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#587: Renegotiating a friendship with Velcro Victor

Hi Captain,

I have a friend. He’s a reasonably good friend and has been there for me during some tough times. Which is why I feel guilty about what I’m about to say.

For the last year or so, we’ve spent a lot of time together chatting and hanging out. We had some sexual tension and a very brief romantic fling before deciding it was not to be. I am way happier now that we’ve decided this, but he – was and probably is still – a bit upset about it. So I have a lot of guilt over that. We chat quite a bit on FB and via text and at the moment it’s pretty constant throughout the day. However, the more we talk the more I kinda think – while I want to be friends, I want to pull back a little. Well, a lot.

The thing that is getting me down the most is that he’s so negative. Every message is about how much his life sucks or how much something hurts or how much he hates his job or his parents or how everyone else is stupid… Like I genuinely can’t remember the last time I had a positive comment from him. I know his health isn’t great, so he is being genuine. But it’s just so wearing.

I’ve tried making helpful suggestions (these go down like a lead balloon). I’m currently just leaving a while before replying (although that’s tricky cos he can see on FB when I’ve seen a message) and then saying something like “you poor thing” and either changing the subject or not really engaging further, unless the subjects shifts to TV shows or something neutral. Some days I just ignore messages altogether. But it’s getting to the point where I just don’t want to hang out with him any more – via chat or in person, because I just end up so depressed. But I don’t want to make him feel worse. I feel really guilty about all of this, because I know I used to participate in the negativity. Nowadays, I’m trying to be more positive – and seeing positive results from this – but I don’t want to just abandon him either like “my life is better now, yours isn’t, so bye!”.

The second thing is that he’s super clingy – and quite aggressive in his clinginess. He ends up scolding me about our friendship if I try to pull back a little. It starts out with if I don’t reply within an hour or so, I get a text asking if I’m mad at him. Whether I say no, or I try to be honest, he gets really really upset and starts attacking me – saying I don’t reply to him enough and when I do I’m being superficial and I’m not hanging out with him enough or when we do he feels like I’ve scheduled him in like everyone else and I’m making him feel bad… or else he brings up other stuff, about our brief fling or my new boyfriend… This sort of thing also happens if I mention something that I didn’t tell him about instantly – I get “ why didn’t you tell me?!” and then the rest of the guilt trip. If I get upset about what he’s said, he backtracks and tells me that I’m overreacting and that I “always do this” and I’m being ridiculous and that he’s just venting so “why do I always think everything is my fault?” This happens by text and in person – and in person he shouts. I’m really bad at confrontation, so as soon as he goes on the attack I forget all my words and just get upset.

I just find it all exhausting. I don’t want to be friends like this. But I feel really bad that I used to engage in all of this and suddenly don’t want to any more. I feel like a terrible friend and I’m just abandoning him when his life is still difficult and mine is getting better. I don’t know what to do.

Please help,

A Terrible Friend

Dear Terrible,

I don’t even know this guy, but he is making my shoulders go up around my ears through the Internet.

Being a friend doesn’t mean being an on-demand counselor or attention dispenser. The thing where, if you don’t text him back right away, he asks if you are mad is BULLSHIT. And turning someone down as a romantic partner doesn’t mean that you owe them guilt dues for as long as they feel entitled to it. Also, just because you tolerated something before doesn’t mean you have to tolerate it forever.

There are two big conversations to have here, and both of them might blow up this friendship, but they are also the only conversations that have any chance of fixing this friendship. So I say “bombs away!”

Conversation #1: Negativity

“Friend, every time we talk you seem really down. I want to support you, the way you’ve supported me, but I think you need to talk to someone, like a therapist or counselor, because it’s gotten to feel like more than I can handle.”

There are more scripts here.

He will say some stuff. It won’t be happy or nice. He will basically accuse you of being a terrible friend who owes him, or he will turn it into how much he sucks and how no one likes him so you’ll be in the position of having to reassure him. Anticipate this so that you can hear it for what it is: Manipulation. It might be manipulation born of genuinely bad or fearful or sad feelings, genuine loneliness, etc., but it’s still you setting a boundary and him looking for a way around it.

Manipulation often has a characteristic of typecasting and deflection, where you point out a behavior that you don’t like, and the manipulator makes about what kind of person they are or you are. You: “Please stop doing x thing” Them: “You’re just saying that because you are a selfish person who doesn’t care about me.” You: “I’m not a selfish person! Do you really think that?” Them: (possibly unspoken, but the subtext is loud): “Then prove it by doing what I want you to do.” They want to deflect the conversation away from their behavior and onto qualities about you. Once you recognize the pattern, it’s still hard to circumvent, but that’s because the person is making you walk on quicksand. The reason I know for sure that this is happening (and working) is because you signed yourself “Terrible Friend” rather than “How do I get rid of my effing terrible friend who won’t leave me alone.

The way to resist is to hear him out, and then reaffirm the boundary: “Whether you talk to a counselor or not is ultimately up to you, of course. But going forward, when I feel like a certain topic of conversation is too much for me, I’m going to change the subject to something lighter.

And then going forward, you do that thing. Next time you talk, allow a few minutes for various venting, and then when you start feeling tense and overwhelmed, change the subject. If it won’t stay changed, tell him. “Friend, maybe you didn’t notice, but I’ve changed the subject twice. I am sorry you are dealing with x, but I need to be done talking about x for today.

The thing is, he gets to decide that this is not what he needs from a friend, this does not make you his definition of a good friend, this is unfair, he doesn’t like it, etc. To make this work, you have to be like, “I’m sorry you feel that way, but this is still what I need to do. Maybe this is a sign we should wrap this up and try again another day” and then throw down a smoke bomb and get out of there until next time.

Conversation #2: Clinginess

The next time he does the thing where he berates you and wants to know if you are mad because you didn’t respond to him immediately, text him back. “I didn’t respond earlier because I am busy. But right now I am mad. This behavior is very clingy and annoying, and I don’t like it.

Yes, that risks ending your friendship. You know what else risks ending your friendship? HIM CONSTANTLY FEELINGSTEXTING YOU. The pattern now is that you engage and reassure him. Stop reassuring him and stop engaging him.

Brace yourself for “Why didn’t you say anything?” “You always seemed okay with it before,” etc. This is more manipulation. It’s taking the conversation away from the fact that he is behaving badly and trying to put the responsibility back on you. “Once you tolerate something you have made an agreement to tolerate it forever without actually changing your feelingsis not actually a rule. 

I highly recommend that you don’t get into the whole argument via text right when he demands to hear from you. Say something back like “This is not a good time. I’ll get in touch with you in a few days when I have time and we can talk about it” and then turn your phone off for the next while so you’re not tempted to engage/not even more annoyed while he blows it up.

No lie, this is going to make him very anxious. He will want to fix it fix it fix it. You may have to get very explicit, as in, “Friend, you are not making it better right now, so STOP. We’ll talk in a few days. Let me be the one to get in touch.

The next few days will be telling. If he sends you a gajillion messages  – texts, calls, FB, gchat, emails, etc. – after you’ve asked him to stop, he is telling you that he is not getting it, at all. No bueno. At this point, I have to ask, what are you even salvaging? Script: “Friend, I am sorry its come to this, but I don’t think we can be friends anymore. Please stop contacting me.” And then filter/block/avoid/do not respond.

If he says “Ok” and then leaves you alone, it may be possible to talk it through. “Friend, I definitely don’t want to hurt your feelings, but I do need us to reset some of the ways we communicate. I am feeling smothered by the constant contact and overwhelmed by the need to be your emotional support. Please talk to a pro about the stuff going on in your life, and please give me a chance to respond to communications before you inundate me.”

Again, brace yourself for:

  • “You are a bad friend.” (Prove that you’re not!)
  • “You never liked me anyway because I am such a loser.” (Comfort me!)
  • “Why didn’t you tell me before.” (This is your fault).

To all that stuff, you could say “Fair enough, but what we have going on is making me exhausted. I want to find a way that we can be friends without so much pressure. We either need to renegotiate some stuff about how we interact, or bail on the entire thing. I am attempting to avoid the second thing, but I am annoyed and smothered enough that it actually is an option, and you need to know that. Right now, this conversation is about your clingy texting behavior that I don’t like, and how I want you to stop it. Let’s stick to that, ok?”

I do not honestly think that he would accept this proposal, but if you are getting to this point in your discussion it’s not going to make anything worse:

“Friend, this is my best case scenario for what I’d like to happen. Let’s take a month off from hanging out or talking. Frankly, I need some time for my shoulders to come down around my ears. After that, if you still want to stay friends, I would probably be up for getting together for something fun, like a movie, once a month or so. That’s what I have energy for. I can’t handle anything more intense.

No one would enjoy hearing that from someone they care about, for real, so if he is hurt and sad or that’s not enough for him, he’ s not being a jerk if he doesn’t handle it perfectly in the moment. It’s what happens afterward that counts. You can say, “We don’t have to decide anything right now. Let’s take that break for the next month. I’m sorry it’s come to this, but I am feeling very smothered and it has been making me very angry at you. Continuing the way we have been is simply not an option. I’d like to let the bad feelings dissipate for a while and see what’s left, but I need a break to make that really happen” and then leave the conversation. His negative feelings are not yours to sort out. That’s been the dynamic that’s been going on for too long, where he just hands them to you like a college kid bringing home his dirty laundry. You’re allowed to say “the washing machine is in the basement, right where you left it” and not wash the funky socks of his loneliness for him.

It’s okay, recommended even, to practice saying this stuff. It’s okay to do this in an email, unilaterally, especially if you worry about being brow-beaten into agreeing to something if you talk face-to face. In fact, that’s more manipulation – when people get texted information they don’t want and they insist on taking it to email, or the phone, or “You owe it to me to talk to me face to face.” (Translation: I will change the venue of this conversation to one more likely to give me the result I want).  You don’t owe him a face-to-face conversation, actually. You owe him honesty and sticking up for yourself in whatever medium feels right to you.

If a month goes by and you dread talking to him, that’s okay. That’s information. You get to change your mind and say “I know this isn’t good news, but now that I’ve had some time to think I think it’s better if we don’t resume our friendship. I wish you well.” You don’t have to predict and perfectly anticipate everything that will happen. And maybe it will work out okay, and that having bright lines drawn is what you both needed – him to get over his crush on you (which is still RAGING, btw), you to practice setting and maintaining better boundaries.

But the status quo is not sustainable. You are not his emotional laundress.

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247 comments
  1. Oh. em. gee, LW. I know that guy. I had to block him because I just couldn’t fucking take it anymore. I wish you luck in determining an agreeable solution.

  2. As someone who has been this type of Velcro friend, more recently than I’d like to admit *cough*, yes, it is really shitty behavior, and he is not going to recognize that until he has some distance from the situation. As for the negativity, I was going through a phase lately where EVERYTHING seemed HORRIBLE, and when my friends told me it wasn’t so bad or I should calm down, it just upset me more because I felt like they weren’t hearing me. So maybe next time he is relentlessly negative (if you even want to still be his friend at this point), just acknowledge his negative feelings instead of trying to fix them? “I’m sorry, that sounds like it really sucks.” And then move on to something else. This phrase has the added benefit of being nearly argue-proof. If you agree with him that things suck for him, he has no comeback, whereas if you try to tell him what to do, he can go on for hours about why that wouldn’t work. I know because I did. :/

    • Silva said:

      Oh man, yes. The exchange of “complaint” “it’s not so bad” can be really frustrating. Personally, it just tells me “you should disengage from this person,” but I doubt a Victor would–it sounds like he doesn’t have much capacity for disengagement.

  3. Esis said:

    Oh LW, I know where you’re coming from. You want so badly to be a “good” friend, but you might not be able to. To to emphasize what the Captain is saying. Repeat to yourself, “I am not being the bad friend, HE IS.” Even if you can’t quite make your jerk brain believe it right now, keep in running through your head, but he sounds like he is going to do everything in his power to convince you otherwise, but it is NOT TRUE. I see someone who has worked really hard to be supportive and helpful and is being brow-beaten and manipulated into more than they can handle or want. Had I been drinking a beverage I would have spat it out in shock when I read how you signed your letter, that’s how skewed he’s made your sense of this. I sense evil bees. I hope there aren’t any, but I could almost hear the buzzing when I was reading your letter.

    Take care, LW.

    • elaine said:

      LW
      i agree with Esis! you have been a great friend. you have done more than enough for him and he is the terrible friend for not seeing it. don’t fall for his lies and manipulation!!

    • Silva said:

      I think many people (particularly but not only women) have a tendency to blame the people we perceive as reasonable or in control for problems in relationships when the problem is really that the reasonable person can’t stand stepping over the missing stair or dealing with the unreasonable person for a second longer. I think we’d all benefit from calling unreasonable people on their bullshit in our heads, even we never do it to their faces.

  4. I broke up with a friend once, because she was sad and mildly depressed (and not doing anything about it, which was hard to watch) and I could not deal with it. It wasn’t my proudest moment, and it’s not what you’re going through – but it’s somewhat similar, I think?
    Anyway, I sat down and told her I couldn’t be friends with her (and explained that it was because of my issues about depression in general, not her depression in and of itself). She respected my boundaries and we took a long break – maybe a year or so? – and eventually she changed some things about her life and came out of her depression. And when she did, I sat down with her again, apologized for being, essentially, a fair-weather friend, but said I missed her and was interested in being friends again if she wanted to (but totally understood if she didn’t).

    And she did! We’re still good friends to this day – but I think that had I not been able to take that break, I would’ve eventually pushed her out of my life in a much different frame of mind and not wanted her back in it once she got to a better place. Too much of my friendship with her would’ve been about how much I hated her depression instead of how much I liked her. Instead, I think of all of her wonderful characteristics that make me want to be friends with her and am eternally grateful she let me back into her life. Even when she’s going through a rough patch, I can see that she’s working to get through it and I can still see everything awesome that makes her her.

    I guess my point is, sometimes you need a break from someone to still be friends with them – let them work on themselves while you work on yourself. Or sometimes it’s better to end the friendship when you still have mostly good memories rather than when it’s mostly a toxic wasteland.

    • Jane said:

      I would be very, very careful about letting yourself think you’re going to have a break from this guy and come back when he’s not depressed. I think if you break, break completely — it’s ultimately kinder and DEFINITELY more respectful.

      Topper’s Books, I’m glad your friendship survived, but I have had people pull something similar on me — “I can’t deal with your depression” — and ditched me. One or two tried to come back into my life later after I had done a lot of work to get myself stable again. They are not people I feel good things toward, let alone trust. I feel the most positive about the ones who let the broken things be broken.

      I think you need to go into this with the knowledge that the friendship may be permanently broken and let yourself be okay with that. Don’t hold out hope for a reconciliation some day later. That hope is energy that both you and Victor Velcro could be putting into finding people who fit really well with you instead of wishing for someone who doesn’t fit very well at all to change fundamental parts of their personality.

      • Cactus said:

        I agree, Jane. I’ve had broken friendships for myriad reasons, but the most difficult and confusing one was the one where the other person pulled away, a lot, but kept giving me little bits of affection, invitations, and then re-engaged completely for a while before pulling away entirely, and then continued in that old little bits pattern again. I had no idea what was happening.

        • piny1 said:

          Yeah, like, don’t do this. Definitely don’t do this one. It’s excruciating – and it makes it difficult for the unwanted friend to set whatever boundaries they might need to.

      • I didn’t actually think we would end up friends again, when I ended the friendship. But we hung out in the same friend group sometimes and after about a year – during which, I promise, I did not do tidbits of affection and attention; we were nice to each other but everything was very superficial – when I saw how much she had changed, I asked her casually if she wanted to grab lunch. She said yes and we sat and had a very honest and hard but lovely conversation – she’s an amazing person.

        I very much did not want her to feel pressured into being friends with me and I also didn’t want her to feel like I was suddenly acting like her friend again for no reason – we really talked about everything and a big part of how I approached it was “I’m still sorry about not being able to be there for you; I was a shitty friend and I wish it could’ve been different, and I think it’s absolutely fine if you don’t want to be my friend now.” If she had said she didn’t want to be my friend anymore, I would’ve been okay with it – it was what I was expecting. And I would’ve remembered our old friendship fondly and wished her the best and moved on with life.

        But the only reason that I have her as a friend today was because I walked away before I truly couldn’t stand her and because I was very clear about my actions and why I was doing them – she had a lot of friends just drop her during her depression; I was the only one who sat down with her and said, “I’m so sorry, but I can’t do this and I don’t want you to think you can depend on me when you can’t.”

        I don’t think the LW should end it with the expectation of it coming back better than before – but I just wanted to say that ending of it could actually lead to good things. Maybe you’re able to end up being friends later or maybe it allows you to look back upon the friendship fondly or maybe it allows you to cordially interact in your friendship circles and genuinely wish them good things. Maybe it just gets you out of a toxic friendship. I’ve just found that it’s better to end things before you bitterly resent someone, which often colors all the interactions and good times you’ve had together negatively.

        • Yaya said:

          I, too, have had toxic friendships (even toxic past relationships) eventually come clean and be viable again, even rewarding. That said, I have sometimes tried to resume a friendship too early, with disastrous results.What made the difference? My guess is that time played a huge role, really. Trying to pick things up a month or two later was always a train wreck, while people I circled back to two or three or ten years later sometimes re-entered my life in very positive ways. When I moved back into a city where my Darth Vader ex lived, as did many of our mutual friends, I dreaded running into him — but then I found he had gotten some therapy, seriously worked on himself, and had become a good, supportive partner to a woman I liked a lot. We now hang out together at parties, etc., and it’s all good. That only took 15 years!

          But I think it’s less calendar time than mental/emotional time. The resumed friendships always felt more like a new beginning, rather than picking things up where we left off. It was never a matter of “waiting until it’s safe” – more a matter of, “there you are again, and things seem different.” Returning to the friendship, too soon, has always proved disastrous in my experience. That kind of individual and relationship healing takes time.

  5. jazzypom said:

    I had a friend who was just like this! I told her that she needed to see a therapist, because I couldn’t help her, and if I had to hear anymore, I’d have to charge her an hourly rate for hardship. She was really shocked by it, but I was fed up and had my own other life stuff to deal with. Sometimes, LW, you just have to carve boundaries. You can’t help him, and he’s bringing you down, so cut him lose.

  6. Zee Lady said:

    This letter could’ve been written about me and my ex. We remained friends for about 2 years after the break-up, and he pulled a lot of the same shit that you listed, especially asking if you’re angry if you don’t respond within the hour. He’d also make the “why are you angry?” comments whenever I disagreed with him about anything, and so I stopped contradicting him in conversation. He would moan and whine about not having a girlfriend, not getting sex, etc. while keeping tabs on my love life and accusing every guy I became friendly with of wanting to get into my pants (not to their faces, but to mine). It was very tiring, but he had severe depression and few close friends, so I felt I had to be there for him. Best decision I ever made was to stop entertaining his crap and getting on with my own life without him. LW, I don’t know if it’ll have to come for that for you, but at the very least establish some very firm boundaries for yourself and let him know you’re not going to be his emotional punchbag anymore; otherwise, he’s just going to continue to walk over you.

  7. Eeeegh, At first reading it and seeing the stuff about the negativity I was like, “OK, yeah, that’s tough, but negotiable.” and then two paragraphs down where LW talks about how friend attacks them anytime they try to make space or assert a boundary it was an instant turnaround to AHHH RED FLAGS, ABORT!

    LW, I think the Captain has some really wonderful scripts. I want to affirm that you are NOT a terrible friend for not wanting to interact with a person who attacks and manipulates you and stomps all over your boundaries. Yeah, maybe you engaged in the complain-party back when, but wanting to change that dynamic doesn’t make you a bad person. Attacking you and being “aggressively clingy” is really really not OK. Jedi hugs for you.

    • Myrin said:

      RIGHT? I was reading and thinking “Oh yeah, not cool but probably doable” and then arrive at where LW says that friend is actually shouting at them when he’s not getting his desired dose of LW? Nope, nope, nope.

      • Ethyl said:

        YES! LW, friends don’t yell at you. Adults shouldn’t deal with things by raising their voices, and people who do are not good people. That is way, way, way out of line, and you deserve better.

