#251: Breaking up with a friend (African Violet Review)

African Violet, photo by Jeff Shaumeyer, used under a Creative Commons License.
Photo by Flickr user Jeff Shaumeyer, used under a Creative Commons License.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I need a good way to stop being best friends with my former best friend. I don’t want to hurt her feelings any more than I might have already have, but the relationship is seriously not working out for me in a bad way.

Brief recap: Former best friend (FBF) was in a poly relationship which ended explosively and which because of various reasons (her reactions to the situation, namely) tore up the entire social circle (all ten people I consider close friends in Boston and six of whom I live with). She and I and her boyfriend live in the same housing situation numbering seven in all. There was lots of drama for four months. Then things got more-or-less resolved. Now she is trying her best to turn us back into “bestest buddies ever” and I just can’t do it. This is because I genuinely feel like she doesn’t care about my feelings or my needs at all if she has any sort of need or upset. She always comes first, even if it means she has to disregard my stated needs for sleep, for boundaries, for “I don’t want to talk about it, I can’t talk about it because I’m on the verge of a mental breakdown”.

Recently, she told me that she would get depressed and paranoid if **I** didn’t make the effort to chat her up every so often. It doesn’t count if she initiated the conversation other times, the clock doesn’t get reset unless I seek her out and talk with her.

Asides from my work, which is amazingly busy right now, I have no problem with talking to her — I just don’t want to have it be mandated “or I will be depressed, non-functional, and paranoid” because this is part of the entire reason I can’t be best friends with her: she seems to be incapable of not going Hulk-like when her feelings are in question and when she’s feeling hurt or “abandoned” or “dismissed”, nothing else matters except that people must put down everything and anything to make her feel better.

Then, the day before we were going to go out to a board game night at the local bookstore, she informs me that she “feels like she and her boyfriend are always the ones being **abandoned** to take the T home **alone**” and if I could “reserve two seats” in my car for her and her boyfriend to go home with us at the end of the night.

I calmly told her that since there was six of us and my car only seats five, someone would have to take the T home. She responded with “I would feel abandoned if I and my boyfriend would have to be the ones to take the T home alone” and then also “I feel like it negates the point of hanging out with friends if we don’t get to go home together at the end of the night”.

For reference, the board game night was going to start at 12:30pm and last until 10:00pm. We were probably going to stay for most of that.

I honestly didn’t have a good response to that because I didn’t want to just point out that if she wanted seats in my car, which was never made clear to me the entire 20+ days previous to this that she had known this event was happening, then one of our other friends would have to take the T home alone, by himself, unless someone else wanted to be a hero and take the T home with him. So I said “right” and let the conversation end.

Part of my problem with this is that she is the one who sold her SUV because “I hate owning cars” and “you don’t need a car in Boston” and “there’s no way my life will be badly impacted by not having a car” and so my mindset honestly has always been: you didn’t want a car, you sold your car, and you have your boyfriend for company, so someone needs to take the T home, it should be the people who **didn’t have previous dibs on seats in the car already**. But no, now I would have to either ditch the car and take mass transit with her, or boot out someone I had already promised a seat to, or she was going to feel abandoned.

The next day, first thing that her boyfriend asks when we show up is whether or not we have seats in the car for them. I curtly tell them that friend J would be taking the T home, alone, so they could go home with us in the car.

Later on, couple of hours later, I tell her that we’re going to the local Thai restaurant to have dinner and that she should join us once she was finished with her game and if not, oh well — she tells me, again, that she would be very upset if we “left without her” and “abandoned her without telling her”.

I was drained, upset, completely set on my ear by the amount of abandonment guilt tripping going on and at this point I’m ready to not go to any events with anyone with my car (which because of my energy levels will mean I don’t go out and do anything) because life would just be simpler that way.

I really, truly, don’t want to cut her off from my life entirely. Despite the four months of drama we went through, I still wanted to be friends with her because I thought that she would regain equilibrium and we could all stop flinching around each other. However, I don’t want to be “best friends” with her anymore because I honestly don’t trust her not to cut me dead if it was me or her feelings on the line.

tl:dr — How do I stop being someone’s best friend while still being a friend without hurting their feelings?

— completely at a loss

Dear At A Loss:

To review, “The African Violet of Broken Friendship” came about because there are no good scripts for ending friendships the way there are for romantic relationships. Maybe there should be a ceremony where you could give the former friend a small parting gift and a card where you wish them well?

You asked me “How do I stop being someone’s best friend while still being a friend without hurting their feelings?”

Sadly, there is still no good way (even with a nice parting gift and a note) to not hurt your friend’s feelings when you have whatever conversation you are going to have with her. What you have here is a choice between saying nothing and feeling constantly annoyed and making her feel constantly “abandoned” by you when she asks for something she needs that you don’t want to give vs. speaking up and saying a hard, true thing that might end the friendship but might be the one thing that helps you reset it on more equitable and truthful lines.

I’m going to argue for truth, even uncomfortable truth, presented as gently and clearly as possible.Without the truth the friendship is going to end anyway, in a spectacular fight with a lot of hurt feelings.

If you want to make the discussion focus strictly on the car stuff:

Friend, I want to talk about the other night and your request for seats in the car. It’s not fair to make that about me “abandoning” you. I had already promised the seats to someone else, and you put me in a bad position. It’s not about abandoning you, it’s about honoring the commitments I made to other people and also the fact that I get to decide when I give rides (or whether I give them at all). If you need a ride, just ask me straight out, and if I can’t give you one, I’ll tell you straight out, and I expect you to respect me as I would respect you.”

You could decide to handle all of your conflicts with her on a case-by-case basis vs. having one big talk, and there is tons of advice on the site for how to say “Okay, done talking about this, sorry, so we’re going to have to either leave this subject or one of us needs to leave the room.” However, this all sounds bigger than the car, and it’s not fair of your friend to put so much of her emotional well-being on your shoulders. “I’ll be depressed if you don’t….” is her basically deciding in advance that she will react negatively and seeking to manipulate you into doing what she wants. NOT OKAY. So the script I would really use is:

“Friend, you’ve said a lot of things about feeling abandoned, and asked me to do stuff like give you rides or chat with you as a way to ‘prove’ that I’m your friend.

