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#468 and #469: “Hey, knock it off”, or, Constructive Conflict, Continued.

Jolly’s great comment to Monday’s post is going to be very relevant to these seemingly very different questions:

“You also don’t necessarily have to bring some of these things up in one big confrontation about The Whole Pattern Of Her Sucking. You could just make a point of standing up for yourself when she does the trampling behavior in the future. Next time she interrupts you, interrupt her back with a big, assertive, “EXCUSE ME, N, YOU ACCIDENTALLY INTERRUPTED ME WHEN I WAS IN THE MIDDLE OF A STORY. ANYWAY, BOYFRIEND AND I…” She physically nudges you out of a circle? Cut her off with a tap on the shoulder and a big, “EXCUSE ME, N, BUT YOU JUST PUSHED ME COMPLETELY OUT OF THE CONVERSATION. I AM MOVING HERE, HOW ABOUT YOU SIT HERE.” Don’t sound angry, just be very direct and assertive. You see what she is doing, everyone else sees what she is doing, good chance she also sees what she is doing, and just thinks she is being sneaky. Or maybe she has no idea. But either way, there is nothing wrong with a strong verbal reminder every time she attempts to trample completely over you, to let her know that she is “accidentally” being completely obnoxious. 50/50 whether she will embarrass herself in a huffy rage, or quietly correct her behavior. Either way, it will probably go some way to keeping her from continuing this kind of garbage.”

Yes. It is hard for more reserved people to get into the habit of speaking up in the moment – we’d mostly prefer to observe quietly, analyze later, and plan our next social interaction as if it’s a military campaign. But learning to speak up in the moment is a great, great habit to develop, and it is above all a habit – developed over time, requires practice, doesn’t have to be perfectly executed to be effective. Let’s dive in.

Dear Captain Awkward:

My roommate is the worst listener I’ve ever met. If not listening (or not conveying that she’s listening) were an olympic sport, she’d have more gold medals than Michael Phelps (hyperbolic, I know, but actually.) 

I avoid conversation with her because when we do talk, she talks over me. Sometimes I’ll make a statement, and as soon as I’m done speaking she’ll ignore me and move on to a new topic. When she is listening to me, sometimes she’ll try to guess the end of my sentence, and start speaking over me. 

I feel like this is somewhat related to her patronizing or condescending behavior. She has taken on the identity of “The Caring, Maternal One” in our shared group of friends. To her, this means badgering people about how much they’ve had to drink when we go out, and why smoking is evil and unhealthy. While sometimes rants like this are useful, hers are always unwarranted, and seem to come from a place of superiority. She is covertly judgmental of my behavior when I drink. She’ll make comments like “I’m so proud you didn’t drink too much!” all because of one experience where I drank too much and spent the night vomiting. I was pretty embarrassed about it at the time, and learned from the experience. I don’t think bringing it up over and over is warranted. 

Maybe I should add that roommate has ADD, and takes prescribed medication for it. While I know that a lot has been said here about how mental illness/related issues are not an excuse for hurtful behavior, I was wondering if that might have something to do with her inability to focus on what I’m saying? Maybe this isn’t related at all? Perhaps some lovely person who has more insight into these issues could enlighten me. 

I’ve lived with my roommate all this year, and we’re living together next year (this is set in stone–the housing forms are signed). Generally we get along fine, but I feel like I spend a lot of time feeling frustrated by these issues. Thus far I’ve kind of been ignoring it, and recognizing that we just have to live together, we don’t have to be BEST FRIENDS 4EVAH. Should I bother to bring it to her attention? How should I go about this?

Talked At And Over (#468)

Dear Captain Awkward:

Hello, 

I am in a longterm poly relationship with a man. We are really solidly together, and supportive of each other’s outside dating life. 

A few years back we met Friend, and husband and her flirted like nobodies business. This was cool. 

She then got jealously possessive of Husband. If he talked women, or flirted, Friend would behave poorly. She even shoved a woman off of his lap once, making it a “joke”. She started introducing herself as our wife to folks. She is straight, and I am generally female identified, so that caught me off guard. 

I told Husband it bothered me. He was supportive, and thought, perhaps it was because she wanted to be in a relationship, and acknowledged his attraction/flirting. He put it all on the table and asked her out. He did so in a very low key way to make sure he was open to her rejection, and still voiced his value in her friendship. 

Instead of saying no, Friend came to me presenting the situation as if Husband was cheating. I told her she had been flirting with him, so he decided to ask if she wanted more than that. She avoided any real response, and I had to tell Husband her reaction. We assumed that would be the end of it. 

She still came over to hang out, but unilaterally treated Husband venomously, to the point that folks in our friend group wanted to know what was going on. 

We stopped hanging out with her, and “just didn’t have time”. She could be great to me, but it’s not fun watching someone spit snark, passive aggressive comments, and just say mean crap to someone you love, so I didn’t want to hang with her either. 

She’s just showed up out of the blue like nothing has happened. We decided that perhaps her own troubled dating history didn’t allow her to reject someone without making them a villain. Husband swallowed the hurt of having her be so nasty to him, and moved on. 

The problem? Now she’s back to flirting with him, being overly jealous of his attention to other women, and being actively sulky when he point blank refuses to flirt back. She’s introducing herself as our wife again, despite repeated corrections, and actually crawled on a bed in front of Husband making sexually explicit comments.

We haven’t addressed this with her at all, because she is poor at communicating, and quite honestly, we are both gun shy about her reaction. Flirting is off the menu, and she can be a friend, but nothing more. She just won’t stop even when we correct the situation. 

Any scripts either of us could use?

Bewildered Bystander (#469)

Both of these questions should be filed under “Setting boundaries with people who are bad at understanding boundaries, and who will probably not respond well to having a big talk about it.

“When you ____, I feel _____” conversations are for relationships that you are very invested in, and where you think there is a reasonable chance of the other person Getting The Clue Already.

Sometimes, after you’ve had that talk, or when you don’t think that talk will work, it’s not worth delving that far into it. It’s a pretty common fallacy among educated sorts that if we could just make people understand the things we know, they would see the world as we do and behave as we would. It’s frustrating because sometimes it works beautifully, but other times we just have to say “self-awareness is not transitive” and figure out how much emotional energy we want to invest in getting oblivious people to wise up and change their ways. It is freeing to realize that it really doesn’t matter if they understand why their behavior is wrong, and understand where we’re coming from when we ask them to change it. It matters that they stop doing the bad thing.

So, #468, I don’t know if you will get your roommate to realize what she is doing and change her overall pattern of behavior, but I do think you can change the dynamic somewhat by catching her when she’s interrupting you and calling attention to the behavior. There is a several step process that you can try out.

Step 1: Interrupt her right back, and say: “Roommate, you interrupted me. Did you realize?” And then launch back into your point as if you expect to be heard.

If she listens, great. Success!

Step 2: If she zones out or interrupts you again, after being reminded/corrected, find a way to end the conversation. She’s obviously not interested in having one. You can pick this up another day, when you have the energy to start over again.

If she catches on to what is happening, i.e.- “Why are you walking away from me?” say “You interrupted me several times, and I got frustrated. It seems like we should pick up this conversation another time.

You brought up her ADD – she may have genuine trouble focusing. In that case, if she spaces out, it is on her to say “I‘m sorry, I am having trouble focusing on what you just said. Can you start from the beginning?” If your stories run long, and you guys agree to it, she might reasonably ask you to invoke the Three Sentence Rule. Some people can’t read social cues for legitimate reasons. But everyone can understand when a friend says “Please don’t interrupt me, I don’t like it,” and try to be more aware of their behavior.

It’s not on you to lay out a multi-step process for her to stop interrupting you. You are not her Life Tutor. You gently called attention to the behavior, and when it continued, you took steps to enforce the boundary by removing yourself from the conversation. You made it clear that if she wants to have actual conversations with you, she needs to listen better.

