#313 & #314: Broken Friendships

African Violet, photo by e_cathedra on Flickr.
Photo by e_cathedra on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Should there ever be a Captain Awkward Dot Com Meetup, I will acquire a bunch of these coloring books and the big boxes of crayons (and some silver and gold gel pens) and have a table where people can hang out and color. Right? Right. Thanks, Cleolinda!

Today’s letters are on the less happy topics of broken, abusive friendships.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’ve been friends with this woman for about 10 years, since 7th grade. We’ve been through a lot together, and I care about her a lot. However I believe this relationship has come to an end. About two months ago, we had an argument that was entirely my fault. I derailed a conversation that she was having with me, (I had been awake 72 hours, and told her several times I couldn’t really talk, because I was trying to write final papers) and it took me an embarrassingly long time to realize what I had said, and apologize, and she understandably became extremely frustrated with me. As a result of this, she decided it would be best to cut off contact with me for a month or so. We were supposed to re-establish contact on one of two dates (I don’t remember exactly because sleep deprivation). I tried to contact her in on the earlier of the two. The later is now passed, and I’ve received no response.

Reasons I’m kind of okay with this:

-I am paralyzingly afraid to disagree with her, or express needs, complaints, or even information about myself because Consequences.
-She demands my attention and emotional support constantly, regardless of what I’m doing at the time.
-She rarely shows interest in my life, and is persistently dismissive of my interests, accomplishments, and problems.
-Most of our conversations involve her lecturing me for hours, while I make affirmative noises and ask redundant questions, because she won’t talk to me if she isn’t upset, or educating me about something, whether I’m familiar with it already or not.
-When I do get to talk, she often interrupts me, talks over me, or completely ignores that I said anything.
-She ignores boundaries like “I’m at work” “I’m studying” “I need to sleep” “I’m in a club meeting/out with friends” “it’s 4am and I have an exam in 4 hours, can this wait?”
-For the last couple years we’ve often had sexual encounters that I didn’t want, but didn’t feel like I could refuse.
-She’s actively tried to logic her way around my consent when I’ve made myself say no.
-She’s guilt tripped me into sending her photos of myself when she was lonely after a break up, after I’d expressed my not-being-interested that way.
-She made my coming out as gender fluid all about her sexual orientation.
-I’ve tried to talk to her about the majority of these things multiple times, nothing has really changed, and I always end up apologizing.
-I’ve started having panic attacks when I as much as think about interacting with her (which I feel like is horrible and utterly unreasonable of me, because I’m pretty sure I did all of this to myself, somehow. And I’m not even convinced that these are legitimate problems, for me anyway)

Reasons I’m really not okay with this:

-Her life isn’t exactly easy, and if she demands so much from me she might need me and I won’t be there.
-She’s an old friend, and I miss her.
-Her not contacting me feels like proof of my failure as a friend and solidarity worker.
-She’s really the only person I have to talk to about gender and sexuality issues.
-It’s can’t be insignificant that the problems I have with our relationship (self centerdness, manipulation, sexual-pressure-y-ness, social interaction stuff) are a lot like negative stereotypes used against trans* women and autistic folks, and she is both. Clearly I am just an oppressive, ableist, transmisogynist asshat, fabricating this for myself out of threatened entitlement or something because reasons.
-I am prone to severe depression and anxiety, and am disinclined to trust my on brain anyway.
-It’s not as if I’m a perfect friend, and I want to make my mistakes up to her.

I really haven’t talked much about this, because I was afraid of Consequences and also of the possibility that maybe I’m just a needy self centered jerk. I didn’t even tell my partner this stuff was going on until the big fight itself. So, I guess I’m hoping writing this down, and getting outside perspectives will help. Mostly, if you feel like it, I would love advice on moving on with my life, and what to do if she does contact me again. Really a lot on what to say if we do end up in contact again. The self preservation-y, social justice educated side of me says to run away, but the rest of me can’t be certain that I’m not the bad guy, and being manipulative and overly needy and possibly oppressive myself, and I should try to fix things with her.

Dear LW #313:

You didn’t DERAIL the conversation when you didn’t want to talk because of lack of sleep & being in the middle of writing papers. You needed to finish your papers and get some sleep more than you needed to talk to her. You owe her exactly zero apologies. That’s called setting a boundary and is totally reasonable and normal. “Friend, Is this an emergency? No? Okay, cool, I need to call you back tomorrow when I’ve had some sleep and am done with these papers. Thanks, bye.

