Ooh, ooh! Sweet Machine emailed me the perfect image to go with this question.
I have an issue concerning an impasse I’m having with a friend. Let me give you some context for said impasse.
This friend of mine is a human I have known for years, we’ll call him Steve. Over that duration, Steve has developed crushes on me a few times and I’ve politely told him that I don’t want a relationship past friendship with him. He’s taken that well but here lies the root of evil: he still has these feelings but speaks as if he does not. He relates me to a sister but is also weirdly flirtatious, so whenever people call him out on it, he claims indignantly “She’s like a sister! I don’t think of her like that!”
Over time, I’ve had to have uncomfortable conversations about boundaries. What I hate about that last sentence is “conversations”, plural. I feel that I should not have to tell this person what’s okay with me and what’s not more than once. I dually feel that I can’t entirely place the blame on him since I have sometimes in the past let his behavior slowly creep past my lines without speaking up and made excuses for him.
What this all equates to at this point, is the realization of mine that our relationship is weird because he keeps forgetting the boundaries and I’m tired of it. The fact that I’m worrying about any of this saddens me.
Now, I know I make him sound terrible but the reason I’ve stayed friends with him this long is because he really can be a great person. He’s helped me through some tough times and been there when I needed him. We’ve had pleasant times.
I’m at this point where Steve keeps sending me messages asking where I’ve been(since I’ve been avoiding him), and he’s realizing now that I’m not just too busy to talk to him all the time. I feel pretty bad for this because we were still pretty chummy not too long ago until I took a step back recently and decided that there was a problem here. There’s no way he’s not confused about my sudden lack of responses and presence in his life.
And so, the impasse. I don’t know whether or not to talk to him about all this. What can I say? I’ve told him a few times that he makes me uncomfortable and it hasn’t helped. Why should I have to repeat myself? Is it best to leave this friendship behind for now? It’s not healthy.
I don’t know what is best to do.
Sincerely, Echoing Boundaries
Your friend Steve makes my shoulders go up around my ears, but if you say he’s great and you want to keep him in your life in some capacity I’ll back your play as far as I can. You’re not “making him sound” terrible – someone who repeatedly ignores stated boundaries and makes “funny jokes” about them and has to be told “no” multiple times is probably kind of terrible? Can we agree on “irritating as fuck?”
Your friendship is not a charity finishing school for irritating people who can’t take no for an answer.
In whatever medium (email, Facebook) you usually communicate, send him a message like this:
“Dear Steve, I’ve received your multiple messages and inquiries. I know I haven’t been around much – I have been taking time to hang out with my other friends/work on my own stuff/finally re-read Anna Karenina/re-grout my bathroom tile/I haven’t felt like hanging out much (recommended!). Your repeated messages are making me feel crowded and uncomfortable, please give it a rest. I will get in touch with you when I would like to hang out again. Thank you for understanding.”
Then give it like, 6 months of no contact and re-evaluate how you feel. The best response from him is no response at all, but I’ll accept some variation of “Sorry, cool, do whatever you need to do” if it’s not accompanied by a lot of sighing. If he responds to that email at all with any kind of “BUT WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY what is wrong don’t you liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiike me” do not respond (it only teaches him to keep contacting you and eventually you’ll respond and then end up repeating yourself again). Don’t get sucked into explaining whyyyyy or soothing his hurt feelings – let him go sit in the Naughty Corner Of People Who Can’t Take Hints Or Direct Communications with those hurt feelings. You asked someone who claims to be your friend for what you need (a break with no pressure). Don’t apologize!
In fact, any unwanted contact restarts the clock to at least 6 more months of no contact whatsoever. If you run into him at a party or via mutual friends, be cordial and polite, and then go back to no one-on-one contact afterwards.
I think you’re going to like those 6 months of no Steve, but if you miss him, there he’ll be.