#225: Restating boundaries with a clingy friend.

Ooh, ooh! Sweet Machine emailed me the perfect image to go with this question.

Dear Captain,

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

Dear Echoing:

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.

64 thoughts on “#225: Restating boundaries with a clingy friend.

  1. Seconding this so hard. I finally cut off contact with friends who were similar (super clingy, minus the crush angle… I think) an my life is SO MUCH BETTER. I felt really bad about it for a month, but then I realised my phone wasn’t ringing once an hour, and I could check my phone without cringing, and I wasn’t going out of my way to hang out in places with a bad signal… My point is, I didn’t realise how much of life I was missing out on in trying to avoid these people until I told them to GTFO.

    I’m pretty forgiving on renegotiating boundaries, because they do change over time, but they don’t change because one person is pushing for them. (And I am from the Planet of No Friendzone, so I check in if I think things might start to get weird, because I don’t want to misinterpret something and be the creepy friend.) Either way, the appropriate thing for Steve to do is tell you his crush, get your reaction, and then back the fuck off if it’s not reciprocal. He should be the one offering to take time off from the friendship, you shouldn’t have to tell him to back off.

    1. That’s such a good point about checking the phone without cringing. Even though my situation ended years ago it still turned me into a world class call screener. Despite my screening habits, I do at least no longer shudder at the sound of a text message – and that’s a good thing.

  2. omg i’ve totally been the clingy friend….more than once….at points between around age 15 and age 25!!!! reading this made my cringe with embarrassment at the memory!!! but the advice is correct. as a former clinger, the clingee needs to cut off all communication to make him understand. sooooooo sad!!!!

  3. Your friendship is not a charity finishing school for irritating people who can’t take no for an answer.

    QFT. LW, your Steve reminds me a lot of my ex. He had a tendancy of pushing my boundaries and pushing my boundaries and pushing my boundaries until I would go “NO NO HERE ARE MY BOUNDARIES AND YOU WILL RESPECT THEM” and he’d be So Awesome for like a month and everything would be magical and happy! Of course, things never STAYED happy and he would go right back to pushing my boundaries and we’d continue the dance all over again. It was like a sin wave of relationship disfunction that continued for a long time even after we broke up because we were trying to be “friends” (ugh, I know, but captain awkward didn’t exist then! (the site not the person))

    There is another thing about my ex that Steve is reminding me of; The whole “But he’s been such a good friend and has helped me through such tough times!” thing. I said that about my ex ALL THE TIME in the months after we broke up (both times) and after a while I started to realize something. Him always “being there” for me, even when he didn’t like me talking about feelings with other guys, even if it meant hours long conversations when he had class in the morning, even (especially!!) if it meant sacrificing a lot of time, sleep, energy, or emotional well being, was no accident. This was his way of tying me too him, both by making me think I NEEDED him for emotional support (spoiler alert: I didn’t, but it took a damned long time to figure that out) and by making me feel guilty about not sticking it through and sinking as much energy into our relationship/friendship as he was (because relationships/friendships are all about reciprocity, right?). I say this because this dynamic was ESPECIALLY obvious when we broke up and he wanted me back, and wanting someone back is really not any different than wanting them in the first place, isn’t it?

    Maybe I’m way off base about this second part; only you can judge that for yourself. Either way you shouldn’t feel bad about taking all the space you need and maybe giving him an African Violet. Neither of you will wither and die without your friendship and in fact, you’ll both probably be better off; You have other friends to support you, (and if they don’t support you the way he does, it probably means his support wasn’t really all that healthy to begin with), and he won’t being constantly hanging around you and tricking himself into thinking that some day your “No” will become a “Yes”, or even a “Maybe” if only he keeps up hope and is a really good “friend” to you.

    1. Kind-sharking is the worst, and people caught doing it should be removed from your life with extreme prejudice.

        1. Somewhat like loan-sharking in that the commodity offered is expected to be returned with unreasonable rates of interest (i.e. kindness returned with getting in your pants) and ‘payment’ is often reinforced with (emotional) blackmail?

        2. The person does “nice” things for you that you don’t want and haven’t requested to create a sense of obligation where you’ll “owe” them kind treatment, sex, a relationship, etc. Gavin De Becker talks about it in the Gift of Fear. Even without predatory overtones, it goes hand-in-hand with passive-aggressive, manipulative behavior and is super-annoying.

