Dear Captain Awkward,
My friend is driving me crazy. We’re going to call him Dan.
Dan is in his mid-twenties, has graduated from university, and has been working a steady job in his field for two or three years now. He still lives with his parents completely free of charge. He’s generally a good person, if sheltered. I’ve had to explain to him why he can’t make “she-male” jokes, why certain internet memes are racist, etc, and while he doesn’t make any effort to think critically about the media he’s consuming, at least when you point out he’s doing something offensive, he stops and doesn’t do it again.
Unfortunately, he is driving myself and my friends group CRAZY.
1) He has a crippling fear of… pretty much everything. He drives around the city rather than through it because he’s afraid of the other cars, which makes planning anything with him a pain, as he will always be late or need to leave early. Bussing would be faster, but he won’t because he’s afraid the other people on the bus might hurt him. It’s gotten to the point where we can’t do ANYTHING with him that isn’t sitting around playing games, because he is afraid of crossing the street. Deciding to wander down to [District] and look for a restaurant? Walk to the movie theatre? Go shopping in the mall two blocks from my house? Not an option, because “the streets aren’t safe”. (FTR: The area in which I live has the lowest crime rates in the entire city, and hasn’t even had so much as a car theft in ten years.)
2) He is really, embarrassingly cheap. Getting him to spend more than $10 is a challenge. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem, but he has no problem coming over, eating a very nice meal (my partner is a chef) on our dime, and then conveniently forgetting to chip in for what he used. The tipping point into rage was when he ate all my expensive (think $20+) imported candy, and then packed up all the snacks he had bought and took them back home with him. This is made even worse by the fact he has the best-paying job and lowest expenses (read: no expenses) of the entire group.
3) He has a victim complex. He was bullied as a child, and any effort to get him to do anything he doesn’t want to do results in accusations of bullying or peer pressure. This DRASTICALLY reduces the effectiveness of any sort of “use your words” strategy, as even gentle reasoning is treated as overt hostility. (It is also offensive to me, as I went through WAY worse than he did. It’s hard to be sympathetic about someone saying mean things to him when I required a police escort just to go to class. I accept this is a personal failing, and I’m working on it.)
He’s a nice kid, but he feels like an eight-year-old trapped in an adult’s body. His best friends, aside from our group, are his parents (he won’t go out and socialize with other people because he’s afraid). We like him, but the limitations he’s placed on his own life make interacting with him in any meaningful sense almost impossible.
How can we tell him that if he wants to be friends with us he needs to grow up to our level without crushing him utterly? Is there any way to tell him that letting his fears rule his life is ruining his social life when he doesn’t see a problem with his behavior? How do we tell him to stop being such a cheapskate without twigging his victim complex? Is there any way we can convince him to get the buckets of therapy he obviously needs? How can I tell him that high school was ten years ago and that he REALLY needs to stop licking his wounds without sounding like a judgmental jerk?
Thanks for any help you can give.
– Frustrated, Upset, Concerned, Keenly Tired
I love this question, because the answer is both easy and difficult. This guy is triggering all of the Geek Social Fallacies at once.
Stop inviting Dan to anything that isn’t “board games at someone’s house,” or if you do invite him to walk somewhere to the movies and he says he can’t, say “Okay, we’ll catch you next time” and then go do the thing you wanted to do. Don’t spend the night bitching about him and how weird he is – put the invitation out there (or don’t), let him decline it, and then do your thing.
Don’t make him expensive dinners anymore. Or, if the culture of your friend group is that you chip in for ingredients at elaborate dinner parties, make that very explicit in the invitation, as in “Partner is making something amazing, we’re asking everyone to chip in $10 for ingredients and wine, hope you can come.” Clearly he’s not getting the message that he should offer. I don’t know that I would, either – I assume that for dinner parties I bring wine or flowers or dessert or cheese, not cold hard cash. But whatever your friend-rules are, make them explicit. Don’t bring up all the times he didn’t chip in, just make the rule clear going forward.
When it’s time to play board games, invite him, enjoy his company for what you enjoy about it. Let the rest go.
He may notice that you guys aren’t around so much and start to feel excluded (rather than bullied or pressured), and he may complain that he’s not invited to stuff anymore or ask why. THAT is your golden opportunity to use your words, though more gently than you described in your letter. “Dan, you know we love you, but you always turn us down when we want to do stuff other than play games, so we assumed that you didn’t want to come (to the movies, to restaurants, to pubs or whatnot) when we go. I wish you’d see a counselor for some of the anxiety you have about being in the city.” It does sound like he has a phobia or anxiety disorder, and not “cowardice” as you labeled it in your subject line.
If he compares it to his past experiences being bullied, say “I’m sorry you feel that way, that wasn’t my intention. Just because I’m your friend doesn’t mean I never get annoyed, and I think it’s respectful for adults to just tell each other that stuff so we can deal with it openly.” If he gets really upset, change the subject or end the conversation. “Obviously you’re very uncomfortable, let’s talk about something else.”
He’s an odd guy who lives with his parents and doesn’t like to spend money and carries a lot of anxiety. He will change (or not) at his own pace. It’s not your job to make him over into a cooler person, and if he’s making you feel constantly annoyed or like you need to correct his behavior, and the sense of reciprocity is out of whack in the way you describe, it’s time to seriously re-examine the friendship. I say give yourself and your friend group a break from worrying about his eccentricities, and give him a break from feeling judged and pressured. Convert him into a “small doses friend” whose eccentricities are love-able, or at least tolerable, and stop trying to fix him.