The requests to make me ‘prove’ my friendship in these ways are making me very uncomfortable, just as I imagine your feelings of being left out are uncomfortable for you. You’re not crazy or wrong to pick up on the fact that we aren’t connecting like we once did. I am not feeling as close to you as I once did, and I need to take a break from the whole idea of being your ‘best friend’ and the pressure that comes with that. Can we agree to hang out and be friendLY at (larger social circle/housemate things, where I’ll be very happy to see you) but take a break from the one-on-one time for a while?

Truth: It’s not going to land well. She is probably going to get very upset and ask you why and say stuff about how you hate her and it’s going to be sooooo awkward. What you want is some more separation from this woman, not a long heart-to-heart where you end up apologizing for standing up for stuff you want and end up more intertwined than ever. So let her talk and get upset, but hold your ground. Then say:

I’m really sorry, I know that this is hurtful to hear, but I still need a break from hanging out with you one-on-one and talking about serious matters. I don’t want things to be strained and uncomfortable in the house, but the truth is they are ALREADY uncomfortable because you are asking me for more than I can give. I need you to agree to give me some space and to let me be the one to seek you out. Hopefully with some time things can get better.”

Then try to end the conversation. Plan it so that you can be out of the house for a while afterward and let her process/cool off, and plan to be out of the house a lot more this summer so that you’re not always thrown together. Make some friends who don’t know her at all! Be respectful of the fact that all of this was very painful for her to deal with, so tread gently for a while. But don’t get sucked back in. You’re not responsible for how she feels about herself.

Oh yeah, she’s gonna take this to your friends/housemates, so while you didn’t ask, your mantra for them is “Sorry to make things uncomfortable for you. Nothing is really wrong, I just needed some space from _____, and that includes not talking about her when she isn’t here. Thanks for respecting that!” + (change the subject). It’s not a perfect answer but if people are choosing sides over things they’ll generally choose the one where people are being reasonable and cool.

Good luck, keep your cool, settle in for a few uncomfortable weeks, and pat yourself on the back for having a difficult conversation and standing up for your needs.

51 thoughts on “#251: Breaking up with a friend (African Violet Review)

  1. Oh man, LW, I totally feel for you. It’s true that there’s no easy way to end friendships the way there is to end romantic relationships, and I think that it’s even harder to say “I want to be not as close with you” than it is to say “I don’t want to be friends with you anymore.”

    You say that you don’t want to hurt her feelings any more than you might have already, but from what you’ve written, it doesn’t sound like you’re actually doing anything to hurt her feelings. You’re just trying to take care of yourself, and that means sometimes not being available to her. If that hurts her feelings, it’s hard to imagine how actively standing up for yourself will go any better. Which sucks, because it means you probably will hurt her feelings more, but you’re allowed to do that if it’s what you need to do to take care of yourself.

    One thing that might be useful, if she tries to rope you into a conversation about how you hate her and are so mean to her, is to play her own arguments back to her as a demonstration of why you shouldn’t be as good friends. You could say something like, “Clearly I’m not able to be the kind of friend you need me to be, so maybe it’s better if you don’t depend on me to be that friend.” I know that people who behave the way your friend is behaving don’t always respond well to logical arguments like that, but it might break her cycle of “Why do you hate me?” for long enough for you to end the conversation and leave. Also, it makes the conversation about you, which might keep her from perceiving it as an attack on her. You don’t want to give her reasons that she can then argue against. If it’s about you, it’s harder for her to do that than if it’s mostly about her behaviour.

    1. I second this recommendation. Saying something like “I can’t be the friend you need” acknowledges that she does have needs, and that may (briefly) work to help her feel a bit validated. It will probably kick over into blaming you again shortly, but in my experience it’s better to keep the conversation at “you have needs I can’t meet” rather than “you WANT WRONG THINGS FROM ME”. More likely to be heard by this kind of personality.

  2. Hey LW, I’m the lady who just wrote in about the mama friend breakup. As I was reading your letter, something struck a chord with me.

    It sounds like your definition of What Friendship Means To You is different (and possibly completely incompatible with) your friend’s definition. Some people really do believe that best friends should be totally available for each other with no boundaries ever, and that a person should put her own needs and well being second whenever her best friend requests it. For this reason, I tend to be wary of the “best friend” label at times, because I think very needy/manipulative people tend to want to apply it prematurely, and then use it as leverage to force you into doing what they want in order to make themselves feel whole.*

    In my case, the friend was doing this more with her kids, but also with me. And when I didn’t live up to her expectations, she would constantly guilt-trip me into feeling bad and doing what she wanted by describing how disappointed, devastated or excluded her child (really her) was feeling.

    You may want to ask this friend to describe to you exactly what she expects from a best friend. Chances are, she’ll have a whole laundry list of things that she was hoping you would do for her, which end up being all about making you responsible for her feelings and well being. You can then gently point out that you probably aren’t a good candidate for this role in her life and that you need space, since your expectations and hers are so clearly incompatible. For her, this might make it less about you dumping her and more about you coming to an understanding that you aren’t the right person to give her what she wants.

    And…for the record…I think this woman’s expectations of a friend are totally overwhelming and unrealistic, and I totally get why you’d need a break from this person!

    *Not true for all people who call themselves best friends. But if you meet someone and two months in they’re calling you a best friend? Kind of like someone saying ‘I love you’ on a first date.

    1. I am thinking that after getting that list of what her friend wants, LW might look at the list and say “so, have you been doing A, B, C, D, E, and F for me for the last year?” Or point out that friend has never done B for her, and only grudgingly did E once.