Okay, and then I read the rest of your letter.

This person has some funky ideas about boundaries. They don’t rhyme and you can’t dance to them. They include coercing and abusing you sexually: “For the last couple years we’ve often had sexual encounters that I didn’t want, but didn’t feel like I could refuse,” and gaslighting you into thinking everything is your fault: “I’ve started having panic attacks when I as much as think about interacting with her (which I feel like is horrible and utterly unreasonable of me, because I’m pretty sure I did all of this to myself, somehow. And I’m not even convinced that these are legitimate problems, for me anyway).  She’s got you so spun around and manipulated that when she cut off contact you’re the one trying to get the friendship back. The list of the ways she treats you is, frankly, rapey, abusive, and horrifying -not in a “these are common bad stereotypes of people who are like x” kind of way, in a INDIVIDUAL DOCUMENTED ACTUAL REAL LIFE TERRIBLE BEHAVIOR kind of way- and you do not need or deserve ANY of that in your life ever again.

Sorry to yell, but those panic attacks are your body sending you a message. “This person is poison. Do not engage.”  Take her current absence from your life as a gift. Stop making pro and con lists. Any one of the things on your list of reasons to not be friends would be a good reason to never talk to her again. Stop contacting her, stop worrying about her, stop feeling bad for her. The Venn Diagram of “Has Problems” and “Inconsiderate Dickhead” overlaps. You can be both oppressed in some way and an abuser.

Put your time into meeting new LGBTQ-friendly folks. You can find allies and be an ally to people who aren’t inconsiderate dickheads. Honest. Stop making her your Favorite Adopted Oppressed Person and excusing her behavior. Also, good grief, you do not have to fuck people to prove you’re down with their sexuality, ok? Anyone who says different is selling something, and what they are selling is bullshit + an unscheduled trip to Their Pants.

Don’t worry about closure or having one last conversation or giving her a chance to explain. Don’t contact her. When she resurfaces (she will resurface – there are very few people on heaven and earth who will put up with her bullshit) say “I know I contacted you a while back, but the more time has passed the more I enjoyed our break from each other and think it was the right decision. Let’s make it a permanent one and stay out of each other’s lives for good.”

That’s way more polite than she deserves, but it’s hard to convince abusive dickheads of their dickheadedness, and this cleanly and coolly cuts off contact. Brace yourself for being called names or some manipulative bowing and scraping where she tries to worm her way back in. It will pass and then you won’t have to talk to her anymore. Talk this over with your therapist or counselor (if you don’t have one already, get one by any means necessary – you’ve been really beaten down by this and need a sympathetic pro in your corner), rehearse various scenarios. Give yourself time and permission to grieve for the childhood friendship you had, but yeah, it didn’t last for a reason. That reason is: Your friend is an abusive, inconsiderate dick who doesn’t treat you very well, and she flounced as soon as you stood up for yourself a tiny bit. I give you permission to say “Adios, Jerkface!” to this person.

So, steps:

  1. Do not contact this person again.
  2. Block from all social media, email, etc. Do that TODAY.
  3. Change your cell phone number and do not give her the new one. Tell mutual friends not to give it to her.
  4. Call your therapist and make an appointment. If you don’t have one of those, talk to your school’s counseling office. Many recs are also here.
  5. Tell your partner what’s up. Get that person on Team You.
  6. Be really nice to yourself.
  7. If she contacts you, respond once and request that she refrain from all future contact. Then never respond to anything she says or sends you ever again for any reason. She will eventually go away.

It will be hard at first because you are overcoming a lifetime of training on how to interact with this person and you will receive some fierce negative feedback from her, but you can do it and you deserve so much better. After a while apart, you will start to feel so free.

This lady has activated your fight or flight instincts, hardcore, for a reason. Your entire body is trying to save you. Choose flight.

Dear Captain Awkward:

If you know someone is a secret asshole, is it right to reveal the truth? 

