3 Rules for workplace friendships

I was a latchkey kid with unlimited charge accounts at all the local stores before there were charge cards. As a kid I worried I was annoying, because people always rolled their eyes when I said “charge it please”. Now I understand that I was the only person in the city with a charge account at each of these stores. And they thought I was a spoiled brat.  Oblivious to this social nuance, my parents had the idea that if there were no limits to what I could buy then surely I would be taken care of.

You know what’s coming next: kids don’t want money, they want nurturing. I am a very take-charge kind of person, though, so I used my open charge system to buy caretakers. For a while it was the clothing store. But when my mom saw that I owned more than forty sweaters, mostly never worn, she yelled so much that I knew my friendship with the clothing store owner was over.

Then I broke my glasses. And the optometrist was so nice. So I broke them again. Sometimes I’d go to the optometrist to pick frames “because I’ll probably break another pair of glasses soon.” After years of many, many broken glasses, he told me that I could just sit in the waiting area with him. I didn’t have to need new glasses.

But it felt weird to me just sitting there and not being a customer, so I went back to being especially careless with my frames.

So now I’m pretty much an expert on workplace friends because, at their core, workplace friends are like regular friends except someone is getting paid to show up.

1. There are many ways to mix money and friends. All are worth exploring. 
When the Farmer met me, I spent a lot of time trying to turn our relationship into a financial transaction. I bought him plane tickets to come to NY and San Francisco with me because I was tired of traveling alone. I bought him gas so that I didn’t have to make the drive to his house. I bought him clothes so I could pick what he wore.

After only a little of that he said, “I don’t work for you. You don’t have anyone in your life who doesn’t work for you. But I don’t want to be a person who works for you.”

I was crushed. Pretty much everyone in my life works for me. Even when I’ve had an assistant who was hourly, I’d pay her to stay late with me and have dinner. So it was hard for me to stop operating this way, and the first time we had a fight—and the 900 times after that—he’d say that the only people who can put up with me are people I pay.

That is mostly right. My brothers are pretty loyal, though. But I’m pretty sure they couldn’t spend more than a week with me.

2. Realize that you are both there because someone’s getting paid.
The thing is that most people who have big jobs spend most of their time with people who are paid to be there. Even if you are out to lunch with a co-worker, it’s not like they are spending their vacation time with you. They’re salaried, so they are essentially getting paid to eat with you, and they are networking.

I used to think I’d know really who is my friend when I change companies. That doesn’t work now, when I work for myself, but earlier, when I was working for companies, it didn’t work either, because you are always a networking opportunity for someone you used to work with.

But let’s say, hypothetically, that the person who I used to work with has dropped out of the workforce. Let’s say he decided to make documentaries instead of have a paying job.

You know what? I’m not that interested in him. I don’t actually want to spend that much time with people who are not related to my work. I’m a very driven person. And I have a husband who I have left so little time for, that we have to schedule once-a-week sex or else we won’t do it.

3. Workplace friends are just real friends with real boundaries. 
So you know what? It’s true that I’m most comfortable buying my friends, because then it’s a clear cut relationship where I won’t have to spend any time doing something I don’t want to.

Being with the Farmer is very complicated for me. In my first marriage, I was the clear breadwinner, so I could fix it in my mind that he was just another person I was paying to be with me. I tried to set that up again, with the Farmer. But in fact, he has this million-dollar farm with no debt, and I have pretty much zero money in the bank at all times, so it’s hard to say that I’m buying him.

It’s easier to say I’m buying Melissa, to be honest. Like, careerbags.com is advertising on this site, and I negotiated to get five free things on the site because I love shopping there, and I let Melissa pick one. And she was so happy. And Melissa is so happy being my teammate for webinars. I like to think she likes being my teammate because we have so much fun, but I know she likes being my teammate because she likes the money. Melissa doesn’t have friends, actually. Now that I think about it, she just has people she works for.

So, I guess I’m saying that Melissa is an example of someone who is probably my friend. My true friend, but she works for me. She edits all the photos on this blog. She does all the logistics and moderating for the webinars. And she finds links for me that I love. And even when she traveled to China, she sent back photos of goats for my blog.

I have spent a lot of my life trying to figure out who is my friend and who is my work friend. But now I’m thinking that I’m much more comfortable having everyone as a work friend, because then there’s a clear delineation of the relationship. and in the cases where it has to be a mushy, ill-defined emotional exchange, I have to keep it to just a few people. Which is why, I guess, I’m monogamous.

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  1. Ruth Zive
    Ruth Zive says:

    I’ll be your friend Penelope if you pay me. Just say the word…

    I used to look down on those paid-for, work-driven friendships, but now I think it’s the way to go. Other than my husband, I have only two or three people in my life who I REALLY believe are my friends…genuinely. And that’s about as much as I can manage.