      No, relationships aren’t always balanced on a week-by-week or month-by-month basis, and sometimes one person needs more. But I have a sneaking suspicion that LW’s friend has never been offering as much as she is demanding here.

      1. Exactly. I initially brought up the point b/c, in my situation, after I told my friend that I felt overwhelmed by her demands, she responded with a list like this, in which she said she had “always dreamed of having friends who took you on vacations with them, who threw you birthday parties and had you over for last-minute barbecues and you could drop in anytime and were always welcomed, you could trade favors and be a shoulder for each other to cry on, etc.”

        The list went on and on, and as I read it, it occurred to me: she wanted all of this from ME. She had never made herself available to me in those ways – I would never have even asked for most of it – but she had felt like she should be entitled to take all of that from me.

        It really makes the emotional parasite + host relationship crystal clear when you make the vampire spell out their terms in the form of a wish list. And usually they are all too eager to do it, since they think it will make you feel guilty.

  3. Oh, LW, been there, done that. I might suggest “I’m very sorry that you’ve been in such a bad place lately, but I am not responsible for your feelings. Have you thought about finding a therapist to work through those with?”

    1. Actually, that’s a really good response. LW is not responsible for her FBF’s feelings, but expressing bland sympathy for FBF’s insecurity before directing her elsewhere is, I think, one of the kinder possible responses.

      LW, I would consider adding bland sympathy to your repertoire as long as it won’t lead you back into feeling responsible for this person’s feelings. It may soften a few blows, even if there’s no way to get this to go smoothly.

      1. Yes! Bland sympathy is a beautiful thing. I should add that I’ve previously gotten the response of, “But I can’t see a therapist because of [reasons]!” To which I reply, “I understand that it can be really difficult, and I sympathize! You can call a hotline and ask if they have resources that can help you find good therapy. Because I am not a trained therapist, I’m able to help with these kinds of things effectively, not like someone who has studied intensively for it.”

        (I have many friends whom I have talked through crises over the years. Some of them have gotten therapy, and therefore have not needed African violets. I’m quite relieved! But I do have a script.)

  4. Move out. Seriously- she didn’t let you get enough sleep because she’s talking at you about her problems, despite the fact that you used stated boundaries? There’s no real way to create distance or boundaries when there’s no distance to be had because you’re in the same house. There are other rooms to rent in shared houses; as much of a pain as moving is, life will get better when you don’t have to walk on eggshells just to go down the hall to the bathroom.

    If you still want to be friends with her then, you can be friends at arms length. But for now, she can keep you hostage to her emotions because you don’t have anywhere to go to escape her.

    I know it’s a huge step, and I’m sure living with six best friends was awesome four months ago, but I think once you’re out you’ll realize how much better it can get.

    1. Gods, this!
      YES to moving out!

      What Agnes said about there being no way to create/maintain distance and boundaries when you’re living in the same house as the person who ignores your boundaries? Totally true!

      You may find that staying friends with her is much easier when she can’t keep you up at night or otherwise screw with you. Built-in boundaries and not having to rely on people-who-ignore-boundaries for basic things like (a) privacy & alone-time, or (b) making sure the utilitiy bill gets paid? Really REALLY helps to improve relationships. (Anekdata: My relationship with my mom is much better now that I’m not relying on her – in one way or another – for shelter. Also: My ex-spouse was able to mend his relationship with his best friend only AFTER they started living in separate places).

      Alternatively, you may find that, having moved out, life is so much better without her that you don’t want to be friends with her at all – which could happen.
      Someone who sucks everyone around her into the maelstrom of her relationship meltdown is, perhaps, not someone you want to be friends with once you’re out of their sphere of emotional manipulation/influence.
      …In which case, being moved out *already* will help you to make that happen.
      For example, if you’re already moved out, she can’t get passively-agressive at you in ways that effect your basic necessities (lik, say, regularly not “being able to” make her portion of the rent because she’s been too “triggered” by your “abandonment” of her to go to work regularly); and any guilt-tripping or other emotional manipulation that she tries to pull on you will be restricted to things you can hang up on, delete, or walk away from.

      To reiterate: Getting your own place to live – by yourself or with other people who are not That Person – is a very, very good idea.
      (Also: What other people have been bringing up about unreasonable and likely-unidirectional expectations? Very spot on).

  5. And…for the record…I think this woman’s expectations of a friend are totally overwhelming and unrealistic, and I totally get why you’d need a break from this person!

    Srsly. I was getting exhausted just reading about it. This “friend” is an emotional vampire and I therefore strongly agree with the Captain’s suggestion that trying to establish a strong boundary brick-by-brick over time isn’t going to work, and that the boundary needs to be erected in a single comprehensive act.

    1. I laughed. I really did. I’ve thought it and I’ve wanted to do it and I haven’t. But I laughed so hard. Thanks 🙂

  6. Oh LW. I’m so exhausted just reading your letter I can’t even imagine what you must feel like. I agree with the Captain. At this point, what with living together and having so many friends in common, there’s probably not any kind of face-saving way to friend-breakup. I still think being honest is a better bet than trying to slow fade or letting your resentment build up until you explode. I wasn’t honest with a friend I desperately needed to dump many years ago, and I still feel pretty bad about how I handled it. I *never* used my words, and then suddenly I had all these words and I knew it would be cruel to use them all at once in a great big feelingsplosion, so I did a cowardly slow fade that resulted in running into her boyfriend when he was drunk and he made an incredibly unpleasant scene and UGH the whole thing was a much bigger mess for my cowardice. So do the hard, true, thing, is my advice. Because I wish I would have, because really in the end it would have been less hard, still true, and made me not an asshole ::gentle smile::

  7. Cap’n has given some great advice here, as always. I recently had to break up with a FBF who was pretty much an emotional vampire. We had been really close once, and we had both helped each other get through some really big life stuff (my divorce, a traumatic and violent breakup on her end). But our lives became ever more different as the years passed, and I ended up becoming the White Knight who would sweep in and rescue her every few months after she’d put herself into the same type of bad situations time and time again. I finally called things off after some major drama a couple months ago. I originally considered doing a slow fade, but ended up Using My Words and letting her know that I felt we’d grown apart, that I wished her well but couldn’t see us being friends anymore. She was hurt, but took it fairly well at the time.