I have a friend. She seems nice on the surface and is a solid part of the group of friends I belong to, and has been for years. But from a few private conversations I have had with her recently, I have come to the unavoidable conclusion that she is a horrible person. She defends abusive behaviour. She criticises the way one of our friends handles her mental health (which is first and foremost none of her business, and secondly all she can possibly mean is that my friend occasionally mentions having a mental health problem, which is “attention seeking” according to Ass-Friend). Anyway, without going into the details of precisely what she has said – mainly because I imagine some people in our group read Captain Awkward – she has said horrible things about people with mental health problems. She has also disclosed to me other people’s private information up to and including telling me about the sexual assault of someone we know – someone who had not chosen to tell me about it, and so something I had absolutely no right to know and should not have been told.
I’m ashamed to admit that I have never personally called her out strongly enough on these things. I say “I disagree” in some form or other and change the topic rapidly. Because I’m a coward. I have resolved to stop doing this. Next time she says something dumb, she is getting my honest opinion and I feel guilty for not doing so sooner.
But my real question here is – what to do about the rest of our friendship group? I’m so mad from my past few conversations with Ass-Friend that I feel angry every time I see her. Since all my other friends are genuinely nice people, I know they would have a huge problem with her if they knew she had said these things. It feels really high-school to go “She said this and that” but at the same time, I kinda doubt that my friends would want to continue their friendship with her knowing she said this and that. What do you think, Captain Awkward? Do I tell the group that there is a secret asshole among us, if only so they stop talking about personal things with someone who doesn’t respect them, or keep quiet and hope she reveals herself?
– The Angry Coward

Dear Angry Coward:

I understand the temptation to reveal this person’s crimes and institute some kind of group shunning, and maybe it will come to that, but I think there are a few steps where you stop being a coward first.

Step 1: Contradict her more strongly. Rehearse if necessary. There is so much power in speaking up about bad behavior in the moment. It goes against a lot of the stupid “niceness” training girls get, but with time and practice it becomes a habit that saves you from a lot of agonizing and second-guessing yourself later.

Hey, stop saying that about friend and her mental illness. You’ve said something like that a few times now, and it’s able-ist and gross. Don’t say stuff like that around me, ever again.

Wow. That information you just told me is private. Do you tell my private information to other people? You’re really out of line.”

Step 2: Don’t hang out with this person alone anymore. Just absent yourself from making one-on-one plans with her or from going into private corners with her at group gatherings.

Step 3: She will probably notice. Tell her why. Possible script:

The last few times we’ve hung out, you’ve been really mean about (other friends). I really didn’t like what you said about (topic) or when you revealed (friend’s) private information. It makes me feel like I can’t trust you with my own private stuff and wonder what you say about me when I’m not around. What’s going on with that?

Let her talk.

What’s going to come out is either a) embarrassment and a sincere apology (“Whoa, I’m really sorry, I have been talking a load of negative crap lately and I guess I didn’t realize it until you said something. I will stop.”) or b) a bunch of defensive and self-justifying bullshit. Bonus points if it includes trying to make you feel sorry for her in any way.

If she responds with a), it doesn’t mean you have to stay close to her or ever trust her again, but it speaks well of the possibility of self-awareness. This isn’t an excuse for her behavior or a reason to put up with one more second of it, but sometimes people get in a bad pattern of feeling crappy about themselves and then everything that comes out of their mouth is poisonous and negative. That becomes a self-fulfilling habit, and it takes being told bluntly to STOP IT by someone they respect and care about to halt the flood. Also, she hasn’t been carrying this around like you have. This is the first she’s really having to come face-to-face with the problem. So if she answers with an apology, I would respond with something like this:

Thanks for apologizing. It’s been weighing on me a lot and I really need you to rethink how you handle (x topic). Let’s not get together right now, but I’ll see you at Group Thing.”

Hopefully the lesson will be learned. Remember the Geek Social Fallacies – not everyone has to like everyone else. You don’t have to invite her to stuff you’re planning. You don’t have to give more than a quick “Hey” + nod of politeness with her at someone else’s party. So you can keep your distance from her if you want to.

If she responds with b) Horrible Justification, say “Hey, you know what? That’s bullshit, and until you can stop saying crappy things about our mutual friends or revealing private stuff about them, I don’t think I want to be around you. I’m leaving.”

That’s right. Have a fight. An argument. A tiff. A kerfluffle. GET PISSED OFF and SAY SO.

It’s on HER to wonder what you’ll tell the entire friend group.

It’s on HER to make amends and worry about group harmony and whether she’ll continue to be accepted.

It’s on HER to fucking behave better in the future.

Time for a quick review of what “drama” is:

Drama is not saying “Hey, knock it off” directly to the person who is doing bad stuff.

Drama is not saying “Yeah, X and I aren’t getting along right now. She said some crappy sutff and I called her out on it and until she apologizes I’m not really up for hanging out,” to mutual friends…provided you’ve told X directly how you feel. You’re being direct and letting people make up their own minds about what they want to do. You can’t control everyone’s emotions and behaviors around this, so don’t try. You need to not engage with X. That’s a good enough reason to not engage with X, no matter what other people do.