    • Trish
      Trish says:

      I totally agree. I love my boyfriend and my brother, and I have maybe one other close friend. Other than that, I am very content with my casual workplace relationships, because they have clear boundaries that don’t exhaust me (I don’t have to hang out with these people after 5 or on weekends!).

      • Ryan Chatterton
        Ryan Chatterton says:

        I’m not sure if either of you guys have read the book Grouped, but it’s by the gentleman who is the Global Brand Manager at Facebook. At least I think that’s his title (I’d just look at the book, but it’s at my office which is in another state as I’m on vacation).

        Anyway, in the book he describes how it’s basically human nature (and social networks have given us a ton of data on this) to only have a core group of up to 5 really deep connections, bearing in mind that some of those spots are taken up by family members most of the time. So when you think about it, we probably only have a couple of really close friends.

        It’s a good book by the way. Though, a little dry if you’re not into psychology and marketing etc.

  2. Anne
    Anne says:

    So, is this personal analysis or actual advice? I NEED my friends that I don’t get paid to be with, and many of my favorite friends are ones I do volunteer work with. Is it the driven-ness of having a mutual set of goals that makes you happy, or is it the fact that they’re for $ that makes them your friend?

    • Andrea
      Andrea says:

      That’s what I thought. But I can’t figure out from the article if Penelope finds it a sad situation – I don’t think she does. So if she’s not sad about it, it is not such a sad story, it’s just a very different experience from our own. But it certainly left ME feel like I read a sad story.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        Yeah. To be clear, I’m not sad. I love Melissa and I love the Farmer. I love working with fun people. I have a hard time understanding what to do with people I’m not working with.

        It’s my birthday today. My cousin called to wish me a happy birthday, and I said, “Oh. God. I don’t answer my phone on my birthday because happy birthday calls are so awkward. It never dawned on me that you are calling for my birthday.”

        He said, “Well. We could just talk about your day. I could say, have a nice day. Or I could ask you how your kids are.”

        I said, “No. Please no. I’ll die on a call like that. Can we just hang up?”

        He laughed and said okay.

        I talk with him about work. About business ideas. About projects we have that the other might be interested in. I don’t really know how to do another kind of phone call. So maybe that’s why the friends at work thing is fine for me.


          • Josh
            Josh says:

            Hi Elizabeth,

            My name is Josh owner of uluad.com. I’m wondering if you would like to blog for us on our site?

            Let me know. We have worked together in the past.

        • Karen
          Karen says:

          I’ve read repeatedly that friendship changes after age 30 for most people. You don’t have as much free time, you don’t have as many spontaneous run ins with people because of serious careers, family reponsibilities.

  3. rgoltn
    rgoltn says:

    As a man in his 40’s who does not live in the town he group up in, I have plenty of “work friends,” but few good friends. Work friends, in my opinion, are mostly superficial. They are situational friendships that live on a common experience between the two of you. Take it outside of work and most often it dies as you two really do not have much in common other than the shared experience or “host” – work.

    • Jen M.
      Jen M. says:

      I find this to be true, as well.

      That said, I value my work friends just as much as I do my friends from my personal life, and I am always open to those friendships at work evolving into personal friendships.

      With work friends, though, you have to be really careful, because of the extra politics involved in working with people.

      What Penelope has said here, to me, makes sense, for her. Work gives her clear boundaries within which to categorize her interactions with the people she works with. I get it. I really do.

      When I don’t know people at all or have anything in common with them, I am very socially awkward. I don’t know what to do with that interaction, so having a context makes it easier.

  4. TD
    TD says:

    I understand that given your drive for work you find it sufficient to have mostly or only work related friends. But I find it hard to believe for most people who are not driven only by work alone. Personally I need a few friends I can trust to like me no matter what goes wrong. I really need that connection where I don’t have to worry about what I offer them in return most of the time. I also understand the value that work place friends can bring. My first job after college was at a lab where people were just easily friends. We chatted while working on the tedious parts of the lab procedures and asked for help when we needed. It was pleasant on a daily basis.

  5. Gib Wallis
    Gib Wallis says:

    I love this post, especially the ending.

    Although, being contrary, I think it would be just as fantastic if you ended it with, “And that is why I hire gigolos.”

    Melissa sent you goats from China and emailed you as a friend when she was a nanny in Italy. She’s not just your friend, but your best friend.

    I want to see you write about how you keep your friendship going with all the housing and business changes you’ve had in your relationship with Melissa.

  6. MBL
    MBL says:

    While a case can be made, I think it is quite a stretch to call Melissa a paid friend. After all, she makes the “Hey! Hold it. Who is . . .” sidebar. The fact that you hire a talented friend to do jobs that are within her scope just means that you are multi-tasking. It can be hard to find people that you are in sync with and it makes great business and harmony sense when you can combine them. You and Melissa weathered her stay that didn’t work out as you had intended and continue to be friends and work together. To me, that says a lot.