          What a kind-shark (LOVE this expression, btw) wants you to do is dwell on the nice things they’ve done for you and not the question of what you want- “Do I even want to hang out with this guy?”

          1. Extra fun Kind-Shark bonus! Once you’ve cottoned to the situation, you will be highly dubious of genuinely well-intentioned kindness from others! Maybe you’ll even avoid doing kind things for others out of concern that you could be kind-sharking them and not know it!

            It just keeps on giving. BLEH on kind-sharking!

          2. It works especially well on the ladies, since we’ve been socialized to be polite and smiling at all times in order to not be a Big Ol’ Bitch.

        3. Everyone got to this before I did, but you all have the general idea. A kind-shark gives out kindness with the intent of keeping you close to them. I coined it when I was talking about my platonic example to some real friends.

          I had a friend who would buy me dinner when I was poor (one-meal-a-week poor), but then expected me to spend literally hours hanging out with him. It got to the point where if I had ANY free time, he wanted me to spend it with him, because he was SO NICE. And he’d cook for me! Or he’d take me shopping! Or he’d take me to a movie! But if I took him up on any of this, I had to hang out until I was literally falling over in exhaustion. Sometimes the sandwich is not a love sandwich, but a passive-aggressive-guilt-and-obligation sandwich. And those look nice on the outside, but taste like shit.

          The worst part of kind-sharks is that not only do they skew your perception of what’s normal friend behaviour, but they’re so good at looking nice to outsiders that getting one out of your life requires an almost Herculean effort. They’ll try to get other friends involved and will lay on the guilt and manipulation HARD when you want to leave, because the friendship was never about you, but only about using you as a tool to obtain what they really wanted (sex, validation, a job, etc.).

      1. @Latining, I Officially Declare “Kind-sharking” as the Absolute Worst, and I decree that henceforth it should be a known and recognized phrase so that someday I can write about it on my hypothetical futureblog.

        @Shora, if only I’d had you to talk to when I was going through the same thing with my ex. I went through the exact It’s only with perspective that I realize how much his kind-sharking was not nice at all, and was in fact boundary-crossing, creepy and gaslighting. It isn’t an easy dynamic to spot, and it’s terribly insidious: “But I really care about him! And he’s so nice to me! And I do benefit a lot from the relationship, so I feel guilty for not wanting to reciprocate!” – So much different from the more obvious DTMFA-issues, isn’t it? There was a particularly weird-in-hindsight event where my car had broken down while I was visiting my new Gentleman Friend, who was on a course in the next state. I posted something humorous about it on Facebook and hacked my way home. Within hours of me getting back, my kind-sharking ex, knowing that I was now stranded without a car in a rural area, magically appeared on my doorstep and offered me the use of himself and his car. He took me grocery shopping, which I needed desperately; he hardly alluded to the fact that it had been a two-hour drive to my place, and he was sacrificing valuable study-time for the big exam on Monday, etc. etc. I was grateful and confused and I did not want him in my home and I still cared for him and he was being so generous and yet my feelings felt so backwards and I didn’t know what to do and the cognitive dissonance/anxiety just made me start to shake and cry. Whereupon he pounced upon me like a freaking bird of prey. It took me a long time for me to figure out what had happened, because I was too willing to believe that the man I had loved was Just So Nice And Willing To Be Friends and Always There for Me and all, and not, in fact, stunningly manipulative and overtly leaping at the opportunity to “poach” me from my new lover.

        That faint illogical anxiety, guilty unsettled feeling, the token appreciation for all the attention but the increasing discomfort with how it was given? That was me reacting to the dynamic, which was So Obviously Nice.

        1. Interesting how we never trust our instincts, isn’t it? “He is so nice! Why do I mentally recoil after him doing nice things? Eh, it’s probably just my Silly Lady Brain doing Silly Lady Things.”

          I think the worst part about kind-sharking is how you accept the things given to you because you NEED them (or at least THINK you do) and then blame yourself for the icky-bad dynamic because, well, you DID cry to him about your new crush and you DID accept those tickets to see your favorite concert, so don’t you owe him a little bit? And what would you do if he wasn’t there to talk to and give you rides places? Wither and die, clearly. Add that to the fact that only greedy, awful gold-digging bitches accept gifts or favors from men without remembering they OWE them, and you have a recipe for suck and terribleness.