Oh, if people pressure you to make up with X before you’re ready for the sake of group harmony or whatever, please feel free to give them the full volley of your unpleasant feelings about that. Nice “on the surface” counts for exactly zero.

I think this is generally a cooler & more adult way of handling this particular situation than calling everyone in the friend group and convening a meeting and trying to get them to shun her, with two caveats:

  • Group meetings & group actions have their place.
  • If she’s crappy to you, chances are she’s crappy to others, and it’s possible that other people are also afraid to make waves now but will rally.

Ultimately you know the situation best, but hopefully there are some helpful strategies in here. You don’t have to be friends with crappy people, even if your other friends like that person.

If you’re wondering: What have African violets ever done to you?  Here you go.

63 thoughts on “#313 & #314: Broken Friendships

  1. To LW #313 – You don’t need to have a good reason to not like or not want to spend time with someone. If you have panic attacks when you think about hanging out with a person, then you probably shouldn’t hang out with that person, even if you think your panic attacks are horrible and unreasonable and not legitimate problems. Even if this person was actually kind and considerate, and, yes, even if she has a difficult life and is used to using you for support. Even if all of those things were true, you would still be allowed to cut off contact with her if the prospect of spending time together made you uncomfortable.

    As it happens, you have actually outlined some pretty good reasons to not hang out with this person, and your problems with her sound very legitimate. The way she treats you is not acceptable. You have no obligation to put up with her, and you should not think of yourself as “the bad guy” for wanting out of this relationship. Follow the Captain’s awesome steps. It won’t be easy, but it’s possible.

  2. omg coloring books. They are so relaxing. They are basically how I got through college. You can even xerox the pages so you can color them in more than once. The Bellerophon coloring books have tiny tiny costume details, which is what you use the gold and silver pens for, to make sure Queen Elizabeth’s kirtle is all fancy and shit. However, I also recommend She-Ra (PRINCESS OF POWER OMG) coloring books generally, if you can find them. And Jem. Jem is also fun. And outrageous. Truly, truly, truly outrageous.

    As for the two letters… you guys need some coloring books. Like right now.

    1. You can also just Google a character or franchise or what-have-you plus “coloring page” and you’ll get many, many results you can print out right at home. (Today’s tip from your friendly neighborhood children’s librarian)

    2. Sounds like fun! For me, it was knitting and Pokemon papercraft that got me through stressful times in college.

      1. Yes! I have that book and it is Le Awesome. I’m almost finished coloring in it and I’m considering buying another one just so I can do it again.

  3. LW #313, I think I got to about reason #2 or #3 on the list of why you’re kind of okay with breaking off the friendship when I started doing a mental jig at the idea of you not being friends with this person. When I hit #5 and #6 I started contemplating throwing a party at the idea of you never having to interact with her ever, ever again.

    What I’m saying, is that you do not have to feel like a bad person for using her hissy fit as the wonderful excuse it is to cut her off. She makes you afraid of her, she doesn’t respect you, everything ever is about her, she coerced and abused you… as the Captain said, just ONE of these is a reason never want to see someone ever again. You may feel the need to help her with her issues, but it obviously isn’t a two way street–she does not seem concerned about anyone but herself.

    So yes, please, please take the freedom and run with it. I will be here with the jedi-partyhats and jedi-ice cream in celebration for you.

    1. You may feel the need to help her with her issues, but it obviously isn’t a two way street–she does not seem concerned about anyone but herself.

      Also? I am not really sure she needs you to help. She may need your attention, the thrill of having a biiig problem that is all about her (because that’s what happens in all your interactions), but unless you are the only surgeon on earth with a really special technique that no one else can perform and she needs youuu… she’s going to be fine without you. But more important: you feel much better without her! Let that be a sign. The guilt will disappear eventually.

    2. Yes.

      It’s disquieting that her sexual abuse of you isn’t more of a thing in your letter, LW. Not that you should feel a certain way about it, but…she’s coercing you into sex. She berates you when you say no. That isn’t something a friendship ever recovers from. It’s not something you forgive or work through.

      It seems like “friend” is her way of making it impossible for you to admit or challenge intimate abuse. Coerced sex is just one more kind of support you’re supposed to provide, one more argument you lose. Her attitude towards you and your body is profoundly abusive. It’s no wonder you have panic attacks. She’s hurting you.