It is better if you remain focused on the present, restart the clock with each interaction, and give it a little bit of time. If this goes well, she will start to catch herself.

As for the comments about your drinking/Mother Hen stuff, I agree, that is pretty frustrating. Employ a similar approach of calling out the behavior when it happens. “Actually, that’s pretty patronizing.” “I would prefer to leave that incident firmly in the past.” “I don’t need to be monitored or congratulated for not drinking, thanks.”  Use short, declarative sentences. Resist the urge to over-explain or justify. And then shut down further conversation. The point isn’t to make her understand your point of view, the point is to make it unproductive and unsatisfying for her to go down these conversational roads in the first place.

To preserve this as a workable roommate situation, I suggest finding some kind of mutual activity or ritual (like, a shared TV fandom) where you spend a set, scheduled, structured time together every week. You could even break it down to a daily thing – my former roommates were pretty great about a) NO MORNING TALKING (<3!)  b) 15-20 minutes of “How was your day?” at the end of the day before separating to our introvert corners, and c) periodic roommate dinner or movie/live theater outings. What you are doing is finding some friendly, cordial, casual social glue that gives you a series of positive interactions to build on. What you are also doing is mentally resetting the relationship (and the expectations around said relationship) from “intimate friend” to “roommate with whom I wish to remain on good terms.” Once you’ve put in your set time every day/every week, give yourself permission to check out and invest your emotional energy and share your important stuff with close friends who don’t interrupt and talk down to you.

Letter Writer #469, it seems like you are already correcting this person, who I will not call a friend.

The suggested steps for you are very similar, though there is one extra step that for sure needs to happen:

Recognize that this lady is not actually your friend, and that you don’t actually like her or being around her.

Stop making excuses that she’s not that bad. She’s that bad. Dudes don’t have a monopoly on creepy. Inappropriate touching or flirting when you’ve been specifically asked not to do that stuff is downright creepy. Therefore you should minimize contact. If she’s part of the scene you’re in, whatever, 1) plenty of people who share a pastime or a scene aren’t bosom buddies and find a way to politely co-exist 2) minimizing creepy behavior that’s allowed to persist within a scene is actually good for everyone in the scene.

So.

Don’t invite her to anything at your house.

Don’t accept any of her invitations. And don’t make polite “we’d love to but we just don’t have time” excuses. Don’t give a reason. “Want to do x with me?” “No thanks.

If you need to have a breakup conversation, have the conversation. “Hey, ______, we really tried to make things work when you started coming around again, but it’s really not working for us. Sorry, I realize that’s not good news, but we’d prefer not to hang out anymore.” And then let her feelings about that be her feelings, expressed/processed in the Land That Is Elsewhere.

When you do run into her at, say, mutual friend’s events, say a quick “Heyhowyoubeen” and then go talk to people you like.

When she does a thing that you don’t like, make the boundary clear and explicit. “Please don’t touch me.” “I don’t want to talk about that.” “That makes me uncomfortable.”

It seems like you are already giving her verbal corrections, but the behavior is continuing, so here is one step I would add:

She gets one verbal correction. If she persists or does whatever it is again, LEAVE. Walk away from her. Leave the room. Leave the party. Leave. Or ask her directly to leave, or get the hosts of whatever it is to ask her to leave. You don’t have to actually explain yourself or get her to understand anything. If you want to say something, be terse and direct. “I asked you not to that, and it’s making me very uncomfortable. I am going over there. Do not follow me. I would like you to leave now.

I sense that you are polite, easily embarrassed people who want to help this person who you used to feel affection toward save face. You guys are straight shooters who have excellent communication skills and excellent boundaries. Unfortunately, she is trading on that reluctance to make a scene and your general good manners as a way to crap all over your boundaries. If a scene needs to be made, make the fucking scene already. “STOP.” “I DON’T LIKE THAT.” “YOU SHOULD LEAVE NOW.”

Sometimes, if you can establish a pattern of “Hey, knock it off” it can be a way to set up a “Listen, we need to talk” discussion where you delve deeper into patterns and issues. It’s especially useful in resolving certain kinds of conflicts at work, where you have to create a paper trail that proves that you asked someone directly to stop the behavior. But “Hey, knock it off” has a power of its own.

All communication styles can be abused by people who use them in bad faith, and it is good to consider others’ feelings and the consequences of your words before opening your mouth. But for over-thinkers, we tend to want to manage every part of every interaction and other people’s feelings about that interaction. By far the most common question I get is. “Person is violating my boundaries in the following terrible ways. How do I get them to stop without hurting their feelings?” And the answer is: You ask them to stop, and you let their feelings be their own. The flip side of this question is “How do I ask someone out in a way that guarantees that they will be happy about it and won’t reject me and things will never get awkward?” Again, the answer is: You ask them out, and you let their reactions to that be their own. Other people’s feelings are important, but they are not the total boss of you. To be so self-effacing that you think that asking people to stop interrupting you, or to stop crawling all over you at parties, or to hang out sometime constitutes you doing them some kind of emotional violence is a kind of egotism – you are giving yourself WAY too much power to control the future and other people.

Sometimes people do react very badly to these requests, and they treat you as if you are doing them emotional violence. Sometimes you say “Hey, knock it off” and the other person hears “YOU TERRIBLE PIECE OF SHIT WHO CAN’T DO ANYTHING RIGHT.” That is their jerkbrain talking, not something you did. It doesn’t feel good to learn that you were hurting someone’s feelings or making them feel bad, but it’s incredibly manipulative to answer “Please don’t flirt with me, I am uncomfortable” with “You hate me and I can’t do anything right” and force the person whose boundaries you’ve been violating to comfort you and rebuild your self-image.  When someone reacts disproportionately to a simple request (like Alice), it’s hard to hang back and let them get as weird as they want to and then still stand up for the thing you need. When someone tells you that you are stomping on their boundaries, the hardest thing sometimes can be to separate what they say from the messages of your own jerkbrain and give an adult response that doesn’t vomit your feelings all over them. Both of these are emotional skillsets that are part of having adult relationships, and I think that even if they weren’t installed or nurtured from childhood, they can be learned.

I don’t have a rubric for always knowing when and how, a lot of this is trial and error, but I do know that a) speaking up for yourself will usually not end the world, b) you can survive making a mistake, and  c) you can survive someone else’s displeasure. There is no prize for being the most world’s most accommodating person. And if there were a prize, it would be “hanging out with people who walk all over you, being afraid to speak up, and silently seething at them, forever.”

98 comments
  1. Alex said:

    First time commenter here. I recognize something of myself in one of the posts here, and I thought I’d mention it.

    “Other people’s feelings are important, but they are not the total boss of you. To be so self-effacing that you think that asking people to stop interrupting you, or to stop crawling all over you at parties, or to hang out sometime constitutes you doing them some kind of emotional violence is a kind of egotism – you are giving yourself WAY too much power to control the future and other people.”

    This is something I’m struggling with. For myself (and my therapist agrees), this is a sign of codependent behavior. I learned to sacrifice my boundaries in hopes it would somehow give me control over other people’s irrational and often abusive emotions. If this sounds like you, doing some reading about codependent behavior might be helpful to you like it has been for me.

    • Badsack said:

      Hi Alex, nice to meet you here.

      Ummm, co-dependent notions can be quite problematic, as they tend to blame the victim of the abuse for somehow not being able to change her behaviour enough to prevent the abuse. The theory of co-dependency can be applicable, sort of, when someone is in a relationship with an addict or alcoholic, and really active enabling is happening – like the family or spouse giving the addict money for drugs or lying to the alcoholic’s boss or family to cover up for them.