        • Jicklet said:

          +1000 to this. Thank you for “Adults shouldn’t deal with things by raising their voices, and people who do are not good people.” I really needed to hear this from someone else.

        • Season said:

          This statement to me is both very judgmental and asinine. People who lose their temper and raise their voice are not by definition BAD PEOPLE. That’s just ugly. There are occasions in life where people are pushed to the brink and when that happens you do not all of a sudden become a bad person by default. I mean, I just think you have a lot of idiocy packed into this statement, a lot of harsh judgment and not just a little I’m-so-superior-let-me-pat-myself-on-the-back. But then again, you could be talking about yelling as a HABIT, not as a temper loss kind of a thing. It would have been nice to know, exactly, what kind of behavior you are using as a barometer for being so condescending as to judge someone else’s worth as a human being.

          In the situation the LW describes, of course, this is not a case of someone getting pushed too far and losing their temper and being judged harshly for it. This person is regularly yelling about nonsense, which is NOT a good coping mechanism or a particularly adept form of manipulation. It still doesn’t make him a bad person, though. You are free to condemn behaviors as negative or toxic, and make decisions about what behaviors you will accept in your life and what you will not accept and you can DO ALL OF THAT WITHOUT JUDGING SOMEONE AS A PERSON.

          – 1000 to your statement.

          • I have a mixed view. The comment is indeed very generalising and I can see why you have a problem with that. I feel like the ‘deal with things’ part is key, I interpret that as referring to yelling being used regularly in everyday situations. Like normal day to day friendships, family conversations, interactions with customer service employees. The LW isn’t talking about major things happening in the friendship, but day to day goings on.

            I personally found the statement resonated with me because I’m the adult daughter of a man who regularly yells at me, my mother, my siblings, and my mother is very invested in babysitting his emotions and making sure we all know ‘that’s just how he copes with being unhappy’, and it has ruined any chance of us having an adult child-parent relationship. People will find this statement resonates with them for a similar reason. Your comment is filled with strong words, including the slightly ableist ‘idiotic’, and there’s an interpretation of Ethyl as feeling very superior to people who yell, which I don’t share. I feel like Ethyl’s statement has resonated with you but in the opposite way, would you be open to explaining why that is?

  8. sioushi said:

    I was really feeling you with issue #1, because I used to have a briefly romantic friendship with a guy struggling with clinical depression who was genuinely nice and genuinely seemed unable to turn his attitude around. As a former sufferer of depression (in remission thanks to meds, better coping, and longterm therapy) I had a lot of sympathy for him.

    And then I got to issue #2 and I was all NOPE NOT EVEN A LITTLE BIT. ABANDON HIM FASTER.

  9. Annee said:

    I had a somewhat similar experience a couple years ago. Unfortunately I didn’t articulate the problem early enough for there to be any chance of saving the friendship. Tellingly, although I removed this person from social media and blocked calls/texts on my phone, this former friend has continued to attempt to get in touch. I can see how my sudden boundary would result in some of this, but continuing to try to get in touch two years later has helped me see that I was absolute right to do this. Also, even though I agonized over ending the friendship, my relief once I did so was a clue that I did the right thing. I hope, LW, whether you salvage this friendship or not, you feel happier and more at peace with whatever decision you make. I, as you do, honestly cared for this person. If fact, I still wish this former friend well, just well away from me! I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.

    • E Whitehall said:

      I had a friend just like this.

      She still tries to contact me about how saaaaaad she is and what happeneeeeed and what did she doooooo and it was all so confuuuusing, wait for it …

      … four years later.

      Such a toxic minefield. Boundaries weren’t even for other people — no-one was allowed to have boundaries. Nobody. Not me and definitely not her. She was a boundary-free person! She just couldn’t help it! etc etc etc more bullshit. She snooped through every part of my life she could find, and anyone that I mentioned in more detail than a letter of their name was quickly hunted down on facebook or wherever else. Note that I say “a” letter of their name, because if I used the FIRST letter of their name, it made her search more accurate.

      In retrospect, she wasn’t a friend — she was a stalker with direct access to the object of her stalking.

      My will to live somehow improved dramatically after I cut her off. Such a mystery, right?

  10. elaine said:

    i love these ideas!! i had to do something similar with a friend who lived 3,000 miles away so it was a bit different. he helped me out of a very serious depression and got me living life again so i felt i owed him, a lot! in my case he was able to admit that yes elaine you have told me things to do and i don’t do them. yes elaine i do focus too much on the negative parts of life and we don’t talk about the fun things anymore. it took some time apart but we were able to repair the friendship. it is not the same but we found our balance. i wish you well in your endeavor and like captain awkward has said you are not blame! and you are not responsible for fixing him or making his life better! that is his job to do. as one who has been the ‘jerky depressed friend’ i know that until i got the wake up call from my friend who told me, “i can’t keep listening to this, you won’t get any better till you see a therapist and work on these problems on your own, no one else can solve your problems for you, go to a therapist and change the path your life is on so you can be happy” i never would have stopped. and when i did finally go to the therapist (and in my case change medications) my life became fun again. i am grateful to him and her for telling me. now i am able to make new friends and i pay attention to how much i complain and i don’t use my new friends as an emotional laundress. that is what my therapist is for.

  11. Anothermous said:

    Oh man, LW, I too have been here. And I wish I had been strong enough/assholish enough to respond to the “That’s because I’m AWFUL and a LOSER and NOBODY LOVES ME” with, “Yeah, you are an awful whiny loser, and I sure as hell don’t love you.” And hung up/closed AIM/etc.

    (As it is, I dealt with it until there was a huge explosion and the friendship basically imploded. Everything’s fine now, but man, I wasted SO MUCH TIME on this whiny dude.)

    Would that have been a *nice* thing for me to do? Nope, surely not. But as the good Captain Said, what this Sad Dude is doing is manipulating you. He’s incapable of asking directly for the things he needs (kindness, reassurance) so he denigrates himself and waits for other people (in this case, you) to rush to hold his metaphorical hand. The only way you can “win” LW, is to refuse to be manipulated. The Captain’s advice is great here–don’t engage, change subject (repeat repeat repeat, because once won’t be enough, I’ll bet my left arm). I think the hardest part is the fact that you’ll feel like a terrible person. You’re a woman, yes? We women are socially conditioned to manage the emotions of those around us, particularly men. Our social identities are wrapped up in “nice; accommodating”. Refusing to wear that label, even for the sake of your own health, is a hard lesson to learn. It will make you feel like a terrible person. But, you’ve already stated that you feel like a terrible person, and given the choice, would you rather be a terrible person WITHOUT the burden of this dude’s clingy angst, or the goody good girl who’s quietly dying under the cross Whiny Dude is dropping onto her back?

    I’d rather be the free terrible person, honestly. Even then, recognize that you’re not actually being terrible by refusing to hold this dude’s bag of Dudely Sadfeels. You FEELING like you’re a terrible person is actually quite different from actually being a terrible person. And I’d say the person who clings and whines and manipulates the people around him rather than facing his feelings with honesty and courage is a far more terrible person than the one who says “I am not your counselor, and I need room to breathe, thanks.”

  12. Bittybird said:

    The fact that you are not “allowed” more than an hour or so to respond to him on command is appalling. That’s pretty intolerable behavior; I wouldn’t even be okay with my boyfriend expecting that level of constant contact–it is utterly disrespectful of the fact that you have a life. And then making it all about him (you’re not being busy AT him or having a life AT him) and downing you about it…THAT is some pretty terrible friendship behavior on his part. Don’t feel so guilty…we all want to be there for our friends, but this person is expecting above and beyond and acting entitled to it. This is not what “being a good friend” to someone is about. He has you bending over backwards, yet instead of appreciating it, makes you feel like *you’re* the bad friend and aren’t doing enough…it’s lose-lose for you. You have to do more than a good friend should, and don’t even get a good friendship out of it let alone get treated halfway decent.

    To put it bluntly, you’re not the terrible friend, here.

  13. roramich said:

    “You are not his emotional laundress” IS SO GOOD! And true, LW! Very true!

  14. Nicothodes said:

    From another perspective, I am a former clingy person who still gets anxious about her friends being annoyed at/mad at/secretly hating me. I started dealing that by telling my friends about those fears, and, while I got reassurances that I was liked, I also tended to get “oh, don’t worry, you can message/call me whenever,” and for friends that weren’t talk-every-day-because-we’re-best-friends friends that was actually the worst. It leads me into this “should I send a message? maybe? hmm, I last sent them a message two days ago, maybe not, but that’s silly they’re not timing the space between messages, I sent it, oh god, what if they hate me for sending a thing” spiral, with constant double-checking of my message and obsessing. Now, a lot of this is on me, and I tend to close whatever program I used to contact my friend if they haven’t responded in 10 minutes. But on my friend’s side, letting me know about a limited time per week or so when they might (emphasis on might) be around or specifically scheduling times to talk works a whole lot better, because I’m not sending words into a void of anxiety. I also do my best to make sure people know that I want them to tell me if they’re upset with me so that I can fix it, which actually means that I am now most comfortable with the friends I have annoyed in the past, because the knowledge that they told me is a weapon against my jerkbrain. I really don’t know what will work for your friend, but maybe this is useful?

    • Serin said:

      It takes guts to ask for feedback like that! I salute you.

      I’m an introvert and not very feelingsy, and I completely cut off contact with my high school best friend (my total opposite on both counts) because at 18 I didn’t know how to do anything else when I felt smothered. With the benefit of thirty years of hindsight, I wish I’d been able to say, “I can’t handle more than one phone call a day, and I won’t talk about the state of our Friendship unless it’s in immediate danger of imploding – I’m sorry, but those are my tolerances. Do you want that kind of friendship?”

      You might try asking your friends about their tolerances in that kind of language – I think you’re more likely to get an honest answer that you can work with by asking, “How many texts can you take? How much intense emotion are you interested in?” than by asking, “Am I bugging you? Am I being a pest?”

      • Nicothodes said:

        Thank you. Yeah, I know I definitely ruined some friendships as a teenager because I wasn’t even considering the impact on other people. It took my best friend snapping and saying “I don’t even know why I bother to say anything, you’re going to continue to beat up on yourself either way,” to get me to take a step back and examine my behaviour. CA’s scripts are probably a lot more useful than that one though. :p

        And yes, the friendship negotiation is a huge thing for me, and I don’t know how I ever did without it.

      • Kade Azkyroth said:

        Oooh. Good ideas here *notenotes* :3

      • This makes me feel a bit better that I’m not the only one to flee sometimes. I can like people and then end up avoiding them…clearly I find it difficult to figure out how much contact I want with someone and how to get to that. Buh!

    • h said:

      This is a really interesting perspective. Thanks for sharing it.

      One thing to consider is that there is a difference between generalized anxiety making you doubt all your friendships, and behavior that is specifically directed at girl-who-briefly-seemed-like-she-would-be-more-than-a-friend. I agree with CA’s assessment that the guy is still crushing on the LW-even if he isn’t aware of it. It seems like his behavior stems from his difficulty coping with her romantic rejection, and he will have to move past that in order to have a healthy platonic friendship with her.

      What you are describing is a bit different. It sounds like it’s more general, and stems from ongoing anxiety issues / depression. It also sounds like you’ve worked out some good coping mechanisms, so what I’m about to say isn’t necessarily directed at you specifically… more some thoughts to consider for whoever’s dealing with this.

      Fears like this can create a horrible catch-22: if a person wrestling this says nothing, that person is hiding her real feelings from her friends, which can add to feelings of isolation and loneliness. But voicing the sentiment “I’m afraid you’re annoyed/mad at/secretly hate me” is on some level an accusation, even if followed by, “I now that’s just depression speaking.” And over time that stream of accusations wear at the person on the receiving end.

      So what’s the way out of the Catch-22?

      I would love CA’s perspective on this, actually. But (drawing in part from CA’s blog!):
      -This is a case where therapy can be really powerful, because it gives a place to voice these fears to another human being without bringing them into the relationship.
      -Talking about anxiety and loneliness without specifically mentioning your fears about another person’s feelings can sometimes be helpful.
      -Asking for a standing commitment like talking on the phone once per week can be good.

      Again, these suggestions aren’t specifically directed at you, and I hope I’m not being intrusive by writing this. It’s just that this topic has touched my life too, and reading your post made me think.

      • Nicothodes said:

        It’s not intrusive at all! Looking back at what I wrote, I should have clarified that I agreed with CA on friend, too, and also that the shouting and stuff was seriously scary, but I didn’t, and oops. I do think, whether Friend has a crush on LW or not, the anxiety part plays a role in how that’s being handled, and almost definitely makes it worse. (I have way too many cringe-worthy memories of my own poorly-handled crushes.)

        I really think the only useful way to bring up “I’m afraid that you’re annoyed/mad at/secretly hate me” is to follow up with a potential solution, before it feels like there’s any expectation on a friend to spend time reassuring you. And then it’s a one-off, “how do we interact?” negotiation thing.

        LW’s situation is really tough, and my impression is that it’s probably a bit late in the game for the things I’ve said to help much.

      • aerin_sol said:

        “Asking for a standing commitment like talking on the phone once per week can be good.”

        I was in the LW’s friend’s shoes once upon a time as well. My friend offered to call me once a week so I would have this standing commitment to know was coming… And then never did again after the first week so it made me feel way worse and validated all of my Friend Secretly Hates Me feelings. When I asked about it he acted like I was ridiculous for being upset that he was not keeping to this plan that HE proposed. I think if he had actually called me once a week without me having to nag at him about it it would have helped me to feel a lot more secure in that friendship.

        We aren’t friends any longer. I behaved pretty badly, but, well, IMO so did he ( I started having suicidal ideations that scared me a lot, he couldn’t even act like he cared a little bit. I had to get an MRI to see if I had a brain tumor and I told him about it and he texted back literally “good luck don’t die”. Plus the not keeping his promises thing). It’s a year on from my last contact with this guy and it’s still confusing and upsetting to think about. I know he didn’t owe me friendship, but… It was really rough.

        Sorry, I didn’t intend when I started writing to make this all about my experience. I ran into ex-friend last week at Target and had to dash into the clothing section to avoid coming too close to him and then spent the rest of the day feeling like I wanted to throw up. So it’s been on my mind lately. Ugh.

        • JenniferP said:

          Good username, dalamur-sol.

          I’m sorry you experienced that and glad you came through ok. It sounded like the friendship was already done by the time that arrangement came into being, and this is a good reminder to the LW to NOT propose anything s/he doesn’t actually want to follow through with and to communicate clearly.

    • marithlizard said:

      Yes very much this. As another recovering-clingy-person, I can recommend a couple things friends have told me that helped:

      – “I promise to tell you when I am actually annoyed at something you said/did. Otherwise, if I don’t reply for a while, that means I’m concentrating on something else or just need a break. That’s totally normal! Please don’t assume the worst and keep asking for reassurance, because that does start to get annoying after a while.”

      – I know that when someone says “your behavior X is not ok, you need to change it”, emotionally that feels the same as “YOU are not OK I am rejecting you for being unworthy of me”. But they’re not the same. We’re having this conversation because I do like you and I want to stay friends with you, and this is a thing that needs to change for that to happen.”

      Re the negativity, might he respond more if you frame it as him helping you? “Yeah… I totally know that feeling. We’ve both spent a lot of time down in the Pit of Unhappiness, haven’t we. But I’m trying this being-more-positive thing, and it’s actually kind of working, and I need to keep at it for my own well-being. Will you help me? I think it might be good for you too. I read about this thought exercise where you try to frame every sentence you write positively for one day / imagine a baby elephant replacing the letter L in all text you read / whatever.”

      If his reaction boils down to “you owe me emotional support because your life is better than mine, not the other way around”, then Evil Bees Warning.

      • Normski said:

        Oh my gosh. Replacing L’s with baby elephants has just made my day infinitely better! Thank you!

        • mintylime said:

          Best part? Elephant has an ‘l’ in it, so it’s recursive … baby elephants all the way down!

      • Erin said:

        I’d leave out the “this might be good for you too” part, which can come over as condescending/unasked for advice. But I think the rest of the script is very good.

  15. BiancaSnoozes said:

    I’ve been him, I think. I was in a really bad place, and acted this way to a friend. I’m not proud of it, but at the time, I felt so lost and desperate that I was just unable to behave properly. Also, because of things that had happened before, I felt like I was entitled to attention and friendship (I wasn’t). Now that I am older and wiser, I can understand that friendship is not something you can owe someone. It is not currency.

    What I have to say is, first, allowing yourself to play into his game is NOT helping him. It isn’t making him feel good. If you tell yourself, “if I could only tolerate this behavior a bit more, he wouldn’t be in so much pain, I should be better to him because it will ease his pain,” that really and truly won’t help the situation. Which leads to my second point, which is, there’s nothing you CAN do to make him feel better, no matter how much he tries to convince you otherwise.

    With my friend, we were stuck in the place you seem to be for a long time. It didn’t help that we lived together, and it didn’t help that we were fairly young (in college). But eventually, we did take a bit of a break, not official like what is described here (there were natural causes to this break), and came out on the other side. Our friendship was not at all the same or as close as before it took this bad turn, but the trick is to come to a place where a new paradigm is OK. Maybe that is possible for you guys, maybe not, but the current situation is going to become more toxic by the day–for both of you–if something doesn’t change.

  16. sioushi said:

    Sorry – I don’t think my first comment was super-helpful. What I meant to say is, the first situation you describe (wanting to support a friend mired in depression) is admirable, and I’ve struggled with that too. With my depressed ex-romantic friend, after more than a year of suggesting therapy, and meds, and support groups, and self-help, and NOT killing a case of beer every single weekend, and getting *crickets* in response, I went into shutdown mode. Every conversation that veered into “I am terrible, nobody loves me, I will never amount to anything” got met with one denial (“You know that’s not true and that I don’t believe it. It’s the depression talking, and it’s not real.”) followed by a warning (“I will not listen to this kind of hurtful self-talk or support these feelings.”) followed by shutdown (“Either call a help line or call me when you feel better. CLICK.”).

    Oh, his other friends hated me because I was a bitch and I’d stopped sleeping with him and no one else would and I ruined his life. The thing is: sympathy didn’t WORK. Support and commiseration didn’t WORK. I could not be his self-esteem FOR him and I HAD to defend my own hard-won mental equanimity. And frankly he was not a good friend – if he didn’t want support, he ignored me. I was not a bad person for putting distance between us — and neither are you a bad person.

    (With other depressed friends, I have been open-ended with the phone therapy and shoulders and support; I have answered more suicide phone calls than I can actually count – a couple dozen? – and done the help-find-professional-help dance many, many times. But this guy that I am talking about here was across-the-board unwilling to confront his alcoholism or seek help for his depression. His solution was to pull me into his hole for the company, and I was not willing to go there, period.)

    The second situation you describe is a whoooole different kettle of worms. Gaslighting, verbal abuse, guilt-tripping, and passive-aggressive attempts to undermine your current love life? Removing your avenues of response? That’s not acceptable, healthy, or sustainable. I wish you the best of luck in finding the right way to deflect this behavior and, if appropriate, put distance between you. Please know that it’s difficult for many of us to find the right way to defend our boundaries. It may take years of practice, but it’s possible.

    One final note: you say you feel “terrible” because you “suddenly don’t want to [be negative with him] any more.” But deciding to focus on the positive is not “uppity” or “abandonment” or “hypocrisy.” You have decided that negative behaviors are toxic to your mental health, and you’re trying out newer, (hopefully) healthier ways of thinking about yourself. This is the human condition.

    • That’s a REALLY good point, I think — that even if you DO act as Bad Feelings Garbage Dump, it isn’t actually going to help. It hasn’t helped for the LW and their friend. Continuing as the BFGD is not suddenly going to make anyone’s life better.

  17. Sascha said:

    Re: negative talk

    Please note, my suggestion may not be helpful for the type of person LW is dealing with – he is much more of a hot mess than what I have dealt with before. Anyway, if I am talking to a friend who just can’t let go of the negativity, I will start asking the friend, “What do you want to do about it?” This sentence has help immensely. Alternatives:

    – What can you change that will make this better?
    – What are you willing to change?

    Venting with friends and loved ones can be helpful, but at a certain point it’s just a gushing fountain of soul-sucking negativity instead of blowing off steam or problem solving. Asking the person what she wants to do about it can have one of two effects:

    1. She’ll pause and actually think about it and problem solve, instead of just spewing forth useless negative words.
    2. She’ll balk at the thought of actually thinking about solving the problem, and leave you alone.

    Repeat those phrases enough, and the negative person will eventually leave you alone, because you’re boring and not giving her the attention she needs. Or, she’ll actually start changing the things she can change, and become more positive herself.

    I’ve been that super negative person, and I have had to work on myself a lot. I say those phrases to myself all the time. It’s so much more freeing to ask yourself, what WILL I do about this? and then make peace with yourself if you choose not to do anything, instead of just spewing forth the negativity.

    • elaine said:

      awesome idea!

    • mamacitaconpistoles said:

      Duuude, yes. “What can you do to make this better.” YES. And “I can tell you all day long you’re not terrible. But if you can’t tell yourself it won’t matter. What do you need to tell yourself to start to believe this?”

      I’ve resorted to things like “I… don’t know if I like your partner.* If I decide I like them, I will tell you. But until then, I don’t know. I don’t know them. It doesn’t matter. Do you like them? Do you like how they treat you? Do you enjoy their company? Well, okay then. That’s more useful information than if I like going to the bar with them.”

      *I learned that lesson- they were always turning out terrible, and saying one way or another just was bad bad bad. I lied or said something doomsaying.

    • Oooh, I like this. I do this a lot with the kids I nanny for, actually–they are 4 and 6 and get stuck in the mode of complaining about the options they have and expecting me to fix it (with attendant developmentally-appropriate-though-frustrating meltdowns). When I say, “Okay, so you don’t like any of the things I’ve suggested. Hm, that’s tough. What do you think you’re going to do?” it stops them in their tracks and forces them to take control of their own happiness. I find that it also makes them feel good in the long run–they know I trust that they’re capable of solving their own problems, and they come to believe in their own agency a little more.

      I spend a lot of my time thinking about the parallels between interacting with 3-year-olds and with boundary-challenged adults.

      • Your last sentence made me smile. I was involved in the publication of a book called Addictions and Family Healing, and the author, a reformed enabler, advised asking “What are you going to do?” of people who wanted you to solve their problems. I haven’t had to use this on anyone so far, but I can see how it would be freeing.

  18. SD said:

    I’d recommend against this one: “I didn’t respond earlier because I am busy.” It would basically be a lie (busyness is not why the LW doesn’t respond right away), and he’ll be able to tell it’s a lie. People hate that, and for good reason.

    • h said:

      It’s not a lie. Everyone has stuff to do in life that is important to them. There’s the sort of “busy” where you genuinely don’t have the option to pick up the phone, and there’s the sort of “busy” where you would like to read more than one page of a book without getting interrupted. The latter still counts as “being busy” and it is honest to say that you are “too busy” to give someone the amount of attention that they want, even if you could theoretically make time by giving up the stuff you would prefer to be doing.

      • elaine said:

        i agree with you h. i have said that before to my clingy friend bec i needed some time for myself and to just get away from him. later we did have the ‘you are sucking the soul out of me’ chat but at first to get some distance i did say that.

        not sure if this would work for LW but i would also be direct and ask him “why do you think i have nothing going on in my life but you? do you think you are my only friend? what about my life makes you think i do nothing but sit around the computer waiting to respond to you in a nano second?”
        i am sure that is being rude and instigating so probably best not to try, but it would be what i was thinking and i would honestly want to know why he thinks LW has the kind of life where she can just communicate anytime of the day. i would think with jobs, family, and just plain life he would understand that.

      • SD said:

        But the LW is saying that they are “currently just leaving a while before replying.” In this kind of situation, it is absolutely a lie to say that the reason they’re not replying is that they are busy, because it’s just not true.

        More generally, even if the LW weren’t intentionally ignoring the friend, it’s not I’m not saying it’s not legitimate to say that you were busy even if you could theoretically interrupt whatever you are doing. It’s that people can tell when by “busy” you actually mean “didn’t feel like it,” and they understandably don’t feel great about hearing that you’re busy when actually you just didn’t want to bother with them.

        • Courtney said:

          She was busy taking needed space from her clingy friend. Or breathing. She did not cease to function while she was waiting to answer Mr. Clingwrap; therefore she was busy. Auditing the level of honesty in the scripts someone chooses to use as a shield against someone who is a manipulative boundary pusher is not helpful. Many of the scripts one uses in maintaining boundaries are not completely honest. Sometimes blatant lies can be necessary, particularly if the boundary violator is (or seems) dangerous. LW is a person trying to set healthy boundaries, not a witness in a court of law. The concept of “the whole truth” doesn’t belong here.

        • Seralphia said:

          So? Then it is a “lie”.

          But if it allows LW to get some space, and she needs that space so she can breathe again, why must his potential discomfort trump her attempts at self preservation?

          The only case I’d give you in which “I’m busy” not being true in the veryfying-the-numbers-in-the-annual-productivity-report-way is bad, is when it’s used to back out of an actual appointment/date.
          If I made plans with you to go to The Thing on Friday and then blow you off later with a vague, “nope, sorry ~~busy~~”, that’s a crappy thing to do.

          But LW is not someone who blows fixed engagements off. She’s the one who gets an overwhelming amount of unsolicited interaction from his side, and is then harassed to drop everything she might be doing and interact right back. And saying “I’m busy” is a firm, unyielding way to put an end to that.(+)

          Actually, that brings me to some sage advice from my mother. I used to be (and sometimes still am, *sigh*) the sucker who when asked to stay longer/start earlier/come in at the day off, always, always says “yes”. My mom watched that a few years, and one day quizzed me on why I always do that. Usually it has to do with me not having any plans, anyway, except for spending some quiet time at home. I had no “excuse” to not work.

          And here comes her advice:

          F*** ‘em. Say you’re busy. Say you’ve plans. Nothing else. You don’t have to explain yourself on why you will spend *your* free time the way you deem fit. You don’t owe them a written justification on why *your* time is not *their* time. “I’m busy” is a whole sentence.

          And you know what? When I was called yesterday to come into work on my day off because a co-worker vomited all over the place and had to go home? I didn’t waste time by explaining that I’d rather not work for a solid nine days in a row, or that I don’t actually want to sacrifice one of only two free days in a 15 day period. I said I was busy. And that was enough.

          Thanks, mom.

          (+)And it’s probably not even a lie even if she’s currently lazing about her sofa like it’s going out of fashion. She might just be busy not being here for such nonsense. Taxing work, that.

          • Sahrafel said:

            Hah yeah, this – I was forever answering the literal question ‘*Can* you stay late/come in/whatever’ instead of the implied ‘are you willing to’. Took me a while to figure that one out!

        • When I say I’m busy, I am totally comfortable with it meaning “I was busy having some time that was not being showered in negativity.” I may also have been reading, cleaning, feeding cats, writing a work proposal, playing video games, grocery shopping, talking to someone else, or just taking a minute to breathe and feel happy and not deal with unpleasant things.

          No, it’s true that the criteria does not need to be “I was doing something that I literally could not interrupt, so I get to say I am busy.”

          But I’m not sure you get that in this case the situation truly is “I was doing something that was mutually exclusive with dealing with you, so I get to say I am busy.”

          It’s really sad that in this case the something is “feeling happy”, or “not getting groaned and moaned at”, or “having time without cringing”, but it is also completely true that “dealing with the friend” and “this something else” are mutually exclusive, so LW saying they are busy is perfectly reasonable.

        • aebhel said:

          Okay, but he’s also not going to feel great about hearing that she just doesn’t want to bother with him. ‘Busy’ is a social white lie that allows everyone to keep their dignity intact.

          • E Whitehall said:

            What’s wrong with that? I am genuinely curious to know. Social white lies are often toxic, and they are just as often a useful bandaid to feelings.

            The dude in question does not feel great ANYWAY. He does not want to let her do anything that is not about him ANYWAY.

            I mean, when you have a friend that manipulative and toxic, it is actually often the case that Not Being Their Emotional Laundress is actually a whole lot of work! There’s guilt to deal with, and imagined sadfeelings, and discomfort, and so on, and the work of changing a social pattern that has to happen without someone involved is being busy as far as that person is concerned. It’s hard, hard emotional labour to disengage your mental life from someone as toxic as Velcro Victor, and it can’t be done with him involved.

            So, she’s busy. The end.

          • unlurking said:

            @E Whitehall – Yes, that’s what aebhel is saying, that in this case it’s a useful bandaid; you guys are in agreement.

    • Anothermous said:

      I disagree with this actually. “Busy” can mean what you want it to. I don’t answer the phone when I’m reading a book, because I’m busy reading a book. Or maybe I’m busy reading something neat on the internet (like Captain Awkward!). Maybe I’m busy sitting on my back stoop drinking lemonade. Or maybe I’m busy staring at the ceiling contemplating life. A call/text/IM/email doesn’t automatically take precedence over any of those activities.

      The LW doesn’t have to meet a minimum collectively-defined standard of “busy” in order to safely use the “I’m busy” excuse. Not least of all because NO excuse will be good enough for this clingy friend. I’ll bet he’d expect her to run out of a movie theater mid-battle scene to take his calls, and get mad when she didn’t, because he’s that self-absorbed. Whatever the LW is doing, they’re too busy doing it to text/call/IM him back immediately. That’s the important bit, and nothing else.

      • Myrin said:

        I’m also really not sure why Clingy Clarence absolutely would “be able to tell it’s a lie”. Sometimes people are busy even by the low standard you (SD) seem to be setting and I don’t see how he will be able to tell with absolute certainty that that’s not the case for the LW. Even when they’re at home, they could be cooking a high-maintenance meal that needs attention, preparing for the visit of a friend, taking an important phone call, preparing something urgent for work, deal with their ill pet etc. etc. So while I absolutely agree with the commenters before me, even “being busy” by a strict definition isn’t something that happens so rarely that Reginald Remora can rule it out on the spot.

        • SD said:

          Well, it’s been my experience with using that excuse that people can actually tell. And it’s also the LW’s experience! The friend is asking “are you mad?’ when the LW doesn’t respond, and, as it happens, the LW actually is mad!

          • Myrin said:

            Okay, I believe maybe we’re not talking about the same thing?

            Because it’s not the LW’s experience that people can actually tell when you’re not really busy. Because as far as I can see, LW never tells/told her friend that she’s busy. That was just a suggestion the Captain made, a thing LW should/could incorporate in her scripts. So it’s not like LW has any experience in that regard that we know of and pertaining that particular friend.

            But all that aside, I agree with the idea of using the “I’m busy” script either way, regardless of whether friend can tell or not. Because in the end, he will just have to accept it.

          • Ethyl said:

            How is it an excuse if it’s true, though? The friend is asking “are you mad” because LW didn’t respond right away to a message, not because the LW is saying “sorry, I’ve been busy.” The friend’s expectations are unrealistic because people DO have lots of stuff going on and you can’t expect someone to drop everything to respond right this very instant to your text or IM or else risk a barrage of “are you mad” messages. I’m sorry you’ve felt hurt before by people telling you they are busy, that sucks, but maybe they actually were! Maybe you were being a little bit clingy and they were trying to be nice! Which is what we are advising the LW to do.

            I mean, let’s be honest here, though, anything the LW gives this guy that is not obsessive devotion is going to fall short, so this is probably moot, but I don’t think your point is very sound.

          • h said:

            Ah… I take your point about how “busy” can be used as a way to duck uncomfortable conversations, but I thought this was a case where she wasn’t actually mad until he wouldn’t leave her alone. Where she was fine with texts until AFTER she got the guilt trip over not instantly responding. There’s other stuff going on too, but CA also advised that the LW bring up other thorny topics like negativity in a really direct fashion.

          • I don’t think the reason Clingy Friend is acting clingy is because he can tell the LW is deliberately avoiding talking to him. It doesn’t seem like he would be understanding, even if the LW had a really important reason for being busy. He’s not behaving in a reasonable way. He’s behaving like he thinks he’s entitled to the LW’s time and attention, under any circumstances, no matter what he has to do to get it. If LW gives a long, detailed, heartfelt explanation of exactly why they were too busy on a particular day, and why they would never intentionally ignore Clingy Friend, he is still not going to magically snap out of it and start recognizing reasonable boundaries again. His behavior so far shows that he will do all sorts of nasty things to punish the LW for not paying him enough attention, no matter the situation. If it were a one-time or a-few-times thing, I’d agree with you that stark honesty would be better, but at this I don’t think it *matters* whether LW is actually busy or not. Any insecurity the LW may be adding by not totally discouraging the “Is LW actually busy or just avoiding me?” line of thought, is tiny compared to what it takes to bring someone to the point of *verbally berating their supposed friend* about how ridiculous they are for not always being available. This is not the time for LW to be the perfect considerate friend who never even tells a white lie. This is the time for LW to protect themselves from being harrassed into compliance *again*. A white lie like “I was busy (doing anything but talk to you, because I don’t want to talk to you)” is not so awful that LW shouldn’t get to use it in this situation.

      • SD said:

        If you’re calling what you’re saying “an excuse” and if you’re doing a humpty-dumpty thing where “busy” means whatever you want it to mean… I’m not saying it’s the worst thing in the world, but you’re not being completely forthright.

        • Anothermous said:

          It’s not my job to justify to anyone else why I can’t or won’t engage with them at the moment.

        • mamacitaconpistoles said:

          Since when was being forthright the most virtuous virtue ever? Or relevant to this problem? “Being responsible for boundaries” and “being effective” and “being aware you don’t owe anyone a time audit for why you can’t do something you haven’t agreed to do” count, too.

          LW doesn’t need to have a more emotionally open, forthright relationship with Clingfilm. They need to have A LOT LESS CONTACT. Electronic, social, personal, psychic. All of it. And “I am busy” is a much better route to that than “Sorry, I was playing words with friends which to me is more important than talking you right now.” Which while forthright, is also 1) kind of mean 2) maybe no necessarily so 3) opening a discussion space 4) giving Velcro fodder for I KNEW YOU HATED ME I KNEW IT protestations.

          No.

          “I am busy” is a full and complete and honest and forthright answer. Because it says “I decide when I engage with you, how, and for what reason. Not. You.”

          • Cactus said:

            Not to derail, but the whole “being forthright” thing with regards to this problem reminds me a lot of that article that went around the Internet a month or so ago about how ladies shouldn’t use the “I have a boyfriend” excuse when we’re hit on by strange men. Even though it sometimes works, and works better than plain old “no.” Because it’s more dishonest and imperfect, don’tcha know?

          • SD said:

            Like I say, in my experience, people can tell, and, in this kind of situation, “I am busy” means ““I decide when I engage with you, how, and for what reason. Not. You. AND ALSO I DON’T RESPECT YOU ENOUGH TO BE FORTHRIGHT WITH YOU.” Your mileage may vary.

            But also, if you start with “since when was being forthright the most virtuous virtue ever” and end with “”I am busy” is a full and complete and honest and forthright answer… You’re likely not being completely forthright.

          • mamacitaconpistoles said:

            “I decide when I engage with you, how, and for what reason. Not. You. AND ALSO I DON’T RESPECT OR POSSIBLY TRUST YOU ENOUGH TO BE FORTHRIGHT WITH YOU. Learn to take no for an answer and we might revisit this again.”

            Fixed that.

            Obviously my mileage does vary. My tanks get run down real fast when people don’t understand “no.”

          • Cactus said:

            Yeah, but the LW has the right to draw her boundaries. She has a right to not respond to everyone who messages her, immediately. She doesn’t owe him her time. She also doesn’t owe him, or the world, perfection and virtue. She might make this guy sad, or mad, or whatever. He is already doing this to her. He appears to be draining quite a bit of energy out of her at the moment. Why should she have to continue to put up with this? If saying she’s busy sometimes helps to wean him off of her, maybe it would be good to try that? Or maybe it would help her see exactly what she was dealing with, depending on how unreasonable his demands get after she says “I was busy?” He’s allowed to think she’s a jerk. You’re allowed to think she’s a jerk. But he’s not allowed to demand that she continually puts herself in a demanding, uncomfortable, unrewarding position.

          • Ethyl said:

            Ran out of nesting! From SD:

            ” “I decide when I engage with you, how, and for what reason. Not. You. AND ALSO I DON’T RESPECT YOU ENOUGH TO BE FORTHRIGHT WITH YOU.” ”

            Well? That’s true. Nobody owes you their time, attention, or an explanation about why they are giving you neither. It sounds to me like you want someone to give you a reason so you can argue with it, which is not very cool.

          • mamacitaconpistoles said:

            Oh, come on, SD. Part of the problem here is you’re putting the power of what is “busy” in the hands of the CLINGY CLINGER’S HANDS. You’re putting their needs in front of LW’s for the LW. You’re allowing a kind of entitlement that should not be normal, be normal.

            This is exactly the kind of “be nice/forthright/open/honest/available to someone who is not trustworthy” argument that winds up with people, particularly women, stuck dealing with folks who slither from “bad with boundaries” into “bad with boundaries and threatening to your safety, autonomy, and well being” territory.

            No. No, no. No.

            We respect no. That is the lesson here for LW’s friend. And also for the LW. You don’t have to share with people anything if you don’t trust them to respect your boundaries. You get to say NO in the most effective way. No, in an effective way, here, can mean “you get what I give you and not one shred more until I know you’re safe to tell otherwise.”

            Also, where is the universal definition checklist of “busy enough?”

            So yeah. My mileage varies. It’s a about 1/2 inch into the first mile of the GIMME GIMME GIMME cross country trip this LW is being asked to take by Velcro.

            Jeez.

          • Anothermous said:

            Okay, here’s the thing–you bring up respect in this case, “And also I don’t respect you enough to be forthright with you.” Well, the LW’s Clingy Friend clearly doesn’t respect the LW enough to not be constantly trying to violate boundaries.

            This is like the times when the Captain and the Awkward Army advice people to deal with shitty things that other people say by *letting it be awkward*. Uncle Bob says something nasty about your eating habits at Thanksgiving? Ignore the urge to smooth it over. Say, “Wow, Uncle Bob, that was rude and awful.” Let it be awkward. You’re not the breaking the peace. The peace is already broken.

            LW is not obligated to maintain the social contract of perfect respect, because Clingy Friend has *already broken that social contract*.

            I am not saying LW should answer Clingy Friend’s next text with “Oh GOD, you again? Go away, I can’t stand you!” or anything deliberately cruel. I am saying that LW does not owe the Clingy Friend a response or justification for not engaging.

            And I can tell you, someone in my life who *always* demands that I explain why I didn’t reply to their email/answer the phone/didn’t text back gets quickly removed from my life as much as possible. Because my time is not theirs to dictate or monopolize, and neither is the LW’s.

          • SD said:

            Dear All,

            I’m not saying you *owe* anybody anything (I mean you sort of do owe people some base amount of respect, but I’m not saying that.)

            What I’m saying is that if you say “I’m busy” when you mean “I don’t want to bother with you,” people can tell, in my experience, (I’ve been on both sides of that, for the record.) So saying “I’m busy,” in that kind of situation, is *worse* than saying something explicitly mean.

          • Kade Azkyroth said:

            SD, you say “What I’m saying is that if you say “I’m busy” when you mean “I don’t want to bother with you,” people can tell, in my experience, (I’ve been on both sides of that, for the record.) So saying “I’m busy,” in that kind of situation, is *worse* than saying something explicitly mean.”

            Is what you’re saying something like “the message is ‘I don’t want to bother with you, AND I don’t feel comfortable just saying that’?” Okay. Maybe that could be an appropriate message in this kind of circumstance?

          • mamacitaconpistoles said:

            SD, worse for whom?

            For LW? I doubt it.

            “Sorry, I was busy.”

            “But I could tell you weren’t busy because 3PM is your be available online to friends hour so how could you be busy?”

            “Yeah, but sorry, I was busy.”

            “Why are you lying to me?! You are lying to me?! Can’t you just be forthright?! You’re mad at me, aren’t you?!”

            “Nope, I really was just busy.”