  7. Leah
    Leah says:

    I like the photo (and the post of course). But I like the photo because after being on your webinar last week, I understand how the photo relates to what you wrote. Nice tie-in!

  8. Annie Kip
    Annie Kip says:

    I am with you Penelope – friendships are hard. Whether you call them boundaries or social mores or rules of engagement, everyone seems to have a different take on exactly what they are. My true friends are the ones who can hear “you broke the boundary” and not freak out. I am willing to do the same for them, even though it feels vulnerable. If we are able to do that, we can move on and get back to being happy with each other. I think I can only truly trust people who are willing to look at themselves critically and process whatever glitches come along in the relationship. Not many people are secure enough to do that. Most people just blame someone else and get defensive to avoid dealing with the difficulties and misunderstandings which inevitably occur in human interaction. I think work relationships are easier because there are more rules and more is at stake if someone breaks them, so there are fewer gliches.

  9. Karla
    Karla says:

    This is not a post about rules with work friends. I think you should rewrite it :)
    Friends are friends at work or everywhere else, otherwise they are colleagues and you have to find friends somewhere else. When I learnt this I started to be happy at work because people of my age don’t want to be friends with me because my position is over theirs.And I was sad.
    I tried to be friends with people in the same position as mine, but they’re much older then me and didn’t work. And then one of them got extranged from her lover and needed someone to talk to because she has no friends and I acted as her psicologist, but it didn’t work either because she didn’t pay me for that.
    I thought you were going to write about these kind of rules and got a tad disappointed. You’re not writing about work friends, you’re talking about being friends with people you hire to work for you.

  10. Sara
    Sara says:

    I was in a sorority in college and I often heard, “Why are you paying for friends?” I suppose it’s the opposite of what you’ve described here since you’re paYING instead of getting paID, but the rules seem to operate for me in a similar way. I had a hard time meeting people and when I joined a group I immediately had built-in friends. I didn’t stay in touch with a lot of them after college, but we had a great time while we were there. Friendship is supposed to be a lifelong bond of gold or whatever, according to TV, but not all friends have to be THAT.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      That’s an interesting point. Tons of organizations are set up for us to meet likeminded people. Sports. Work. Sorority. So many different groups, and each of them is a way to sign up and get friends.

      To me, hiring someone I want to spend more time is with a faster way than joining a group. If I hire everyone then I know everyone in the group is someone I’ll like.


        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          Great link. It’s why Aspergers is so relevant to the workplace. It’s one, big popularity contest. And Aspergers is a social skills spectrum just like popularity is a social skills spectrum.

          Also, I can’t help thinking about Myers Briggs. Because Myers Briggs doesn’t just tell us about ourselves. If you learn about all the personality types that you are not, then you can identify the personality type of the person you are interviewing, and you can do your best to interact with that person in a way that that personality type appreciates. For example an ENTJ wants people to be short and direct. An ESFJ wants to talk and talk and make an emotional connection. Essential information once you realize that people just hire who they want as a friend.


          • Skweekah
            Skweekah says:

            I love it:

            “Essential information once you realize that people just hire who they want as a friend”

            So spot on. We’ve all seen it. How many good-for-nothings remain employed because they are the boss’s best friend!

  11. CL
    CL says:

    I know what it’s like to buy friends. I think that’s a natural response for a lonely child with tons of money. I mean, I only got to the unlimited money stage when I was already in my mid-late teens, so it didn’t affect me as much. The real reason why I read so many books when I was small was because my parents didn’t often let me out of the house. When I had a car and tons of money, I bought friends and spent a lot of time getting out of the house to hang out with them.

    It can get really sad, though. One of the other girls at my prep school genuinely bought people things and then treated them horribly, like she owned them and they had to always do what she wanted them to do. At her birthday party, she gave out Blackberries, gold jewelry, etc. in her favor bags. The exchange for getting a new, expensive phone every week was succumbing to her every whim. Her “best friend” made that tradeoff and their symbiotic relationship lasts to this day. Someday, she’ll realize that she can’t buy real friends.

  12. Liz
    Liz says:

    Wow. So many comments here. But the first one: the Farmer is a keeper. Keep him, please.

    P.S. I wish I could have made your webinar series on how to write about yourself, and “meet” the farmer, but I couldn’t make it this time. Ironically, one of my co-workers said he’ll buy me whatever I want this holiday season, and I may be able to request that for the archives!

  13. Jana Miller
    Jana Miller says:

    Happy Birthday. Maybe the whole definition of friend is changing. I want friends who will be real with me but then again maybe not. Maybe I just want them to listen and take my side regardless.