          I wish I could say the end of that toxic situation was me waking up and realize what a terrible dynamic I was in. What it really was was that he eventually acted SO awefully and SO obviously badly that I could not even bear to talk to him again even for a minute. It was only later that I realized what he was doing and how bad it was for me. To this day I won’t accept gifts or favors from guys I even SUSPECT like me if I don’t feel the same way.

        2. Oh, kind-sharking. Never witnessed any of it, but I now find myself fascinated – as in, staring-into-the-abyss fascinated – by the fucked-upness of this kind of abuse. Indeed, people are unlikely to refuse help. Especially after some kind of mishap. Using the excuse of “help” – even genuine help – to force a reconnection with your ex, as you described, Elodie, is REALLY creepy.
          I’d like to see a movie where a character doing this is acknowledged as creepy. Because there sure are a lot of kind-sharking characters coming from Hollywoodland, and they’re always successful. “Oh sure, GenericProtagonist, even though I didn’t like you at all when we first met, you can date me now that you saved my life from KillerRobot! And we’ll live happily ever after!”

          1. One movie that comes close is As Good As It Gets. If you haven’t seen it (and don’t bother, though it has some wonderful moments), Jack Nicholson’s character (who is a horrific, verbally abusive misogynist) kind-sharks Helen Hunt (who is his favorite waitress at his favorite cafe) in a particularly sad and terrifying way. She’s got a very sick kid and doesn’t have health insurance, AND because Nicholson’s character can’t deal with her missing work (not because he’s concerned about her finances or well-being, but because he can’t deal), he decides to take responsibility for all the kid’s medical care — including finding him the best doctor possible so she doesn’t have to rely on taking him to the ER. She completely freaks out, until her mother explains to her that she doesn’t have the option of saying no, because her kid’s life is on the line. Which is EXACTLY what makes it so fucking weird and creepy — and does have the intended result of making her feel like she owes him affection.

  4. Boundaries are the best thing you can do for your life, and cutting out or at least back on people who don’t respect them is really good for you.

  5. LW, I agree with everyone else, boundaries are the best. And if a friend is making you feel bad, for whatever reason, because they can’t remember boundaries? Then I agree that you are you are totally within your rights to pull back and reevaluate the friendship in light of your needs.

  6. I had an acquaintance once who treated my boundaries like suggestions. He regularly “forgot” that I
    do not like being hugged and was also somehow incapable of extrapolating from the statement “Please don’t hug me, I don’t like being touched,” that all other touching was also off limits. I kept thinking it was something I was doing–and I definitely wasn’t as skilled at enforcing boundaries then–but then I realized that I don’t repeatedly forget this stuff. And I don’t see someone’s lack of skill in enforcing their boundaries as an opportunity to freely violate those stated boundaries.

    The things this acquaintance was doing weren’t the kind of mistakes that can happen occasionally because people aren’t perfect. It’s what happens when you either completely don’t care about someone’s boundaries or are making a deliberate effort to violate them.

    I don’t doubt that Steve can be a great person. Just like I don’t doubt that he is actually capable of understanding and respecting your boundaries without a daily briefing and is just choosing not to. He’s choosing to constantly see how far he can go, to try to creep past the lines.

    I don’t think sorting out who owns more of the problem is in itself important. I just know that my own mistakes prevented me from seeing how harmful the situation was and how the part of it I couldn’t control–namely the other person’s behavior and utter lack of regard for my boundaries–meant nothing I could ever do was going to salvage things. I could have been the living embodiment of interpersonal effectiveness and my interactions with that person would still have been a disaster.

    I have no idea if any of this is helpful or even makes sense. I hope you are able to find a resolution that feels right for you.

  7. Yeah, he’s not forgetting your boundaries, he’s just ignoring them. Likewise, he is totally NOT confused about your sudden lack of responses. He’s just hoping that when he gets pushy, you’ll give in.

    African Violet this dude.

    1. Total agreement. I’ve had a few of this type in my life at one time or another, and they tend to be really good at “forgetting” boundaries or thinking that this or that or the other extenuating circumstances nullifies them. It’s passive aggressive bullshit and it doesn’t need to be tolerated.

      1. Agree, African violet indeed. It seems he isn’t so much as ‘forgetting’ the boundaries, but ever so slightly pushing until he is met with resistance. LW already has set these boundaries multiple time, it’s not up to him/her to continue policing the border. Steve is an adult, he should be self policing because he respects his friends wishes

        1. Right, I don’t forget which of my friends are vegetarians and “accidentally” put meat in everything I make at a dinner party.