    BUT…that said, with a friend like this you should be prepared for passive aggressive behavior – especially if you’re living together and can’t avoid each other. My FBF popped back up a couple weeks and managed to draw me in with some seriously passive aggressive behavior, which led to a giant FEELINGSexplosion and some heavy guilt-tripping the likes of which I haven’t seen in ages. I wish I’d been able to avoid getting drawn in because we both ended up getting hurt, but then again I felt like she was determined to get that out one way or another. Hopefully your FBF won’t do the same, but I’d be ready just in case. Good luck.

    1. This isn’t on topic, but I read “FEELINGSexplosion” as a feeling SEX explosion, and had to wonder a) what kind of friendship you had, and b) what on earth was a sex explosion and where could I get one?! X-D

      1. LOLOLOL! Nope, not that kind of a friend. But that sounds like a pretty amazing kind of explosion 😉

  8. Great suggestions from the commenters so far, not that I expected any non-great suggestions.

    I forgot to say in the post: One thing you can do to keep the friendship alive is to schedule a periodic friend-date. Go out to breakfast once a month, just the two of you, no other housemates or friends allowed, and catch up with each other. I think the fact that you are housemates makes her feel like you are always available to her, so some of the boundary setting you need to do is about downtime and free time (all your free time does not belong to her). “I can’t talk to you right now about this, I’m unfucking my habitat/need to watch TV/Skyping my mom/staring at the wall for a while, but can we plan to go out to breakfast next week and catch up on everything that’s been going on?” It may not be enough for her, but it might take the edge off her anxiety that you hate her and take the edge off your anxiety that she’s going to interrupt you all the time.

  9. Captain, thanks so much. I think this was the needed kick on the butt to actually vocalize things. I was really hoping that there would be other magical ways to make myself feel better without making her feel bad, but you and everyone else have convinced me otherwise.

    Thank you all for your comments. I think it’s really more helpful to me than anything else (I flicked through all the previous reader questions to see if there was anything similar enough and of course being a special snowflake decided that no, my unique situation is unique and deserves it’s own post) to know that I’m not being a “bad friend”. And yes, I was hoping the “we can’t really be good friends anymore” talk wouldn’t need to happen.

    I have pointed out to her before that I am a terrible friend for what she needs. I went to therapy with her and her boyfriend, at her request, and I thought that we already had the verdict, via her therapist, that we weren’t really coming at it from the same way. Clearly this has not really sunk in.

    I also already told her that I needed her to stop stressing me out, that her constant emotional pleas and guilt trips and “you’re making me feel bad/unsupported/unloved/unwanted/rejected” was making me want to dive off a cliff — and it hasn’t worked.

    My problem is my lease runs through next June. I cannot bow out at this point without paying rent in two places, and so moving out is not an option. I agree that getting the heck out of Dodge is really going to be the only real solution at this point and since that’s not an option, I will need to use my words in hopefully non-explosive ways.

    And Virginia? I laughed out loud at your response. I can’t say how many times I’ve been tempted.

    1. So glad it helped. It’s been a running theme here lately – wrap your head around 1) the idea that you can’t really meet her needs, b/c they are not meetable or yours to meet, so you might as well meet your own needs 2) you can live with her sadness/abandonment issues/anger at you, but you can’t live with her treating you like she does right now. Both are harsh but very, very freeing when someone’s walking all over your boundaries.

    2. I have one suggestion – if you can find someone to take your place in a shared housing situation, it’s sometimes much easier than you might expect to get out of a contract without paying two lots of rent. The important thing is that there are X people paying their share, and if you can go to the landlord/agency and say “I need to move out, but I have Person A here all ready to move in if you would be willing to substitute hir on the lease”, they are likely to be a lot more accommodating than if you just want to back out and leave it on them/your housemates to find a new person. The complication, of course, is that the people staying in the house have to be okay with your candidate – and that becomes more of a minefield when they’re your friends in and of themselves. One thing that you can look out for is if you have friends or extended social network contacts who are looking for a place or looking to move to Boston, and just want to move into a room ASAP – if you can work something out that suits them, you, the landlord, and your current housemates, you have the added advantage of being the good samaritan who helped someone find a place to stay.

    3. “I went to therapy with her and her boyfriend, at her request, and I thought that we already had the verdict, via her therapist, that we weren’t really coming at it from the same way.”

      Wow. Going to therapy with her is above and beyond the call of friendship, to put it mildly.

      The fact that you’ve done this and she has refused to follow the therapist’s advice means that the usually good advice of recommending a therapist is a waste of time in this case.

      Blocking off time (lots of time) in your week when you are unavailable to this ‘friend’ sounds really necessary to me.

      I put ‘friend’ in scare quotes because it doesn’t sound like she is actually a friend to you. Does she do nice things for you and support you, or is it always you supporting her? Friendship is reciprocal or it’s not friendship at all.

  10. I think that what I’ve been struggling with is that it really is more like a romantic breakup than not. Friend and I have been double dating for the last eight years and have been living together for four. We had agreed, some might even have say promised, to live with each other, raise each other’s children, and grow old together. So part of the narrative is that I have pretty much decided to divorce this person, even though we are not actually dating.

    One other problem is that she has pretty much alienated all of our mutual friends, and I feel like I am, in a way, abandoning her (separate from the whole non-romantic-divorce thing) if I do tell her I don’t want to be close friends anymore because I can’t see her as being able to rationally step back and accept that I cannot be her best friend anymore and just accepting what I can offer.