      She seems dangerous. Not just for all of the things she’s done, but for the way she’s taught you to think about her: as someone who can be trusted in your life, as someone whose intimate transgressions are normal. Captain Awkward gave you some excellent advice, but…yeah: trust every bad feeling you have, and cut ties now.

      I’m so sorry you’re going through this. You’re a kind person, and you deserve friends–and lovers–who won’t hurt you. You don’t owe this woman anything, and you don’t have to give her anything.

    3. that’s right where I was.

      Oh no, snitty person snitfully doesn’t want to be my friend? WIN. And they BOTH win because snitty person gets to feel wronged, which she obviously enjoys.

  4. To the second letter writer, I would like to add, you have no responsibility to ‘keep the peace’ and not tell others what she has said if a reason to say it comes up – don’t end up feeling like you’re protecting her. Also as a sexual assault survivor, if someone had disclosed such information without my permission I would like to know, please consider telling her at least

    1. Yes, thank you for this. I don’t want the 2nd letter writer to worry about keeping the peace! I suggest starting with a direct “HEY DON’T DO THAT” and then letting the chips fall.

      1. Wow, yes, the disclosing people’s private information is so totally not cool and I definitely think you should call her on that, LW, if you can.

        I needed to hear the captains advice on that myself, I have a close friend who has a problem with this sort of telling others very private business gossip. The next time he does it I will try this approach!

        1. 314: Are you sure the information Ass-Friend shared with you is truly unknown to the rest of the group? There are times when I think I was the first to know something, but then I realize the person who shared info with me shared it with others first; it’s the One Best Friend fallacy. This is another reason you shouldn’t bring this up as a group; it’s you, not necessarily all of your friends, who are having trouble with Ass-Friend. Interventions with a large group, via a Fellowship of Friends, feels right, but it’s likely to make everyone feel awkward, and many of your friends may come to view you as someone who wants to control the group’s dynamic instead of relief for revealing Ass-Friend.

  5. LW313…. I wanted to give you the most massive jedi hugs on reading you letter. Actualy I think you both deserve them, but I particularly resonated with your situation because I’m currently in the same, trying to process, and running into all the kinds of brain-trips you’re talking about.
    First of all, can we just call it a giant red flag that if you have no voice for dissent in a relationship, that relationship is a bad one. This includes knowing there will be consequences, but also just knowing that if you put forwards an opposing view you’ll be logicked down.

    It seems like she’s trying to swing it both ways – both to be in a position of authority over you (and thus able to lecture you, decide your sexual preferences, need for sleep etc), and also to give you all the care-taking/emotionally giving roles in your relationship. If you have that capacity to care, empathise and make someone’s world a better place, it makes YOU awesome. It does not obligate you to give that care to someone else, even if they are devious, manipulative or needy in how they ask for it… wait… surely those are good reasons to not care for someone, right? Also, if you trust someone to take care of you emotionally, you also kind of have to trust that they’re a person too and can make decisions about their own needs. Then you get to respect them.

    I see the whole not-contacting you thing as a manifestation of her need to feel in control of you – it validates her estimation of her own value in your eyes if you put her before finals, sleep, other friends; and you contacting her to try and fix the friendship is serving exactly the same purpose. Like the captain (hail captain) I think that she’s going to try and resurface, probably when she needs another shot of being run round after.

    I am delighted that you are away from this horrible, abusive person. I think the safest thing you can do is to make sure you stay there. You said there’s a lot of wiring telling you to feel bad about that, and a lot of that comes from you being a caring, wonderful, supportive person – except someone took that and used it to keep you sad and afraid. Seek out people who will genuinely celebrate you for being the wonderful human being that your are, and celebrate them back. Re-claim yourself as your own person – do things you love, remind yourself what your own oppinions are, take joy in eating, sleeping and scheduling your life according to your own needs and preferences, and know that every time you’re doing that you’re making yourself stronger.


  6. LW 313, two quick things:

    1. I understand the impulse to save Friend, but the only person who can save Friend is Friend, probably with the help of a trained therapist. You can’t be on Team Friend if Friend doesn’t really want a team. Not only is it not your responsibility, not something you owe her–it is not possible. I’ve been there, and it REALLY sucks, and I’m sorry.

    2. Recognizing Friend’s shitty behavior while also acknowledging that she is trans* and autistic is not bigotry. Bigotry would be drawing negative conclusions about all trans* and/or autistic people based on your experiences with this one individual, and sharing those conclusions with others, and categorically refusing to befriend all other trans* and/or autistic folks, forever. Based on your letter, that doesn’t sound like you.