          1. This is an entertaining/horribly fitting metaphor, because I have known multiple people who “accidentally” forget that their acquaintances are vegetarians and only make meat dishes, or refuse to understand that a steakhouse isn’t the best place to take vegetarians out for dinner, or on several occasions sneak meat products into apparently-meatless food, because LOL VEGETARIANS, amirite? And now that I think about it, they are also all incredibly terrible at respecting other kinds of boundaries, which makes me feel better about how much it used to piss me off when I’d get into arguments with them about this.

          2. This is an entertaining/horribly fitting metaphor, because I have known multiple people who “accidentally” forget that their acquaintances are vegetarians…

            People do this even to folks with Medical Community Approved(TM) food intolerances/allergies. Nah, I don’t mind being violently ill for the rest of the evening because you “didn’t think it would be a big deal” there was ground pork in the stuffing. (And my in-laws wonder why I don’t visit anymore.)

            I have spent a lot of time–frequently because I was trapped in the bathroom with nothing better to do by “not a big deal” food choices unwittingly made for me by of others–wondering where the line between carelessness and malice is. I’ve come to the conclusion that any sufficiently advanced carelessness is indistinguishable from malice, and that neither I nor my gastrointestinal system need that.

          3. “Any sufficiently advanced carelessness is indistinguishable from malice.”

            Can I quote that elsewhere? That’s brilliant.

  8. I am in this EXACT situation. In my case it’s a very dear friend who I adore, and I would love to see him approx. 2x/week, while he prefers to hang out with me something more like 4-5x/week. So I’ll invite him over because I love his face and want to see him… but for the next 2-4 days, he will take this as a signal that I want to spend ALL THE TIME with him, and he will crawl up my butt with messages and attempts to chill with me, and become disproportionately distressed if I don’t respond right away (if I happen to be doing something that takes my attention away from my messaging services), or if I say “Maybe in a day or so, I’m just not feeling it tonight.”

    What I REALLY want to say is “Yo, get off my back, you are neither my boyfriend nor my mother, and sometimes you could do with a chill pill.” Is there a nicer way to say this?

    1. OMG I just went through this. (You can see my comment above!) I African-violeted the friendship because he was also a kind-shark of the highest magnitude. If your friend kind-sharks as well, terminate the friendship immediately.

      Here are the scripts I used to try to get him to back off:

      “I like hanging out with you, but I’m very busy right now. When we’re not hanging out, I need you to give me my space.”

      “I’m very busy with (thing you are busy with, even if it is something vague like “life”) right now and need a lot of space. I need you to respect that. I’ll call you when I’m free, but I can’t do things on short notice.”

      If this is met with pouting or argument, either end the friendship or follow up with:
      “I need you to respect my boundaries. Until you can do that, we won’t be hanging out. I’m going to give you a month to think about that.”
      Then don’t contact him for a month. Whenever he calls or texts, the counter resets.

      If you’re having someone call all the time, start answering the phone with, “This is (Name); I’m very busy and can’t talk right now.” and then hang up. This is great in general for getting people to realise that you have a life outside them, and if you do it in a polite tone of voice no one can complain that you’re being rude.

      If any of this is met with hostility or guilt trips, end the friendship immediately. The person is displaying a critical lack of respect for boundaries, and the relationship will only get worse.

    2. Don’t use the nicer way. “Hey, 4-5 times a week is more than I want to see ANY friend. I need you to back off, big time.” And then take a long break from any contact.

      1. The problem with that is that everyone has a friend who is better than Clinger, and if you say, “Look, that’s too much for me to see ANYBODY,” Clinger will immediately pull out that friendship as an example as to why you two should be Besties Forever.

        You see JANE every day, why can’t you see Clinger? You work with Jane? Clinger can stop by your work and take you for coffee! What do mean that’s weird, Dustin did it just last week, who cares if he was only in town for the weekend, don’t you like Clinger as much as Dustin?

        There is no way to get out of this situation without gnawing off your own arm admitting that you don’t like Clinger as much as you like Other Friend, so you end up caught in a histrionic conversation (usually in public, or at a terrible time for you) and hoping that bush lions will jump out from behind the potted plants and eat him. Reading between GraciousAtheist’s lines, I’m guessing that’s already happened several times and she’s looking for a way to tell him to GTFO without losing a day to his temper tantrum. Any justified anger is seized upon as you being unreasonable and terrible to them, and you end up wasting your day on them whether you wanted to or not.