  14. Liz
    Liz says:

    Another comment is: I’ve been both a friend who “pays” for friends and has also been paid to be a friend. I don’t see anything wrong with either situation–both situations were/are genuine, at the time, and they just also involved money.

  15. Nonnie
    Nonnie says:

    When I had a normal job, those clear workplace boundaries just made me *more* nervous actually. This is because I really genuinely liked my coworkers and wanted to be true friends with them, but I also wanted to respect that they might not feel the same way. (Then I would worry how our friendship would affect how they viewed me on the job, and how my job performance would affect what they think of me personally…) I think I erred on the side of giving them too much space, although I still hang out with many of them socially. I might be more neurotic than average though…

  16. Daniel Baskin
    Daniel Baskin says:


    I see and take part in this social dance of favor-making with friends, but it is somehow taboo to involve money directly into friendship. Gift cards are fine, but not cash. Sometimes, this goes through my mind: “What’s the closest thing to cash that I can give someone (to be maximally beneficial) without it being perceived negatively (because it crosses the line of buying someone off)?”

    Enter the currency of the starbucks, amazon, or even bank gift card. It really isn’t much different than cash because each is universally valuable, yet magically, they don’t violate the taboo.

    I told a friend that it felt weird accepting gas money because I saw him as a friend. Growing up, I always had a weird relationship with, well, relationships / friends. I liked hanging out with people, but I rarely asked favors from people (even though I often did things to gain acceptance). I’ve always been a loner at heart, and am only recently really coming to terms that that is who I will be for most of my life.

    But really, it’s the people I feel closest to that I don’t mind paying cash. Liking someone and being friends on a mutual admiration level is disconnected with paying someone to do favors for you, even if that means listening to you.

    People spend hundreds of dollars for therapists just to listen to them because friends and people who actually know one best won’t be, can’t be, or one feels bad to bother(ed) to listen for free. Why not pay one’s friends half of what a therapist would charge? The friend would know you better (good and bad, because the feedback would be more subjective) and might give better situational advice–if only they were paid to really pay attention.

    Maybe one reason I value autonomy is because I don’t value the services, or favors, others have to give me–so I don’t want to be socially entrapped to return any favors because my own time is so valuable to me.

    • Laura
      Laura says:

      Therapy is like buying a friend for an hour. As an INFJ, it is an hour of relief from nurturing someone else. Worth every penny.

  17. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    This post resonated with me. I never had the money to “buy friends” but I’ve never felt that comfortable in normal emotional friendships that everyone else seemed to have. I don’t really like to share personal feelings.

    So, since my late teens I’ve managed to find “clubs” as a way of having people to hang out with–a tribe. It could be volunteering, or sports, or grad school, or work. I like having people to talk to and be with at these times; the rest of the time I don’t mind having independent time–actually I prefer it. I’m married; have kids and don’t really feel the need for strong emotional connections beyond that. At times I feel like I’m a bit of a freak because of this–why don’t I have other really close friends.

    I’m not aspergers, but I am INTJ which apparently is only 10% of women.

    This post is an example of one of the things I love about this blog–I suddenly feel like less of a freak when I can read that others are like this too.

    • liveonfred
      liveonfred says:

      I am INTP and agree with you that it is difficult to make emotional connections with people. Really, I don’t try much. At work, there are tons of people I have known for five or six years, encounter and collaborate with daily, at least weekly, and I don’t even know if they are married, have kids, where they live, etc.

      In my job, my personality doesn’t allow me to have work friends. It took me awhile to understand that about myself. As a high school teacher, my capacity for interaction is filled working interpersonally with my students. I have had jobs before where I developed work friends and it was very nice. Yes, there were boundaries. I liked that. But, I also truly liked the people I worked with and enjoyed pleasentries, some personal conversation, and even hanging out outside of work. One of my current close friends I met through work.

      For me, I can’t have paid friends. I’m too critical and have trouble delegating. When I hire someone, I’m all business, just like with my colleagues at work.

      So far, I haven’t had good luck joining a club in my area where I think I’ll fit in, but I’m always searching. I have a long-term partner, two close friends, a sister I can talk to, and a dog…so I’m doing okay.

  18. Rebecca@MidcenturyModernRemodel
    Rebecca@MidcenturyModernRemodel says:

    The first thing I thought after reading this is, “I have always felt guilty about buying friends.” People perceive it as generous, but I am well aware of what I do. And my friends do revolve around work, and tend to be people who have worked for me. Quote from my husband during any argument, “I don’t work for you.” Scary.

  19. Skweekah
    Skweekah says:

    Wow! Ive never mixed work with pleasure. Never, well, except my now-wife. But, that’s the only time. Well, I seem to get along with past-workmates. But not current workmates.

  20. Laura
    Laura says:

    I’ve been reading this blog for a long time.

    For some reason this post really explianed so much about your persinlaity Penelope.