    1. LW 313 here. Yeah, I apologize , I retroactively realize how…weird, and kinda cookie seeking, my worries about being cissexist and or ableist in this situation sounded. Obviously, treating folks I have privileges over as if they are not responsible for the bad things they do is agency denying, generalizing, and shitty. My worry stemmed more from the fact that often when I would try to talk through these problems with her, she would respond with that. For example, I would be all \”I feel like you are not interested in my life, because you constantly interrupt and talk over me, ignore me when I say things, and rarely ask about me life.\” and she would respond with something like \”I think you need to check your allistic privilege. I don\’t express normally, okay.\” Which, in itself, doesn\’t seem totally unreasonable. And, very often, when I would try to address a complaint, she\’d remind me that my trollbrain (anxiety and depression) weren\’t her problem. So, it became something I really worried about when assessing my relationship with her.

      1. I’m seeing it less as cookie-seeking than as an outflow of your friend’s manipulation of you. In her worldview you HAVE TO take whatever she’s dishing out however she dishes it out because you’re allistic and she’s not and you owe her.

        It’s fucked up. We don’t owe anyone endless listening, or always putting their needs first, or making everything about them, or letting them selfishly ride roughshod over us. Being respectful and making accommodations where necessary is of course a good thing. Not being allowed to have your own feelings or set boundaries is fucked up. You’re not required to singlehandedly make up for whatever other people are going through.

        Please, tonight, just delete/block her on everything. I’ll sleep better. You’ll sleep better. You’ll be one step further away from your abuser.

          1. Giant high-five to you. As we said to LW #312: The other person chose to break up for crappy not-fair reasons. You can choose to STAY broken up. For really excellent reasons. You have a ton of power in this situation.

        1. We don’t owe anyone endless listening, or always putting their needs first, or making everything about them, or letting them selfishly ride roughshod over us.

          That. Extremely that.

          (Digressing: I’m extra-glad to read that sentence, because that was a lot of the backstory with the ex-friend who wanted the Last Word. Thank you and the commenters again for the reply to that, because it helped a lot. While she still takes the occasional slap at me in a public forum, blocking all private communications from her has helped a lot, because now if she pokes at me, it’s where other people can see it and call her on it, which at least one has, or offer support to me privately, which several have.)

          LW, people who draft you as support staff (and unpaid, maltreated, overworked, browbeaten, harassed, and pressured-into-sex support staff at that!) are not acting like friends, and you are totally right to get free. Go, you! You are doing a huge big important not-easy thing, and people are cheering for you.

          One thing I hope for you: I hope you have good people and good things to do to get you through the period of time where you’re going through withdrawal from the bad relationship. Even if we know without a doubt we are better off leaving, it’s still a loss. There can be grief, and second-guessing, and even missing of what the good parts were. That doesn’t mean you were wrong to leave. (It might just mean that you were good at finding good parts even in fucked-up situations. What I mean is, it probably says good stuff about you, rather than about the relationship you left and the other person.)

          In case that helps, there it is. I wish you much goodness, and excellent friend-times with people who respect you and who treat you like they like you.

          1. . . . do we have the same ex-friend? Because that sounds exactly like mine, down to the backchannel “Yeah, she’s trash-talking you again; what a jerk. Wanna help me with this playlist I’m building for my trip?”

      2. And, very often, when I would try to address a complaint, she\’d remind me that my trollbrain (anxiety and depression) weren\’t her problem.

        Whoa, so her autism is something that needs to be acknowledged and accommodated, but your anxiety and depression aren’t? Hello double standard! They’re both mental disabilities that colour your interactions with other people.

        I’m a PWD and disability rights activist, and I will be the first to tell you that some people use the language of social justice to cover their abusive bullshit. Sometimes activists make bad calls, or wrap “anything I don’t like” into “oppression”. It seems pretty obvious to me that your friend is more invested in making up for her oppression–at the expense of the people around her, like YOU–than building a more equal future where everyone gets treated with respect and dignity.

        1. Snap! And you said what I wanted to say. As a fellow PWD (physical and mental disabilities) and activist, I see what you describe all the time. Just because someone does something we don’t like, it doesn’t mean it has anything to do with our disabilities.