    One other aspect to this is that one of my best friends has moved up to the Boston area and I have been and will be spending a lot more time with this person and I’m afraid that will have her perceive it as “I am being abandoned and replaced”, which is her whole current driving fear.

    One other, other aspect is that I have issues with the whole idea of “my needs versus your needs” when the other person clearly has an **issue** rather than simply being malicious.

    I don’t think that this really changes much of the advice I’ve been given. It is just something that affects my decision to just make it about each problem as it comes up versus actually being upfront and telling her that I need to not be her friend for now.

    Again, thank you all a lot. It was incredibly helpful just to have validation that I’m not crazy, she is crossing normal-person boundaries left and right, and to have a script for dealing with her emotional demands.

    1. Untangling from a really close friendship often feels like a breakup, I agree.

      Sometimes pointing out that you can’t MAKE her feel anything is the simplest boundary.

      Friend: When you do that, I feel abandoned.
      You: As I am not actually abandoning you, I can’t help that.

      Same goes for bad/unsupported/unloved/unwanted/rejected. Your actions give her a pretext to feel that way, but if you didn’t do that, she’d find a different pretext. The only person who can actually change anything here is her (preferably with some quality help from a mental health professional!)

      So she may have difficulty with the idea that you are backing off on this BUT neither of you have become The Worst Person Ever. The Captain’s idea of friend dates sounds pretty good to me.

    2. Hon?
      If pretty-much all of your mutual friends have disengaged from her, there’s probably a good reason for that. Her inability to maintain relationships (friendships, romances, all of the above) does not translate into a responsibility on your part to stick around because You’re Her Only Friend.

      Anecdote: I once stayed with a crappy romantic partner for probably six or seven months longer than was probably wise because I didn’t want to contribute to the afirmation of her personal meta-narative. (In her case, the meta-narative was “everybody leaves me in the end; in the end it’s always me against the world and I can’t count on anyone to have my back”).

      You are not responsible for the dismantling (or upkeep) of your FBF’s “everyone abandons me” meta-narative. And if you’re moving out in… July? (possibly getting a place with that friend who’s coming up?) and your FBF thinks you’re replacing her?
      Not your problem.

      Also: To use the romantic-relationship analogy: A spouse who keeps tabs on your whereabouts and controls your comings and goings because they have issues around trust and abandonment… is still a spouse who keeps tabs on your whereabouts and controls your comings and goings.
      Your FBF’s needs do not trump yours just because she has Issues. Her actively and consistently ignoring your boundaries does not become okay behaviour just because she has Issues.

      Re: Growing Old Together, etc: People get divorced all the time. People grow and change and move in directions they didn’t think they were going to go, and the partners they thought were Perfect For Them turn out to not be as good a fit as they were two, five, eight years earlier. It sucks, and it’s sad (says one who’s been through it), but it’s also way better in the long run for everybody involved.

      You are not a Bad Person for wanting to get out of a relationship that is causing you harm.

      1. Thanks for commenting and telling your story. You’re right. I suppose, being someone with depression and other similarly crippling mental disorders, that I just got caught in the idea of “abandoning someone when they’re having a bad time of it” is a Bad Person thing to do. I’m really grateful to everyone else for pointing out that I have a duty to myself too, and I have the right to not feel horrible in this relationship.

  11. Here’s a suggested script (or draft e-mail) to be adapted (or ignored!) as you see fit:

    “So FBF, I get that you’re worried I’m going to abandon you. And I’m going to be honest: that could very well happen. You’re not crazy to think I’m pulling away from you, because I am.

    The thing is, when you were going through your breakup with Poly-Ex, you were absolutely awful to a lot of people. You sucked our whole circle of friends into your misery and drama. I get that you were temporarily insane, but the thing is that you showed NO respect for other people and their needs, no matter how clearly and desperately they expressed them. You showed no respect for MY needs, no matter how clearly and desperately I expressed them. You showed me a side of you that I did not like at all. You forced me to put up emotional fences between us to protect myself, because you were absolutely NOT looking out for me. In fact, you were stomping all over my flowers and you didn’t even notice.

    Like I said, I get that you were temporarily insane. It happens to the best of us. I could move on and work on taking down those fences if all that was over and done with now that you’re through the worst of the breakup drama. But it’s not! You’re actually still showing me that self-centered side, the side that’s all about what you need and doesn’t seem to give a good goddamn about what I need. So instead of making me think in terms of taking down those fences, I find myself fantasizing about 12 foot high stonework. And moats. Which makes me sad, because your friendship has meant a lot to me over the years. But I would not have become friends with you based on this version of you, and sad doesn’t change the fact that based on how you’re acting right now I am not enjoying our friendship.

    I’m sure you’ve been feeling me pulling back, and it freaks you out because you’ve been through a lot in the last year and you don’t want to lose our friendship, so you’ve been scrabbling to drag me back into the friendship fold. I assume that’s why you keep “testing” me by making unreasonable demands (such as..), with my capitulation as the only proof you’ll accept that I still care about you. But have you ever seen a toddler who totally doesn’t want a hug from someone they see as a stranger, with a relative who is just determined to make little John/Joan snuggle on their lap? Well, that’s us right now. The harder you try to make us be gung-ho BFs — using YOUR definition of what means to be BFs, without showing any respect for what I want and need out of the relationship — the less I want any part of it.

    So here’s the deal: if you want to salvage any part of our friendship, you need to STOP acting like you are ENTITLED to any damned thing from me on the basis of our friendship. Because that totally sucks for both of us. It means I never have a chance to be generous toward you, because you’ve already demanded and claimed what you want as a right — even when it is totally unreasonable, like asking me to stiff people I’ve already promised a ride to. It makes resentment and irritation my dominant emotions toward you. It also means that nothing I do is ever going to fill that well of insecurity you have had since your breakup with Poly-Ex, because you know damed well you demanded and claimed and that at this point I’m only doing it out of guilt and desire to avoid scenes, so it means nothing friendship-wise.