  21. Laura
    Laura says:

    OMG – I was trying to fix up my spelling errors but somehow posted that comment above by accident.

    Anyways, I was commenting about the fact that this post made me go A-HA to myself.

    I think I will now give up on the idea that has sat in the back of my mind that we will ever be friends one day. It is probably a good thing. It is just not healthy to hope that someone on the other side of the world, that you have only emailed a few times, will be your friend, simply because you are devoted to reading their blog.

    Your friendships are transactional. I just don’t have enough to offer you to even be in the running.

    Generally, I make friends with others easily because I really genuinely like most people. I find people really fascinating and love hearing their stories. I ask heaps of questions and listen eagerly to the answers. I have this insipid but infectious enthusiasm and curiosity that must be somewhat endearing to others.

    Because of this, I have found I can pretty much pick and choose who I want to be friends with (except the odd exceptions). And I have collected life long friends from every job I’ve ever worked in.

  22. D
    D says:

    Friendship comes from shared experiences. Startups are an intense experience. So even when you stop paying Melissa she will be your friend.

    Also, it’s striking how similar this story is to that of high end escorts. Ostensibly they are about sex (a transaction) but what many of them really provide is on-demand emotional intimacy.

  23. Gwen
    Gwen says:

    I love the last line. It’s encouraging to see you reflecting on such things.

    I’m an ENFJ. It’s why I’m not monogamous.

  24. Emily
    Emily says:

    It makes sense to me why you would struggle with friendships; friendships are about empathy and being able to relate to other’s feelings and needs and knowing appropriate ways to support those.

    But I agree that this post made me feel very sad. That is likely because, as a Mom of an Aspergers daughter, I feel like much is lost when it is so difficult for one to relate.

    I agree with the person who said the Farmer is a keeper! Continuing to work on non-transactional relationships might add a lot to your life.

    Happy Birthday.

  25. TD
    TD says:

    The comments from people agreeing with Penelope’s advice made me realize there are many people who cannot handle the messiness of close friendships without strict rules. I didn’t know this! I always imagined everyone wants few non-work related friends, no matter how hard it gets!
    I have a question for all those who are ok with friendships at work and a significant other. How do you find support if your relationship with your significant other falls apart? I have been told by many people that we all need one or two trustworthy friends just to help us through life’s many struggles where our significant other cannot help us. Is that not true for some people? Do you always have to find a therapist to be able to shed a few tears? I imagine going to work-friends with relationship problems can lead to problems in some cases. So what are your options if you need to just talk without feeling judged?

    • Wendy
      Wendy says:

      I don’t like to talk about my feelings and I tend to feel uncomfortable when other people are opening up about their feelings. So I don’t really feel like I have a need for a friend to talk about feelings with. I know others need that. Sometimes I wish I could be like that, but it just isn’t me.

      Reading this blog helps me understand how I am different and because others are this way too, I feel a little better about this aspect of myself.

    • Don
      Don says:

      You’ve asked good questions. I have a large family, and a fair number of friends, at least in the sense that I know they like me, and they trust me, and for this reason I consider them friends. However, when I “need to talk” I do not turn to these friends for help. Instead, I turn inward; I listen to my own inner dialogue, I journal, I pray, I read from authors that I like, and that I trust, including this blog. The more intense my emotions are, and the more significant the issue, the LESS likely I am to turn to anyone for help. I see from your question – What if your relationship with your significant other falls apart? – that you assume that someone who shares PT’s awkwardness with close friendships would at least be able to confide in and enjoy an emotionally rich relationship with his/her spouse. In my case, and I’m guessing in PT’s case, there is no precedent for that kind of successful interpersonal interaction early in life, so it doesn’t happen at all, not even with a spouse. As you suspected, other things are adopted to fill the need for this kind of intimacy. I’m guessing PT is as intimate with all of us who read her blog, as she is with anyone in her life, probably more so. (Some misunderstand this and accuse her of sensationalizing, or inciting emotion) In fact, I am sharing with you, TD, information that feels very private to me, so private, I would have trouble explaining it to my wife. Like PT, I enjoy work-related friendships. They have clearer boundaries and expectations. They do not threaten me with the specific type of rejection that feels so painful to me, the kind that can only follow after I’ve poured out my soul to someone I adore. Because I am afraid of this kind of rejection, I avoid opening up to the people closest to me. And because I’ve learned alternative ways of finding at least some of the elements of intimacy and closeness, the need to overcome this fear is absent. Therefore, I’m likely to live the rest of my life with this species of loneliness – difficult for those who know me to detect – so no one is coming to my rescue. But, it’s not that hard to live with, I’ll just keep reading good blogs and hiring people I like.

      • Skweekah
        Skweekah says:

        I think that there’s something nice in confiding in someone who is close to you and who really cares about you. When you confide in people who you hire or via blog posts, I doubt that they can spend much time genuinely sympathising or empathising with you when they have their own matters. Having someone genuinely care about what you’re going through has to be worth something.