            “With what!?!!!!?? What could make you so busy as to ignore my ritual 52,000 IM Pings? I always ritually ping you till you answer.”

            “Yeah, but this time I was busy.”

            You hate me! I knew you hate me!”

            “I was just busy. Listen, I can’t talk now, I have to go.”

            “Fine, I’ll talk to you later. Maybe. If I’m not BUSY BEING FULL OF ENNUI!”

            “Okay! Take care!”

            *the rest is silence*

            They could say “sorry, I am busy” or “here are my well reasoned points” or “I am really angry at you” and the response is always going to be “what do I need to say to get you to keep giving me what I want.”

            If people can tell you are not saying “I am angry” and so you choose to say “I am angry” instead of “I am busy” you… what? You somehow get a more effective outcome than just “not engaging not engaging not egaging?” When what you want to is to establish and maintain a new kind of boundary. Okay.

            But: forthright is not objectively a better approach than any other. In might be, in this case, that it has no ethical value because the other person is not playing by ethical rules that will allow LW to know they can 1) GET WHAT THEY NEED and 2) and do so forthrightly. The other sounds like the other person is playing by rules where they get what they want and all arguments give them what they want.

          • Ethyl said:

            What I think you’re missing, SD, is that a lot of times “I’m busy” really IS the answer, but that you think it’s “a lie” when the other person’s busyness doesn’t live up to your threshold. Which again leads me to think that you are looking for ways to negotiate the “no.”

          • Myrin said:

            SD: Okay, last thing I’m going to say on that topic, but:

            What I’m saying is that if you say “I’m busy” when you mean “I don’t want to bother with you,” people can tell, in my experience, [...] So saying “I’m busy,” in that kind of situation, is *worse* than saying something explicitly mean.

            I – and I believe quite a few other people in this thread – can’t for the life of me follow that logic.
            What you’re saying is you find “I’m busy” to be meaner than “I don’t want to bother with you”. Which, yeah, YMMV, but that seems decidedly odd to me. (Also, most people use “I’m busy” exactly because they don’t want to be mean and perceive it as rude to just say “Go away for now”.)

          • SD said:

            “but that seems decidedly odd to me.” the key there is:
            1) Are you actually busy, or are you brushing the person off?
            2) Can the person tell that you’re brushing them off AND not being forthright with you

            If yes, then “I’m busy” is super mean.

          • JenniferP said:

            SD, I disagree with you. “I was busy” means “I was doing something that was not talking to you.” Busy could mean staring at the wall, grocery shopping, masturbating, pooping, at the movies, talking to other friends. The friend in this case is so freaking unreasonable that “I’m busy” is not disrespectful. The LW doesn’t owe the friend any kind of accounting as to why they didn’t answer.

            All of your comments in this thread, frankly, are giving me a super bad vibe. Let it go and come back another thread, another day.

          • mamacitaconpistoles said:

            Or, “I’m busy” is typical boundary setting language that maybe just maybe the hearer needs to learn is not really personal (unless you are not good at leaving people alone and then, not my problem) and that it’s tiring and stressful to say more and just accept that other people need a break, too, and just say “so sorry to not get to chat. When you have some free time I’d love to talk more. Take care!” And go. away. Which is a massively positive behavioral accommodation, if in fact you are on the other person’s nerves. It’s respectful, if you like. And says “I trust you’ll get to me when you are ready.”

          • Cactus said:

            Oy bloody vey, SD. You can tie yourself in knots wondering how someone who has treated you as a free therapist/”emotional laundress” in the past is going to interpret your stated busy-ness, and worry whether you are/were an appropriate amount of busy to have not immediately responded to their messages, or you can live and let live and let their feelings be their feelings. The LW cannot continue to hold herself responsible for her friend’s reactions to everything she says. That’s ridiculous.

          • SD said:

            “come back another thread, another day.” No thanks! Why would I want to give people super bad vibes?

          • JenniferP said:

            You seem fixated on the idea that a polite “I was busy” is LYING in a way that is, frankly, really weird when the Letter Writer is not the one who is doing anything wrong and the friend’s expectations are extremely unreasonable. I hope you work it out. I’m adding you to the ban list so you can work it out elsewhere. Goodbye!

        • Kade Azkyroth said:

          “Busy” means “I am not interacting with you during this unit of time because I am committed to doing other things during it.” Those commitments don’t have to be of a particular sort or come from a particular place. They don’t even have to be articulated to people are unlikely to accept many of the sorts or origins of them as reasonable.

        • SD said:

          “Okay. Maybe that could be an appropriate message in this kind of circumstance?”

          I don’t know, seems doubtful to me. If that’s how you feel about a person, you don’t respect them and you don’t feel safe around them, so you are in no way their friend, so it seems wiser to disengage, and be as nice as possible about it because why not.

          • Ethyl said:

            But the thing is, someone who you don’t feel safe around will often treat any niceness or explanation as an opening to a negotiation of why your feelings are wrong and you should give them all the attention all of the time. But also sometimes people ARE busy, or they don’t want to talk to you right then, and you just kind of have to learn to live with that.

          • SD said:

            Sure, it’s a difficult situation when you’re not friends with someone anymore and they don’t know that yet. I’m just saying “I’m busy” isn’t helping there.

          • Ethyl said:

            Your thinking on this topic is extremely odd and I’m having a hard time following it, to be totally honest with you. But two things:

            1. Nobody owes you any explanation for why they couldn’t pick up the phone when you called or texted. If you demand one, and you get “I was busy” as an answer, you just have to take that at face value. Nobody is obligated to negotiate their no with you.

            2. I don’t believe you that you can tell when it’s a lie, because your definition of “it’s a lie” seems to be “doesn’t meet my definition of busy, therefore hates me and wants nothing more to do with me.” That is just not sound.

          • Cactus said:

            Who isn’t being helped? The LW could potentially benefit from this as a way to proceed while gearing up for one of the more difficult conversations the Captain outlined. Give herself some breathing room, as it were. Her friend might not be “benefiting,” but we’re also not entirely sure he’s being actively harmed, either. It probably hurts him less than a feelingsbomb of angry invective to the tune of “why don’t you ever leave me alone!” at the very least.

          • Nanani said:

            So. Women have to be extra nice to people who make them feel unsafe, and being polite is a LYING DISHONEST BRUSHOFF, and it’s on us to be accommodating while some dude tries to dig under and around our stated NO?

            Yeah I’ve heard this before.

            Methinks SD is a talking Fedora.

      • SD said:

        But the LW is saying that they are “currently just leaving a while before replying.” In this kind of situation, it is absolutely a lie to say that the reason they’re not replying is that they are busy, because it’s just not true.

        More generally, even if the LW weren’t intentionally ignoring the friend, it’s not I’m not saying it’s not legitimate to say that you were busy even if you could theoretically interrupt whatever you are doing. It’s that people can tell when by “busy” you actually mean “didn’t feel like it,” and they understandably don’t feel great about hearing that you’re busy when actually you just didn’t want to bother with them.

        • piny1 said:

          Yes, but in that instance it’s ON THEM to just let it go, because this is a soft refusal everyone is familiar with. “I’m busy” as in, “I didn’t want to talk to you just then,” is normal. You’re not entitled to an explanation for why someone didn’t answer your phone calls, and you don’t get to be upset that someone didn’t answer all your phone calls.

          I think it is a great idea for LW – and people in this situation in general – to ping-back instead of just letting the silence drag on; I think it is good, most of the time, to be clear. (And, really, giving someone an opportunity to back off is good – in situations like this, you’re caught between “Am I being clingy?” and “Am I being paranoid about being clingy?” and there’s really no good way to pressure someone into telling you whether you’re being paranoid or clingy.)

          But if Mr. Attachment Friendzoning here can’t accept, “I was busy” as a totally polite and legitimate way to say, “Yeah, I got the message, I didn’t answer it, let’s talk later,” then that guy has bad boundaries and bad social training, and he needs to fix himself.

          • unlurking said:

            Right, it is not a lie, because not only is being busy not a “lie”, but also, it simply does not mean “not want to bother with you.” It means there is stuff they are busy with. I think the bare minimum of friendship is acting in good faith: that when someone says something, you take them at their word, and not immediately jump to the most extremely negative possible super-extreme interpretation of their words. And therefore, busy = busy, not busy = i hate you and you suck and i don’t want to bother you, which is just ???? The way you can tell, is when you think of your other relationships that feel healthier to you: If you said you were busy, how would the friend react? If they said they were busy, how would you react? You & they would both just say, cool, catch you later, talk with you soon, because friends do not think their friends are lying to them all the time, unless there are other factors at play that do not have anything at all to do with the friends themselves.

        • tinyorc said:

          SD’s entire argument relies on the existence of magic psychic people who can read the words “Sorry, I was busy” and immediately and accurately know whether that means:
          a) “I was engaged in an activity that qualifies as sufficiently busy”
          b) “I hate you and I don’t want to talk to you.”

          Seriously, who are these people? I want to know so I can avoid them for the rest of my life.

          Also, the idea that it’s kinder to be forthright about everything under all circumstances is complete bullshit. Like seriously, which is going to be worse for an already anxious insecure clingy friend to hear?

          a)”Sorry, I was busy”

          b) “Sorry, I saw your name come up on my phone and it made me grit my teeth with frustration because you have been acting so clingy and negative recently, so I decided to have a glass of wine and glare at the wall before writing back and confirming all your worst fears about yourself and our relationship.”

          No one says exactly what they mean 100% of the time. This is a learned social skill known as TACT. We use tact defuse difficult situations, to comfort others, to let people down gently, etc. Knowing when it’s time to be blunt vs when it’s time to obsfucate the truth is called being tactful. Saying exactly what is on your mind with no filter or sensitivity to context is called being an asshole.

          • Myrin said:

            I know SD is gone by now but I still want to plaster a big THIS onto your comment, tinyorc. This is what I’ve been trying to say and apparently couldn’t really get across above when I said I doubt one would be able to tell if “I’m busy” is actually true or not. Like, the only way to know for sure if it’s true is doing something horribly creepy like looking through your conversational partner’s window and “catch them in the act” (of writing “I’m busy” and then just sitting there staring at nothing) or something. Of course I sometimes get the distinct feeling someone might be using whatever they’re saying as an out of the conversation with me, but seriously, I can NEVER really know that and even if, it allows me to back off gracefully so I’m actually thankful for that response.

          • Ana said:

            I love this comment too tinyorc will be sure to use the reasoning with some of my clingy friends. I think the SD comment sounds a lot a like a clingy friend of mine but likewise he was also afraid that ppl would find out he is not really “busy” and avoiding ppl who have tired him out. Indeed “busy taking a break from somebody being clingy or difficult”= “brushing somebody off for a bit, not final”= busy text and is not lying in any way.

          • Saying exactly what is on your mind with no filter or sensitivity to context is called being an asshole.

            tinyorc, your comment is good and you should feel good :) Thanks to a former boyfriend who thought ‘I was just being honest’ was a get out of being a complete douchebag free card, I have kind of a thing about people insisting brutal, thoughtless, insensitive honesty is the Best Way To Be.

            I would much rather people tell me they didn’t get back to me because they were busy (whether or not they could technically have dropped whatever they were doing to take my call) because that tells me they care about me and don’t want to hurt my feelings if they can avoid it. Like you said, option b is just mean.

      • Cactus said:

        Yeah, I have a friend who I have had to use the “I’m busy” excuse with sometimes (she’s about 1/1,000,000 as clingy as LW’s friend is, so it’s not worrisome, she just has some anxiety/paranoia that I can sympathize with, and is online ALL the time). But I’ve gotten the “am I annoying you, I’m sorry if I’m annoying you” message, and the “please don’t have misinterpreted the thing I just said” message, and both times she sent those it was because I was just…busy. Not solving the world’s financial crises or stopping a murder plot or anything important, just…running errands or taking a shower or cooking or reading or watching TV. It’s okay to be unspecifically busy, other people aren’t owed explanations as to how you’re spending every moment of your life.

    • MrsMorley said:

      I don’t think it’s a lie. As other people said, “busy” could mean a lot of different things. But I think you may have meant that he’ll perceive it as an excuse (and a lie). If that’s what you meant, you’re right. He will. It is. But this guy perceive everything as an excuse. There isn’t anything the LW could say that takes precedence (in his mind) over this guy’s feelings, and he will hear every reason as an attack.

      So if it’s comfortable for her to say “I was busy” – great, say it. If some other reason feels more comfortable, use that instead. (My preference actually would be “I didn’t feel like chatting.”)

    • mamacitaconpistoles said:

      Nah, I think it’s fine. You don’t owe the dude a time audit. You owe yourself the means to make a boundary. I think we explain apologize way too much for stuff, when all you need to do is tell someone relevant information. If you don’t need permission, or to be paid, or get credit for the work, or keep the job, or whatever other occasion for which an Approved Excuse might be needed, you don’t need to do more than give the needed info.

      “I am sorry, Kid and I can’t make the bake sale as scheduled. I wanted to let you know in advance so you can find a replacement. I called XYZ to ask if they can take my shift. I can take ABC shift instead” = the kid that bullys my kid has that shift and I told the Scout leader that but you just need to know I won’t be there with Kid.

      “I am so sorry, I will have to miss the Recruiting Day for our Club. Something has come up.” = “I just got back from an overseas trip and can’t see straight and I know my presence there will be a bonus not a super requirement, and I need to sleep and I am usually always on time and reliable.”

      “So sorry, can’t make movie night, but thank you for the invitation. Please keep me in mind for next time.” = “I am going to go home and hang out with my mom, who I haven’t seen in weeks and who I really like. And I hate Three Men and a Baby.”

      “Can I please reschedule our meeting” = “I am not up to discussing this with you now and need to take the fish to the vet.”

      “I couldn’t get to the phone. What do you need?” = One hand was holding a coffee cup and the other was scritching my dog’s ears so I didn’t get to the phone.

      It’s not okay to cancel and cancel and expect the world to give you what you want over and over again. It’s rude to bail without a heads up. But if you just can’t for whatever reason, you don’t have to justify. Just don’t abuse the prerogative to opt out when you need to opt out, and learn to not overcommit or promise what you are pretty sure you can’t deliver. And accept that if you push this behavior too much, people will be less inclined to include you, or give you slack in the future. But sometimes? It’s fine. And if they’re mad about it, it’s still fine.

      Or, indeed, just don’t think this Velcro Victor will feel any less or more reassured that you do/don’t hate him based on how you establish and maintain a boundary. It isn’t going to do much so you should do what you need for yourself.

    • When I was in elementary school, my teachers were entitled to my attendance in class. If I didn’t show up, I needed a good excuse, possibly one substantiated by a note.

      For most social interactions between grown-ups, nobody is entitled to this kind of justification. Velcro Victor is already out of line by asking for one, and the LW would be doing him a courtesy by saying “I am busy” (whether you consider that to be a white lie or a vacuously true statement) rather than by hitting Victor between the eyes with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

      Regarding the value of honesty in social relationships, I recommend James Morrow’s novella City of Truth.

    • tawg said:

      FWIW, I am super okay with lying to people if it gets me out of a bad/dangerous situation. (I also don’t think “I’m busy” is a lie – I agree that ‘busy’ is a subjective concept.) I am okay with people lying to me if they need to brush me off but don’t want to hurt my feelings. I totally lied to my ex when we broke up that we could stay friends, and that was because I wanted to get away from him with minimal fuss (and also keep open the option of getting some of my stuff back at a later date). If I felt safe around him and that the truth would have been respected and not debated with or raged against, I wouldn’t have needed to lie.

  19. Rachel said:

    ” “Once you tolerate something you have made an agreement to tolerate it forever without actually changing your feelings” is not actually a rule.”

    Oh, the old “why didn’t you say something before?” Thank you Captain for addressing this. I have certainly been guilty of waiting too long before bringing up a problem with a difficult friend or partner, and that’s on me. But if you have to ask “Why didn’t you say something sooner?” be prepared for the possible answer “Because you’re impossible to talk to!”

    • Baytree said:

      I’ve never understood the “why didn’t you say something earlier” whining. I’m saying something now. Why don’t we just deal with that first? The reason it’s coming up now as opposed to some other point in time is rarely relevant to solving the problem.

      • I can imagine being the person who says, “But why didn’t you tell me soooooooner?” It’s not the best response, but it’s a natural one. Somebody who doesn’t like Thing I Just Did will be far less annoyed with me than somebody who’s been putting up with Thing for months and months. If I’ve been acting in good faith — genuinely not realizing that Thing bothers the other person — I’m going to feel it’s unfair that I’m suddenly dealing with months’ worth of resentment.

        Ha! Come to think of it, I *was* this person just a few days ago. My friend wasn’t annoyed by Thing I Always Do, but by Thing I Did One Time, so the resentment hadn’t so much built up as festered. It was still frustrating for me, though, because the incident he was upset about happened long enough ago that I only vaguely remembered it. I said something to the effect of, “If you’d told me earlier, I would’ve remembered the details, and then I could have either given you a sincere apology or defended myself. As it is, I can’t do either.”

        Anyway. None of the above negates the following excellent observation from the Captain:

        “Once you tolerate something you have made an agreement to tolerate it forever without actually changing your feelings” is not actually a rule.

        Yes. Yes. Yes. So LW may need to deal with the “why not sooner” argument, but it’s dealable. One way (as I believe the Captain has advised before) is to only bring up the latest example of the bad behavior instead of “You ALWAYS do this.” And if Victor points out that he has always done this before without pushback, LW can fall back on the truth: The behavior felt more acceptable in the beginning, when it seemed like the product of unfortunate circumstances. Now it’s happening all the time, nothing is changing, and being available 24/7 is neither reasonable nor sustainable.

  20. Myrin said:

    Oh my, my father is Mr Negativity a lot of the time. We only see/talk to each other a few times a year so it’s really not something that consumes my life but boy is it ever exasperating and annyoing. My way of dealing with it is just not engaging at all. So he says something to the extent of Woe is me and I just answer with a simple “Hm.” and a shrug. That technique actually developped because I honest to god didn’t know what to say to that most of the time, but it has the added benefit of shoving the awkwardness of what he’s just said right back into his face.

    My former best friend also was a pretty Negative Nelly. Poor me. All the time. Poor me. She very often had actual legitimate reason to be down – e.g. she’s been dealing with severe headaches ever since I knew her; they sometimes lasted for days on end and stopped her from doing pretty much anything – but she also never did anything about it – like, in this case, seeing a doctor, as I suggested multiple times – or cared about how I would get overwhelmed with all of that from time to time. We fell out of touch after school and now I only see her like four or five times a year because I work part-time for her father and sometimes we happen to be there at the same time, but man, her behaviour hasn’t changed at all, it’s kind of astounding? Like, apparently the only thing she feels she can talk to me about is how bad X is? Coming to think of that, I sometimes feel/felt that she often simply didn’t know what to talk about so thought about the next best thing which happened to be Bad Thing.

  21. elaine said:

    wow anothermous… that is really sad if he would expect LW to run out of a movie theater to respond her. if he does he really has issues.
    sorry you are dealing with this LW. i wish you all the luck in the world.

  22. Anothermous said:

    Heh, I don’t actually *know* if he would feel that way; I’m not the LW! But based on the LW’s description of the clingy friend, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were the case, that’s all I was saying. The clingy friend is clearly not a dude who can hear “I cannot speak to you at the moment” and handle it with any sort of grace.

    • MrsMorley said:

      Clingy friend won’t handle anything with grace. No one expects him to. We hope that the LW can make her own life easier.

      • Anothermous said:

        Yup. Clingy friend is terribly hostile to the concept of any type of boundaries at all.

  23. Ohhhhhhhh LW I have so been there, and I feel for you very very very much.
    I had a thing with a Velcro Victor which was initially romantic, then not (I set that boundary), and it took me a year and a half (and two attempts with a 3 month break in the middle!) to GTFO of there. I had a phenomenal amount of support from a friend who helped me write the hardest letter I have ever written (I, too, am easily browbeaten in person; I was socialized Minnesota Nice in an East Coast city, which has led to me feeling Run Over a lot of my adult life). My emotional life has improved significantly since cutting this person out. (We are still coworkers, and after months of awkwardness, that seems to have sorted itself, more or less.) I am still dealing with the fallout of being so emotionally manipulated, but I am no longer doubting my worth as a human because I couldn’t meet this person’s needs.