      There are some really great books and sites about emotional and psychological abuse that can help you to understand that you did nothing to provoke, deserve or participate in the abuse, and that there was nothing you could have done to prevent it, except perhaps by being able to time travel back to completely avoid meeting that person. The problem is that the abusive person is abusive, and is abusing you, which will have very negative effects on your self esteem and every other part of your life. Being hurt by a person that you like or love, who blames you and holds you responsible for provoking or somehow deserving it is the ultimate worst betrayal.

      • Marie said:

        Yeah, I quite agree. Abusers like their victims to think that they have a personality disorder that attracts predatory people. But the truth is that abusers find someone who is at a vulnerable moment – because they lost someone, or something happened to them, or whatever (stuff that makes anybody vulnerable), and they work hard on breaking that person down.
        Some abusers enjoy breaking down really confident people, because they’re “bigger game” (ugh). Others like easy targets that already have mental problems (ugh squared). But studies show that anybody can end up being abused. I bet even sociopaths can end up being abused.

  2. I do not want that prize, thank you.

    • And the awards ceremony is embarrassing for all involved.

      • JenniferP said:

        On a scale of:

        Catching the bouquet at a wedding
        Feels like you are talking to Michael Scott (American The Office)
        Feels like you are talking to David Brent (British The Office)
        Feels like Carson McCullers wrote it
        Feels like Flannery O’Connor wrote it

        The award ceremony is solidly between Brent & McCullers.

        • adorkable said:

          I love this scale in theory but I actually don’t know which one’s the high end. :)

          If I got near the bouquet toss at a wedding it would probably be because money was at stake.

          • I caught the bouquet about 15 years ago.

            Still not married. :)

          • adorkable said:

            Actually, me too – I was 17, and my very large father made himself known to the dude who caught the garter, and that was an awkward dance, to say the least.

            Then I got all political about Feminism and Gender and Things and stayed far away from the bouquet toss. Although I’m in a good friend’s wedding soon so that may not last.

          • Marie said:

            The last time there was a bouquet tossing there were also firecrackers, which scare me to death. I confess: I played up how upset I was in order to avoid the whole thing.

          • I caught the bouquet at 13. My twelve year old cousin caught the garter – I have etched it out of my mind at this point!

          • Charlotte said:

            My favorite bouquet toss was the one where we all, unrehearsed, lept back in horror and the bouquet went skidding along the ballroom floor. Some guy picked it up, threw it directly at his girlfriend. They’re divorced now.

          • Beth said:

            One of the things I was most adamant about when planning my own wedding was that there would be NO FUCKING BOUQUET OR GARTER TOSS. Because those are shit. They serve only to make people uncomfortable, so why in the hell does anyone do them, ever?!

        • First time trying to post YT-video. If fail, it’s David Brent’s awkward dance.

        • The presenter drops the award on your toe, and you say “sorry.” The champagne is flat. And you stay to clean up, because someone else needs the room at 3 pm.

          THIS IS A TERRIBLE PLACE TO BE

          • And have you seen the statuette?!?

          • J. Preposterice said:

            The room is #101.

          • Jen said:

            “The presenter drops the award on your toe, and you say “sorry.””

            Okay, but as a Canadian I might do this anyhow. But I don’t say aboot. :P

        • Oh man, wedding bouquets. The only time I have met my best internet-friend in person was at my cousin’s wedding. There is an *amazing* picture of us fangirling and flailing at each other about the latest Dresden Files book…while the bouquet is in the air. We were so caught up in squee that we literally did not notice the toss for a second, so the picture has the other female guests in mid-lunge while we are completely oblivious. Hell with the bouquet.

          • That In A Hat said:

            To be fair, a Dresden Files book is always a good reason to be completely oblivious to everything in real life. Especially if it was “Ghost Story. Or: How Waldo Butters is Amazing And Adorable And Why Isn’t He The Hero Again?” (I really do need to read Cold Days.)

            At the most recent wedding I was at, the bride hurled the bouquet directly behind her instead of up, and my friend caught it–with her face.

          • redpenreviews said:

            Oh man, Cold Days may be my very favorite so far. At the time, I think Small Favor or Turn Coat was just out, so we were all about the White Council conspiracy theories, the shapeshifter duel, things like that. <3 Butters.

            Ouch on the bouquet in the face. Those flowers can be *heavy*.

  3. Dear LW #1,

    Hey, I read your letter and started to feel a very similar vibe to an experience I had with my old roommate/ still friend a long time ago. She was very similar to your roommate with the maternal pushiness, minus the ADD, plus attending school for counseling. (So she thought she was certified to SOLVE ALL THE THINGS wrong in our relationship) So I am going to share a bit of a long story, sorry, it was accidental, but I feel like our situations are relatively similar so some insight from someone who has been there might be helpful.

    The place became a walk-on-eggshells war zone. She would become passive aggressive and when I didn’t respond to it she would confront me and in a maternal way come down on me for benign reasons like a singular forgotten chore or having a house guest (boyfriend/close friend) in our shared living space/my bedroom sometimes. (Though hypocritically she would do similar things and not think the were wrong) She liked to judge me a lot. About things I did in school, what I did when I was out with people who weren’t her, and other things.

    She took any problem I had with being in school for a long time and turned it around as an attack at her (because she was studying to counsel students). Like if I said, “I am getting frustrated with being in school right now because I am 24 and I want to do other things with my life already,” (to my father over the phone in a conversation she was not involved in) if she over heard she would start huffing and puffing and slamming doors then message me on facebook to tell me how horrible I made her feel because I don’t like school and school is her life. (then I would get mad that she would be assuming I hated school or assuming that I even wanted to make her feel bad which would start a big war where she was being passive aggressive and I was trying to ignore her slamming doors and dramatic sighs.)

    Honestly, I think you should take the captain’s advice. Though, with my roommate a lot of that advice backfired on me. If I tried to work out issues with my roommate by saying, “Hey, Roommate, I wish we could talk about X situation because when you get passive aggressive/talk down at me I get really confused because I don’t know why you can’t talk to me directly/treat me as an equal.”

    Because of her counseling degree her favorite response to any thing I said along those lines was, “And how do you think you can change this pattern?/How does that make you feel?/Is there anything else you can do to make this better for yourself?” I swear she only ever responded in verbatim counseling questions if I would confront her about her behavior. She would also like the talk over me with these questions if I was trying to explain something to her (i.e. Why I didn’t wash her singular dirty dish because I had to go in to work on my day off and we both came home at the same time only for her to yell at me, “What can you do next time to make sure the dishes are done before you leave the house?”)

    Hopefully your roommate is easier to talk to and doesn’t try to redirect things back on to you like that.

    The good news is that while our relationship was strained for a while after I moved out once we felt comfortable again we became close friends. Which was good. I love her as a friend that I don’t have to live with. That is the problem with living with anyone though, it doesn’t matter how much you love them or how similar you are, there is always some bit of tension.

    Good luck. :D

    • Aaargh, I feel your pain.

      My mum retrained to be a counsellor when I was 25-ish, and she went through this whole phase where she couldn’t actually be my mum, she could only talk like a counsellor.

      The jargon etc. is really alienating when it’s out of context (i.e. I’m her daughter, not her patient, I didn’t sign up for that).

      The worst was when I had cancer and really needed maternal support.

      I had a scar in the shape of a smile, so I drew eyes and nose and a tongue around it with makeup and got Dad to take photos.

      Dad fell around laughing.

      Mum said something along the lines of ‘it’s really good that you’re using humour as a tool to help you cope with the trauma’.

      AAARRRGH!

      Luckily she got better once she was through her training.

      • gmg said:

        YES — a good friend of mine went through this stage as well when he got his MSW and went to work in a psych ward. We referred to his inevitable “but how does that make you FEEL?” responses to all of our normal daily frustrations as “being social-worked.” He, too, has naturally eased out of it with time. (And continues to do great work at the hospital.)

      • BewareOfTheIntrovert said:

        I’m currently training to be a counsellor, having read this I’m going to have a talk with my boyfriends, close friends and family that if I ever start talking like that, they’re to beat me with cushions until I stop. I don’t think I do… I have asked people if they want supportive-friend listening or working-things-through listening… but I can imagine how easy it is to get mission creep.

    • Suzy said:

      “Is there anything else you can do to make this better for yourself?”

      “Get a different roommate?” Would be what I would like to say, but I’m EXTREMELY adverse to any sort of confrontation.

      • miss_chevious said:

        Ha! That’s what I would say, too, and I am extremely willing to get involved in confrontations. I suspect our tones would be very different. :)

    • staranise said:

      As a counselling student, I am high-fiving this comment. Since truth: there is nothing more annoying than someone who can’t step out of a role that involves lots of being inert and interpersonally manipulative ~in the nicest way possible~. I mean, I love what I do, but my school friends and I drive each other batshit sometimes and occasionally yell, “Stop being a therapist!” at each other.

      The problem with always needing to fix people (as my first therapist said to me) is that it entails always needing other people to be broken. And that is the opposite of healthy.

      • Theamander said:

        “The problem with always needing to fix people is that it entails always needing other people to be broken.”

        I love this.

        • Alex said:

          I recently went through something like this with a friend. After I ended that friendship and was able to see things clearly, I realized why he was doing this. He has low self worth, so he dispenses patronizing advice to “fix” all the “broken” people around him as a way to reinforce his own ego. It lets him feel superior to everyone else.

          • griffykate said:

            *wince* Was your friend me?

            I think [hope] I don’t do this out loud very often anymore. But I am often still a patronising superior asshat in my head, thinking about and deciding what other people’s problems are when they would probably disagree quite vehemently. I am trying to retrain my thoughts away from the Chronic Fixer pattern, and it is effing hard.

      • Pterinochilus murinus said:

        <quoteThe problem with always needing to fix people (as my first therapist said to me) is that it entails always needing other people to be broken. And that is the opposite of healthy.

        DINGDINGDINGDINGDING. Thanks, you just clarified someting really important for me. I need to go do some thinking now.

      • goldenpeanut said:

        I hope I’m not derailing, which means I probably am. Just tell me so and don’t answer if that’s the case.
        My sister has started playing therapist. She went to a therapist a couple times to find out how to fix the people around her. Granted, our family is difficult, me included, and I have certainly gone to a therapist due to family issues. However, one goes to therapy to change oneself, not to change others. And that therapist should be disbarred or whatever b/c she started diagnosing my mother to my sister based on a description. OK, so sister got advice from therapist and is using lay psychology on us. She says exactly the kind of things katepreach’s mum said. From an actual therapist, it might be ok. From my sister, it’s condescending. I don’t think “stop being a therapist” will work on her. Do you have other phrasing that you can suggest?

        • staranise said:

          Oh man, clients who come to therapy to fix someone ELSE are so hard to work with. Because normally if you go with it for a few sessions, the person realizes they’re hiding from their own stuff and then you can go on with therapy as usual. But it means the therapist has to phrase things so carefully, “It sounds like that feels really stifling” instead of “How stifling” or else the client goes home and says “MY THERAPIST SAYS YOU’RE STIFLING ME.” (And sometimes they do anyway, ah joy.)

          I don’t know that my usual response will help much, since I tend to do the “(Long pause) Well thanks, Dr. Freud.” snarky response, since it draws attention to “There has been a breach of manners here, please correct.”

          Hm, occasionally there’s, “You wanna make that an <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I-message&quot;?I-statement?” which plays to her conceit of being a pseudotherapist. The I-statement technique demands that the speaker, instead of assigning the other person a characteristic or meaning, owns their own feelings and experiences. Instead of saying, “You’re always so anxious about being on time,” she has to say, “I don’t think we need to leave yet, so I feel pressured by you checking your watch so much.” Which is at least a bit more bearable.

          The thing your sister has to figure out is, you and your mom are probably going to keep doing what you’ve been doing no matter how she diagnoses or interprets you guys. Your sister can’t logic you into behaving more in accordance with her wishes. Self-awareness, like the Captain says, is not transitive. The only thing she can change is what she thinks, says, and does. So the real question is: what is she going to do about it? If she doesn’t like how you guys are behaving, is she going to hang around you less? Move out? Tell you to knock it off when you say something she doesn’t like? Do deep breathing exercises? The world is her oyster; operative word, hers.

        • redpenreviews said:

          I went through this a bit when the Exasperating Ex went to massage therapy school and started treating me like a patient with huge gobs of emotional distance….including when I was crying on him. It was fun. Except for not.

          Anyway, when he broke into therapy-speak, here’s what I would do:
          Ex: And how does that make you feel about your boundaries?
          Me: Hey, I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but I’m kind of uncomfortable right now. I already like and trust you as a friend/SO, so the jump into phrases that feel like formal therapy feels like you’re shutting the door on the friendship we already have. It makes it harder to open up to you, not easier.
          -or, when I was more upset about it-
          “Please stop talking to me like I am a problem to be solved instead of a person you love. Professional therapy boundaries exist for a reason, but you are not my therapist, also for a reason. If you can’t go off-script, I’m leaving the room.”

          It didn’t always work, and wasn’t always quite this articulate, but it made a visible difference a few times. Bear in mind that it’s dead easy to backslide into training instead of real empathy, so be prepared to make progress and then suddenly encounter that kind of condescending Therapy Magic again a few days later.

          • I just screamed, “I am not one of your f-ing patients!” a couple times when I got frustrated with my roommate. Probably didn’t help. But i just couldn’t stand it any more at that point.

      • Mr Wit is a psychology student right now, and he’s pretty good about remember which hat he’s wearing. But it’s also super funny when he gets stuck in Therapist Voice and I call him on it.

        It’s also handy because I have all kinds of issues and every once in a while, Psychologist Husband is more helpful than just Loving Husband, as long as he can turn it off. And then I have a nice conversation with Loving Husband about how I just had Psychologist Husband and how did we feel about that and were we comfortable with that and so on, because we have lots of communication going on.

        If he’s in therapist space for no reason and mocking him doesn’t snap him out of it, I instigate a tickle fight. You try staying professionally detached during a tickle fight, I dare you.

    • MisMis said:

      There really should be an Awkward Army Certified Cuddle-Group for children/friends/partners of profession-induced narcissists like counselors, teachers, MDs, !

      • Suzy said:

        Oh, can there be? That sounds wonderful! Cuddles are great!

      • espritdecorps said:

        I’m in. Cuddles for everyone who has ever had to utter the phrase “I’m sure you’re right, but could you just be my mom/dad/lover/friend right now?”

      • BreezyAM said:

        Just FTR, lawyers do this too. I can’t express how exasperating it is to try to express displeasure in something he has done to my partner, and he treats me like a hostile witness, cross-examining me, carefully not implicating himself… I end up screaming “this is not a court, I am not a judge, and you are not giving a deposition! JJust say you’re fucking sorry and move on!” Gah. He has thankfully gotten better over the years.

  4. There’s such a wonderful freedom in knowing that I don’t need a ‘legitimate’ reason to not like someone. Not liking someone is enough of a reason. There are a lot of people on the planet, not everyday is going to mesh perfectly with everyone else. #469, it sounds like this person is making you and Husband incredibly uncomfortable, but even were this not the case, you are not obligated to be friends just because you have been friends in the past.

    • Amatyultare said:

      Yes! Yes! A million times yes!!! This is probably the most basic lesson but most important that Captain Awkward has taught me, and it’s helped me SO MUCH since I accepted it.

    • manybellsdown said:

      And conversely, when someone doesn’t like me now I don’t obsess over it. That’s okay. They don’t need a reason, as long as they can be polite in public.

  5. I like the Captain’s advice. I have a wonderful friend who revealed a year ago that she’s actually a lot angrier than she seems like. I can be very outspoken so I didn’t have any immediate helping nuggets to give. Instead I asked her to practice setting boundaries on me, since nothing bad will happen and it’s done wonders for her. She told a few more outspoken mutual friends about her fear and they also offered to be her targets. In the beginning she almost whispered her irritation and looked like she’d fall over if a feather so much as fell on her. Now she’s able to tell off strangers.

    I don’t think you have to be reserved to have difficulty speaking up. I’m outgoing but learned early on as a kid that if you go against the grain you get beaten up. Not always physically abused, it could also be family freezing you out until you exhibit the ”right” behaviour. So I got afraid of speaking up, even when there was cause for it. I’ve read some comments here written by people who are so afraid of bringing drama and ”acting crazy” that they go too far in the in other direction. I believe it all boils down to a similar fear of bringing negative attention and possible abuse to oneself. The thing that’s helped me is basically the same advice CA gives at the start of the letter. It really is a skill. I’ve found it works great to practice on safe people and/or in safe situations with lots of witnesses.

    LW 468:

    Your roomate sounds exhausting to be around. I’d try ”I’m good, thanks!” when she gives you unwanted advice. CA’s shared TV fandom is a good idea. Maybe make a rule to not talk when you watch it together? That way you get some shared quiet time and something to discuss that’s not tainted with disapproval.

    LW 469:

    Congrats on being in a supportive relationship! Your husband sounds great and it’s half the battle having him on board. Do you think it would work to point her back to your husband when she comes to you and complains? ”I don’t know what happened, you’d better talk to him about it.”Whenever she deflects, point it back at her. ”I don’t know, what do you think?”

  6. “self-awareness is not transitive” <— needs to be on a pillow and etched in my brain.

  7. Mori said:

    LW468- I’m in total agreement with the Captain about a mental resetting of the relationship to room-mate rather than close friend. It does sound like you would prefer that, and there is a definite difference but it doesn’t mean you are not still friendly and cordial with your room-mate. I love the idea of sharing a TV fandom. I use that strategy with a coworker who can be difficult to have a conversation with sometimes because he tends to start saying the same thing in different ways over and over, especially when the subject is inflammatory in any way. (As we both work in low-level customer service, topics like ‘customer said such-and-such hurtful thing’ are a standby of conversations among us, but this is best avoided with this particular coworker.) But then we discovered we are both Doctor Who fans, so now we can enjoy talking about our favourite Doctors and ‘I heard they’re doing an episode with such-and-such monster’ and stuff like that. It really helps to build a feeling of goodwill between us.

  8. moviemaedchen said:

    There is no prize for being the most world’s most accommodating person. And if there were a prize, it would be “hanging out with people who walk all over you, being afraid to speak up, and silently seething at them, forever.”

    Yeah, this. This is basically my big giant relationship issue with my mother, and is the reason I don’t much like going home. It kinda sucks.

    • Zeenat said:

      There are a lot of people in my life, horrible aunt, my parents, that I avoid because they are hard to not accommodate because of their steamrolling attitude. And I KNOW they are the type to always be offended when someone tells them they are wrong. I just avoid them as much as possible. People who do care about me, like my wonderful aunt, my sister, or my husband, help me avoid them. It’s like a game of football LOL!

  9. memetikchik said:

    LW#468,

    Your roommate sounds really frustrating to be around. I would definitely recommend limiting the time you have to spend with her, and totally second the advice to respond to condescending / hurtful behavior with clearer boundaries.

    I get the sense from your letter that you’re in college, and therefore probably even have to share an actual room. (apologies if my assumptions are wrong!) If this is how you’re feeling after living with her right now, I’d definitely suggest at least trying to bring up the most frustrating things with her at least once. It’s worth asking, and whether or not she responds positively now, hopefully she’ll consider it, and you won’t have to spend a year dreading going back to your room because it’s not a safe space for you.

    I want to address the bit about ADD, as someone from a family where ADD diagnoses run every which way. Things ADD does do: screws up brain organizational patterns and executive functioning. Specifically, it makes it really hard to do task switching, which, yes, can make it hard to fully hear what someone is saying, or fully comprehend what other people are experiencing, especially when your brain is still stuck on something else. Things ADD does not do: make it impossible to notice that other people are speaking, remove the ability to empathize when someone says “hey, don’t know if you noticed, but you’re stepping on my toes”, or cause a person to lose comprehension that people aren’t responding to what they’re saying.

    In my family and with my friends, it’s completely normalized to say, in the middle of someone’s story, “I’m so sorry, but I’m having trouble tracking what you’re saying. Would you mind starting again?” And if the storyteller is up for it, they do, or if they decide it would take too much energy, they don’t. Understood in this is that the listener was not consciously “not listening” / being rude, but that their brain is probably completely absorbed in some other mental task (in your roommate’s case, sounds like her own stories and drama) and can’t switch to listening for a while.

    What’s definitely NOT okay is what your roommate is doing, which is completely steamrolling everyone else. This is a pretty typical presentation of the ADD extrovert: not only is their own brain stuck on one track, but everyone else has to hear about it, too. (While an ADD introvert just looks like they’re spacing out and ignoring your presence.) It is entirely, completely on her to realize when she’s not listening (because she can, she’s just skipping that part) and kindly let you know about it so you can decide what to do, and also on her to control her desire to extrovert her mental tasks at you. If she needs to extrovert hyperfocus all the time, she needs to find lots of outlets for that, and before launching into it, needs to ask if it’s okay for her to talk for a while.

    I agree with the point that it’s not on you to be her life coach. In no way do you need to educate her on Proper Social Interaction 101: if she’s having trouble with that, she needs to look elsewhere. What you CAN do, however, is ask that she let you know when she can’t be a good listener right now, with the assumption that while she’s forgiven when she can’t, that doesn’t mean that she immediately gets storytime right-of-way without your permission. You can also ask her to tell you when she is in a listening mood, so that you can feel like you’re actually heard. And when she’s bursting with a story and you really need not to hear it right now? You can ask her, “Hey, can you go down the hall and talk to Jody about that / can we save it for tomorrow? I don’t really have the energy right now to be the listener you need.” Explicit negotiating about conversational boundaries goes a long way to reducing frustration from interpersonal communication.

    Hopefully, your roommate is a cool person and will respond well to boundary setting. If not, find lots of other safe spaces and safe people for you, and may the next year be less frustrating than the last!

    • bearcat said:

      I have ADD and tend to do what the roommate does. I have very poor impulse control. I agree with what you said: while I have an EXTREMELY difficult time stopping myself from interupting, I’m never unaware that I did it after I did it. I usually stop myself and apologize and let the other person continute before he/she ever has to correct me. This person has poor social skills on top of ADD.

      • JenniferP said:

        You don’t have to have ADD to sometimes check out in the middle of a conversation. A long-ago friend told stories that were “all middle” (and no end in sight) and I could not hang with the narrative.

        • Ooh, I think I am that friend. (Not literally, but you know.) I wish there were classes that taught how to tell stories about your day-to-day life. In writing I can edit. Real life, not so much.

    • Guava said:

      Too true! My DH is an extrovert with ADD, and we both work from home. He used to just barge into my home office any old time, interrupting whatever I was doing to tell me what was on his mind. One day, I told him, “you know, you’re being THAT co-worker.” He was mortified, but it’s now evolved into an inside joke.

    • gmg said:

      This is a bit of a derail, but this stuff about diagnostics is relevant to my interests. I have long suspected that I have some ADD-related issues — the patterns over a lifetime point that way, from the “such a daydreamer” elementary-school report card comments to my super amazing procrastination skills to my struggles to keep a damn Google calendar in functional order or remember to show up for stuff like the colleague’s baby shower I totally flaked on today. But only in very recent years (it’s funny how we fail to put two and two together for so long) has it become increasingly clear to me that … so might my mom. Because she is a CHAMP at the stepping on conversations, turning the subject randomly, etc. It has gotten more and more obvious as she gets older, I think especially after my dad passed away, as he was the one who kind of kept her day-to-day life organized for her (and maybe her conversational skills too, a little bit).

      This is not the kind of thing I feel like I could ever, EVER say to her, though. She’s 67. She (mostly) gets the big things done, like paying her bills on time. Does she need a clinical diagnosis of ADD to keep moving through life? The only reason I sometimes think it might be worth it is that she’s turned to some hoarding behaviors in recent years, and I know there’s probably a connection there (though also a connection to bereavement/loss).

      Then there is me, of course. Gonna go update my Google calendar now.

      /threadjack

      • If your mum is recently bereaved, have you suggested she see a counselor? They can probably pick up on her ADD-like behaviors too and offer her some help. Hoarding-wise, from what I’ve seen in other comments/threads here, that seems like a behavior it may be good to get in hand earlier rather than later, so a quiet word might be really helpful to her.

        Sorry about the loss of your father. Jedi hugs if wanted!

        • gmg said:

          Thank you! Truth be told, it has been 3+ years now, and I probably should have said something earlier, and I didn’t, I think in part because I was far away and in many ways she really impressed me with how well she held things together. The hoarding didn’t really start to be obvious until about a year and a half later. I’ve tried to talk to her about it a little bit, but it’s hard to know how far to press it. I also have on several occasions suggested a counselor, but she is very rural New Englander and very private and very conflict-avoidant, and it seems like to her that a counselor basically = “telling a stranger your dirty laundry.” She did make use for awhile of an online forum for bereaved people, so I’m glad about that.

    • Siobhanon said:

      This is a pretty typical presentation of the ADD extrovert: not only is their own brain stuck on one track, but everyone else has to hear about it, too.

      That’s interesting, thank you for that input. My husband is an extreme extrovert and I’ve always suspected he has a trace of ADD. He interrupts constantly and it’s driven me spare for years. He’s gotten much better at catching it and apologizing, and a little bit better at not starting – but I can tell it’s a struggle.

      • UnsuckableButtercup said:

        One of the things I used to do, as a person struggling with ADD trying to fit in with “normal” people was to show that I was listening and relating by jumping in and telling a story about something similar that happened to me that made me feel that I could relate. Then one day, I read about how obnoxious that was as a conversational strategy… d’oh! It was a good thing to grow out of. It may be that your roommate is trying to relate to you, in some strange way, and it certainly sounds like she is trying very hard to feel useful to you. (A lot of growing up ADD is being made to feel useless, which can smart more than you might think.)

        I’m so sorry you’re in that situation. If it helps, when people seem to be hollering, “You’re inadequate! Let me help you by controlling you!”, they are often really hollering, “I feel inadequate and out of control! Please let me feel like I have worth!”

        Wait… that probably doesn’t make ANYONE feel better. But her behavior is not a true reflection of you. I’m glad to see so many good suggestions of how to give good feedback.

  10. “There is no prize for being the most world’s most accommodating person. And if there were a prize, it would be “hanging out with people who walk all over you, being afraid to speak up, and silently seething at them, forever.”

    I feel like I should get this tattooed on my arm so I can remember it better.

    • Zeenat said:

      I feel like I need one of those sticks with a string, holding a sign in front of me that says “don’t be accommodating!” or “stand up for yourself”. LOL! That way it’s always in my line of vision.

  11. Zeenat said:

    Great post! I struggle everyday of speaking up for myself. And sometimes, I let it push me to the point I lose it and become a an angry jerk. If I spoke up sooner, no matter their response, I would have been in the right. It’s a balance that I struggle with maintaining.

  12. TL said:

    it could also be easier, 468, if you had a hard and fast rule to follow – my roommate had one – 3 interruptions and she was done with the conversation, even if she was in the middle of a sentence. (She only had to use it once; it was helpful, if annoying. My brain moves really fast and I don’t always catch myself before I speak, so while I’m really good at apologizing and going back to person’s conversation, I’m not so great at not interrupting in the first place. This was a really good reminder.)
    She also verbalized this rule to me beforehand (in the context of talking about another person who was frustrating her) so when it happened I wasn’t surprised.

  13. LW #1 said:

    Thanks for the advice! As one commenter guessed, I am a college student, so when I say roommate I literally mean we share a tiny room together. That being said, I think addressing the behavior directly, and right as it occurs is a good plan, rather than having Big Awkward Talk About Your Shortcomings. I also really like the idea of a shared fandom of some kind. At present, sometimes I feel like we never, ever talk. I think this would give us a basis of interaction that involves a neutral topic, outside of either of our personal lives.

    Captain, you deliver as always. I just realized that my letter didn’t contain a greeting or closing of any kind, which felt kind of impersonal. So, retroactively I say to you:
    Salutations,
    and
    Good Fortune and Nutella Be Yours,

    • How in the name of all that is good in the world do people live in the same TINY ROOM as another stranger?! (I’m in the UK, you Americans, you amaze me) Can you get a foldy screen or something to make a physical ‘this is quiet time now’ barrier between you guys?

      May the Nutella be with you also

      • By the way, y’all, have you met the Nutella milk shake? My daughter (she of Feelingsectomy fame) and I recently discovered those. Oh My God, is all I can say.

      • Amatyultare said:

        It’s…um. Interesting. To be fair, usually colleges will let you switch rooms if you have a truly awful personality conflict.

        Also, I suspect the screen would not work because most college dorm rooms that I’ve seen have bunked beds to save space. Though maybe a barrier between desks could be finagled?

      • Kaesa said:

        I am an introvert with pretty bad social anxiety, and was also an only child, so I was absolutely terrified going into college that my roommate would hate me. I actually had multiple nightmares beforehand about this, wherein my roommate had so many boxes of stuff that there was no room for furniture or people in our room, or wherein my roommate turned out to be a werewolf, or… you know, ridiculous extreme nightmares.

        My roommate was extremely extroverted, was one of (I think?) five sisters, aaaand… we got along fine. I really liked her. I still like her, years later, and we are still friends, although we didn’t room together again and I generally like my alone-ness. I think one of the reasons it worked was that we were both pretty serious students, she always asked before borrowing my stuff (and vice versa — but omg, you would be surprised at how many people just take without asking), and also that she was totally respectful of my quiet time. One of the other things that kind of helped was that at the beginning of the year, our RA had us write out a roommate contract with set questions like “bedtime will be around X for weekends and Y for weeknights” and “overnight guests are [check one] __ okay __ not okay __ okay with X days’ advance warning __ other.” A lot of people thought it was hokey, but I think it’s sensible to negotiate certain obvious boundaries before you find yourself out of your comfort zone.

        Sadly, we were almost the only two people on our floor who didn’t have major roommate issues. One girl even ended up sleeping on our floor for a week because she and her second roommate of the year were fighting and the administration didn’t want to let her switch rooms again.

        • Badger Rose said:

          I had the exact same experience! I was a supreme introvert, my college roommate was an extrovert, and things worked out just fine and we’re still friends, and it all worked out just fine.

          But I think it was fine for the same reason that it was fine with you: we had a ‘roommate contract’ and we stuck to it. I said I wanted quiet time between 11pm and 9am, and she was cool with that; I said I wanted a day’s notice before having overnight guests and she was fine with that; she said she wanted food beyond tea and popcorn to be cooked in the lounge microwave instead of in the room microwave and I was fine with that; she had preferences for the room’s temperature level and I was fine with that also. Stuff like that.

          People who were friends first often blew off the roommate contract and went “oh, we’re friends, we’ll be fine!”… and regretted it. We weren’t friends, so we took it seriously, and it worked.

