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Friendship

Hello Captain!

Long-time reader, first question. I have been having a tricky time navigating adult friendships lately. I feel like I keep getting surprised when my interactions with other adults (parents of my kids’ friends, from the neighborhood, etc.,) suddenly seem to remind me very, very strongly of junior high school. I have an amazing therapist who is helping me on my end, to learn how to see and heed the red flags of immaturity and Mean Girl stuff. Basically: I grew up with horrible siblings in a very challenge family situation and I keep “re-meeting” them in friends.

I have a friend whom I enjoy, our kids are in the same activities, our husbands are friends, you get the picture. She is very delicate in social situations, so much so that we have a friendly nickname for her, that we all call her, the Delicate Flower. She laughs, we laugh, she says it fits her to a T.

Then, something happened this past weekend that is not so funny. Her demanding, clingy, super duper amazingly high maintenance behavior went full on Olympics Gold Medal level. She was whining to me and another mutual friend about how she couldn’t get out of bed, she NEEDED a day off of “life” and to go downtown and have an impromptu, fun, frivolous afternoon. We said, sure, made a million arrangements for our kids and made it happen. We did every single thing she wanted to do (the mutual friend and I are natives to this city, she is a transplant) and pulled out all the stops of what she requested and insisted upon.

We had cocktails for the train ride into the city, I had one. She had more and…kept on drinking all afternoon, very aggressively and in really large amounts. I only had that one because I didn’t want any more, thanks but no thanks, FULL STOP.

This is when she started asking, “Are you ok?” She asked me over and over again. I kept saying, yes, of course! And truly, I was! I was having fun and enjoying myself. But she wouldn’t believe me, apparently. All afternoon, she asked me that. All afternoon, I smiled and said, YES! She kept drinking and the questions became a little more belligerent and by the time we caught he train home, she was quiet and kept fucking asking ME if I was okay. By this point, as you can imagine, I was finally NOT okay.

When we got off the train and were standing on the platform about to go to our respective homes, she asked me again, if I was okay. This time, I said, “Yes, now please stop asking me that.” She took immediate offense.

I saw her that evening at an event for both of our kids, she was very weird to me, and possibly, still intoxicated. The next day, we had a big event for several families, we were both hosting it. She showed up very passive-agressively late and didn’t help, so I did most of it. While there, she had her husband come up to me and ASK ME IF I WAS OKAY THE DAY BEFORE. For fuck’s sake. I told him yes, it was a great afternoon. When he kept asking, are you sure? I answered, “well, you know, I just couldn’t keep up with your wife’s drinking, maybe that was it! We had a great afternoon in the city, though!” and then I looked over at my husband and my friend was ASKING HIM, “was LW okay yesterday?” to which he relied, “YES! She sure was!”

WTF do I do now? We have plans to attend an event together this Friday and HOLY SHITBALLS if she asks me if I’m okay again, I will punch something. We all arrange everything around her very precise needs and desires and wants–so much that she has her nickname. But this is the dark side of that: if everything doesn’t go exactly her way, she is going to do this?? Why do I have to keep up with her? What if I have different intentions of a fun afternoon (i.e. not getting shitfaced)?

Do I handle this honestly or do I smile and nod and back the fuck away? It will be a mess if I do that but she has some seriously funky stuff going on right now which she is projectile vomiting onto me. Our mutual friend form that day thinks our delicate flower was behaving very oddly that day and that I did not do anything to warrant this (I asked, in case I was missing something.) She thinks perhaps Delicate Flower is having some major depression or something else going on.

Advice? Do I say something or say nothing and just keep insisting that I AM OK?

Signed,
I’m SERIOUSLY okay, You’re SERIOUSLY okay.

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Dear Captain,

A few months ago, two of my mutual friends/acquaintances split apart. They were quite close and while I don’t know a lot of details, evidence indicates to me (and actually both friends confirmed) that the friendship had turned codependent and one friend decided to make a permanent split for a variety of reasons that are his and I have never attempted to pry.

They live in different cities and my interactions with them never coincide. Luckily. I see them both regularly as one is my coworker, and I have grown a lot closer to the other as we started working out and playing D&D together on a regular basis.