    LW, you don’t mention your gender. I know that a lot of my difficulties in this instance come from being socialized as a girl – I have a hard time sticking up for myself, and I was surrounded by women who didn’t stick up for themselves in any emotional instances. It felt the WORST to do so. But once I figured out that it Wasn’t Exactly My Fault that I didn’t know how to do these things, I got a lot better at practicing them.

    You can do this, whether it’s a break or a clean break (haha). It might suck, or hurt a WHOLE LOT. But you can do this. Jedi hugs.

    • Drew said:

      Totally off-topic response just to say that my brain went TURTLE!! when I saw your username. And now I’m happy, because The Westing Game is one of my favoritest books ever.

  24. Pear said:

    about this time last year, I read almost everything in the CA archives in an effort to know exactly how to manage my friendship with someone who:

    (note: this person takes ‘they’ as a pronoun, as do I)

    – within a few days of our acquaintanceship, sent me a completely unprompted 1,000 word email rant in one giant paragraph

    – said highly troubling things about their life/themself in almost every conversation. The comments featured such content, detail, and volume that I frequently felt horrid for not being some combination of therapist, social worker, better friend.

    – made it clear they distrusted medical professionals and told me I was the only one who made them feel human, so I felt extremely responsibly for their wellbeing.

    – had FB conversations which were 4 – 8 hours long at a stretch almost every single day. I began to wonder why I was so exhausted all of the time and felt much more energetic if we didn’t talk. Occasionally I’m not smart.

    – once sent me 300 FB messages in one night. I woke up the next morning to check FB and was astonished to see that white and red figure. This person expressed an emotional need for people to read and acknowledge what they’d said so I knew I’d be a bad friend if I didn’t read all of it and comment in some way. Or something. It made sense at the time.

    – required that I try to answer everything in long, comforting sentences because sudden brusqueness made them feel extremely anxious.

    – treated every silence longer than 24 hours as The Silent Treatment.

    This person was intelligent, thoughtful, hilarious and helpful, too. It’d so be easy to jettison some rude, mean stranger from your life, but if someone’s got even a little bit of even partially cosy history with you, that makes things difficult. You’re not alone, and you’re really not a bad friend, LW. Your needs are important.

    Each of the letters the Captain linked in her reply helped me last year. I wrote a brief message to this friend, filtered them out on social media, and basically went on a break to see how I felt about it. Because I still felt a deep dread about talking to them, I made the break permanent. It was and wasn’t easy—a quick, clear message, then I processed difficult feelings for many months afterwards. But even through that internal conflict and my jerk brain telling me I was terrible and selfish, I know what I did was right.

    • Ethyl said:

      “I was the only one who made them feel human”

      Ugh, yikes, that is such a red flag of red flagginess right there. It’s on a par with “you’re the only one who really understands me” and only a few steps down from “this relationship is the only thing that keeps me from killing myself.” SO manipulative. Glad you are doing better, nobody can be responsible for someone else’s life that way.

      • “this relationship is the only thing that keeps me from killing myself.”

        Lightbulb moment here. I had a relationship with someone who would say these things. Along with ‘I have an anger management issue. I am not doing anything about it because no one can help me. But I really hate this about myself, so you can never mention it ever or it will reinforce my hatred of myself.’ Or, ‘I am not sure I can trust myself not to give in to my desire. You shouldn’t be here.’

        Now I know I should have walked out, there and then. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. But then I wanted to show that I Am Different. I Won’t Give Up on You, I will be A True Friend. Gah.

        • Dear Captain, can you please delete above comment? I didn’t realise it would show with my full name.

          • JenniferP said:

            I edited the name field, is that ok?

        • JenniferP said:

          I take all suicide threats super-seriously. Either the person needs swift intervention from a qualified authority who can give actual help, or they are trying to manipulate me with a hostage crisis – “I will literally murder someone if you don’t stay in my life.” That is too much to put on any person, for any reason. Go ahead and be mad after I call 911 and send them to your place. I’d rather have you angry and alive than dead, and I’d rather have you angry, alive, and far away from me than be a hostage to another person’s despair.

          • Mary said:

            There was some awful thing going around on Facebook a while ago that was something like, “repost this if you’d stay up all night talking to someone to stop them committing suicide.” I mostly saw it from my teenage cousins, but there were a few adults posting it too. Oh, it creeped me out so much. I have stayed up all night talking to someone who was suicidal when I was younger, and what I learned was that *i am not qualified for that* and *what’s the quickest way to get this person to a professional*.

            I know psychiatry isn’t perfect and there are times when what people need is company and distraction, and sure, I can do that. But if me staying up all night is literally the only thing that can stop this person from killing themselves, then the priority is not patting myself on the back but finding an alternative, fast.

          • JenniferP said:

            I’ve done that duty, too, for real, and I don’t regret it, but I was sure glad when REAL HELP came. My boyfriend is bipolar (treated!) and if he, or a close friend were having an episode of some kind, I would stay up talking with them as long as it took for REAL HELP TO COME.

            But “you are smothering me” “guess I’ll kill myself then” NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE

          • Ethyl said:

            Oh I’m definitely not saying don’t take threats of suicide seriously, just pointing out that those types of hostage situations exist on a continuum of “you are solely responsible for all of my feelings and emotions always and you must therefore always be available to me to make me feel good” types of manipulation.

          • Zillah said:

            An ex-boyfriend did this every time I tried to break up with him for about six months. When I called 911 once, he threatened my dog and my family. (And then, of course, apologized and manipulated me into feeling like it was my fault.)

            Eventually I told him to go ahead, it wasn’t my problem. I kind of wish he’d actually followed through rather than continuing to bother me.

          • MamaCheshire said:

            Spouse (who is also bipolar) and I (who lost a dearly loved friend to suicide when I was in undergrad and never completely got over it) have The Protocol for anything that sounds like a person is or may be suicidal. The Protocol is 100% the same whether we are going through it with each other, with longstanding and trusted friends, or with random passing strangers in distress.

            This is how it works:

            “Are you safe?” (Because “are you OK?” is fucking ridiculous to ask when someone is in psychiatric crisis, for fuck’s sake. “Are you safe?” means “can you contract for safety?” without using the official-therapist language, or in other words means, “Can you assure me that for the immediately forseeable future you will not cause actual physical damage to yourself or to anyone else?”)

            ANYTHING other than an immediate and clear yes prompts the next question, “What would it take for you to be safe?”

            If it is a provide-able and not-inappropriate thing, then it is provided, along with a Strongly Worded Suggestion to follow up with appropriate medical/psych people as soon as reasonably possible. (Spouse has as-needed crisis meds for exactly this situation, in which case he is to take them and then follow up with his psych during the next working day. Sometimes he needs the reminder that they exist and that this is what they are FOR and that he is not a bad person for using them. Someone who is super-stressed and desperately needs food, sleep, “everyone out of my space right fucking now damn it”, or a hot bath followed by a cup of hot tea can certainly have that made so if we have any reasonable and practical way to make it so. “I will kill myself if you don’t sleep with me/if I can’t have Expensive Consumer Thing/if you don’t fix my food stamps RIGHT NOW” are examples of NOT reasonable requests.)

            If there is nothing that can be provided, or if the request is unreasonable, then professionals-who-are-not-me need to get involved. We may be able to negotiate HOW that happens, but at this point we’re past negotiating THAT it happens.

          • @Mary:

            Ugh, that meme was the worst. And the phrasing was so weird. Something like “Share if you’d stay up all night talking JUST [emphasis mine] to stop them from committing suicide.” The “just” belongs in a sentence like “… stay up all night talking just to discuss a Star Trek: Next Gen episode that aired in 1989.”

            All memes that begin “Share if …” are terrible, but that one is extra specially terrible.

          • My colleague asked me how often people who are in a relationship but not living together should see each other. I told him that it depends completely on the people in the relationship. Apparently his girlfriend is convinced he hates her if he’d rather play video games than hang out with her once in a while. She also hates where she lives, doesn’t have a job and seems to not have any friends, so tends to stay at his place for several days at a time. He tried breaking up with her once, but she would’t “let him”, and now he’s afraid she’d kill her self if he dumped her and “he is too nice to do that to her”. She also wants to go though his messages (looking for things he did BEFORE they got together that he’s already told her about). I think he needs to read this blog…

          • I’ve got a friend who vents on a social media network that the only reason they don’t kill themselves is because of their spouse. (The social media network is specifically one that their spouse isn’t on, and they’ve said they view it as a safe space to articulate things that might upset their spouse, so I believe that they’re not doing this /at/ their spouse.)

            But I have no idea what to do when I see this. And they’ve recently moved far away, so I can’t call 911 on them anymore. (Not that I did, but I always knew that I could, and yes, there were a couple of times where it was “if they drop out of communication with me in this state, I am calling”.)

            They’re not making me a hostage to their misery, just expressing it, but I feel horrible and helpless and don’t know what to do.

          • H.Regalis said:

            Re: Mary’s post about terrible FB memes

            Same here :/

            I have an S.O. in high school would IM me late at night with stuff like, “I’m going to kill myself” and then they’d either go offline right away or I’d spent a bunch of time pleading with them not to kill themself. I was vehemently against calling 911 because then my S.O. would have been mad at me, I didn’t want to get them in trouble, other people are idiots and don’t understand depression, etc.

            Years later I had another S.O. who had a major life crisis 1x/day on average, with lots of, “The universe just wants me to kill myself/I should just kill myself/I want to die/etc.” and it was fucking exhausting. I cared about them a lot and I wanted to help them. I really, really did. But I’m not a doctor or a therapist and I don’t have some kind of super power that lets me change other people’s brain chemistry. We were still friends after we broke up and one day they texted me saying they were going to go kill themselves, as in that day. I had to call 911 and then be on and off phone/text with my ex subtly getting them to tell me where they were, what they were going to do, etc. and then call the cops back telling them what I’d found out. While I was on my break at work, because I had taken off so much time to either help my ex with various crises or because the stress of dealing with them was giving me health problems that I couldn’t take any more time off. And then after the cops picked them up, I had to go work the rest of the day and pretend nothing had happened.

          • As someone who’s been on both sides of this picture (the Only Person Who Can Save Them and the suicidal person who can’t see a life without a relationship), you are dead-on-balls-accurate with this (that’s an industry term).

        • Ethyl said:

          “‘I am not sure I can trust myself not to…..[fill in the blank]”

          UGH YUCK NOPE NOPE NOPE. Been there, done that, did not work out so well, and was part of a pattern for sure. So glad you are out of there, Dr.C!

        • Xenophile said:

          Red flags I’ve encountered from two past partners:
          – you are my reason for living
          – you are my everything
          – you are the only good thing in my life
          – you are the only one who understands me
          – you are my only hope
          – you are the only thing that makes me feel alive
          – I don’t need counseling, I just need you to listen to me
          – if I feel bad, it’s because you’re not listening to me
          – what would I ever do without you
          – (after breaking up but agreeing to be friends) since I lost you, I have no reason to live
          – I think about suicide constantly and try half-heartedly a couple times a year, but I’m not suicidal.
          – If you tell anyone I’m suicidal, I’ll never trust you again.
          – I don’t need counseling, that’s for crazy people. (Knowing that I’m in counseling myself)
          – I hate myself and I want to die and it’s your fault I feel this way because you’re not listening to me
          – I hate myself and I want to die and it’s your fault I feel this way because you said my behavior hurts your feelings
          – I hate myself and I want to die and it’s your fault I feel this way because you told me to get counseling
          – What? I didn’t threaten to kill myself. You’re just putting words in my mouth. Don’t you dare tell anyone.

          I think some people are under the impression that phrases like, “You are my everything,” are romantic but at best it encourages low self-esteem and at worst it’s manipulative as fuck. I’m really curious about whether it’s gendered, too.

          • Ethyl said:

            Interesting question on genders. I’ve mostly seen it from guys towards women but now that I think about it I’m not sure why that might be.

          • Xenophile said:

            IME, for all the talk about women with Disney princess fantasies, I’ve known more men who talk about wanting to be a perfect knight in shining armor for a perfect princess and living happily ever after in a perfect home. I don’t know if that’s because they don’t know how to talk about feelings, communicate or do emotional work, or maybe they think that’s what women want to hear, or maybe it’s just a coincidence. I could’ve sworn David Richo said something about this in “How to Be an Adult” but I can’t find it.

          • Glorificus said:

            *THIS* These statements always sounded like a metric ton of pressure to be on the receiving end of, I’ve never felt so special when someone has said this to me. I have felt overwhelmed and under prepared, I’m not a therapist or counselor of any stripe. Being supportive of friends is something I strive to be good at but in no way am I professionally qualified and I shouldn’t be anyone’s everything. Does anyone have a good script for deflecting these statements?

          • Xenophile said:

            If you find some, can you send them back in time so my past self can read them ten years ago?

      • Pear said:

        Thanks, yes, I actually thought exactly those things at the time, but felt I was being overdramatic and hypersensitive because I had an ex who’d threaten suicide. But then, that’s precisely what experience is for, isn’t it? I should’ve listened to myself. I bought ‘Gift of Fear’ soon after that.

        This friend would also, completely unprompted and without warning, frequently tell me in detail about various self-harming behaviours, suicide ideation and attempts. It went way beyond being honest with someone you trust: while it never went as far as being explicitly threatening, there was always the implication they were capable of badness unless you did what they wanted.

        They’d also invite me to tell them my own troubling thoughts and SH, creating this super messed-up bonding experience until I stopped. I realised I’d be much better off talking to a therapist, which is exactly what I did when I ended the friendship.

        If you think it’s a red flag, it probably is. My jerkbrain is already rude and your sense of normality gets utterly fucked if someone takes over your life, so I tried to imagine my best friend in my place. Would I think it was okay for someone to treat her like this? NOPE. SO MANY NOPES.

  25. MrsMorley said:

    Dear Letter Writer:

    1) The Captain’s advice is awesome!
    2) You are not a terrible friend. He is an ass.

    The only script change I would make is, if you’re comfortable saying this, you can respond to him “I don’t feel like chatting. I’ll get back to you when I do.”

    And then don’t get back to him until you feel like it. If you’re feeling really magnanimous, you could even try: “I don’t feel like chatting. I’ll try to get back to you tomorrow sometime,”

    I said magnanimous because the text above gives a time frame.

    Or you could try this: “Is this an emergency? If it’s not I’ll get back to you later, when I feel like chatting.”

    Because it’s not an emergency, we all know that.

    But if he says it is, listen for about 30 seconds, then cut in and say “I can’t talk about this now. I’ll get back to you when I want to chat”

    Ok, with a text you don’t “cut in” you just send: “Not now, I’ll get back to you when I want to chat.”

    I like this kind of formulation because it makes clear that sometimes you do want to interact. I like saying “I want to do this” and “I don’t want to do that.” My wants count. Your wants and feelings count. You get to express them, and act on them.

    Hugs if you want them, because your friend has been acting in a very unfriendly way.

    • “Is this an emergency? If it’s not I’ll get back to you later, when I feel like chatting.”

      I like that a lot. LW may need to further define what constitutes an emergency, but that can be dispatched within one extra text message.

      • Wouldn’t it just lead the Velcro guy to start having ‘emergencies’ if that’s what it takes to get attention?

        • My definition of an emergency would be “I am on fire, please drive me to the hospital,” so ye gods, I hope not. And if he does pull anything like that, it’s time to sever ties for good.

          • MamaCheshire said:

            Many years ago, because of some people who didn’t get boundaries, I posted a list of “emergency”, “urgent”, and “non-urgent” scenarios and the contacting-me rules that applied to each. “Emergency” meant contact any time by any available means, but that at least two of these three things better apply:

            (1) You are a particularly close friend,
            (2) You are nearby (no more than 1 hour’s drive),
            (3) The emergency is one that I, personally, am particularly well-equipped to deal with.

            If those things don’t apply, it might still be urgent. “Urgent” means you can contact me at night if I’m awake but not by means that wake up anyone else, and you can contact me at work but don’t expect me to be willing to LEAVE work.

            All else is non-urgent: NOT AT WORK and NOT AT WEIRD O’ CLOCK and DON’T DEMAND IMMEDIATE RESPONSE.

            Non-urgent definitely included:

            (1) The incident that prompted the list: “I just finished the book you recommended, and need to talk about [spoiler] RIGHT NOW!” – at 1 AM when I had to be at work at 7 AM. NOPE.
            (2) Starting an argument with me.
            (3) Vaguely suicidal statements that you did not want The Protocol in response to. (ALL suicidal statements get The Protocol. END OF.)
            (4) ANYTHING AT ALL on the Internet that is not in a space I directly control. “Got completely weird-ass message from you – check if your e-mails’s been hacked?” is legit urgent. Back when I moderated Livejournal communities, reporting a troll or spammer to me was legit urgent. Most other stuff really isn’t.

  26. theLaplaceDemon said:

    LW, the Captain’s advice is excellent, but I get the impression from your letter that you don’t want to fix this friendship, you want permission to end it.

    And LW? Everyone here will support you 100% if you just want to end it. You do not owe this person your friendship. You are allowed to not be friends with them. You are allowed to take care of yourself.

    “Victor” reminds me A LOT of an ex-boyfriend of mine, immediately post-breakup when we were trying to be friends. At the end of the day, he could not stand to be friends with me unless we were BEST friends – and best friends, to him, looked a lot like your relationship with Victor. I tell you this mostly because I want to share this with you: when we officially stopped being friends, it felt SO GOOD. Like a million tons of bricks had just been lifted off my shoulders. You deserve that feeling, LW. You are not a terrible friend.

  27. Min said:

    I’ve been separating myself from a manipulator in much the same vein as Vincent here, and I can strongly recommend a book called “Who’s pulling your strings?” by Harriet Braiker – no-one should have to feel like a bad friend just for failing to comply with someone else’s every wish.

  28. timemakesfoolsofusall said:

    As usual, the Captain’s advice is spot on. I just wanted to chime in with a word on the idea of feeling at all guilty about lying to this guy in order to get the space you need:

    I do not believe anyone is entitled to information about anyone else. Information about others is a privilege we all earn by accepting that information when it is freely given and treating the other person as a full human being who is entitled to respect, dignity, and compassion.

    People lose the privilege of being told the truth about you when they:

    – Accept the truth of the statement, but use it to humiliate, degrade, or manipulate you
    – Accept the truth of the statement, but shame, guilt trip, or fault you for the act of telling the truth
    – Reject the truth or audit whether or not your truthful statement is really true

    No one, in my opinion, owes anyone who does any of these things the truth or, as I saw it characterized in the comments, “complete forthrightness.” You own the truth about you, and can share it with others as you see fit.

    • bm2191 said:

      Yess! This.

    • Indywind said:

      I’m’a emboider this and frame it and hang it on my wall.

    • unlurking said:

      Oh, wow. Yes. After some of the comments in this thread, I was trying to figure out, since I *do* sincerely aim to be “completely forthright” with others, why does it sometimes fall apart, and yes, it is when the *result* from the other person is those 3 responses. (All 3, lucky me, is that some kind of emotional whiplash bingo or something?)

    • FrodoPal said:

      SO. MUCH. WIN. Needed this; saving this forever. Thank you.

  29. bleepblorp said:

    Aiieeeee. I am reminded of something I went through with a male online friend who seemed to have decided I was destined to be his internet girlfriend (although I was never interested… and then transitioned.) We were great buddies for years… until I dared to spend a weekend playing a game with someone else, at which point the friendship imploded in a shower of “You’re just not as invested in this relationship as I am,” “But I care about you more than anyone else!,” “I guess you just don’t value friendship as much as I do,” etc. Which, after the attempted application of boundaries, escalated to berating me for daring to tell someone else about my father’s possible terminal illness before him(!), misgendering me and spreading around the wrong name so that our mutual friends talked about me using names and pronouns with which I had NEVER referred to myself(!!), and started sending me multi-paragraph AIM rants in which he berated me for my coldness and emotional immaturity, gradually getting worse as I failed to respond.

