I've recently started working on a new project, in a team of around 10 people. I'm the only female on that team, but the guys are awesome and it's a great, fun group of people to work with. Once a week, we work at a location where there's another team of around 10 people, and we all have lunch together. One big happy group of 20 people.
In the other team, there's another female (also the only one on that team). She's a little older than me and married with kids (I'm 27 and single). She's the type of person that makes me feel a little hesitant from the minute we met, it's almost like she's too eager to become friends and tries to force herself into whatever I’m doing. Whenever I walk to get a cup of coffee/water, she stands up and walks with me, trying to strike up a conversation. When there's lunch break, she tries to 'claim' me for conversation as well, and I always feel a little suffocated and singled out.
Now, don't get me wrong, I don't mind talking to her, but since there's 20 colleagues and a lot of them have interesting hobbies/stories to tell, I do want to have a conversation with more than 1 person at a time when we're having coffee or lunch.
Whenever I'm having those conversations with people other than her, she tends to talk herself into it as well. That's usually not that uncommon for people to do, but she always manages to do so in a way that I find pretty awkward, since it's almost always focused on something she, her kids or one of her family members did, it’s always only tangentially related to the thing we're talking about and it’s always directed at me personally.
As an example: At lunch, my group was a little earlier than hers, so I was already in a conversation with 3-4 co-workers about the kinds of stories we like to read. When she arrived at the lunch table, she sat next to me, listened for a few sentences, then blurted out something to me about borrowing books at the library for her kids that wasn't really related to the whole 'what do you like to read' conversation.
I'm not averse to engaging her in the conversation, but I really wanted to keep the conversation on the level where I can get to know my co-workers a little better, so I tried to engage her in the conversation by asking what kinds of books she likes to borrow from the library, hoping we could continue the topic with her in it as well. She mentioned a few books she had read, and I and the other co-workers picked up the conversation from there, discussing similar books/writing styles and whether or not we liked them or preferred other stuff. The weird thing is that as soon as the conversation moved on, the female co-worker fell silent again.
After that, conversation changed to other topics, and she tried another two or three times to engage in it, but always the same, by making an unrelated remark (kind of gruff too, she sounded somehow a little angry and upset or tired of the conversation), and then falling silent again. It's almost like she wants my undivided attention, because she's very (almost too) chatty and friendly in a one-on-one conversation whenever we have these, and I've since learned she does like to read and could certainly have contributed to the lunchbreak conversation by being ‘trapped’ at the water cooler with her for fifteen minutes. It feels like I’m being forced into being friends with her, and that’s she’s trying to single me out from the guys, preventing me from getting to know them better.
I’d like the female co-worker to feel free to participate in any conversation I’m having with the guys (like any other normal person/colleague), so I'd rather not ignore her. But I also want her to know I’m not hers to claim, and give off a signal (doesn’t necessarily have to be verbal) that she’s claiming me too much and I’m not appreciative of her forcing a friendship/derailing conversations/singling me out like it feels she’s doing now.
How can I handle this co-worker awkwardly forcing herself into conversations in such a way that she doesn’t feel excluded, but also not encouraged to continue their behaviour of trying to get my undivided attention?