My second try at advice was that she say something like, “I’m sorry I misjudged – I need to end this internship earlier than we discussed so I can do my summer reading for school. It’s a lot more work than I anticipated.”
This is basically true (she does have a summer reading list) in the same way that, “I love working here, but I need to have a job that allows me to contribute to supporting my aging parents” can also be basically true, even though you shouldn’t really need that kind of excuse to want to be paid market rates for your work, or better than market rates for being more awesome than other people in the market.
I also said, “You’re talking about this like it’s some terrible thing you’ve done that you need to worm your way out of. You know, you haven’t done anything wrong here.”
She said something like: “But I feel so guilty!”
I said, “I think this is a really common girl thing.”
“Yes. Adult women I know struggle with this all the time. I have never heard this from a man.”
I write Bullish articles all the time about being direct and making ballsy but reasonable demands and how to get your head in the right place to be able to do this painlessly and effectively. In Bullish: Seven Sentences to Boost Your Career and Life, I recommended the phrase, “It’s not possible.” In Bullish: How to Ask for More Money, Part II, I suggested, “It would be illogical.” Both clauses are best delivered collegially and matter-of-factly, followed by a “but” and an attempt to reach a compromise or satisfy demands in some other way.
When I get letters from men (somewhat rarely), most of them take the tone, “Oh, it’s good that you’re telling women this thing that we’ve been passing down from father-to-son all this time.” You can sort of feel the beneficent nod the letter-writer made as he was writing.
I asked a small panel of men about feeling guilty for no reason. I said, “A woman I know is feeling guilty about quitting her unpaid internship. I told her she shouldn’t feel guilty because she isn’t doing anything wrong. I think this is a girl thing.” (Obviously anecdotal) responses: