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:
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.
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.”