My question concerns the co-worker friend. It’s looking like she is viewing me as her new bestie and I am worried because her behavior is setting off a lot red flags of bad/codependent friendships I had in the past where I essentially ended up becoming someone’s therapist and taken advantage of. I have done A LOT of work in the past year identifying my own behavioral issues in these friendships and setting up firm boundaries so I don’t get cast in the role of therapist for someone again, but apparently I messed up along the way to where I am now.

I have a lot of sympathy for my co-worker friend, as I understand that losing a friend is difficult. I had also split up with my boyfriend around the same time, so I could commiserate with her and the hardship of losing someone who was a huge part of your life and moving on. However, I was not prepared for an average of 8 to 10 texts per day, seeing each other at work, facebook messages, and the what not. Communication ranges from bemoaning her loneliness, ramblings of being upset at other friend, and also random bits about her life that I think would be more appropriate for a Twitter account or a handwritten journal. Most of time I just don’t know what to do with it or how to respond. I end up getting overwhelmed by the amount of messages and feeling suffocated/exhausted.

This behavior is very new and only happened after the cut off from the other friend. I don’t want it to continue and I feel very uncomfortable around her now. I am not good with people who come off as clingy. I get frustrated, frazzled, and there are many many instances where friendships either ended or relationships never got past the 3rd date because the other party demanded more of my time and attention than I could give them. I am highly introverted, I need a lot of mental and physical space, and I really really really enjoy being alone (this includes not getting lots of texts). This is How I Do Me and while she and I have known each other for a few years, she has never really gotten to know me well enough to know this. Our friendship level has been mostly at work, rarely hanging out outside of work due to living in different city issues.

I guess my question is two-fold. 1) How do I nicely assert to her that we have very different communication/friendship styles and while I think she is lovely person she really really really needs to stop because our friendship really cannot sustain this and 2) Is there a better way to identify these situations so that I can stop them before they start? I know this one seems pretty small, but I have ended up in several very intense and dramatic friendships that all went up in flames. I don’t know how I keep getting here and it’s beyond frustrating and upsetting.

Any advice would definitely be appreciated,

I am not the bestie you are looking for.

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Ahoy there Captain!

So, there’s this super awkward couple that my gentleman and I are both acquainted with through a Meetup group I used to run. We used to be closer, but we’ve started distancing ourselves, because the closer we got, the more we saw that we didn’t really care to be around. For example, the she-half of the couple (Greta?) is extraordinarily passive aggressive… Greta’s catchphrase when addressing the he-half (Irving?) is, “IRVING!!! CAN YOU WASH THE DISHES *PLEEEEASE*????” Of course, in the snottiest tone she can muster. Irving, of course, is no prize himself… he’s a secret asshole, presenting as super-chill and totally laid back but having a sneaky side to him that is hella lazy and dismissive of anyone who may hold a different opinion.

So we moved them from Always Friends to Sometimes Friends, and made our excuses so that my gentleman could stop running a tabletop game that included them as participants (Greta had a bit of a habit of actively pouting (at age 30!) whenever things in the game didn’t go the way she wanted for her character, and Irving would always make excuses about ending the game early whenever she’d get in a funk, which started happening with exponential frequency). Following the end of the game, Greta blew up at me directly when I announced my exit from the Meetup group, demanding ownership and making a huge production about why we didn’t talk anymore. I snapped back at her that I didn’t appreciate her making something that was painful for me (the possible dissolution of my Meetup group) into a referendum on our friendship, and if she wanted to talk to me about the fact that we weren’t very close anymore, she could have chosen literally any other time.

We haven’t spoken much since then, and Greta hasn’t brought up our last real conversation at all. We’ve seen one another at other events and while everyone’s been polite, we haven’t had much contact. They recently sent us a Save The Date for their wedding, but when it came time for the bridal shower invites, I was snubbed (I had another event that day anyway, and I actively dislike bridal showers in general, so that was no hair off my backside). Now our mutual friends have received their wedding invites, and my gentleman and I have not.