  26. CS
    CS says:

    GREAT post. The economics of friendship–what an interesting subject. I vote for more posts on this topic.

    When I was in highschool, I had no friends. It wasn’t because the other kids were mean bullies. They were incredibly sweet and accepting–it’s just that I had absolutely NOTHING in common with them. I spent most days eating lunch alone, not because I was an outcast, but because it was simply too stressful for me to pretend to be interested in whatever they were talking about. I thought I would always be a loner.

    That all changed when I was 16 and attended a summer program at Interlochen Arts Camp. Suddenly I was surrounded by people who were all interested in the same thing I was–Classical music. I had tons of friends that summer and loved the short, intense relationships I formed there.

    10 years later, I now work as a professional musician. I still love the short, intense friendships you make when working on a show. Most of my friends today are musicians.

    I don’t discriminate against non-musicians, but there’s one big reason for the overlap in my work/social life: I LOVE shop-talk. I will gladly buy coffee/drinks/meals for anyone (even people I think are jerks) just for the opportunity to shop-talk. This has gotten me into trouble on more than one occasion, when people have thought I was asking them out on dates, and really all I wanted to do was have a two hour conversation about Mozart operas (or whatever).

    Penelope, in case you didn’t realize it, your blog is HUGE in the classical musician community. I don’t know why–probably because none of us work in the mornings, so we just sit around and write things on the internet.

    Anyway, I love this. Good work.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Really? The blog is popular among classical musicians? This is shocking to me because I’m surrounded by them at violin and cello lessons and I feel so completely out of my element. Your comment makes me happy. Thanks. Is it possible that I could not be interested in friendships but I still want to belong? Because if it’s possible then it’s true for me. Everyone wants to feel like they belong.


      • Cynthia Yockey
        Cynthia Yockey says:

        Penelope Trunk: “Is it possible that I could not be interested in friendships but I still want to belong? Because if it’s possible then it’s true for me. Everyone wants to feel like they belong.”

        Yes, you are right, pretty much everyone wants to feel like they belong and to feel connection with others. So, of course you want to belong.

        I have an explanation to propose for why you can handle work friends but feel at sea with social, non-work friends: The rules of workplace friendships are clear to you. That’s because many of them are both explicitly stated and generally accepted guidelines for how to interact. With workplace friends, you play to all your great strengths and can use your intellect to figure out the proper way to behave rather than your heart. You also have shared goals with work friends. Since you are so purpose-driven and such an achiever, this must be very satisfying to you.

        However, the rules of social friendships are not so explicit or generally agreed-on as workplace relationships are. And they don’t always have a hierarchy. They rely on the heart, emotions and intuition. You strike me as being a loving person with a great capacity for kindness and insight into yourself and others. But between the Asberger’s and your traumatic upbringing, you have some astonishing deficits, so the faculties other people rely on automatically to tell them how to behave in a social relationship just aren’t there for you. I expect this makes getting along with you socially a bit of a minefield where someone steps on one of your gaps and you blow up.

        I learned about this from taking care of my late life partner of over 20 years, who had multiple sclerosis. I had to figure out what her “black holes” were–the abilities her illness took from her over the years–and then never call on those abilities again so she would not become aware of her losses. I always tried to pitch her balls she could hit, so to speak, so she always felt successful.

        The Farmer seems to be doing something similar with you. He’s a keeper.

        You also are doing this when you memorize the Meyers-Briggs types and adjust your behavior and communication style to the personality profiles of people as you interact with them. That’s an example of you using your powerful intellect in the place of emotional abilities others have but which you may lack.

        Getting back to social friendships, you may find them more fulfilling if you actually write out a relationship agreement similar to the ones the fictional character Sheldon Cooper uses with his roommate and girlfriend in “The Big Bang Theory.” I’m serious. With explicit rules that both parties agree to, you’ll know how to succeed in your social relationships.

        Maybe on the blog you can have some fun writing about what you would put in a relationship agreement. Who knows? Maybe if enough people in your social circle read about it, your social relationships would become smoother because they would know what you want and what you will give or do in particular circumstances. Win-win!

  27. helen
    helen says:

    sheesh – i am happy i am not you. I also think that most people are not like you. Most people are actually have feelings and are altruistic. They want to listen to each other not because they get some benefit out of it, but because it’s kind. They don’t spend time with others only when they get something out of it, but just because it’s human and nice.
    I don’t blame you or anything, I just want to state that the majority of people are more humane than you are. and less pragmatic. or the worlds would have been such a boring and sad place!