          1. Also, I’m friends with a lot of Aspies. I actually prefer that friendsgroup to some allistic ones I know, because everyone is really dedicated to Using Their Words. It is really obvious to me that if someone with ASD wants to treat someone kindly, respectfully, and lovingly, it will show, even if it’s a little awkward. I’ve had friends flap their hands at me and say, “I had a bad day and it would really help me to talk about it, but I know you’re tired and cranky and I really don’t mind if you say no. I don’t want you to say yes as a favor to me and then quietly resent me if you don’t want to. Is that okay?” The information processing’s a little different from mine, but the intentions aren’t.

            On the other hand, if a person’s priorities are getting what’s “rightfully theirs”, and screw other people, that’ll show too. And that’s got nothing to do with autism.

      3. So HER brain issues were your problem – but YOUR brain issues weren’t hers? Yeah… no. Not on.

        Had similar issues with a friend years ago, we were both dealing with severe family abuse issues and other associated horribleness. She would call me several times a day, but on the rare occasions I asked for her support she bolted. She was very aggressive and demanding as your friend is. It got to the point where I was having nightmares about her, and got so stressed (above and beyond my usual amount of high stress) that skin started peeling off the palms of my hands. She was someone who had been through a lot and needed support, but then, so had I, and the friendship just wasn’t sane or balanced. You will feel SO MUCH BETTER when you end the friendship – really.

      4. In your response to Monica there, I saw a window into your friendship with this person. It sounded to me like Monica was trying to reassure you that you weren’t being bigoted, but you responded by apologising for cookie-seeking. That, even more than your letter (which made the hairs on my neck stand on end) convinced me that your ‘friend’ has been seriously and horribly fucking with your head, and using the tools of social justice to do so. Like whatever you do is wrong for Important Political Reasons, and if you apologise, that’s also wrong.

        You don’t deserve this, you’re NOT wrong all the time, and you DO NOT owe her your friendship. Run.

        Oh, and I can almost guarantee that whatever you’re afraid will happen to her without you will not happen. She’ll survive. She’ll find another victim. It doesn’t have to be you.

        1. Yeah, this. This right here. Exactly this. Much clearer than what I was saying below.

      5. Yeah, sometimes you just have to write it down and look at it to see that the story being spun out for you isn’t right, or that your own perceptions of your experience in the moment look different from a few steps away with time and information to help you. I don’t think right now that you need to apologize for processing information.

        I am with the Captain’s interpretation on this one. It’s not cookie-seeking you were doing. It was articulating a glaring inequity in your friendship that you’ve been seeing as your fault. And that isn’t your fault at all.

        Re-reading your own words and saying “oh, hang on a sec” is a really good reason to write them down in the first place.

      6. I totally understand your worries about accidental oppression. I go through the same thing all the time. I worry about being accommodating and reasonable enough and constantly second-guess my own impulses. It’s the killer combination of low self esteem and liberal guilt.

        It doesn’t get said enough (presumably because it’s a no-brainer for normal people) that the kind of devastating oppression that ruins lives is almost never confined to a single incident and actually really hard to commit by accident. Yes, people do it thoughtlessly, but it is a kind of willful, habitual thoughtlessness that ignores every warning sign. The fact that you know things like ableism and cissexism are issues and you are willing to make an effort to redress problems when they occur automatically puts you ahead of the curve.

        The way to counter privilege is just to treat people as people, and one thing people do for each other (especially their friends) is forgive them their minor faux pas. If you slip up and get called on it, it should be enough to apologize and make a good faith effort to not make the same mistake again (while accepting that you’ll probably make different mistakes in the future). Oppressed people are not (generally) so brittle that they will condemn you for an understandable mistake, nor are they so bereft of empathy that they can’t tell when you’re really trying.

        I guess what I’m saying is that it’s good that you’re so conscientious, but it’s all right to cut yourself a little slack.

        1. I think this is a really good point AND ALSO, I want to point out that part of treating people with disabilities like people is enforcing and maintaining appropriate boundaries. If you know somebody who is hurting you/ making you uncomfortable/ not participating in give and take in a relationship, it does not matter whether they have disabilities or not (with the obvious caveat that certain people will be able to contribute in certain ways/ may need more support from you at certain times/ express their needs differently/ etc.). You have the right to kick them out of your life without it being anything close to a social justice fail.

      7. So do we have a rule against UN-diagnosing people over the internet? Well, in any case, this person sounds awful, please do stay broken up with her! She is using the language of your high liberal ideals to shame and manipulate you, and that needs to stop. I’m really glad you blocked the jerk, and I hope you find other people you can talk to about your important issues soonest.