    From now on, if you want to unload about stuff, I need you to say “is this an ok time to vent a little?” If you want a ride in my car, say “do you have room for me and boyfriend in your car?” If you’d like to hang out sometime, ask “do you want to go for coffee?” But be prepared for the answer to be “Sorry, not this time,” without making every single interaction we have an all-out referendum on our friendship.

    If you can do that, maybe something can be saved. Maybe someday, when we’re old ladies, we’ll look back at this phase of our lives as “that bad patch we went through.” But if you can’t, then yeah, I’m going to be actively distancing myself. Not because you’re not still great in a zillion ways, but because the dynamic has become unhealthy for both of us, and I just can’t do it anymore.”

    1. Other thoughts: combining this with the periodic friend-date. And a non obnoxious code (no faux-buzzers or hissing) to say “you’re doing it again,” while she tries to retrain herself into acting like a healthy friend again. (If it can be done… I’m not sure I’d have proposed the script at all except that you may be locked into housematehood for the next year).

    2. I’m sorry, but I have to disagree with the language of this (suggested) letter, especially the “temporarily insane” comments. Firstly, I feel it’s insulting to equate simple bad behavior with people who have mental health problems.
      Secondly, most of this is very accusing (YOU did this, YOU did that) which will make her defenisve and shut down from the conversation immediately-and turn it into a tit-for-tat, score-keeping conversation (Well, but YOU did this!). In my opinion it’s better to keep specifics like this to a minimum (or, as Olivia upthread mentioned, have her lay out her BFF expectations), and focus on emotions (Your actions make me feel this way).

      Just my two cents.

      1. I don’t mean to be flip or disrespectful when I say “temporarily insane,” and I apologize if it seemed so. I definitely don’t equate bad behavior and mental health problems. I just think emotional crisis can cause ordinarily wonderful people to lose themselves: their sense of proportionality… their control over their own emotions… their awareness of other people’s experiences, in a way not dissimilar to what some forms of mental illness can do (speaking from personal experience as to the MH aspect). So again, sorry if I offended.

        1. What I was thinking was that it’s a little too absolute, which in my experience invites argument and counterexamples.

          If you say something as absolute as “you showed NO respect” then DifficultFriend will immediately, defensively, be able to think of times where, actually, she did show some (however tiny, tiny amount of) respect. Then the email/conversation becomes not about you providing examples of why her behavior is a problem, but instead becomes about her being unfairly accused/painted with broad brush, etc. So for that reason I think it’s better to temper the language a bit, I think it’s better to say things like “showed too little respect.”

          Words like Never, always, none, nothing, always, every time…. they are like a side door giving the person a way in to argue about how YOU are wrong, not about how they need to reexamine their own behavior. Slam that side door! 🙂

          It’s a small difference, but I think it’s more fair to the recipient and is less likely to set her off/derail the conversation.

        2. No problem! I totally understand how an emotional crisis can cause people to lose themselves (I’m the LW for Mother’s Day), I just wanted to point out that the language was a bit (though unintentional!) flippant and harsh.

    3. I love this paragraph and suggest the LW file it away for future conversations:

      “From now on, if you want to unload about stuff, I need you to say “is this an ok time to vent a little?” If you want a ride in my car, say “do you have room for me and boyfriend in your car?” If you’d like to hang out sometime, ask “do you want to go for coffee?” But be prepared for the answer to be “Sorry, not this time,” without making every single interaction we have an all-out referendum on our friendship.”

      But this is probably the angry first draft that we don’t actually send.

      1. Huh. This is why it is good to have a forum! I didn’t see it as coming from anger, but from a desire to give the FBF one last chance knowing what was at stake… not just, “I need X,” but “I need X or we’re done.” And for that, I did think it was necessary to say right out “Yes, I am pulling back. And the reason is not some nebulous ‘growing apart,’ but because you did Y and you are doing Z and this is how that is affecting me/us, and if this is who you are and how you are going to relate to me from now on, I’m done.” Too much gusto, eh?

    4. *blinks* alphakitty, how did you call the entire situation of how the breakup went? 😀 I mean, it’s almost like you were there.

      The funny thing is — I DID send an email, that was full of “I feel stressed and upset by x and y and z demands from you, and I feel like your constant guilt tripping and expectations of me “doing better” is verging on emotional abuse because of the time frame (4 months of incessant bombardment of “you fail, do more, etc”) — and she and her boyfriend called it poisonous. 😀

      1. Sigh — we word-y logic-y people are prone to fooling ourselves that if we could just explain our position well enough the other person would see the error of his/her ways. Can you tell I’m prone to that fallacy? But no. Sometimes there’s just no way to win, even if you’re defining winning as reaching detente. Sorry to hear it, and best wishes moving forward!

        1. That fallacy is a) shared by me and b) very common on the Left of politics, for sure. You’re not alone!

    5. I think this letter makes some really good points, and I like the toddler-hugging analogy especially. But I have to say, I’d actively discourage LW from presenting her friend with a written document like this. Airing your issues in text form can feel tremendously freeing and allow you to organize your thoughts. But actually SENDING it runs the risk of…well, at best, it’s kind of FEELINGSMAIL, isn’t it? At worst, you could get yourself into a situation where the friend is so upset and feels so rejected that they keep reading and rereading the letter, getting more and more worked up, and possibly even forwarding the letter to your entire social group, or carefully selected bits of it with her point by point responses, and suddenly your entire personal life is full of even more drama.

      …Not that I’ve ever been in this situation myself. This is all purely hypothetical.

  12. Hi LW! I read this yesterday, but I couldn’t comment then because my entire brain was going “DUMP HER DUMP HER DUMP HER”, which is not very helpful (or indeed what you’ve asked for) in terms of advice.

