Clingy coworker copies me

Same sweaters, same shoes… even the same haircut! 

Our elder once had a similar experience. Their advice? Practice kindness and try to understand her.


Dear EWC

Just imagine working in an office and having a coworker sitting next to you copy everything you wear. We are 35-plus-year-old medical professionals seeing the same patients, but she comes from a rural area and wanted to fit in. That’s fine but she has started aping me and it’s not flattering – it’s plain irritating that someone goes and buys everything you wear down to sweaters, shoes, same haircut from my dresser. So how do you deal with a coworker who imitates you to this extent? What I’ve done so far (since a year): stopped sharing details of my stuff but now she owns everything that I wear and we are literally twinning on most days. So, I’ve tried to maintain a distance as it’s draining me and I find her toxic. But that’s making her clingier and intrusive. She’s calling/texting desperately. It sounds trivial but I have to work and deal with this person daily and I love my job. Would really like your expert advice on how to handle this hindrance?


Scriber replies

Thank you for writing. Me, I’d like to share a brief, true story of something that happened to me that is similar to your situation right now. 

For many years I lived and worked in one of the largest cities in the United States. The place where I worked was a very large, prestigious teaching hospital which attracted many patients and employees from near and far. Within my immediate work area in my department, I worked alongside and interacted with many different coworkers. Some of them also lived in the city, like me. Others commuted from the suburbs, and then others traveled a greater distance from very rural, small towns. Yes, many of the rural co-workers from the small towns lacked a certain city sophistication. They didn’t come across as street smart, and most of them had a certain hesitation or fear and usually wouldn’t venture out from the workplace to socialize with some of the other coworkers from the city. Simply put – because many of the small-town coworkers looked at the city as a dangerous, unsafe place, they often felt uncomfortable venturing out after work, so they’d usually hightail it out of work as soon as possible and return to their rural homes. Meanwhile, many of us (who lived in the city) would often hang out at certain clubs after work, or get a drink at certain bars, or frequent other social events in the city. That’s how we normally socialized with each other after work. We were accustomed to and familiar with living in the city, and we knew all the best jazz clubs, restaurants, etc.

Around this time, a new coworker was hired in our department, and I became friends with her almost immediately. She lived in a very small town, which was quite a distance from the hospital. She originally came from an extremely rural area in another state in the southern part of the United States. (She would always say, “I lived out in the boonies.”) When she first started working in my department, she shared with me, on a few occasions, that she felt certain negative and judgmental vibes coming from some of our coworkers. She felt like they were looking down on her as inferior because of the way she dressed and talked. (This woman was highly educated with a master’s degree).  When she first started working in our department, she wore very plain, functional-type clothing and shoes. Nothing fancy or stylish. She also wore her hair in a severe bun and never wore any jewelry or make-up. Gradually, she started to change her style of clothing to match what many other people were wearing so that she would fit in and be accepted. I often noticed that she copied a lot of my styles of clothing and even my jewelry. 

You asked in your letter how to handle this woman at work who copies your style. Can you try to look at her as someone who wants to be accepted by you and others?  (She may even have some low self-esteem issues and/or doesn’t have a strong sense of herself.)  She obviously admires you; otherwise, she wouldn’t be buying many of the same things that you have. Can you try to interpret her copying you as a form of flattery instead of seeing it as an irritation/intrusion? 

Aside from the copying, perhaps you find her personality annoying, especially since you view her as intrusive and clingy. At one point, you must have given her your phone number, which is how she is able to text you, but now you’re viewing her as toxic. 

From your letter, it doesn’t sound like she’s trying to compete with you or trying to take any attention away from you. It really sounds like she just wants to be accepted and liked. 

Many large workplaces have cliques, just like in high school. This woman sounds like she wants to be a part of your group, but you clearly don’t want to be friends with her. Can you try to at least be cordial toward her? It will be less stressful and will make your workday go smoother. Instead of discussing material items, like clothing, perhaps you can find other topics to discuss. You don’t sound like you’re interested in really getting to know her, but if you were able to set aside some of your annoyances about her copying you all the time, you may find that there are some things about her that are likable. For instance, have you ever discussed certain topics like hobby interests?

Working around different people every day can be stressful, and there’s always that one person that can get under our skin, for whatever reason(s). This woman gets under your skin. My advice is to try to learn to accept the fact that she’s going to copy your style. (Remember, we don’t own any style. We all copy things from what we’ve seen in advertisements and on other people etc.)  You don’t indicate in your letter that she’s done anything to purposely hurt or offend you. She hasn’t been rude, disrespectful or mean. She obviously admires you and wants to be accepted by you. Try to have empathy for her and put yourself in her shoes, if you can. You don’t have to respond to her texts or calls, but for now, you have to work with her, so you can’t avoid seeing her every day. Just try to be kind toward her but keep a certain distance, if you can, if she annoys you that much. You’ve already tried to set up some boundaries, but you wrote that it’s draining you. You may just have to accept that this woman will be a certain thorn in your side until you can modify your attitude about her. If you can find a way to change your attitude about her, it will make things easier for you. If you can look at her as someone who needs some compassion and understanding instead of ridicule, this may make things easier for you in the long run. I think this is a situation where you’re going to have to be the bigger person, so to speak. Practice kindness whenever you can. It can’t hurt. 

As far as my former rural, small-town coworker/friend – we worked together for many years, and over those years, we became very close. Our children even became friends. We did a lot of laughing and crying together and saw each other through many hardships and triumphs. She’s gone now, but I’m glad I got to know her. I’m glad that I included her in my life. My life was much better for being friends with her. 

Me, I think your coworker just wants to be accepted. You don’t have to be friends with her if you don’t want to (although she may have something significant and important to offer you), but my advice is to just try to accept her. Isn’t that what most of us want – acceptance? 

I hope my advice was helpful. Perhaps another Elder has a different perspective that you’d like to read. Please feel free to write back at any time. 

Article #: 470614

Category: Friendship

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