        …And holy shit, I just realised that dealing with and extracting oneself from a serious clinger is EXACTLY like extracting oneself from an abusive relationship, complete with mindfucks and you apologising for things like having boundaries and being a full human without Clinger. Goddamn. (Obviously some people just need a cluebat, but at its worst it manifests as half a shade light of stalking/emotional abuse, and at that point the difference is only in whether you can get a restraining order.)

        Anyway, to get back on topic, I think what GraciousAtheist was asking for was not so much a nice way to tell Clinger to GTFO, but a way where no one can call her a bitch for doing so, and where Clinger can’t argue because if he does, HE’S the asshole to all their friends. Perhaps less “nice” than “polite and can’t be argued with”, possibly (hopefully) as a precursor to African Violet.

        I am obviously reading between the lines and my personal experience colours this heavily. Apologies to GraciousAtheist if I’m way off base.

        1. That is such an interesting observation, because maybe abusive relationships (which I think a lot of Awkwardeers have been in) are the extreme version of Not Respecting Your Boundaries and Wanting You All To Myself and Manipulating You and Your Feelings to Suit My Own Needs. Like, sometimes people do this to some people and not others in their lives, and sometimes people are mildly manipulative and disrespectful, but will listen to reason, etc. But all or most abusive relationships involve one or more people do these things to one another.

          And this also speaks to the are/do dichotomy, as in, you don’t have to Be An Abuser to act in an abusive manner, which is another argument for treating other human beings with respect and kindness.

          1. Oh yeah – it’s people who use your own politeness and respect for the social contract against you by forcing you into a position where you must be Openly Rude to them while they can see themselves (and be seen by others) as the NIce One Who Is Just Being NIce.

            That’s why I go to De Becker on this one – someone who keeps talking (pushing) after you say no is trying to manipulate you.

        2. Eeeep! :/ Way, way off-base for my situation. I didn’t emphasize it, but he truly is a very dear friend who I adore, and I love his face to bits! We have lots of mutually good times, and he is so very, very far from abusive.

          Me and Friend have known each other for years, and we are pretty much each other’s BFF at our workplace, where I see him 3-5 days a week. We’re the first person the other turns to when one of us needs a chill friend just to be present and watch crap Netflix and bitch about boys. I’m more introverted than he is though, so after a good night or two hanging out, I want to spend the next night at home, while he’s all “THAT WAS AWESOME, let’s hang out again!” [texts me five times in an hour wondering if I’d like to X, or maybe Y, or possibly Z!]

          The closest thing to abusive behavior that he does is expressing his distress (not anger, not rending his clothes and weeping to the heavens, but more… “Aw damn it boo hiss shucks ;_;” kind of stuff) and getting generally mopey after I decline. But that’s it; we’ll hang out again two days later and have a blast. I don’t begrudge him the disappointment that his BFF is booked for the night.

          We’re talking about a generally-decent good-friend person who, if I were to say something like “I need you to respect my boundaries. Until you can do that, we won’t be hanging out. I’m going to give you a month to think about that.” would go “Oh my god… I’m so sorry.” And then drop out of my life instantly, mortified at himself. That is not a good outcome for me! I like my BFF!

          1. Just to be clear – I’m a texter and have no phone minutes so getting multiple texts in quick succession is normal, lol. I’m also an abuse survivor, and hypervigilant to red flags / controlling behavior, so when I say “X is the most abusive thing he does”, that’s seriously it.

            It’s not a There’s Good In Him, I’ve Felt It situation, it’s a Good People Can Be Awkward Too How Do I Tell Him situation.

          2. I’d just send him an e-mail with what you said here. Just tell him you’re more introverted and you need to control the pace of the friendship.

            Honestly, if he takes it as “I must drop off the face of the planet now,” that’s a red flag for me, because it reads as him placing an unhealthy amount of importance on your friendship. (I’m not saying friends aren’t important! They are! I’m saying it’s not healthy to be so invested in a relationship that criticism is taken as failure.) But from what you’ve said, if he’s this good, he’ll probably be fine with hearing you need some space—give him some credit, most people will surprise you with decency.

  9. This hit home as I had a friendship-break-up this week! I thought we were at the “Meet up every few months for coffee” level of friendship, then around November he started texting me every two or three weeks asking to meet up, and getting irate when I wasn’t free. (I have hobbies, and am in final year!) This made the times we did meet up less pleasant for me. It could have just been a case of redrawing boundaries, but he was quite passove-aggressive about the whole affair, which made me not want to be even “coffee every few months” friends.

    Following some passive-aggressive messages and a facebook-friend-deletion (because I didn’t reply to two texts, or to Facebook messages which came through while I was studying), I finally sent him a message saying that I felt the time had come for a natural break, and got a reply saying that he hadn’t wanted to say anything, but he had developed a crush on me in October (Actually, I had to send two messages, as the reply to the first one was “I’m glad this has been a misunderstanding, let’s be friends and you have to put more work in instead of me always being the one to get in touch!” So that was the response to my second, “I’m sorry if I’ve been unclear…” message), hadn’t wanted to make things awkward and lose me as a friend, but hey, he had anyway, so no harm in telling the truth!.

    If anything that made me less sympathetic, as it struck me as a rather bratty parting jab. The fact of his feelings changing does not give me more free time (I am in my final year of college, and I have hobbies that I like to spend time on!), or entitle him to my time. I’m mildly concerned about the risk of fallout from mutual friends and acquaintances, but as a previous commenter said, I don’t have to wince when I check my phone or hear the Facebook message ‘boop’ anymore! He was someone I used to get on well with when we met up or chatted online, but that wasn’t enough to excuse the change in behaviour, and it isn’t necessarily enough for LW’s Steve’s.

    This was a bit of a vent, but since the last message was two days ago I’m still snippy over the THIS IS NOT HOW GROWN-UPS ACT part.

  10. Ugh. I am on team dropping your friend.

    This is not because your friend had/has a crush on you. I have had crushes on friends that weren’t reciprocated, and vice versa. The person with the crush sometimes curtailed some Whoa! Whoa! contact because things felt a little odd, but the friendship remained intact and we would reestablish contact and start hanging out at some point.

    What we didn’t do was act in ways that made the other person uncomfortable. If a friend asks me not to do something, I might feel pouty inside (I DIDN’T MEAAAAN ANYTHING BY IT HOW CAN YOU SAY THAT TO ME WAH WAH WAH) but I apologize and take care to not do that thing that makes them uncomfortable. (And after about ten minutes I stop feeling pouty inside and am thankful that I have friends who will say stuff instead of silently seethe.)

    Your friend is not a child. You are not his mommy. Even if he’s not being passive-aggressive and manipulative, even if he’s just clueless and forgetful, it’s stressful to deal with that stuff all of the time. It’s okay to remove yourself from the orbit of someone who refuses to respect your feelings and your needs. This goes for *anyone*, whether or not they have a crush on you.

  11. And I HAVE NO IDEA how the Whoa! Whoa! got in there but I guess it adds a nice emphasis?? Though confusing! Apologies. . .

    1. It kind of made me picture terrified jazz hands. It’s obviously from a song in Captain Awkward: The Musical!

      1. I saw Neil deGrasse Tyson, personally.

        Dude. Dude dude dude: Captain Awkward: The Musical – starring Neil deGrasse Tyson.

        I… I think I need a moment.

  12. I once dated/hooked up with someone who had a Steve. Steve made me so uncomfortable, giving me dirty looks in class especially when it was clear that he was making zir uncomfortable–making comments about zir body, and otherwise breaking boundaries. It was difficult to watch. I eventually broke up with zir because I couldn’t deal with Steve, and because I realized it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to ask zir to cut back on Steve.

    Now Steve is Steve-ing it up on one of my close friends.

    The sad part of this story is that I had my own Steve at the time, and didn’t recognize/want to get rid of her until I saw how annoying other Steves could be.

      1. I, too, love it, but it’s mean to all the genuinely nice Steves of my acquaintance. Alas! Perhaps we can extend/respecify “skeeve”?

        1. Yeah, my brother is a Steve and he has no problems with boundaries or taking no for an answer.

      2. I’m commenting from my smartphone so I can’t easily look it up, but isn’t there a really funny Garfunkel and Oats song called “me and you and Steve”?

        1. But I can’t back using “Steve” as an insult the way I can, say, “Santorum” or “Fredo.” Some of my best friends are Steves.