    This does indeed sound very like a romantic break-up, where you are pulling away and she is desperately trying to pull you back. In my last relationship, when I could feel things going south, I was clingy, needy, constantly looking for reassurance that he still loved me. Naturally all this did was drive him further away. I could see how unhelpful my behaviour was and how it was achieving the opposite effect to the one I wanted, and yet I COULD NOT STOP doing it. There is a reason why no one wants to be around someone who is all drama all the time – they are no fun.

    From what you’ve described, she is being a pretty toxic friend at the moment. I love how alphakitty put in her letter: she is “making every single interaction we have an all-out referendum on our friendship”. You’re already considering changing what you do so as to avoid conflict with her (not taking the car when you go out). Are you getting anything at all out of the friendship right now? If you are, do you think what you are getting is fair and equitable?

    You have been a really, really generous friend to her. You have put up with drama that affected your whole friendship group and made home a less than pleasant place to be. You have helped her through a tough time, and have prioritised her wants over your own and those of other friends (giving her and her boyfriend the seats in the car while your other friend travelled home by public transport, for example). You want to remain friends with her, which is admirable, but you have to rebalance the friendship, or eventually it will not be worth saving.

    I would consider saying something like this:
    “Listen, X, I can’t go on like this. I love you and I am not abandoning you, but I am exhausted and I need some space. I want to continue to be your friend, but I find it hard when you dictate to me the terms on which you want our friendship to operate and get angry when I don’t behave the way you think I should. If I don’t initiate conversation with you, that doesn’t mean I am abandoning you. If that makes you feel needy, paranoid and depressed, that is your responsibility to deal with, and not mine. If you continue to initiate this high drama over every little thing, I will continue to pull away because it is EXHAUSTING, and eventually we won’t be friends any more, which would make me sad. So for our friendship’s sake, I need you to stop putting all this pressure on me. For me, this would look like (e.g.) you respecting when I have made commitments (such as giving other people a lift) and not asking me to break them, asking me before you assume that you I will stop what I am doing to talk to you, and understanding when I need to do other things without assuming it means I am abandoning you. It would also mean you asking me how I am feeling and listening to the answer, suggesting doing fun things together but respecting if I can’t or don’t want to do them, and leaving me alone when I ask you to.”

    If she can’t give a smidgen of that generosity you’ve given her back to you and respect that you have other friends and other priorities than her, then I think you might need to cut her off, at least for a while. I know it’s hard in a house share, but you can be polite and respectful in a shared living space without having to socialise together. She is not being a good friend to you, and she is being unfairly demanding of your time, energy and attention. A good friend wouldn’t do that, and I’d question if the friendship is worth saving if she really won’t change her ways. Friends should lift you up, not drag you down.

    1. That last sentence. Yes. *sigh*

      I think I will try this again, with better words.

      Thank you all very, very much for the scripts, for the suggestions, for the validation that “you are not crazy, what she is asking is actually out of the realm of reasonable behaviour”.

      My friends have all been trying to confirm that for me, but I couldn’t *quite* wrap my head around it because I felt like I **was** abandoning her in her time of need and that possibly my friends, who are her friends, were possibly biased in my favour because they had also been sucked into the maelstrom of drama.

      Again, thank you.

      1. It’s usually good to take friends’ opinions with a grain of salt when bouncing situations like this off of them. The friends will be biased in your favor because they’re only hearing your side of the story.

        In your case, though, the friends have not only heard FBF’s side of the story, but they’ve also been similarly victimized by it. That’s not bias, that’s a reasonable conclusion based on evidence!

        Good luck with everything. All of this becomes more difficult by an order of magnitude when you’re sharing living space.

      2. I think the fact that your friends are also her friends means you can take them even more seriously when they are telling you her behaviour is unreasonable. They’re not just saying it because they only know you – they know her as well, so they’re not automatically on your side.

        It’s particularly tough to walk away if this person has already lost a lot of friends and you can realistically see how it might feel like you’re abandoning her, but there’s a reason she’s lost a lot of friends, and you are not responsible for being her friend at a cost to your mental health, well-being and happiness simply because you were the last person holding the parcel when the music stopped. It’s her responsibility to be someone whom other people want to be around.

        I am about to compare your friend to a pet, so I hope you don’t mind! When you train an animal, you reward the behaviour you want to encourage (with treats and attention). You do not reward the behaviour you want to discourage. Right now her behaviour is getting her lots of attention and the results that she wants from you. She needs an incentive to change her behaviour to be the kind of friend you want her to be, and she won’t have that incentive until she stops getting her own way.

  13. I think the Captain’s response is excellent (though I agree that given this friend is already acting the way she is, attempts to scale back the friendship are likely to result in no friendship, at least in the short term). The one thing I’d add is that I think it’s important not to agree to give your friend things you don’t intend to or can’t or don’t want to give her. If she says “I need you to initiate conversations with me every X number of days” and you agree to do that and then don’t do it, that’s only going to compound her feeling paranoid that you don’t want to be friends (and is also kind of a shitty thing to do, even if the original request is unreasonable). If she says she wants you to give her and her boyfriend a ride and you think she’s being unreasonable, it’s better to just say no and stand your ground then to grudgingly agree but make kind of passive aggressive comments about kicking someone out of the car for her and quietly fume about how unreasonable she’s being. A lot of the time, the best way to scale back a friendship with someone like this is to politely but firmly set your boundaries and stick to them. If you aren’t giving her what she wants, and aren’t allowing her to draw you into a bunch of drama about it, then she’s probably going to gravitate elsewhere.

    1. You’re completely correct, which is why I ended up sending this letter anyway. I don’t and didn’t think the original way in which I was interfacing with her was healthy and sustainable.

      I don’t think the comment was *that* bad in terms of passive aggressiveness because I had already told her that I would need to kick someone else out of the car so she and her boyfriend could ride home with me. I’d prefer her to know the consequences of her actions rather than have it be a bloodless non-problem that suddenly something that was problematic was magically solved in her favor. I am going to make an effort to do talk to her every 3 to 4 days, for optimal less drama.