    I was in a very depressed and anxious place at that time, and if I hadn’t had the support of casual friends who reassured me that there was nothing wrong with me and that his behavior was completely inappropriate, who knows how long I’d have put up with that. (And who knows how it would have been if I’d capitulated to his insistence that I not communicate with these people and instead catch up on all the time I “owed” him, talk him through his feelings and familial difficulties, etc.) But I was finally able to put down a firm “Stop. Don’t contact me. If you start badgering me by phone, mail, or in meatspace, I’ll consider it stalking. When I’m able to talk to you, tomorrow or in a week or maybe never, I’ll contact you.” Which he mostly respected (thankfully, he didn’t escalate it to in-person stalking.)

    I never restarted the friendship. After I pulled away and associated only with people who empathized with my point of view, cared about my emotional pain, allowed me to decide my own values and boundaries, etc., I… basically realized that there was no reason to be friends with this guy other than “valuing friendship” – acting like a friendship vending machine that would dispense time and emotional energy if he put in a coin of (self-reportedly) CARING SO MUCH.

    That’s just not friendship to me. I looked around at the people who were wonderful and helpful, who made my life brighter and more bearable by being in it, and decided to myself: “Actually, I DON’T value ‘friendship’. I value each of my particular friends for the people they are right now and the things they are doing right now, and I want them to value me for what I am and do – not because they owe me. If that’s cruel, emotionless, selfish, or whatever, fine – I’m gonna be cruel, emotionless and selfish. This is the sort of person I am, the values I have, the things that I need.”

    This was a moment of great liberation for me and helped me grow into the much happier, truer man I am today, someone I’m proud to be. … And “(sarcasm)You just don’t value friendship!!(/sarcasm)” has become a meme in my present-day chosen family. It helps so much to laugh about it now.

    I dunno what ever became of him, if he laughs about it now, if he thinks that he did wrong or if it was all my horrible, horrible selfishness. I don’t really care. It’s his problem, not mine, and though I hope he’s coping and progressing, I do so the same way that I hope any stranger is managing their lives. He’s not my responsibility. I’m free.

    … This comment kind of narcissistically turned into being all about my own experience, sorry. I guess I just want to echo the others in saying that you’re not the only one who gets cornered into this sort of friendship trap, that there isn’t anything wrong with you for feeling stressed and overwhelmed, and that you don’t owe him friendship (especially not if he shouts at you in person, ayiyiyi.) You can choose to be as extreme as me and decide that “but FRIEEEENDSHIP!!!” means nothing to you (the way some people deal with “but FAAAAMILY!!!”) and that nobody will ever be able to buy your friendship for any amount. You can choose to be less extreme. You can decide your own values, philosophy of friendship, and needs.

    He doesn’t own the word “friendship” or the terms of your relationship. “Friend” doesn’t have to be “free therapist.” Advocating for yourself doesn’t have to be “being a terrible friend.” Value yourself and decide for yourself, and give yourself permission to change your decisions whenever you need. We’re all sending you jedi hugs across the internet.

  30. minitru said:

    You: “Please stop doing x thing” Them: “You’re just saying that because you are a selfish person who doesn’t care about me.” You: “I’m not a selfish person! Do you really think that?” Them: (possibly unspoken, but the subtext is loud): “Then prove it by doing what I want you to do.”

    Oh dear. I recognize this conversation all too well, mainly being on the receiving end of the “you’re selfish” bit. Also articulated as “you don’t care about feelings / people”, or similar. And enough of these conversations, combined with me trying to continue to have a good relationship with the people who do this (who I do actually value! and love! and care about! and unfortunately), end up with me wondering constantly whether I am actually a Selfish Bad Obstinate Person Who Doesn’t Care About Anyone.

    Any suggestions on how not to end up feeling more or less gaslit into self-deprecation? Are there magic words to barricade yourself from people saying things that make you feel bad, without distancing yourself and losing your affection for that person?

    This feels entirely too similar to the Captain’s category of questions that wish for ways to get what you want without ever hurting anyone. Sigh.

    • minitru said:

      Er, “…unfortunately don’t want to cut ties with”. Whoops.

    • JenniferP said:

      One thing to practice is saying “You may be right. But I still need (thing you need).” Don’t fight the accusation or get distracted, keep going with asking for the thing.

      • Somuchthis said:

        Exactly. People love to try and derail conversations by detailing what you’ve done in response to you telling them what you need. The automatic response of most people is a defense of themselves, which deflects attention from the misdeeds of the other and causes the focus to be elsewhere. This is why it’s so important to refuse to engage in accusations that you’re selfish or otherwise a horrible person and continuing putting the focus on what you are talking about/need.

      • Ethyl said:

        But it’s so harrrrrrrd :( I’m getting better though, I swear!

        • thebewilderness said:

          Selfish is a bell ringer from our childhood, I think. It was the bad thing we must not be if we wanted to be loved by the adults in our life.
          I find it helpful to simply say yes. I was thinking only of myself when I asked you to stop hitting me with that stick, or whatever I am asking them to not. It was hard work to get to the point where I did not feel the childhood wave of shame when the selfish bell was rung. Clearly stating that I thought of myself and only myself was an assertion of my right to do so. It also tends to disarm the peeps who manipulate us with the being selfish shame claim.

    • Mary said:

      I think your situation is slightly less “how to express that I need X” and a bit more “how to believe that I am allowed and entitled to need X”. I honestly think practising thinking that you are entitled to it helps. If you know that someone will pressure you into accepting or agreeing to something that you’re not happy about, actually practise in advance thinking, “this is why I need X”, “this is how much [safer / happier / calmer / etc] I will feel if I have X”, “if [specific friend that you care about] asked me for X, I would totally think they were entitled to it. So it follows I must be too.” You can also identify the point where lack of X will have real bad effects on you. If you’ve actually thought that through in advance, it’s harder for someone to make you doubt it and steamroller over you.

      • Jane said:

        Yes, I agree with this.

        minitru, I think another thing to keep in mind is to remember that the more you honor your own needs for boundaries and self-directed kindness (that is, NOT ALLOWING yourself to believe that you are really a Selfish Bad Obstinate Person), the better position you will be in to have healthy relationships. Like: if you are constantly undermined by people scratching away at your foundation, you are probably not going to be stable enough to give any substantial support to another person. You need to protect your foundation so that your structure can stay strong (sorry, weird metaphor.) First of all for your own benefit, but in case you are worried about being selfish, you can remind yourself that ultimately caring for yourself makes you a better friend/relative/whatever as well. People who do not have their boundaries and needs respected DO NOT tend to be awesome friends. They tend to be not-so-secretly very, very angry people who latch on to small misdemeanors like ferociously repressed terriers. (So sayeth someone who still sucks at speaking up when someone crosses my boundary, still sucks at standing up for myself, and is angry ALL THE TIME, basically.)

        Ideally, you wouldn’t need to think about other people to know why it’s good to honor your own needs first. :/ But from experience, sometimes caring for other people was the only thing that made me feel better than a sack of shit. The paradox is that when I was in a bad spot and trying desperately to make myself feel better, I completely depleted my own resources and ended up screwed anyway.

    • Anisoptera said:

      I’ve had a lot of experience with major gaslighters (I grew up with it from my family, I thought it was normal so I dated people who did it through my 20s, and I’m getting better at shutting it down now after lots of practice) and there are a few tricks. Do not engage in debate about whether or not you are [bad thing]. Ideally ignore it entirely or dismiss it very succinctly and calmly – “that’s not true” – before moving right back to the specific thing you are asking for. Or, “be that as it may, I would still like [thing you asked for that set off the gaslighting]“. Getting sucked into the debate plays into their hands. Walk away from conversations where they start gaslighting you to give them as little opportunity as possible to get the ideas into your head (where they will fester and leave you doubting yourself). Be nice and friendly when they are nice and friendly and cut them off (change subject, hang up, go into another room) when they start gaslighting.

      But you are correct – there isn’t really a way to do this without upsetting people. You can stop being super nice and accommodating without losing these relationships (if you want to preserve them) – you’ll be surprised, once you set boundaries the sky doesn’t actually fall. You just have to prioritise yourself, and show that respecting your boundaries is the only way these people get to stay in your life.

      In my experience a lot of manipulative/toxic/emotionally abusive people treat boundary setting as the absolute worst thing ever. If you grew up with a parent that does it you’ve probably internalised that and feel like setting a firm boundary is the equivalent of slapping them or something. I certainly did. So you’ll be fighting your own instincts, and they may go nuts the first few times, but it’s OK, you’re not actually slapping them, you’re doing something totally reasonable and normal. Repeat this to yourself until you believe it. :-/

      • MisMis said:

        I find that taking notes immediately after manipulative conversations and going through them later really helps with recognizing the messed-up patterns behind them even if your instincts aka. “upbringing in an manipulative household” tell you to feel guilty.

        • Anisoptera said:

          Hmm good idea – I’ve certainly kept notes before so that I could see a whole pattern rather than just dismiss individual incidents over and over again. These days though I feel like wanting to take notes to prove to myself that something is dodgy is in itself a red flag…

    • ten stone lions said:

      Unfortunately I don’t have any scripts to add to the already awesome list, but I just wanted to chime in that: oh boy, I’ve been there with the “you don’t care about X” bit. My most recent argument with my abusive father involved him accusing me of “not caring about family!” when I was trying to set a boundary with him. (Yeah, I could’ve laughed at the hypocrisy if I wasn’t busy being angry and scared.)

      For me, it helps to get a regular reality check from people I trust (“no, standing up for yourself isn’t being selfish!”). It helped me recognize the gaslighting for what it really was, so that the next time it happened, I’d be a little more mentally prepared. Even if I couldn’t think of anything to say in the moment, I’d be able to look back and think “nope, dad was out of line”.

      Something else that helped me was a suggestion in one of the old threads. I can’t find it right now, so let me rephrase.

      Let’s say your friend comes to you and tells you, “I asked Ballister to stop filling our fridge with genetically modified dragons, but he’s giving me a really hard time about it.” Odds are you wouldn’t think “that’s just because you’re so SELFISH and INCONSIDERATE, you don’t care about ANYONE but YOURSELF”, right?

      What I’m saying is, sometimes it’s very easy to be much harder on yourself (non-specific “you”) than you’d ever be towards anyone else. So for me, imagining what I’d say to a friend in my situation helps me be kinder to myself too.

      But this is a very difficult situation for sure, and sometimes there really isn’t an automagical way to shut it down — especially with people you care about. All the Jedi hugs, if you’d like them.

        • JenniferP said:

          If you click the date and time of the comment it creates a link to the specific comment.

  31. monologue said:

    I know this guy too. He finally left me alone when I got my first ever really short haircut. He said I looked like a guy with tits and never spoke to me again. Problem solved I guess.

    Anyway LW the issue has already been covered well by others. I just wanted to say you’re not a bad friend and you haven’t done anything wrong.

    • JenniferP said:

      What a great friend to bail on you because: Hair.

    • Anothermous said:

      Wooooow. Ended a friendship because you cut your hair. Daaang. Says a lot about his priorities!

    • Bricksy said:

      Heh, I knew that guy too. Though he just became super passive-aggressive when I cut my hair, constantly implying that I looked nicer with long hair and why would I ever have cut it off, while continuing to be intolerably clingy. I eventually got the hell out of that relationship.

    • Courtney said:

      OMG, short hair for the win. I got a pixie cut because I wanted it and kept it because it’s super easy and looks great on me. But I have noticed the added benefit of an extreme reduction in the amount of street harassment I get.

      • Baytree said:

        Did it cut down on harassment that much? Because I’ve always wondered why I’ve never had to deal with the kind of stuff my friends do. Now I’m starting to think that a buzz cut since middle school might be the reason….

        • Bricksy said:

          I’ve definitely noticed that I’m fortunate enough to have to deal with less crap (of the street harassment variety) than my friends do, and I suspect that the fact that my clothes and short hair occasionally make me look like a prepubescent boy helps…

          • Courtney said:

            I’m curvy enough and short enough that I still read as female even with the short hair no matter what I’m wearing. I’ve had this haircut for 18 months, and I’ve been mistaken for male one time–and that was when I was in my car at a drive through wearing a bulky sweatshirt and briefly turned away from the window. I’ve also been wearing more feminine clothes to work because wearing a dress is an easy way to look really polished with minimum effort.

        • Myrin said:

          I remember someone here on CA saying a year or so ago how a friend of theirs greyed suddenly (I believe because of an accident?) and immediately didn’t get subjected to street harassment anymore – the theory being that she looked like she was “old” from behing, although her hair was still as long and pretty as ever. It would be fascinating if it weren’t so sad.

        • Courtney said:

          Significantly. I get random creepy comments about once every month or two instead of once every day or two. Everything else in mylife is the same, give or take 15 lbs.

        • For me, it did not make a lick of difference. I have had a pixie, a buzz, and a mohawk, and they did not stop or reduce it at all.

      • Funnily enough when I had super-short hair I noticed no change in the harassment level. Harassers don’t need a reason aside from their own entitlement and ickiness, I guess. Also, best of luck setting these boundaries, LW. It’s tough pulling away from a Velcro Victor, but being the strongest clinger and the smotheriest-smother doesn’t make anyone entitled to your time or friendship, and damn well doesn’t entitle them to make you feel bad about it either. I send you all of the Jedi Hugs, if you would like them.

        • The Aphid said:

          Continuing the hair derail. I – find it very interesting that you didn’t notice a change in harassment level with short hair, tinylittlesporano. Thank you for sharing that. I have known that How Harassers React To Hairstyles is variable, but I don’t think I’d ever heard the perspective of a short-haired person who bucked the trend.

          On the other side of it, I have super-long hair (like, almost-to-my-knees on the rare occasions when I take it out of the braid), am female, and get almost zero street harassment. (Presumably there’s other factors cutting down on it for me – I have many theories as to what those might be, including quite a few ways in which I do not gender-conform.) I have usually been grateful that I experience so little harassment. But sometimes, when I was younger and somewhat more insecure, I felt weird about the contrast between what happened when I was walking alone vs. walking with my more-harassed friends. Hearing about how people with long hair were SUPPOSED to be getting more harassment made Young Me feel even more weird. And when I wasn’t feeling weird, I was furious on the behalf of my long-haired friends who were meanwhile getting victim-blamed for their own harassment, when obviously it was not the hair’s fault – for all the many reasons why victim-blaming is always stupid, but also with an outraged-teenager side of IF IT WAS THE HAIR, THE MALE-FOLK WOULD BE NOTICING MY EXISTENCE TOO, OK? ARE WE CLEAR NOW? *headdesk*

          On the subject of being clear, I definitely believe that for many people, shorter hair = less harassment. Not disputing that experience in any way, or objecting to it being observed and shared, or anything like that – I hope I am not coming off as if I am. The idea was to comment on yet another way that our culture can twist stuff around and make things no-win that I don’t see discussed much.

          And on the original topic – this part of the letter really boggled me:
          “…I’m not hanging out with him enough or when we do he feels like I’ve scheduled him in like everyone else and I’m making him feel bad…”

          WTF? Of course he’s been scheduled in like everyone else! He schedules LW in, LW schedules him in. If you have a relationship with someone, you schedule time for them, and also you schedule time for yourself and for Stuff That Needs Doing and for all of the other people that you have relationships with. On some level, this applies to pretty much all relationships, doesn’t it? Even if he and the LW were romantically involved, which they in fact are not, he would still be getting scheduled in like everybody else, because just like everybody else in LW’s life, ze is deciding how much space ze has for him. I mean, some hang-outs are more scheduled than others, but even the most spontaneous hang-outs are in the end a life-scheduling choice. Possibly I am showing my Aspie here, but it seems to me that he has a deep misunderstanding of how schedules work?

          And if his point is that HE should be the only scheduler of the relationship and all of LW’s time Is Belong To Him, it seems to me that he needs to be set straight. Either by learning that yes, other people do schedule him in like everyone else, lucky him, or else by discovering that LW is no longer actually scheduling him in at all. Because LW’s time is so not belong to him.

          • Courtney said:

            “And if his point is that HE should be the only scheduler of the relationship and all of LW’s time Is Belong To Him”

            That’s the sense that I’m getting from the LW’s post. He wants to be the single most important thing in her life, so when she’s not doing something that MUST be done at X time (like work or attending class), he thinks that time should be held free for him. Ugh.

          • “Possibly I am showing my Aspie here, but it seems to me that he has a deep misunderstanding of how schedules work?”

            I’m allistic, and my interpretation is the same as yours. I’m pleased as anything when somebody carves out a specific period of time just for me.

    • It is really interesting to me how many random dudes (and less-random dudes like friends & boyfriends) have Big Sad Boner Opinions when the women in their lives cut their hair short.
      When I was a lady in college, I shaved my head and I had PROFESSORS whine “but you were/your hair was so beautiful” at me. Plus yeah, my bf at the time was cool with it for a bit but very quickly thought it made me look like a “street thug.”

      • monologue said:

        So interesting. I’ve now had short hair for a long time and any time I let it get long for me which is basically chin length, random dude friends and aquaintances will start telling me how much they like it. My thought process is basically no shit dumbass, it’s because I look a little closer to someone who’s gendered like the people you want to bone. I really liked the captain’s piece from a few days ago because yeah, don’t care about and didn’t ask for those bonepinions.

      • Jenna said:

        I have experienced the Big Sad Boner opinion from an ex FWB. I was undergoing cancer treatment, and he was sad about the hair….and the mastectomy. I’m sorry, but the boobs tried to kill me so they had to go?
        It makes it more obvious than I’d like that my REAL job as a woman was to be decorative. It was more important that my breasts were lovely( actual verbiage,” You had such lovely breasts!” ), than me getting treatment and being cancer free?

        • Myrin said:

          Oh god, it’s the “I love boobies!” campaign in the flesh! (No pun intended) *cringes*

          • Jenna said:

            I have encountered the, “I love boobies” and the, “Save the tatas!”

            My reaction was pretty much RAGE.

            Luckily for me I can do rage without throwing furniture or ending up on assault charges.

        • Erin said:

          This … wow, I actually don’t know that to say because of the level of fucking dehumanization. What an awful person.

      • Courtney said:

        I know! I was so braced for my boyfriend to be upset at the idea (because I’ve seen that dynamic so many times.) Nope. In fact, he was so averse to the idea that I might cut my hair based on his preferences that I practically had to throw a fit to even *get* his opinion from him. I had been circling around the idea of a pixie cut for about a year, but since it’s apparently illegal to show pictures of a fat woman with a pixie, I had no idea how it would look on me. I *wanted* opinions/discussion etc. on how it might look on me, but I kept getting, “It’s your hair.” Well, yes. And figuring out if what I want to do with MY hair is going to work or not is freaking me out, so, a little help, please? I finally found the magic words: “I’m asking for your opinion, not your permission.” Can you tell that a former ex of his used to set verbal traps all the time?

      • sometimeswhy said:

        I had a frie… acquai… person I knew who when, right after high school, I cut my butt-length hair to a super severe bob, began to pursue me so that–and I wish I was joking or hyperbolizing here–I would have a reason to grow it back out. Because apparently I cut it because I didn’t have a boner to make happy with my long, luxurious hair that got knotted in the wind and caught in doors, zippered jacket pockets, my trousers, and occasionally under my ass.

        Whut.

        I gave him the severed braid and invited him to do what he would with it but made clear that was the only way he would ever have contact with my long long hair.

      • I don’t think it’s just men. I have gone from long to short hair several times. The first time was kindergarten, and my kindergarten teacher (female) cried. The second time was high school and no one cared. The most recent time was in my late 20s, and all sorts of people got upset, including women at the salon, some random people I worked with, etc. People are strange about long hair.

        • Para said:

          “People are strange about long hair.”