          • Kacienna said:

            I would have loved a roommate contract! Although, I’m not sure how doable it would have been – I’m kind of a 9 PM to 6 AM person, and even in college was basically 10 PM to 7 AM needing quiet – not a super-typical college student.

            Also didn’t help that my freshman year roommate was a year ahead of me, so not new to this whole thing, and had a son, which, okay, people make their own reproductive decisions – but having a playpen and a baby in the room overnight without warning was a little much.

            I got a single for sophomore year and stayed in it the next three years.

        • Devin said:

          I completely agree about the contract. It’s so much better to negotiate things when you’re still in a positive, just-arrived mode than after you’ve gotten on each others’ nerves.

          Even though my roommate and I did have the contract and respected each others’ boundaries, it was quite tough living in a tiny space with someone with a very different personality. We didn’t really become friends until after we lived in separate rooms. I really think freshmen year roommates are a horrible idea — the overwhelming number of people in my dorm had bad relationships with theirs (slightly more prevalent among girls, but still plenty of conflicts among guys). The problems ranged from disputes over room temperature, to passive aggressive behavior to outright bullying and nastiness. And the unfortunate thing is that because of the shortage of dorm rooms (at least on our campus), you could only change roommates if you were having a sufficiently bad experience — and that was a high bar.

          I suppose being forced to bunk with a stranger is supposed to make you more flexible/patient/something positive, but I found it often added to people’s stress and brought out the worst in many not-yet-really-mature adults.

      • Louise said:

        I lived for two years in one room with TWO other ladies. We were all strangers at first, but luckily for everyone we’re all introverted and understand each other’s space requirements/quiet time requirements. After four years we’re still very close friends and live across the hall from each other.

      • I feel you there. I even have a separate room from my long-term partner, though we sleep in the same bed mostly.

        I simply could not handle the stress of there always being someone else around. Even if the other person were not speaking, I would be a wreck if I did not have some time COMPLETELY ALONE at least a few hours a week. The presence of others in a way I can’t control/get away from stresses me out *hugely*.

        Wow do I feel for you guys. I lived in my own room in a hall connected to a shared kitchen and bathroom, and that was bad enough.

  14. Badger Rose said:

    Re: interrupting roommate:

    While it’s obviously not your responsibility to manage your friends, I’ve found that a mild, neutral-voiced, “Did you mean to interrupt me there?” is really helpful for people who interrupt due to difficulty task-switching (as opposed to people who interrupt out of jerkishness). It’s also a really good way of telling whether you’re dealing with task-switching difficulty or jerkishness, since people with the former almost unilaterally go “AUGH, no, I’m so sorry, please go on,” and people with the latter get either aggressive (and keep talking over you) or defensive and irritable.

    Re: boundary-stomping “friend”

    CA is right that it doesn’t matter why this person is doing what she’s doing, since it sounds like you know what you want (ie, not to be friends with this person anymore). But if it helps with drawing that boundary, this person is setting off a lot of drama-bomb alarm bells–as in, it sounds like someone who enjoys drama and wants to stir it up. The pattern of flirting, then bringing it to you as if it were cheating, then acting venomously to your husband when that didn’t succeed in causing drama, then going back to flirting as though none of the above when happened when that didn’t succeed in causing drama… all, like I said, sends up red flags. I don’t know this person, obviously, so maybe I’m wrong, but it’s a pattern I’ve seen before and it usually spells ‘this person actually wants the drama.’

    Again, the ‘why’ doesn’t matter, except inasmuch as I find it easier to cut someone off once I recognize that keeping a person in my life is going to simply extend the drama because the drama is what they want. You can’t defuse the drama with someone if drama is exactly what they are trying to cause.

  15. LW #2 said:

    The response to my letter has been so fantastic. Husband was very worried that if he protected his boundaries he would be the one being mean. He said he felt way better seeing that her behavior is problematic, especially in the context of what if the genders were reversed, “Dudes don’t have a monopoly on creepy.” I think if he saw a man doing that to me, he would have no problem instantly recognizing the problem. He just never thought about it before.

    I think Badger Rose has it right, with the reasons “Friend” is behaving this way. Many thanks for reflecting that back, because it’s sometimes easier to figure out when someone else expresses it.

    I feel all the advice, and supportive comments, here are amazing, and have really helped Husband get a third person view of how exactly messed up the scenario is. He feels way better about the idea of defending his boundaries, shutting her down, and walking away. Making him feel that much better, means you are all amazing folks.

    • ahn said:

      I’m glad you guys are feeling better about this situation! I didn’t have a chance to comment before you did but the way I see this issue is that you guys have been super accommodating and transparent. It seemed like she wanted more out of her relationship with your husband, he offered, and she took the weird step of approaching you instead of communicating with him. And now the weird is happening all over again. It seems like, along with the boundary-smashing creepy behavior, this person doesn’t have great communication skills and in my experience that doesn’t work very well with poly dynamics. You guys = doing it right, creepy girl = yeah not so much. There’s no reason for you to change a method and system that seems to be working just fine in order to accommodate her drama-seeking and boundary-pushing behavior. Excellent communication skills and observance of boundaries are a ticket for entrance for me when it comes to working out poly stuff and I personally wouldn’t even try going there with someone who can’t meet those minimum requirements.

    • “Dudes don’t have a monopoly on creepy.” That is great. I’m so glad this post helped!

    • Badger Rose said:

      I’m glad it was helpful!

      As weirdly specific as it may seem, I’ve seen that pattern before, the one that goes: flirt obviously and extravagantly with someone who is involved with someone else (poly or not) > go to that person’s partner as soon as you get any response, all ‘I think he wants to cheat!’ > if/when that fails to cause drama, be vindictive and sour. Sometimes even with the bizarre fourth step of resuming flirting. I’m sure the people involved were actually interested in some extent in the person they were flirting with… but the desire to kick up a ton of drama (and be the center of attention of it) was even more pressing.

      From a stable POV, it’s such a weird, weird way to get attention, but I’ve seen it more than once. So, weird, but oddly common? And probably pretty reliable in causing drama, obviously.

      But that’s all beside the point, because once you have someone who enjoys creating drama and is doing it on purpose, there’s no real solution but to disengage.

    • gmg said:

      I think the red flag for me in your situation was that as soon as “Friend” decided to frame your husband’s expressed interest in her as “cheating,” it became clear that she was not interested in understanding or respecting your poly status. I don’t have personal experience, but can guess this is an issue for poly people from time to time. But seems to me a real friend, even if she felt uncomfortable with or uncertain in the situation, would NOT have gone tattling to you trying to frame it as him having done something wrong, because she would respect your relationship enough to know or to at least try to recognize that that was not the case.

      Someone who is NOT your friend and is simply trying to cause the maximum amount of trouble — well, she would do what your “friend” did. And she can be kicked to the curb.

      • Suzy said:

        Agreed, she flirted with him and then when he approached her she immediately went to you in a “LOOK WHAT HE DID” way. Clearly she just wants to create drama, as in some sort of a pathetic attempt to seduce him, so she could then be the “honourable” one and turn it down immediately.

        It could also be she genuinely doesn’t have a clear idea of what poly is, and was up for the idea of it, rather than the actual reality.

        She definitely doesn’t sound like someone you should maintain a friendship with though.

    • I am so glad. This person is definitely not your friend, but it can be pretty hard to maintain boundaries. It’s also hard for guys to get social support for holding the line, since obviously men love all female attention, right, even if it is creepy and boundary crossing.

      So I would be prepared for some blowback on both of you when your husband draws the boundary, because either he’s defective for not wanting some chick hanging all over him, or you got jealous and made him push her away. Because she was just trying to be friendly and you are all territorial and bitchy, obviously. She may try to approach him alone, there may be some snarking. I hope your wider circle will know better that to credit this shit if it is stirred.