On the one hand, my gentleman and I are not that into weddings. On the other hand, I think it’s rude as hell to send out a Save The Date and not follow up with an invitation. Part of me wants to contact Greta and Irving and let them know that they’re continuing to behave unacceptably, and if they miss us as much as they’ve made reference to towards our mutual friends, this is not the way to mend fences. Part of me is glad I don’t have to buy them a Himalayan Pink Salt Block and Shaver for their wedding. Part of me, though, knows that the mail is not the most reliable vehicle for sending messages and maybe it got lost, and I don’t want to be half of that Awful Couple that didn’t even RSVP to a wedding invite (and thus lose the Moral High Ground).

My question is thus… we’ve been plopped into an Awkward Spot by having to pick a discreet follow-up versus a discreet Total Fadeout. How to best mitigate it? Which to pick?

Your humble servant,

Uninvited?

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Dear Captain,

I have a friend that I’ve known since high school (we’re both in our thirties now) and I consider her a good friend. Over the years we’ve gone through phases where we’re more apart and distant (mostly from living in other states or distant parts of the country from each other and only seeing each other a few times a year) and phases where we’re closer. I like talking to her and I like having her in my life, and very soon she’s moving to the town I live in now and we’re both planning on and looking forward to getting together and being closer again.

The thing is, she’s spent the last two years becoming a minister and sometimes when we talk about how our lives are going, it feels like she’s not listening and talking to me as a friend, but as a minister to a congregant or a counselor to someone seeking help; so I find myself not wanting to talk about difficult things in my life, or talking about them in minimizing ways because I don’t want advice, well-meaning and well-trained as it might be. I’m not seeking counseling or guidance or theological insight from her, I just want to talk to my friend and share some of our lives as friends do.

Do you have any scripts for gently asserting the boundary that I want to just talk as friends, that I love her dearly, but that unless I explicitly ask for advice or guidance, I don’t want her to act as my minister or counselor?

Thank you!

–not interested in unsolicited counseling

Dear Not Interested,

Thank YOU for a good question that can be answered quickly. And your last line is a great script if you want to just go with that.

Light-hearted script: “Thanks for the suggestion, most Reverend Friendname, but I want to talk to Just Plain Old Friendname now please.

Additional scripts:

  • “It must be really easy to slip into counseling or advising-mode, given what you do all day, but you’re slipping into it with me a little too readily just now. You know I value your insights, but I’d appreciate it if you’d ask me if I even want advice before offering it.” 
  • “Reminder: Me sharing a situation is not an automatic request for advice/Engage Counselor Mode!”

I think she’ll hear you and will be ultimately glad that you set a boundary and reminded her to relax and be a person when she’s around you. This seems like a good time to say, “Eep, maybe I do this sometimes, if so, Real Life Friends, please tell me to knock it off and I will be very grateful.”

Oh Captain My Captain:

I’m running into a communications problem, and could use some advice.

First the backstory: I live with my parents. My mother, who is nearing seventy, is having arthritis issues and needs a little bit of extra help around the house; generally more help that I can reasonably provide while being a full-time student. A year ago, a friend of mine had to choose between an abusive situation and homelessness, and I convinced Mom that we could offer her a third option. Now we have Kat in our guest room, doing dishes and minor housecleaning tasks for ten dollars a day plus room and board.

Now, the problem: Mom is unhappy with Kat’s performance. A lot of this is coming from the fact that Mom isn’t actually talking to her. She doesn’t remind either of us of routine tasks (because we’re intelligent people and she shouldn’t have to explain the obvious), and deals with extraordinary requests by telling me that they need to be done (with the unspoken riders of “so get Kat to do it” and “you should already know how I want that task performed” and “I will be Very Upset if you do this yourself instead of making sure Kat does it to my specifications.”) When, somehwere along the line, communication inevitably breaks down and something *doesn’t* meet with her approval, I get to listen to Mom rant about how she’s not getting what she’s paying for and how Kat isn’t ever going to be able to make it in the real world if she can’t complete simple tasks. Mom does not, generally speaking, ever voice concerns directly to Kat.

Do you have advice/scripts/etc. for how to stop being the Mom-to-Kat translator in this arrangement?

Sincerely,

The Messenger Is Tired Of Being Shot

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Hi Captain,

I’m a twenty something female working in a retail job where it’s NECESSARY to work as a team. In the six months I’ve been at my job, I’ve built especially great rapport with a few people. The man henceforth named Paul is one of them. Paul is a year younger than me. Most of our dynamic has been sarcastic banter, punctuated by some more serious conversations about a wide variety of topics. After about two months Paul asked some questions about my opinions on romance related topics (we were off the clock and out in a group with coworkers), and I answered in the context of the happy/trusting/loving relationship I have with my boyfriend of 4 years. Paul seemed surprised to hear about him.