          1. Heehee, that’s the one! Hey, remember when Hitchens said ladies just aren’t funny? He was such a douchebag. And I kind of agree on the name Steve, for sure. I too have some world-class Steves in my life. It’s just that it’s a really good name to verb, I think. Maybe Steveing could be the *opposite* of the LW’s Steve’s actions…

  13. Sometimes I read Captain Awkward and I reflect on that fact that I am glad I don’t have an advice column. Every response of mine (especially lately) would be either a giant African Violet photo or a 72-point DTMFA!!!, which is probably extremely unhelpful to the LWs. If they were lucky I might add in smaller type “Dude, that is crazeballs.”

  14. One other thing is that you may actually be doing him an enormous favor by dropping him from your life. I have had two male friends who were in this type of toxic relationship. I.e. – they had a crush on a friend, didn’t seem to be able to get over it, did all this ridiculous manipulative way too friendly/available stuff and every so often did irritating inappropriate things that pushed the issue.
    In the meantime, they didn’t meet new people they could theoretically fall in love with because they continued to put this other person on a pedestal, bored their other friends (i.e. me) complaining about how they were truly perfect for them if they would only realize, and just generally wrecked their own lives due to this “friendship.”
    The one I never actually met the woman and as far as I know he is still being like this with her.. The other I met – and she was a lot like the LW. She genuinely liked him as a friend and didn’t know how to deal with the crap he occasionally dumped on her. In the end, she ended up doing more or less what the Captain advised and it worked in a lot of ways. She got relief, he finally got over her — he ended up meeting another woman about 3 months into their “breakup” — and they are now (10 years later) still really good friends.

    1. Yes! This is a good thing to keep in mind. Sometimes we get into mind cycles that are really hard to get out of, and if Steve is in a mind cycle of “I’m totally crushing on this awesome lady and I want to be around her all the time and do nice things for her so she will be around all the time and maybe want to date me! Of course i’m not EXPECTING that, oh no, never. That would be silly. But if it DID happen that would be the best ever and now I’m going to fantasize about a future in which this incredible lady and I date while I hit her up so we can hang for ANOTHER 6 hours today!!*” then a long period of no contact will likely knock him out of that mind pattern and he’ll be able to stop obsessing over you and interract with you in a chiller way.

      *Why yes, I do have extensive first hand experience of this kind of thing, why do you ask?

      1. OOoooh this.

        When I was a teenager I got into those mind cycles and then when I look back I realise that after a while it wasn’t even that I had a crush on the person anymore, it was that I was used to thinking and acting like I had a crush on them so I just kept doing what I was used to.

  15. Much respect for the Captain’s good advice. As a manipulative-jerk-in-recovery, may I highlight one phrase for extra attention:

    In fact, any unwanted contact restarts the clock to at least 6 more months of no contact whatsoever.

    Clingy friend will try to test boundaries based on observable responses. If he really has a problem with boundaries, or is controlling, he’ll follow an almost Pavlovian pattern.

    “I called and left a message every Wednesday for a month before she called me back. Maybe she needs me to leave four messages before she’ll call me back. I’ll try calling twice a week!”

    “She didn’t call me back after I emailed her. Maybe Facebook will work! Oh! She called me a day after I messaged her on Facebook! Next time I’ll send a FB message AND an email!”

    Sticking to the 6-month schedule, with the clock restarting after each contact attempt, is the only way to break these patterns. In extreme cases, people trying to control levels of contact will dramatically increase the frequency, variation, and intensity of their efforts to get a response; any reaction will only serve to re-inforce that behavior. (short-term it stops them from calling, but long-term it’s pure poison)

    1. This is really insightful, thank you. I’ve mostly dealt with my Clinger, but I’m trying to extract myself from an abusive parent (I’m at eight months of no contact, go me!) and this is EXACTLY the pattern she went through. She would send me increasingly horrible and passive aggressive messages (“Just e-mailed to remind you I love you even though you obviously don’t love me or your family, which is why your grandpa died and it’s all your fault.”) until I would call to scream at her to stop because dude? That is CRUEL. And I could never figure out why the calls and e-mails ramped up after that. This makes it all make sense. Thank you.

      1. You can also ask a trusted friend to read these e-mails for you / listen to the messages she left and to tell you if there’s anything worth knowing. Helped me not to engage.

  16. LW, one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten is that every criticism of a behaviour doesn’t need to become a referendum on the Inherent Goodliness of the person behaving badly. Steve might be a great guy! And he’s still doing the thing that you need him not to do. Focus on the thing, don’t let him derail it into being all about him (the kind-sharking thing people mentioned upthread, argh), and if he can’t hang, African Violets are pretty much always in season.

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