          Oh, SO much yes. I have really long (and naturally orange) hair, and I get so much weirdness–the last three or four years I’ve been keeping it twisted up under a hat almost all the time to avoid the weirdness, but any time it’s down, having total strangers (and not total strangers) walk up behind me, grab my hair, play with it, possibly use it to hold me in place while doing so if I try to walk away before they’re done, and then themselves walk away without a word, was a NORMAL occurrence. Weekly when I barely left the house; daily when I had school and such and therefore had to leave a few times every day. I assume (hope) that my experience is very unusual, but it’s been consistent through at least four (U.S.) states and from my mid-teens to early twenties. As it is, while my hair only ever comes down when at home or when it’s started falling out and I need to put it back up, people rarely grab it, but almost every time it’s visible there are loud comments about how nice it is and what a shame it is that I don’t let people see it more often, whether directed at me or just to someone else nearby. (I also had this conversation with, of all people, a Women’s Studies professor; she said how nice my hair was, I told her about the creepy people that would grab it and that I didn’t feel safe leaving it down, and she told me not to let them/the patriarchy limit what I want to do, despite my never having implied that I wanted to leave it down in the first place. I am, in fact, very fond of my hats and feel a lot happier wearing them than not.)

          Also, skipping back a bit, while I (obviously, from the rambling I just did) haven’t cut my hair, I’ve talked about it several times, and always gotten negative responses. Most notably, my dad’s response was “but then you won’t be pretty!” (which I THINK was followed by something about how being pretty would help me to get a good job/career), and my brother saying about the same thing, but with “and then you won’t get a boyfriend!” as the reason for why me not being pretty would be a Terrible Thing. (Not very good reasoning, there, since he already knew that I’m asexual and that of my many crushes, exactly zero have been on guys.)

  32. panda flannel said:

    Hey Captain, jw about the part where you said, “In fact, that’s more manipulation – when people get texted information they don’t want and they insist on taking it to email, or the phone, or “You owe it to me to talk to me face to face.” (Translation: I will change the venue of this conversation to one more likely to give me the result I want).”

    I’ve had a friendship before where a huge number of serious conversations got had over text message, and it led to so much confusion and hurt feelings – people reading people’s tone wrong, messages getting sent in the wrong order or not going through at all – to the point that I set the boundary that I wasn’t willing to have serious conversations via text message, and would redirect conversations to in-person or email.

    Was that manipulative of me? (Serious question, I never thought of it that way.)

    • Mary said:

      I have also switched conversations away from text (or twitter, or instant messenger or whatever) because it felt like the conversations were really unproductive. I think it really depends why you’re doing it and making sure you’re consulting the other person’s consent and comfort as well as you’re own.

      Deciding how you carry out a conversation is a negotiation between two people. If someone is choosing a more distanced form of communication because they prefer it or they find it safer to only communicate on email, and you are like, “I refuse to discuss this except in person. If you want to discuss this, you’ll have to meet me in person”, then you’ve got to accept the response, “ok, then this conversation is over because I don’t want to meet you.” If you want the other person to switch to meeting you and you don’t care whether it’s inconvenient or less safe for the mother person, then that’s manipulative and unfair. On the other hand, if you say, “I find it hard to have this conversation on Twitter, can we meet in person to discuss it?” and the other person says, “yeah sure, that would be easier! How about we have lunch tomorrow?” – then it sounds like a fair arrangement that both of you are agreeing to.

      You don’t HAVE to accept “specific medium” just because the other person prefers it if it’s difficult or inconvenient for you. But equally, you shouldn’t force “specific medium” on someone else because it’s easier or more convenient for you, and especially not because you think it gives you advantages and makes it easier to browbeat the other person into accepting what you want. Does that make sense?

    • JenniferP said:

      Asking for a change in venue for a conversation is not necessarily manipulative, but it can be (any behavior can be manipulative in the right context).

      From this guy, who has a history and pattern of manipulation, it definitely is. The other thing that makes it manipulative is that this (still theoretical) conversation is a “don’t talk to me anymore for a while” conversation. So responding to an email that says “I am feeling exhausted and overwhelmed by our friendship, please give me some space and I’ll contact you in a month” with “I insist we have a face-to-face conversation, you owe me that much!is being manipulative. It’s a refusal to engage with what they are actually being told, which is “Leave me be.” The LW doesn’t owe the person having as many conversations as he wants, in exactly the way that he wants until he gets it.

      Text messages aren’t the greatest place deeply emotional discussions. For you, who was participating in an ongoing discussion with a lot of back and forth, it doesn’t sound like it was. “Texting isn’t working for me, can we table this until we can talk on the phone?” is a reasonable enough request. “If we’re going to have a serious conversation, let’s wait until I can give it my full attention.” Etc. But that person wasn’t telling you to leave them alone, right? That’s the key difference.

      • piny1 said:

        Yeah. If you respond to, “Please leave me alone,” with, “Can we talk about this? Over coffee?” then you are not honoring their request. Plus, “Please leave me alone,” is not a negotiation.

      • Epiphyta said:

        Someone to whom I gave an African violet 10 years ago is still, in a public forum, going on about how zie was owed a face-to-face conversation about why I was ending things. And every time I hear about it — because a couple of mutual friends just have to tell me all about it; I’m not talking with them that often any more, either, as they only take a hint after having the conversations cut very short — I think “Wow, thank you for confirming that you had no intention of respecting that boundary! Where did I put that ticket for the Nope Rocket?”

      • Kate Monster said:

        Here’s how the change-in-venue tactic went from someone who I now know to be a master manipulator:

        Prof. Manipulator invited me to work with hir over the summer; I responded with a polite email saying that I would be taking classes and would not have time for that, and had some other issues [vague]; I was actually going to have exploratory surgery at the beginning of the summer and had no idea what would happen, but did not trust hir enough to say so.

        Prof. M. responded with an email along the lines of: I don’t take no over email, let’s meet face to face or at least talk by phone. I agreed to a phone call.

        On the call, Prof. M. started asking, “What is it you’re looking for? Money? Publications? [a few other things]? [Pause where I didn't answer.] Did that sound manipulative?” After a long pause, where I didn’t know how to answer, I said something like, “No, but I can’t work on this this summer.”

        After several years, I know to expect self-serving manipulation and status-games from Prof. M. (the number of times zie interrupts someone is inversely proportional to their perceived status/usefulness to hir!). Ugh. At least I knew I was not hir preferred gender, or else there would have been an extra element of wondering how far the manipulation went.

        Anyway, asking for a change of venue is not inherently a manipulation tactic, IMHO, but watch out for when it happens with an intent to prevent an exit or apply pressure.

    • MrsMorley said:

      I set the boundary that I wasn’t willing to have serious conversations via text message, and would redirect conversations to in-person or email.

      Was that manipulative of me? (Serious question, I never thought of it that way.)

      I think it was perfectly reasonable of you. I won’t have serious conversations over any text medium. Live only. But conversations and declarations are different. A clear statement that doesn’t require my answer can come through any medium someone chooses. “No more interactions for now” is a clear statement, and may be best through text.

      If you said that to me, and I responded “Wait! Let’s do this live!” you’d be justified in ignoring me and going about your day, because I would’ve been trying to manipulate you.

      If you asked after my father via text, and he was very ill, it would be pretty reasonable for me to that I’d prefer to talk over the phone, or see you over a glass of wine.

    • not desdemoana said:

      Panda — I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask for serious conversations to happen via a different medium, if your goal is to enhance communication and prevent misunderstandings. I think that it becomes manipulation if the aim is to redirect the conversation to a different end, or if the person were trying to put you into an unsafe situation.

      Manipulative change-of-conversation example: I broke up with my ex a few years ago, and agreed to talk to him some months later on the phone and talk through some of the issues that I’d had with the relationship (he was a scientist — he wanted logical reasons for my having broken up with him). Although he lived some hours’ distance away at the time, he pushed to have the conversation in person instead, saying that he was willing to drive to see me. I know myself, and know that I’m not as good at being strong in person, so I refused. We had our phone conversation, and towards the end, he thanked me for talking to him. I said that it was okay, and that I knew that if the conversation had gone badly or that he’d said things that had made me feel uncomfortable that I would have hung up and ended the conversation.

      His response: “Yeah, that was why I wanted to talk in person, so that you couldn’t hang up on me.”

      The goal of his conversation-change wasn’t to improve the conversation. It was to prevent my escape route. Not okay. (And for the record, the relationship itself was never abusive, although we did have boundary-setting issues around my social life; he was overall a good guy but with different expectations for interaction. People who manipulate aren’t necessarily terrible people!)

      • FrodoPal said:

        Thank you for your last sentence. It’s weird how strongly I am still hanging onto the idea that my ex-friend is a good person but…she is AND she is manipulative AS HELL. Her insecurities, the ones that lead her to try to control my life, are NOT my problem! Finally figured that out. Whew. Grateful for your little reassurance there. :)

    • Erin said:

      Hehe *high five*

    • panda flannel said:

      Replying to my own comments in hopes of nesting right: thanks for your responses, y’all! Makes more sense now.

  33. MilleTheModel said:

    Ohhh my gosh, this letter hits so close to home for me, it’s not even funny. After being really good friends with someone for several years, this happened to me. That is to say, I realized that my friend was needy and demanding and insisted that I be available for them at all times (over the internet, as this was a long-distance friendship), and if I dared to have other plans with other friends, that meant that I was a horrible, terrible friend and that I didn’t care about her at all.

    When I look back at those years of “friendship” now, I realize that ‘friend’ treated me like that the whole time, I was just too blind to see them — blinded by the fact that they NEEDED me to help, and it felt good to be needed.

    Of course, everything blew up in my face when I finally backed away from the situation…

    It’s a long and ugly story, but what causes me to actually post this comment is the fact that I’ve felt terribly guilty (and angry for feeling guilty) for dropping this person, and feeling like they were right, I AM a terrible person. But when I read this post, and the answer, and the comments, I’m suddenly feeling like the knot of guilt in my chest is starting to loosen. Maybe it’s seeing the fact that other people have gone through this, too, and they don’t seem like terrible, horrible people, just people who couldn’t take the weight of another person’s constant FEELINGS lying on their shoulders either. So… I’m NOT a terrible person, either? Maybe?

    • Anothermous said:

      *big hugs* You are NOT a terrible person. It’s crushing to be cast in the role of “sole emotional support for damaged person X”. Yes, people need support from other people throughout their lives, sometimes for relatively trivial stuff, sometimes for super major awful stuff. But it’s unhealthy for ONE person to be that support. Even when being emotional support *is* someone’s job (i.e. a therapist or counselor) there are strict boundaries set around the performance of that job–usually for 45-60 minutes, once a week, at a specific time, and when it is over the patient LEAVES.

      If your clingy friend would never leave you so that you could have some space and time of your own, your only option was to disengage completely. It sucks, and it makes you feel awful, but sometimes the nuclear option is the only one left.

      • Cypress said:

        Delurking to +1000 this: “Even when being emotional support *is* someone’s job (i.e. a therapist or counselor) there are strict boundaries set around the performance of that job–usually for 45-60 minutes, once a week, at a specific time, and when it is over the patient LEAVES.”

        LW, as so many other folks have eloquently said, this is absolutely not on you. You’re neither a terrible friend nor a terrible person for wanting a break from + renegotiation of a relationship that is leaving you exhausted and upset because the other person in it is being a dangerously unreasonable and creepifying ass; you’re neither a terrible friend nor a terrible person for wanting entirely OUT of a relationship that is leaving you exhausted and upset because the other person in it is being a dangerously unreasonable and creepifying ass. (I mean, I don’t know him. But this is my general impression from your letter to Captain A.) I totally understand where you’re coming from in feeling this way–I was utterly wracked with guilt when I disentangled myself from a similar situation earlier this year, because HOW WOULD SHE SURVIVE WITHOUT ME–but those (utterly misplaced) feelings of guilt faded ever so swiftly in the sweet silence that followed. Checking my e-mail no longer involved wading through twenty drunken confessions of her perceived failings and need for approval! I did not wince when my phone rang! OMG THIS IS HOW OTHER PEOPLE LIVED ALL THE TIME.

        And also, you know what? My velcro clinger survived without me just fine. And honestly, even if she hadn’t, and had become even more clingy and crazy, she is a freakin’ adult in a land of adults, and that would not have been on me.

    • mehting said:

      You’re not a terrible person. No maybes.

      I’ve been there- the long friendship that got increasingly needy and clingy, and had several of the markers for being a potentially suicidal situation. And at the beginning, I liked being useful and needed. And later, when repeated boundary setting didn’t work, I started backing away. Just when I had decided to cut out entirely, I got a call: my friend had been broken up with by the last stable person in their life other than me. And I couldn’t cope with the friendship before that–and was frightened what would happen to this person if I removed myself from the equation, so I called a suicide hotline to see if they could tell me if I could safely get out (safely for my friend)

      They told me that it’s not my job or anyone’s job to stay in a friendship that you don’t want or enjoy just because you are needed. They said friends shouldn’t have to fill that role, and that there is a reason therapists get paid and have set hours. They said refer my friend to resources, and if there is an immediate survival threat I knew of to call them myself, but that it is OK TO LEAVE. No matter how concerned I was about their safety once I was gone. They said I couldn’t fix people, and I shouldn’t give up my emotional well-being in trying to.

      That was what the professionals told me when I called them with a concern about actual survival if I left a friendship. I’m thinking if that’s their response with that high stakes, it’s probably true generally.

  34. Ana said:

    oooh had about 2 of these friendships. in one of them I felt obliged to continue talking because I was very very worried about her mental health-it was worse than a depression and somehow this person caught me offguard when she found my phone number and called me of the blue and I didn’t know how to tell her not to speak to me. As a result (since we had problems before she got ill) there will be some negotitiation of the terms of friendship over the summer and possibly another African Violet case if we can’t get to agree on some fundamental changes. Another friend of mine was a total asshole to me for 3 years out of many of our friendship and was my closest, first true friend and because I recognised that he had difficult circumstances and gave him such a special label I put up with a phenomenal amount of shit from him that really rocked my self esteem and who I am. He really improved his behaviour afterwards to a point where I can tolerate him and deescalating the amount of contact time with this person was vital. But really if I had 1 more such person I would not allow them any such leeway ever again-their behaviour which causes you to lose your own agency, time and browbeating your needs and opinions to the point where you think you are the “bad friend who doesn’t measure up, if only you tried harder” is ultimately not worth putting in the effort for.Furthermore you might forgive them for what they did but you will have a hard time forgiving yourself that you allowed Clingsters to take so much of your person, your time and your life.

  35. I didn’t hear anything in the LW’s description of the situation that suggested the existence of a friendship to save. All I heard was someone who is being bled by an emotional vampire and wants it to stop.

    • Somuchthis said:

      Yes! I saw nothing redeeming here either and in my view, the LW will feel loads better getting this monkey off her back.

    • It sounds like there was a prior history of genuine friendship — the dude had been supportive in the past. He didn’t only contact LW when he needed something. That means there’s at least the possibility of something to salvage if he can behave himself from here on out.

      But just a possibility! He doesn’t get to coast on the laurels of past supportiveness forever.

      • MrsMorley said:

        Actually, to me it sounds like there never was a friendship. There was a Nice Guy ™ who stuck around in hopes of sex and romance. Who got the sex, and continued hoping for romance, and who deeply resents any indications that LW actually has a life. I really dislike this guy,.

        • Could be. Only the LW can judge, and again, if she wants to walk away right now, I won’t think she’s making the wrong decision.

  36. The only thing I would change about this great advice is this: “I know this isn’t good news, but now that I’ve had some time to think I think it’s better if we don’t resume our friendship.”

    Take out the “I think” part where you say, “I think it’s better if we don’t resume our friendship.” You don’t think it, you know it so be solid and strong about the declaration. Saying “I think it’s better” sometimes sounds unsure. In the case of a velcro clinger like this, you need to be as solid and sure as you can when making statements. I realize it sounds like a small thing, but it can have a big impact when you’re saying the words out loud.

  37. Thomas said:

    Said friend is a Terrible Person who is Not Actually Your Friend. You owe him Exactly Nothing. It’s perfectly allright for you to shut him out completely & let him choke on his own awful entitlement issues. You don’t need to stay friends with this person. You’re better than this.

    I was with you for the first four paragraphs. Sure, I get it. You two had a brief fling, stayed friends, cool. He’s kinda mopey nowadays. Actually needs a therapist. We all have friends like that. You say he’s a “reasonable good friend”. Yeah, I can see how that could be true in a situation like this. Really a nice guy when he’s in the right mood & all that.

    And then I read the fifth paragraph. “Quite aggressive in his clinginess – he ends up scolding me about our friendship – if I don’t reply within an hour or so, I get a text asking if I’m mad at him – he gets really really upset and starts attacking me.”

    Nope! Nope! Nope! You don’t need this person in your life. The sooner you get rid of him, the better. He’s draining your energy & wasting your time. Free yourself of this burden. If you want to end this in a reasonably civilized way, write him a short explanation why you can’t stay in touch with him anymore & urge him to seek therapy. That’s really the only thing you can do for him. But you’re free to shut him out without notice. He’ll get it, eventually.

    Full disclosure: I have been This Guy to several female friends. Not quite as bad as your little ray of sunshine, but certainly mopey, needy, negative & really not helpful. So I’ve been shut out at least twice. Got a letter, sent one back, got none in return. The friends in question wouldn’t answer their phone. Not a fun experience, but not the end of the world. There were still other people I could talk to. Got some insights out of it. Strove to be a better person. And looking back I can definitely see how some of my past friendships had an unhealthy dynamic & that the split-up was probably good for both of us.

  38. letternext said:

    I have been in similar situations more than once. [Disclaimer, haven't read every comment yet, so apologies if this is repeated elsewhere.] After the first time I figured out that starting the blocking or filtering process immediately after making the statement about what was going to happen from now on worked best for me. I.e. “i’m not going to be available for [listening/chatting/hanging out] for [time period/from now on] but I will do [less invasive alternative].” Then immediately filter. This worked better than waiting to see what the other person would do, because mostly they didn’t agree with any changes & ultimately didn’t agree that I had a right to make those changes. Then I stuck to what I’d decided, say checking messages once a week rather than replying immediately & just repeated something like “as I said, this is what I can’t keep doing [intense contact] but this is what I am willing to try [less intense contact].” Sometimes it was necessary to explain in more than one way that I really meant it & that might have meant saying something like “I’m sorry if this level of contact isn’t enough for you but as I said, I can’t offer you more.” I also found it useful to deal with the pushback [i.e. "you're being selfish/you don't really care about me"] by just being really brief & honest, i.e. “it hurts my feelings when you say I’m a bad person because I don’t immediately reply to you, I don’t want to have conversations where I am called names like that, so please stop or I’ll end this conversation.”

    Before I figured out that immediate filtering was the way to go [for me] I even ended up saying things like “most of our conversations are basically you telling me I’m a bad person for not replying to your messages. Why do you even want to be in such close contact with someone you think is so selfish & mean?” But questions like that can end up in conversations that endlessly revolve around themselves & sometimes lead to very unhealthy places. Such as: “Yeah, you’re a bad person for not paying enough attention to me, but I’ll forgive you if you start listening to me tell you what a bad person you are again.” In other words, put up with me telling you how bad I think you are to prove we’re really friends.

    So many words to say: you don’t have to give someone infinite chances, or any chances. It’s not easy & can conflict with a lot of the ways we are socialised to “keep the peace” – but if you really can’t or don’t want to deal with someone, it’s OK to act on that by pulling back or stopping contact.

    • Somuchthis said:

      Absolutely agreed. Immediate filtering/blocking is an excellent strategy. I’ve known people who claim they want space from others, but then don’t filter/block and when they receive the inevitable correspondence from the person, they just HAVE to reply. And on and on it goes. Coming to a point where you can definitively state (if only to yourself) that you need space to breathe and then making that happen with filters/blocking is a really, really great thing. Takes away the temptation to reply immediately or at all.

  39. Actual thing that an actual friend actually started telling people recently (with mixed results, but I applaud her decision):

    “I’m really trying to keep all of my personal and social interactions positive right now; I’m dealing with so much negativity professionally that I can’t handle it in my real life as well.”
    (Feel free to alter this one to suit, but she’s cleaned house with this method and the remaining associations – that being the bulk of them – have gotten stronger for it)

    Actual thing that I have actually said to an actual friend (who was Dealing with Stuff):

    “I’m sorry – I can see where you really need to vent and have someone just listen, or offer moral support, but I think maybe I’m not the person to help you with this issue. Other things, yes, because I love you, but this is not in my wheelhouse anymore. Still friends?”
    (We were, and she went from “HOW DARE YOU NOT LOVE AND SUPPORT ME AND SAY THE THINGS I WANT TO HEAR” to “yep, I get that. You’re right, let’s just change the subject!” and we’re still friends but I don’t have to hear about her venting about that thing. Yay!)