    • Mark W.
      Mark W. says:

      I didn’t get the impression from Penelope that she didn’t have feelings for the people in her life. The same holds true for kindness to other people.
      What I got from this post is her being uncomfortable with defining “friend relationships” as evidenced by this quote – “But now I’m thinking that I’m much more comfortable having everyone as a work friend, because then there’s a clear delineation of the relationship. and in the cases where it has to be a mushy, ill-defined emotional exchange, I have to keep it to just a few people. ”
      I think she is being honest and becoming more self-aware every day. She’s telling her story. Some people can relate to some aspects of it. I didn’t think it was any more or any less. No hard and fast rules. That’s how I read the post.

  28. luc
    luc says:

    There’s a minor typo in: “any time ***dong*** something I don’t want to”.
    That’s all I can contribute without spoiling the eloquence of original piece.

  29. helen
    helen says:

    Helloo!!! If someone cannot spend 10 min on the phone with the brother just chatting (not about business), if someone cannot keep relationships which are not focused on ONESELF, what feelings do we talk about. I am so happy I live in Europe now where business, money, power are not top priority. I do pity her. Her posts became so pathetic. Have nothing but pity for her. I was recently at the hospital and my best friends took care of me. For no benefit whatsoever. This is what life is all about. Not the money, not the power, not business. Wake up.

  30. Skweekah
    Skweekah says:

    Ive no doubt that Penelope Trunk deliberately writes articles which incite emotion within us. Im not saying that Penelope is full of shit. I think that what she writes about who she is although Im sure she might embellish a tad, but look at what it’s done! There are already 42 comments on this thread. I guess there is no such thing as bad publicity. Take it with a grain of salt people but I also never forget how much Penelope’s articles make me actually stop and think in a world where people have their heads so far up their butts, me included! Thanks PT, and happy birthday!

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      This comment shows that you believe the world works a certain way and when it deviates from your perspective then it’s wrong.

      Which is interesting.

      I read this blog for the knowledge it brings but I read the comments to see inside people’s heads.

      • Skweekah
        Skweekah says:

        I guess whose to say what’s right and wrong? I guess the old age saying rings true – We don’t see things as they are….we see things as we are.

        Both yourself and Penelope included!

    • Skweekah
      Skweekah says:

      I like the way you think. Ive seen many chummy work relationships not work out so good, esp. boss/subordinates.

  31. GingerR
    GingerR says:

    Interesting perspective. I’ve never been the boss so although we’re all there because of the money it’s never been my choice.

    I feel like that means that it’s up to me to be an attractive friend. That’s a couple parts work expertise and a couple parts agreeable behavior. Depending on what your role is the agreeable behavior can be more important. If you’re a System Administrator or the LINUX guy you can be as crusty as you like.

    I will say that workplace friends are important in the scheme of friendship. They aren’t family and they often have a diversity you don’t get in the rest of your life.

  32. Liz
    Liz says:

    How does one tactfully dump a workplace friend when you are both no longer employed at the same workplace? Or, should we try to maintain these friends even if we don’t want to for the sake of “networking”? The specific friend I am thinking about is a nice guy, but too rooted in the past and not where I want to be right now. I am more than ready to move on.

  33. karelys
    karelys says:

    This makes so much sense because we choose friends based on interests or common environment (I learned it from the homeschool blog so I guess I am supposed to cite you here….?).

    I didn’t want to read this post because I thought it’d be boring and then I read it and I am thankful. I was worried that I don’t care much for friends. I think the whole “friends forever and ever” just never really worked out for me and I sort of assumed I was better off not trying.

    I am really good at breaking the ice and talking to people. But it’s mostly about them because 1) people like that, 2) they’d be bored/scared/scandalized by the way I think, 3) I like to learn how the brain works so for psychology study purposes I talk to people.

    Then I realized that I am good friends with people from time to time when our interests align. Right now I have a good friend because she has an interesting brain, wants to unschool her child (yay I don’t have to defend and offend at the same time while explaining while we are going that route), and she’s fun.

    I am always worried that I don’t have enough time. I am torn between wanting to sit on the couch all day thinking and drinking coffee, or reading up on things that are interesting, or doing stuff that makes money.

    At some point I look at my list of things and I don’t feel that there’s enough room to just waste time with people. And it sounds awful! Also, I get annoyed when people want to hang out and I don’t know how to say no to spare their feelings.

    Right when I was feeling all kinds of weird I realize that I am just built like that. I don’t know what I am doing with this knowledge but I’ll soon figure it out.

  34. Stefan
    Stefan says:

    My personality is half Choleric which makes it a bit difficult for me to gain more friends. However, I am confident that those people I consider my real friends are truly, genuinely and undoubtedly real. It’s much better than having a bunch of friends who aren’t that loyal to you.

  35. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    Hmmm, I love my work friends, but I can’t take all of them in large doses, because then we’ll talk about work and I’ll have a panic attack.

    I work at a law firm (but let’s hope not much longer).

