Dear Captain Awkward,
I’ve been reading your column for a while, and am dearly in need of advice. To cut right to the chase, I have a friend. He is a lovely lovely person, but there are some things about him that have been making maintaining that friendship well…difficult. Complicating this is the fact that both of us recently cut a mutual friend out of our lives (independently of each other and at different times) for much the same behavior. I have only been in this city a year and am in an extremely demanding job that makes making friends difficult in the first place, and we’ve been through a lot together (when he’s a good friend he’s really really amazing) so I don’t want to just cut another person out of my life, but I’m at a loss to figure out how to make this livable.
I guess what it comes down to is he is incredibly self centered. He’s kind and caring and really there for you when it works for him, but….he never meets someone halfway let alone on their terms. It’s his way or no way at all. He hardly ever comes to my house, though we live close. I’m at his place all the time, on his invitation. He consistently can’t make it when I invite him. When I am at his house he continues about his day like I wasn’t there. He hangs, but he’ll continue to answer emails, fix his bike, play guitar, even if I’m dying of boredom. He’s fine if you leave, but if I want to see him at all it’s 100% on his terms: his time, his place, his choice of activity. “No I won’t go get coffee with you and chat, but you can watch me play guitar!” Even when, say, I’d love to catch up or really need to talk. I tried bringing it up, but that brings me to the second point:
He absolutely cannot take criticism. Of any type. I know for a fact I’m diplomatic in this area, but it’s not just direct criticism he can’t take. Any disagreement, even the type that would lead to a fun debate with others or just a normal difference of opinion (Him: That was a good band! Me: Meh, I didn’t like them. Him: Why must you insult my taste?!?) with him is a personal attack. When I was irritated that he seemed to feel I should be content to come over and listen to him play guitar when I just wanted to hang out with him, talk, do something together, he did NOT take it well, despite my bringing it up as mildly as I could manage. He said something today I found hurtful, something he’d said before that I’d just bitten my tongue about in the past. I find myself biting my tongue around him a lot. I told him I knew he didn’t mean it that way, but the way he was talking upset me. He as usual took it as a personal attack and left abruptly, despite my apologizing.
It’s getting to the point trying to hang out with him is almost to stressful to handle. Friends have disagreements and get on each others nerves. I’ve dealt with that on both sides. But it’s fine because you talk it out. What happens when you can’t talk it out? When you just have to smile and agree to whatever they say? To do whatever they want in order to see them? I can’t cut ties with him. It would decimate my already minuscule number of friends. I don’t want to either – he can be a better friend than most when it suits him. I just have no idea how to deal with this.
Thank you so much,
I hope he’s really, really good at guitar.
I don’t know if you’re going to like my advice, but I’m flashing back to this question and giving your friend the side-eye.
Listen, you can totally still be friends with this person as long as you accept that the friendship will take place 100% completely on his terms. When you hang out, you will do so at his place, listening to him noodle around on his guitar and agreeing with everything he says unless you’d like a tiresome fight.
So only see him on those rare occasions that you’re looking for a night of listening to him play guitar and agreeing with whatever he says. On all other nights of the year, spend whatever energy and love you would normally pour into maintaining and deepening a friendship with him into making some new friends who actually, I don’t know, are interested in things about you and can maintain a basic level of reciprocity?
And when you say “Let’s hang out!” and he says “Sure, come over and I’ll play guitar,” say “Eh, can’t we go out and grab some dinner?” and if he says “No, but come over!” say “Sorry, maybe next time.” Like any time you enforce a boundary for the first time, it will feel super-weird for a short time and then it will feel normal and you’ll start feeling much better.
You don’t have to drop him from your life – I believe you that you’ve shared some good times – but you do have to teach yourself to need very little from him and to accept that he’s limited in what he can give you. I would pour your limited time and energy into making some new friends. I realize that’s easier said than done, especially with a demanding job, but I think that effort spent will pay off much better than beating your head against the wall of “We will do things my way at my convenience.” Hang out with him once in a blue moon when his self-centered ways amuse and comfort you with their utter predictability and don’t grate you down like fine cheese.