    (Un)fortunately, I’ve got nothing of any use on the clingy issue… either I naturally discourage that behavior or I’m just not as loveable as you are ;)

    • Ethyl said:

      Didn’t someone once post a link to a flow chart of some kind about what sorts of support a person could give? Does that ring a bell? I would love to find that again!

      • I remember the concentric circles of grief/tragedy, that helpful guide to Why You Can’t Vent TO Your Sick Friend… not sure if that’s the one you’re thinking of, though

      • atma said:

        This one?

  40. MamaCheshire said:

    Ouch. Ouch ouch ouch ouch.

    I’ve been on both sides of this particular transaction, and the combination of the two are why I have so much trouble being social/having a Team Me.

    I had a “Velcro Victor” in my life. There was never anything romantic between US, but he was married to and then estranged from the person who was my other closest local friend at the time. (I think they may still be technically married but they haven’t lived together in years.) For a while, he was my housemate. One time, after he moved out and was married to my other friend, we had a horrific falling-out that I cried myself to sleep over for MONTHS. Even though it was not a sexual or romantic thing, this was the absolutely worst breakup I’d ever been through. And then we found our way back to each other, and…well, I could very nearly be the LW here, for how that went. Basically, he wanted me to be Fixer Sue for his life, and I actually really tried, and then I ended up saying some difficult things he didn’t want to hear because he had taken on some Saddest Panda-type creeper tendencies and I just…did not want to hear any of it. And now we have a very strained, very small doses friendship and it makes me sad because what we had fifteen years ago was the best thing ever but neither of us are that person anymore.

    OTOH, I ended up being the Velcro Victoria to a really awesome friend of mine that I had a bit of a crush on (mostly aspirational-type “I’m not sure if I want to make out with you and bring you awesome carefully-selected presents you will cherish always, or if I just want to BE you” sort that sometimes happens with me and women). It was about four years ago, I had a lot of really nasty crap going on in my life at the time, and ended up venting about too much of it to her. And she told me to stop, fairly harshly. And I did. And I wasn’t sure our friendship would come back (especially since we have *such* different lives), but when I was in Nearby Large City (where this awesome friend lives) on business a couple months ago, she made a very bouncy and enthusiastic point of “Dinner? Yes we MUST have dinner! We must hang out! I miss you!”

    • Jane said:

      Did the friend you vented too much to give you any feedback before the telling-off that it was too much? I have also been Velcro Vanessa*, and while my behavior was certainly not awesome, the fact that my clinged-upon former friend violently switched from “sure, I’m happy to help” to “don’t talk to me, ever” pretty much ensured that when he made mild overtures of resumed friendship a year later, my reaction was more along the lines of, “fuck you, fuckface” than “oh boy friends again!”

      Ugh friend breaks are very hard and negotiating clingy-ness is very hard. The only friend break I have ever successfully instituted happened because that friendship had very clearly defined boundaries from the start — we never talked about feelings or my mental health, and he politely redirected all sad/anxious/negative trains of thought back into positive territory (and when someone does that consistently, you kind of get to know the kind of conversation that is okay to have with that person.)

      I don’t really know how to negotiate having In-Person Sads with someone I am emotionally open with. With my long-distance friends, I am quite honest in my emails, but I only expect a response to every one of three or one of ten emails I send, depending on the time of year and relative busy-ness of the other party (which is probably why those friendships have survived.)

      * changed because I had a clingy friend whose name actually was Victoria, and she has since died. :(

      • MamaCheshire said:

        No, there was no prior feedback, but she has a…very direct and blunt communication style that I was already well aware of (and was part of the reason I admired her so much, really). I’m suspecting it wasn’t an issue for her until it was. And she never said “don’t talk to me” but instead “I really need you to tell depressing/angry stuff to someone WHO IS NOT ME for a while.” And so there was a certain amount of careful politeness around our shared interests and mutual friends for a while. And I don’t think we’re *as* close as we were before that happened, but that could just be because the crush has faded.

  41. Cat said:

    Delurking to comment!

    Velcro friends. I know them. I had one, and mine was a very unhealthy friendship. I’ve ended up having to sever it entirely and block him on all social networks, though we live in the same small town, and the last time he saw me (after I hadn’t spoken to him in six months, and then sent him a letter detailing exactly why I was no longer his friend (he stole my script, among many, many other things) and told him never to contact me again after he texted me demanding that I “explain why I’m so upset” and calling me juvenile and selfish he said “I’ve apologised as much as I can.”

    Some people will never get it.

    The Captain’s advice and scripts are great. Just be prepared that, if he doesn’t listen, you may have to cut him off entirely. I understand entirely wanting to salvage the friendship, and it’ll hurt if ou have to, but if your boundaries are being violated you do have to reinforce them.

    Remember: the only person you can count on to be on to be on Team You is you. Be on Team You.

    Not to say you don’t have have other people on Team You! Gather them for support and help. Your friends are there to help you, and want to help you. Let them.

    I wish you the best LW, and sincerely hope for the best outcome.

  42. Anisoptera said:

    LW I have had friends like that and it’s infuriating because there’s no way to pull back even slightly to get some breathing room without a major blow out. You can avoid a normal person for a few weeks (or months, or sometimes years if by “avoid” you mean only casual contact…) and then get back together later with no recriminations, but needy person will immediately detect the reduction in contact and demand an explanation. And of course one of the best ways to make me resent seeing someone is for them to go on and on about how I don’t see them enough or contact them enough. Even if the break was just due to random external factors, and not about them at all, once they go down that road I’ll start to dread speaking to them and avoid them even more. I understand how it happens – I used to do it myself – but you just can’t put that kind of pressure on someone without making them pull away.

    I know you want to preserve your relationship with this guy, but he has some pretty unreasonable expectations on how often you talk and how quickly you respond. And shouting at you is way, *way* out of line. You can try setting boundaries with this guy, but I suspect he’ll take it very badly and leave you with no option but to nuke the friendship. I still think you should set the boundaries (you know, unless you want to go directly to African Violet which would be totally reasonable IMO). He doesn’t get to shout at you and tell you you’re selfish. He doesn’t get to demand responses within an hour.

    He’s pretty much guaranteed to go nuts when you start setting boundaries, but here’s the thing. Losing this friendship is probably going to feel way, way better than you think. I had a close friend who constantly demanded my time, so that she could complain to me endlessly without listening to any of my opinions/issues/things I wanted to say. She would freak out and ask if I was avoiding her if I let things go for more than a week or two and once even faked an emergency when I refused to meet up with her one day after work when I was feeling really tired and turned down the initial invite. And eventually she pursued me with recriminations and “but whyyy” and “are you mad with me?? Why won’t you let me fix it??” when I tried to take a break from catching up. I had to African Violet the friendship. Twice. Because after the first one she found out I’d broken up with a long term partner and showed up with food and left it even though I didn’t answer the door and then I felt trapped by the gift and also lonely and sad. This sounds like her being kind but actually she was majorly into favour sharking.

    Anyway. This whole run on story is to say once she was out of my life it was a *massive* relief. I suddenly discovered I had so much more energy for socialising with other people, who I’d been bailing on because interacting with her was draining me so much I was staying home from not-her things because I was tired and wanted to be alone in a silent room full of silence. This guy is almost certainly eating up time you might spend cultivating close friendships with people who respect boundaries and don’t shout at their friends.

    Don’t be too overwhelmed by feelings of owing him for the support he gave you when you were down. This doesn’t buy him the right to be a manipulative boundary swamping shouty person. And know that toxic people will often form friendships with people who are down and broken and having a rough time because those people are vulnerable and then will owe them and not call them on their bulshit. Obviously plenty of people will support you when you’re down just because they are good people, but manipulators love a vulnerable person. The genuinely good people won’t then trample all over your boundaries and act like they have a right to your constant support.

    If you want to save the relationship, by all means try setting the boundaries. You never know. But probably it won’t work and you’ll have to end the friendship, and probably once it’s over you’ll be really really relieved. Feel free to skip straight to that part.

  43. unlurking said:

    I have been in an analogue to this relationship, and it was so painful, I am so sorry that you’re going through this, LW. Unfortunately, you may need to be prepared to hear how terrible, unfeeling, and unloving a person you are. (No matter how much you love and care about them.) Or for ultimatums where, regardless of which “option” you choose, you will end up as the ‘bad guy’ in their view. Or for nothing you say helping the situation, and everything you say somehow making it a zillion times worse – no matter what you say or do, or how many super-quick replies you reply, or extra messages or extra time you spend, because nothing will be enough. I feel for you, LW, and please just know: You are not terrible. You are not a terrible friend. You are not a terrible person. You care about people and love people. One person lashing out at you with hurtful accusations, does not make those accusations actually true, in the actual world, about the actual you.

  44. Tough Shitlam said:

    “No one would enjoy hearing that from someone they care about, for real, so if he is hurt and sad or that’s not enough for him, he’ s not being a jerk if he doesn’t handle it perfectly in the moment.”

    Thank you for that line. It was a small detail in the much bigger picture, I know, but I lose sight of that a LOT and spend a LOT of time beating myself up for having the ‘wrong’ reactions, even when I’m in shock or in pain.

  45. I understand why at least part of you would want to salvage the friendship. You say he’s been a reasonably good friend, and that he’s been there for you during tough times. Presumably if he were awful 100% of the time, you’d have skipped the letter and cut the guy off. His sometimes being a good dude makes you feel guilty about wanting to cut him off, and maybe you’d even miss him if you did.

    If you’re not just keeping him around out of guilt, then I wish you all the luck in setting boundaries and repairing the friendship such that you enjoy talking to him again. But if that doesn’t work? Yeah, you’re completely justified in ditching him. Yelling at you for not being available whenever he wants you to be is NOT okay.

  46. me and not you said:

    This post gives me so much anxiety. I am dealing with my depression but try not to talk about it because I don’t want to get other people down. And because I don’t like feeling abandoned, I don’t like to push people away when they get on sad streaks. It’s easier to deal with on texts, imo, and I get to where I just agree a lot “O yeah, that sucks”, “I’m sorry you’re going through that”, etc and then trying to get out together with a “we’re doing cheerful things so even if you’re not feeling happy we’re not going to talk about the things that make you sad” (i.e. focus on the positive). On the other hand, I know that I could have used some concrete advice like this for dealing with my ex, who was pushing his untreated depression fueled manipulation in the emotional abuse range (isolation, blaming, etc etc). Anyway, I think that it is also important to note that if he *needs* someone to be there always listen to whatever he wants to talk about, and you can’t do that, you’re not being a good friend to him now, and it actually benefits *him* to find someone else to talk to. Sort of “I can’t give you want you want, it’s not emotionally possible for me”, just like I couldn’t *physically* be friends with someone who required their friend run in marathons with them.

    • Mary said:

      This is advicey, so I apologise in advance if this isn’t what you want. Please don’t feel you have to read it if you think it’ll make you feel more anxious!

      I think the best way to find out whether you are putting a strain on your friendships is to ask your friends? Something like, “hey, I was reading this thing the other other day about how hard it can be to be friends with someone who is depressed and feeling very negative, and I do sometimes worry that I’m doing that. Can I ask you to tell me when I am asking for too much support and putting a strain on the friendship, and can you tell me honestly if you think we need to change the subject or do something lighter and more distracting,mor remind me if I forget to ask about your day or if you think I am having conversations with you that I should be having with a professional?”

      And then the important part is to trust their answers: if they say, “No, honestly, you’re fine”, believe them. Don’t keep digging and asking for more reassurance, because that can be hard work too. Just a simple, “OK, that’s good to hear. But please do tell me if that changes in the future.”

      It is very scary to ask a question like that, but it definitely can help protect your friendships if your friends know that even whilst you’re depressed you do still care about them and the impact you are having on them. I have several friends and partners and ex-partners who I’ve supported through mental health problems of various types, and it is always, always easier if I know that it’s someone who still cares about what my experience of our friendship is, who supports me setting boundaries and does their best to respect them, and who trusts me when I tell them it is OK. Letting your friends know that they can also support you by setting boundaries for themselves and that you will respect those boundaries is *hard*, but I think it is the best way to stop your mental health having a negative impact on your friendships and relationships, and ultimately that is good for you and them.

      Best of luck.

      • dsbs42 said:

        I very much like this advice.

    • Fellow depressed person here, who has been both in LW’s position and Velcro Victor’s position, offering commiseration.

      Before I started therapy and meds, I emotionally burned out a friend. Looking back, I can’t remember warning signs prior to The African Violet Conversation, but surely there were some that I overlooked.

      Zie and I can still exchange small talk or shop talk if we run into each other in the computer lab. But there is a very short list of people I’m comfortable being emotionally vulnerable with– in my family, expressing emotion or vulnerability is like bleeding in a shark tank– and someone who has said to me, “Honestly, I can’t deal with your sadness” doesn’t make that list. I would be cautiously open to being friend-ish again at some point, but only if zie initiates it and makes clear the terms on which interaction would be comfortable to hir.

      So that losing a friend won’t suck quite as much in the future, and so that my remaining friends aren’t as burdened, I am working on emotional management and also slowly trying to meet new people. And I’m also trying to be proactive in asking new acquaintances for clear boundaries. I really wish it were more normative for people to discuss how much closeness or emotional sharing they want. Because we’re all different, and we’re all terrible at mind-reading.

  47. miss_chevious said:

    “Once you tolerate something you have made an agreement to tolerate it forever without actually changing your feelings” is not actually a rule.

    In the legal profession, there’s this concept called waiver, which basically says if you waive a requirement, like timely payment, you may have altered the terms of the contract. So most contracts have this clause that says “hey, just because I let you get away with something once or twice, it doesn’t mean you can get away with it all the time and it doesn’t change the terms of our deal.” (I’m paraphrasing.)

    LW, just because you let your friend be a whiny negative nelly for a while out of sympathy or affection doesn’t mean that he gets to change the relationship permanently into one where he demands your time and attention and cookies and you acquiesce. The contract is friendship, and if he can’t provide it, maybe it’s time to let him know that he needs to shape up or he’s going to be in breach.

  48. Luna said:

    Ugh. What do you do if you live with this person? This is my roommate.

    • FrodoPal said:

      That was me a year ago and I did everything in my power to not need to live with her anymore. And now I don’t. :) And I’m happier.

    • Anisoptera said:

      It’s possible to set boundaries with someone you live with – it takes a lot of effort, and you’ll probably need to be assertive and forthright. You know, ourtright saying stuff like “I need time to myself right now, I will talk to you later” and “if I’m working in my room I don’t want to be disturbed” etc etc. But defending and setting those boundaries with someone you live with will be exhausting and even a successful end result might still be tense and resentful. You might find it too exhausting, or at least, certainly more exhausting than arranging a new living situation.

    • My two cents: definitely look into other living arrangements if at all possible. Make sure your bedroom door locks and they don’t have a key, so you have at least the one space to retreat to. And if you want to still be friendly (BIG IF, this one’s totally optional), consider having a standing ‘date’ night with them, so that they have the emotional security of scheduled time with you.

      Depending on how upset you think they might get when you do enforce boundaries, also do an audit of your stuff that’s in shared space. If you want to spend more time in your room, it’s really good not to have to keep coming out for stuff.

      It really sucks when your home doesn’t feel safe. I really hope you can find something that works for you.

  49. h said:

    There’s so many sad stories, I think I will share one with a happy ending just as a palate refresher :)

    My husband and I had a good friend who was a key part of “Our Gang.” He was single but a very social guy, so he spent lots of time with many people, not just us. But we did see a lot of him. On any given week, we might go to his place during the week to watch TV, meet up for breakfast on Saturday morning, go from breakfast to our place for board games, play board games until we went out or my husband or I made food, and see each other again on Sunday to go out to a movie. Then my husband and I had some major life stuff come up at the same time that our good friend moved.

    He was lonely in his new town. Even though he’d lived there before, many of his old friends had moved, and others had new obligations. He made many trips back to our town to socialize. Husband and I found ourselves on the receiving end of a LOT of guilt because we wouldn’t return the visit. But we just couldn’t! We told him that repeatedly, but he didn’t believe us. He was sure we were exaggerating. He was also angry because when he did come to town, we couldn’t spend as much time with him as he wanted.

    For our part, we were honestly struggling, and time with friends was precious. We had to make a real effort to show up to important social events. When we did, and that precious time got wasted by somebody being angry and making us feel like bad people, that really hurt.

    One of the things I had to cut back on in a major way was online gaming. The low point of the conflict between us came over that. One morning I had a zillion things to do, but I was so stressed that my hands were physically shaking and I felt nauseous, so I didn’t feel safe to drive. I decided to do online gaming for half an hour to try to calm down. My friend “caught” me at it. As soon as I saw him log on, I logged off myself, hoping he hadn’t seen me, because I knew I’d hear about it later. Sure enough, next time I saw him, when he again started going on about how selfish we were not to come visit him, I said we just couldn’t, and he brought up the gaming. “You must have time, I saw you online!” I felt so angry that I had to worry about a friend “catching” me taking a few precious minutes for myself.

    I was so fed up with him, I was prepared to cut ties forever and call it good riddance. This was after around ten years of friendship. But even though geek social circles have their drawbacks, sometimes they really come through. What happened was that I completely went off to a mutual friend about how he was getting on my last nerve, and I was one guilt trip away of telling him I never wanted to see his lousy face again. I never asked, but I strongly suspect that our mutual friend had a heart-to-heart with him, because the next time I saw him, his behavior was completely different. He went from, “I go out of my way to visit you, you OWE it to me to return the favor,” to “I’m having a barbecue, I hope you can make it.”

    Here’s the happy part: he was a great guy and a genuinely good friend before this, and he’s a good friend again now. Husband and I came through the life stuff and have more free time again, and we do in fact visit him in his home town on a regular basis. He was going through a tough time and he handled it poorly, but he genuinely is a great guy.

    One difference between this story and the ones with sad endings is that my friend’s behavior never got as extreme. I got guilt trips, but not yelling and certainly not hourly texts. Another is there was no romantic subtext to complicate things. The final and most important thing, though, is that my friend chose to change his behavior. I will never for sure know why, because I have no reason to bring up past conflicts.

  50. Andrea said:

    I just want to say to the letter writer that if you do end this friendship, in the end, you will feel so incredibly liberated.

    Like many people here, I also once had a friend like this. And reading this letter gave me the most tingly euphoric feeling because OH MY GOD THE FACT THAT THIS PERSON IS NOT IN MY LIFE ANYMORE MAKES ME SO HAPPY.

  51. FrodoPal said:

    Thank you, Captain! This was me a year ago and, with the help of my 12 Step sponsor, I am now free of that sick friendship. LW, you CAN unhook from his needs; good luck!

  52. kazerniel said:

    About 8 years ago I had a boyfriend who was this level of clingyness, and back then the only way I saw out from being smothered and drained by his overwhelming demand on my time and attention is to break up and cease all contact with him :/

  53. Am I the only one who worries about the LW’s safety? Here’s why: They had a bit of a fling and decided it wouldn’t work but he’s still hanging around, making her feel guilty. If she sets boundaries and makes them stick, suppose he threatens her physically?
    When I filed for a restraining order against my now-ex, I had help from a women’s center. The woman who helped me fill out the paperwork and attended the court hearing with me told me that when you leave a controlling/abusive man he realizes his power over you is slipping away. That’s the most dangerous time, she said: Because some of them are so full of rage that they decide to show you that you can’t quit them until they SAY you can quit them.
    Although it sounds like Velcro Victor isn’t that kind of guy, we often don’t know who IS that kind of guy until it’s too late.
    The women’s center advised me to be alert for any signs of my ex, to vary my routines, etc. By then I was living in a different city than he, and I honestly DIDN’T think he’d try to harm me, but they were right: You really can’t be too careful.
    So if I were the author I’d make sure friends knew what was going on, didn’t engage in conversations (real or online) with Vic about whyyyyyyyyy, had my back at social gatherings if he showed up. Not to sound alarmist, but she needs to make sure all the bases are covered. And then she should go ahead and live her life, because she is not the bad friend here.

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