      I feel like if I set boundaries and stick to them, which I have, she creates drama. Along the lines of sobbing hysterically in shared living spaces demanding to know if everyone thinks she’s unreasonable when the rest of us are sitting around hanging out. Previous attempts to ask her to not draw us into her drama about the breakup anymore resulted in a three hour long crying jag in the kitchen when I was trying to cook about how we were silencing her, dismissing her for our own comfort, and being terrible friends.

      …the more I clarify, the more I really do agree with brightwanderer and agnes that I should have just moved out. However, I didn’t, and because I didn’t move out, my friends didn’t move out either and neither did my boyfriend. As a result, this isn’t a case of finding one replacement for me, this is replacing 4 people in the house and I don’t think I can.

      1. I don’t think your comment was terrible or anything, I just don’t think she’s going to learn/care about consequences like someone else being inconvenienced. So if you don’t want other people to be inconvenienced, really the only thing you can do is not give in. But if you’re stuck living with her for now and find her so unpleasant when upset that it’s easier to just give in for the time being, that may be what you need to do to get by until you can move — and given how public she is with her drama, your other friends might well be happy to agree to be inconvenienced in small ways in exchange for the peace being kept until everyone can get rid of her.

      2. Er… Is there any way you and the other three people can kick her (and possibly her bf, if necessary) out instead of all of you having to find replacements for the lease?

        1. It’s an odd situation where my other two friends are kinda giving me the responsibility (blame?) of having signed the lease to stay on until June 31st 2013. I admit that I was wrong, that I had too-optimistically thought that everything would be fine and we could all move on from the drama-esplosion and still be friends and housemates. Frankly, at the end of 4 months of non-stop, ever escalating drama (yeah, put in that way, why did I resign the lease? I’m dumb. I really am.) I was in no shape to look for a new place, pack up a entire house of stuff, and move. No spoons, no energy, just wanted to curl up and be done for a while.

          The thing is, no one really wants to “break” things up. So kicking them out is not what we want to do because we don’t want her to totally melt down about how all her friends hate her and want her gone. Not quite there yet, especially since she’s calmed down some that the other boys can live with her, it’s mostly me that’s getting the brunt of her neediness because I’m her “best friend”.

  14. I know this is a relatively old post, and the LW probably isn’t checking this anymore.. but could it be possible the FBF has borderline personality disorder? BPD is something that’s really close to me and what really stood out for me was the FBF’s intense fears of abandonment and constant desire for reassurance (to the point of feeling depressed and paranoid if she doesn’t feel reassured) and her intense emotional reactions (the LW’s description of her going “Hulk-like when her feelings are in question” and when she’s feeling invalidated, the hysterical sobbing while demanding if everyone thought she was unreasonable…).

    I’m not saying this to justify the FBF’s behavior, because yeah, I do agree the LW isn’t responsible for her friend’s mental and emotional well-being, and that the LW’s priorities ought to be centered around her/himself. I just wanted to bring this up as a possibility because I noticed that there’s a general theme in the comments of talking about the FBF as if she was just being a bad, manipulative person.

    If she has BPD, then it’s likely that she isn’t deliberately, manipulatively “creating drama” when she sobs for hours in front of everyone, it’s probably that the emotions she’s feeling are actually that intense and she has difficulty controlling them due to differences in brain structure and function (see bottom table: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/borderline-personality-disorder/how-is-borderline-personality-disorder-diagnosed.shtml)

    Again, I don’t think the LW has an obligation to be this person’s anything, and I know I’m not in a position to diagnose the FBF. I just think it sounds a lot like the FBF has BPD, and if she does, then the work the FBF will need to undertake in order to develop healthy boundaries, a more stable emotional landscape, and the ability to self-validate will be more involved and complicated than someone who’s neurotypical. It’s not a matter of the FBF simply choosing to listen to reason and having the guts/humility to admit wrong and behave sensibly.

    1. Hi! You might be right about the LW’s friend’s condition.


      We can’t diagnose people we’ve never met through the internet, so as a general rule I ask that people refrain from even trying. Basically, us being smart about this doesn’t really solve the problem even if we do happen to be correct.

      The friend can’t diagnose people she HAS met because she’s not a licensed mental health professional. She also can’t control anything but her own behavior and boundaries.

      A layman or a stranger saying “It sounds like you have xx mental disorder” just sends the person into a storm of Googling and not necessarily in the direction of clinical help.

      Saying “Some of your behaviors seem like they aren’t serving you and are making you feel bad all the time. They’re also overwhelming and scary to me. Please go and talk to someone who can help you, ok?” coming from a friend is much better than “I have non-expertly diagnosed you!”

      Not related to this question directly, but a lot of people who have identifiable diagnoses have treated me (and letter writers seeking help) very badly. Sometimes it is empowering and helpful to only at behaviors and boundaries and how they affect you. In the hands of a non-pro, having the explanation of “This is why x behaves like that, it’s an illness” is sometimes a barrier in setting the boundary of “Ok, but he still doesn’t get to talk to me that way” because it exists as a possible excuse that gets in the way of letter writers setting better boundaries for themselves.

      You may in fact be correct, but I’m still going to ask you not to suggest diagnoses here in the future. If it helps, I’ve had a bunch of situations wring my Narcissistic Personality Disorder bell, and I’ve recommended books and tactics that are helpful for dealing with NPD folks but are also generally helpful for dealing with other really difficult people absent a diagnosis. So what would be more helpful in this case is “I have experience using some of the following strategies when dealing with people who exhibit X, Y, Z behaviors. They’re coded as responses to Borderline Personality Disorder, which may or may not apply to your friend, but try them out and see if they work.”

    2. Thank you for your comment. I am still following this, actually, and I appreciate any comments and new takes on the subject. FBF is in therapy and all I can and will say is that the therapist hasn’t diagnosed anything that would explain it although I too have had my suspicions.

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