DEAR MISS MANNERS: My co-worker and I have been friends since she began working at our office several years ago. Our office has no windows, so, historically, when she would go outside for a cigarette break, she would invite me to stand with her and get out of the office for a few moments. (I do not smoke, so I stand upwind of her.) We have been very close and our friendship was very meaningful to me.
I was out sick for nearly a month with what was initially thought to be COVID (though I tested negative for it). That was probably the sickest I have ever been in my life. I was out of work for three weeks, trying to recover -- the longest I have ever been out of work due to sickness.
I have been back to work for over a month now, but since my return, this co-worker has been very cold and will not speak to me. She makes a point of asking someone else, within my hearing range, to walk outside with her for her smoke breaks. She goes out of her way to avoid me, and I have no idea why!
She had made vague mention of my illness, so I assured her I was much better, and that my antibody testing indicated I had not been infected with COVID.
She continues to be chilly and nearly rude most of the time. I have been as kind as possible and continue to speak nicely to her, and try to ignore the obvious slights at work.
How on earth do I handle this? I thought whatever she was upset about might blow over, but this behavior seems to be here to stay.
GENTLE READER: The prudent habit of social distancing should not be confused with an older, uglier propensity to shun the unfortunate, out of the feeling that misfortune of any kind could be contagious.
Your co-worker is practicing the latter. Were she seriously only afraid of contagion, she would be concerned about your health and anxious that you not interpret her distancing as callous.
As she has made no such moves, Miss Manners suggests that you cease imagining that this person is your friend and deal with her, to the extent necessary, in a formal and professional manner.