I didn't have doubts similar to Amy's along the way. Not that it's your job to help someone out who you don't like, but you know, saying something encouraging to her might not be so bad. It sounds like she's insecure and needs some reassurance. I realize that can be annoying, but haven't we all felt that way at some point or another in our lives? Anyway, now I am a work-at-home programmer. I make my own schedule, work when I want to, and love it. Tell her she has that to look forward to - it's not so bad :)
lickety-split lickety-split 10 years
it sounds like she thinks you and she have something in common and she's talking in a stream-of-consciousness sort of way. you happen to be there to hear it, but it's not really directed at you. yeah, just get there late and go on with your life. she'll get the hint and move on to someone else soon enough.
grl-in-the-world grl-in-the-world 10 years
DearSugar's advise is good. "Amy's" negativity isn't going to help either of you so I don't blame you for wanting to stear clear of her. If she make a comment again like the ones mentioned, try saying something like "Well I'm willing to put in as much work as it takes to end up in a career I know I'll love" or "I feel pretty passionately about my career goals and if I have to sit at the computer all day it's really worth it to me for the end result" you could even tell her you thrive on the challenges you have been given so far by your profs and can't wait to see what they throw at you next. For a taste of her own medicine you could ask her why she is taking the class if she seems to get no satisfation out of it? Good luck :) .
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