    I wouldn’t trade my ‘real’ friends (friends outside of work, although calling them ‘real’ sounds harsher than that because my closest work friends are ‘real’ friends too) for anything in the world. I wonder if we don’t put too much emphasis on both work and family and significant others and not enough emphasis on having a solid and dependable base of really great friends — a dozen or so folks who would drop anything in a real emergency and who share any number of common interests.

    I’m gay, I live in DC, I don’t have an incredible amount in common with my family, which is hundreds of miles away, so I don’t really know what I’d do without that friend base, and those friendships have been important to me in good times and bad and regardless of whether my love life is going well or not. That’s not to displace my boyfriend (though I would argue that romantic relationships are stronger when both individuals have strong friendships outside the relationship) but scientific evidence (http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/12/health/loneliness-dementia/) seems to indicate that loneliness can lead to detrimental health outcomes, and I’ve found from anecdotal experience that having a strong friend network (not just one significant other, not just a bunch of acquaintances) is the key to keeping loneliness at bay.

    Longtime reader, first-time commenter. I find myself relating to the posts most of the time, despite myself and I’ve learned a lot about my own weaknesses reading Penelope, even when it’s a “whoa, bat**** crazy Penelope” post (perhaps I relate most of all to “whoa, bat**** crazy Penelope” posts). But I didn’t relate to this at all.

  36. jen
    jen says:

    I was just thinking, in the entire Bible only one person was called a friend of God. It was Abraham. Maybe friendship is far rarer than love.

  37. camilla
    camilla says:

    The issues Penelope talks about seem to be common to a lot of people but particularly common to those with Aspergers. Hanging out with non-work friends, or even spending a lunch break with a work friend can be hugely draining and bewildering to someone with Aspergers. They can come across accidentally (and erroneously) as self-centred and unempathic, but that just isn’t the case. It’s the sustained concentrated interaction with all its hidden rules that is so difficult to deal with. The light hearted short exchanges with work colleagues over the water cooler or a cup of coffee are so much easier to deal with and when too many people are around all talking at once you can just quietly sidestep away from the scene and take a breather. It’s above overload – sensory and information overload. The seeming boredom experienced from sustained hanging out with people comes from not being able to find links in your own mind to whatever your friend or colleague is talking about. The brain starts to shut down. That’s why having friendships centred on shared interests (eg work) are so much easier. And you can go home at the end of the day, and shut the door, and relax in the peace and quiet…..

  38. Judy
    Judy says:

    Does paying people who are your friends relieve you from needing to develop empathy for those friends? Just curious.

  39. Don
    Don says:

    I have a former coworker who calls me once a year on my birthday. We talk about work, career, sports and similar interests. I am not a big fan of birthday calls either but I make a point to be at work to get his call. We visited once in the last thirty years and had a wonderful time. So think of birthdays as an opportunity to have a chat with a relative or a friend just because. My cousins if they called would talk work, politics, business or sports. Everyone of course always mentions the weather too. When I hear (read) about some of your unique childhood I can’t help wondering if all of the disfunction of your childhood didn’t ironically help you be the talented and interesting writer you are today. Some kids get all sorts of great parenting and don’t seem to shine later. I am just thankful your blog is there for me to enjoy. Happy birthday.

  40. helen
    helen says:

    I used to read most of her posts until about 1-2 months ago, cause it became too obvious it’s full of SEO and sensationalism which is completely useless in real life. Targeted at 20-25 y.o. females. That’s all. So I bet she loses a chunk of her ‘loyal’ audience and needs even more provocative shit to attact new ones. Please don’t read take her words seriously.

  41. Annabel Candy, Successful Blogging
    Annabel Candy, Successful Blogging says:

    Penelope is altruistic. She gives more of herself here than many people ever do in a lifetime.

    Admitting friends who are on her payroll maybe a form of defence. Partly built because Penelope is famous so she is at risk of being surrounded by people who only want to be near her because of that fame and partly because it’s easier to have friendships where you pay people because then you retain control.

    If the friendship doesn’t work out you hold the power and you can sack them. That’s what Penelope did with her therapist when she didn’t like what she heard and when the therapist told they couldn’t help. P turned around and begged the therapist to help them so she could then sack them.

    The danger is that you are then surrounded only by sycophants. So three cheers for the farmer :)

    Also if you are insecure and all your friends are on your payroll they are going to be nice to you. I think a lot about ways to buy my friends and make them love me more through doing so but it’s due to insecurity. Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe anyone would hang out with me unless I buy them a glass of wine.

    And while we are talking about buying friends and relationships built on a financial exchange. If your friends come to visit you in hospital they are hoping that when they fall Ill you will return the favor.

    Even if we buy our friends we can’t guarantee what we’ll get in exchange unless we choose people who we know would love us, and are genuinely loving, even if we hadn’t bought them their glass of vino.

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