I later brought up one of Paul’s questions I didn’t feel I answered well, and he got extremely flustered and changed the topic. A week later he told me that he struggled with feelings for a coworker at an old job for a year or so before he really stopped having feelings for her, and he regrets that it took him that long to deal with an unrequited crush. Since he told me about that, he hasn’t brought up anything even remotely related to romance.

I’m pretty damn sure that Paul has a crush on me. He hasn’t said or done anything inappropriate either in or outside the workplace, and since describing that old crush has not brought up romance in any context (that was nearly 3 months ago). It doesn’t get in the way of our work, most of the time we still execute the sarcastic banter/serious topics conversations without a hitch.

But I definitely feel like there’s a weird feelings stalemate. In my personal life I would have confronted him about it long ago and let him know that if he can’t handle being around me, then he shouldn’t be around me, and I’d be happy to have his friendship whenever it’s just friendship. But given that we work together that’s not an option, and I don’t know what’s appropriate. I feel bad because I get the sense that he’s doing everything he can to keep the feelings off my radar since that story. If he were creepy I’d tell a manager, and if the fact that we get along didn’t make our job way easier and more enjoyable it would be an unwelcome but simple task to freeze him out. Ultimately I just want to be able to work and occasionally hang out with this guy in group settings without the sense that he’s experiencing heartwrenching crush feels half the time I laugh at his jokes. Is there even anything to do, Captain?

-Midshipman Awkward Sauce

Dear Midshipman!

:salutes:

You’re an empathetic person, so you are putting yourself in his shoes and wanting to make things better, but you can’t fix this for him. Short answer: Say nothing, it will get better soon. “Paul” is actually handling all of this very well, in my opinion, and it would be a mistake to stage-manage his feelings or pry further into them.

He most likely did have a crush on you, he figured out that it would not be requited, and he bailed out just in time before telling you about it beyond an oblique reference to a past situation. Of course he feels awkward, he’s got all these feelings and he can see how very close he came to 1) asking out a coworker and 2) macking on someone who he knows is happily coupled up. I think it speaks to him being a good person that he pulled back when he did. You can help everything get less awkward by being your same basic amount of work-friendly to him and letting him save face. In my opinion, he won’t thank you for addressing it directly: Imagine someone else peeling off a scab that’s on your body, and that’s pretty much what it will feel like for him if you bring it up before he does.

For now, return the text of your interactions to normal relations, ignore all subtext unless it does get angry or creepy or unless he sheepishly confesses, “I was developing a crush on you and that’s why I’ve been acting kinda weird lately” at which point you say “Aw,  knew *something* was up, but I didn’t want to make you more uncomfortable. So you know, I really like working with you and I’d like us to be friends, and I’ll follow your lead on that.” 

A still of the Hulk in a pile of rubble from The Avengers

“HULK WILL NOT FEEL GOOD ABOUT THIS TOMORROW, HULK CAN TELL.”

Dear Captain Awkward,

One of my friends gets angry a lot. To be more specific: one of my friends gets angry at things that are not me, and vents to me a lot. I don’t mind being available to vent to in the general case, but.

Bruce, let’s call him, gets especially angry when anxious. When he gets angry, it generally takes the form of explosive swearing. Even though I know where he’s coming from, there’s only so much tirade I can handle before getting anxious (in-person anger scares the crap out of me, online anger not directed at me takes a while longer to do that) or exasperated. I don’t feel this is something I want to abandon this friendship over, but I also am pretty sure that I do not need to let him expound on how enraged he is over some mishap with something he’s nervous about for extended lengths of time.

My question is one of diplomacy: How can I ask him to calm down without pissing him off more? I just want a little less freakout time here. (I think he would benefit too, but that’s really not within my control.)

(For the record: This is an online friendship, so I am not getting any of this in person, and I do not feel threatened or unsafe; no threats are even being made, just a lot of directionless swearing. I’m just not especially comfortable with it past a certain point.)

–Frets in the face of Frustration

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