      But hold the line, ride it out, and before too long you won’t be dealing with her anymore (and probably, as an extra bonus, won’t be dealing with whoever else was inclined to take her part, for whatever reason). Then it will be Sensible Poly Adult Party Time!

  16. thebewilderness said:

    This is a small thing and perhaps not that big a deal for other people. I do not understand why someone would say that they are proud of me. I have no idea what my behavior has to do with their feeling proud. It seems so inappropriate.
    Telling someone that in my opinion they have reason to be proud makes sense to me. Telling someone that you are proud of them does not.

    • I just wanted to tell you that I adore your username. That’s all. :)

    • Duck said:

      I think it depends on the people and the closeness of the relationship. My partner or very close friends and I will tell each other we’re proud of each other (eg. if one of us does something despite finding it very intimidating) and it’s lovely, but from a less intimate friend or acquaintance it would be really presumptuous and weird. And if you’re a person who finds it weird altogether but people still do it, that’s uncool.

    • redgirl said:

      I think when someone says, “I’m proud of you” they really mean, “I admire what you did there!” My husband will say it to me sometimes, and that’s always how I interpret it. It feels okay to me in the context of a VERY close relationship–like a lover or a parent–because there is also sort of a sense of, “I’m a big part of your life and I’m proud to be chosen by (or have raised) someone so cool!” But from a not-close friend? That would seem super odd.

    • Nanani said:

      This same idea has bothered me for years, too.

      I’m happy for you – makes sense. I’m sorry for your loss – makes sense too. I’m proud of you? Does not compute.

      My cynical side wants to say it really means “I’m happy because this means I get to brag about YOUR accomplishments through MY connection to you”, but people I definitely 100% know for sure don’t meant it that way also say this phrase.
      Baffling.

    • UnsuckableButtercup said:

      I’m on the other end of it. When I said, “I’m proud of you,” I meant, “Your behavior lifts my chin and makes me feel proud to know you; watching you do this sh*t even though you it’s hard for you makes me, as a human, feel better about the human race,” even if someone is in such remote context from me as a TED talk I am listening to. I am proud that I have heard this person’s story, and honored that this person chose to share it with me. You do not make me ashamed to be standing next to you.” And my ex’s family would all dogpile on me: “What an *sshole you are, taking credit for my/that person’s accomplishments! You are a horrible, abusive person.”

      It makes me feel good that, even though it’s hard for you guys above to understand a clunky figure of speech, you are at least trying to understand what is really being said. I promise, I may be an *sshole, but I don’t take credit for your compassion, and you may be certain I will never, ever tell a person I am proud of him or her again. (But I promise, I am doing so only in the interest of clear communication. I will not let those who deliberately come to the nastiest possible conclusion control my actions; jerkbrain is jerkbrain, whether the voices are internal or external.) I hope you will give those who use this expression the benefit of the doubt?

    • unlurking said:

      It means that they are happy for you & excited & impressed & think you are great. And if it were themselves, they’d feel proud of themselves. And since they are, at that moment, literally feeling all that happiness & excitement for you over something you’ve done that they think is great, they’re using the same grammar phrase and saying they feel proud, of you. Maybe grammatically the more correct phrase is, I don’t know, something like “proud on your behalf”? “proud for you”? But that sounds kind of stilted, and most people will just say the more common phrase, to tell you how great they think you are.

      I see what you’re saying, though. In my life I’ll try to catch myself & switch to saying I’m happy or excited for people, or say “congratulations” instead. As UnsuckableButtercup mentioned above, hopefully if I slip up, people won’t think I’m an *sshole. I am all for benefit of the doubt.

  17. That In A Hat said:

    LW1, I worried for a second that I was that roommate. But then it got to the passive-aggressive-judgey stuff, and that’s just so outta line, so.

    But I do have that problem with going on and on–I enjoy a good rant, and sometimes I haven’t seen anyone I can talk to about why the latest Flash comic from the nu52 is a complete travesty that spits in the face of all the fans, and so my roommate (and sometimes his GF) get to hear my dissertation.

    Fortuantely, I have nice friends who let me rant and babble in exchange for listening to their own excited/furious babble about Things I Know Naught About. But interrupting people–that’s another thing that I very much struggle with. And roomie’s GF has developed a pretty good response to that, since she’s a classy lady and hates being interrupted.

    She just stops and stares at me. Just…gives me this *look.* She’s got a great Disapproving Mom look–y’know, the same one that says “I’m going to count to three.”

    Seeing that lets me know right away that I slipped up and jumped in over her in the conversation and that it Wasn’t Cool. And I apologize and backtrack, ask her what she was saying, and make an effort to keep a lid on it for the duration of the conversation at least. Now, I’m self-aware enough to know I have a problem with it and to want to fix it; don’t know if the same can be said for your roomie. But there’s something about stopping and fixing someone with *the Look* that lets folks know they made a little social gaffe.

    • I imagine you and your friends having an Object that signifies who gets the soapbox/who’s giving the lecture. Not actual soapbox, I’m thinking a feather fountain pen or something that is awesome for punctuating gestures with.

      “……and THAT is why we should stop feeding butter to cats!!” (waves feather)
      “Damn straight! Are you done?”
      “Yeah.”
      “Okay, gimme the feather. I have to rant about this thing I just read in Cosmo…”
      (groans all around)
      “FEATHER! I have the feather!” (points it menacingly, to each friend)
      (resigned sighs and nods of agreement, gestures to go ahead)
      “So YOU WOULD NOT BELIEVE what was in this issue! FIRST the cover was photoshopped like whoa…..”

      • Kacienna said:

        OMG, I want to do this! And have a group of people to do this with!

  18. evamaria said:

    There is no prize for being the most world’s most accommodating person. And if there were a prize, it would be “hanging out with people who walk all over you, being afraid to speak up, and silently seething at them, forever.”

    Another high-five for the last paragraph!

    I used to be that person, and I HATED it. It made me angry, but I was so afraid people would stop liking me if I said no. And then I went traveling by myself and realized that, hey, I’m pretty good company, and I started getting better at saying no. Not that that was easy, especially with long-time friends where the pattern had been not just established to fossilized. Lucky (?) for me I then got diagnosed with depression, went into therapy, and learned to use my words better (maybe say not just “no” but “no, simply don’t up to it tonight”).

    I don’t want to imply that “no” isn’t a complete sentence, but if someone’s a close friend and you change your behaviour, some explanations can go a long way to smoothe the transition.

    Related to the room mate situation: my best friend/non-blood sister used to dream about us flatsharing together. Which, even as a teen, I knew would be CATASTROPHIC. I’m an introvert, she needs people ALL THE TIME (for years her fallback person would be me – her having a serious bf has done wonders for our friendship). Also, she’s kind of messy (both literally and in her personal life – again, pre-bf), and I’d probably have turned into horrible mix of mother/counselor, seething silently all the time. I think telling her “no, that’s NEVER going to happen” was one of the big breakthroughs of my life…

  19. Siobhanon said:

    Other people’s feelings are important, but they are not the total boss of you.

    This needs to be on one of those samplers.

    • Flowery Hedgehog said:

      I’m tempted to make one :)

  20. dancerdc said:

    “It is better if you remain focused on the present, restart the clock with each interaction, and give it a little bit of time.” I feel like this lands awfully close to turning into someone’s Life Tutor. Honestly, if at age 20 someone could earn a gold medal in not balancing the conversation, you kind of need to accept that they are just that way. Or maybe just that way with you. Maybe she has friends that she turns to for advice and wisdom and funny stories, but you aren’t one of them. You might be able to find the magic spell words to get her to stop interrupting (good luck with that) but will you actually convince her you’re as interesting and funny and important as you are? The phrase “she’s not that into you” comes to mind, even though that’s usually used for romantic situations rather than friends. If you like hanging out with her, doing fun things, and listening to her stories, then great. If you would rather be friends with someone who notices you exist, your housing contract is not written in stone, really.

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