      8. I’m an autistic woman, and bisexual. I don’t think it sounds like you’re being ableist at all–you seem to accept the fact that she might not be doing that on purpose. But being autistic is not an excuse for purposely being rude or demanding. You explained how you felt about the interactions you had with her and she attacked you instead of trying to work it out. That’s not cool. She should at least be trying to adjust her behavior when it upsets you, just like you would adjust your behavior in order to not offend her. The way it usually works with me is that my friends accept that I am going to act autistic and that I can’t read their facial expressions and nothing I do is going to change that. But if I upset someone, they tell me. Then we’re on the same page and on the road to fixing the miscommunication.

        Your friend seems to have trouble understanding what ableism is, too. Not every criticism of her is an ableist remark and she needs to use the word more carefully. I can understand at least somewhat where she would get that idea, because I have a tendency to monologue about things, telling my friends about my interests, and it takes me FOREVER to realize that they’re bored or want to talk about something else. I know it’s a problem and I try to control it, because I don’t like being on the receiving end of the same thing, and I know I’ve accidentally given people the impression through this that I don’t care about their interest. But there’s a difference between saying, “It bothers me when you do this, so can we work something out?” and just hating the person the first time it happens and then spouting some nonsense about how autistic people don’t have emotions. Maybe someone’s done the latter to your friend before. I know I’ve gotten that. But asking her to work on it with you is totally reasonable. Unfortunately she’s demonstrated that she can’t be trusted to stop anything when you’ve asked her not to, and that tells me she’s not a good friend at all.

        And the sexual coercion? That girl is lucky she has any friends at all. Dump her, and don’t look back. She does not respect your feelings, and you deserve better.

        Jedi hugs,
        Kat Bjornstad-Kelly

      9. I’m aware this is a little old, but I wanted to speak directly to this. If it helps you understand where I’m coming from, I’m genderqueer/genderfluid (still sorting that out) and also autistic.

        There is an enormous, huge, IMPORTANT difference between interacting while autistic and actively silencing people. As an example, I struggle with asking friends about themselves. It isn’t that I don’t want to know, it’s that I don’t know how to ask. The problem is with my being autistic (and also a personal history of being gaslighted and related issues). It’s caused issues for me and my relationships, because it looks like I’m disinterested. Two important things make this different from your (ex)friend: 1. I bring it up early on in a friendship, so that my interest is clear and give suggestions on work-arounds (usually explicit permission to ask helps my brain), and 2. I don’t blame people for getting upset at me and try to make it about how mean and rude they are for it. I do explain myself, but I get that this is weird for most people and try to do better.

        Being autistic does not excuse her sexually abusing you. It does not excuse her gaslighting. It does not excuse ANYTHING she is doing (some of which sounds amazingly manipulative). You are NOT being ableist for rightfully calling her out. There is an exceedingly small possibility that she didn’t know she was wrong, because (as I’m sure you know) autism doesn’t impede the development of moral codes like DON’T RAPE PEOPLE, but even if that were the case, you are STILL RIGHT.

        You don’t need this person in your life. I’m dealing with the fall-out of an abusive friendship, too, and I understand the impetus of “but I MISS–” no. No. No. They have made themselves invaluable to us. We are so used to their bullshit we cannot imagine being without it. No. We deserve better. You deserve better.

      10. I don’t know if anyone else has said this to you further down the thread, but the thing that your friend actually has is Narcissistic Personality Disorder. She doesn’t act this way because she’s any of the things that you’ve mentioned worrying about, she acts this way because she doesn’t have enough empathy to recognize that you are a different person whose boundaries should be respected. She’s hiding behind her other problems so she can continue to abuse you.

        There’s really no cure for a narcissist, even therapy and medication. She won’t realize that she’s a jerk (whether or not you point it out to her) and she will probably never learn to respect you. The only thing that you can do is respect yourself, end the “friendship” and start taking better care of yourself. I’ve been in the same relationship with a relative and it’s no fun. You need to end the relationship so you can end the abuse. If you wait a while and then let her back in your life, she’s going to learn that she can wait X amount of time or contact you X times before you turn around and let her abuse you again.

        Even if you don’t feel like standing up for yourself, stand up for your own mental health. You don’t deserve to have extra depression and anxiety because you have a jerk and an abuser in your life.

        1. Hi Mary, please don’t diagnose strangers through the internet. Tools in dealing with NPD people might be useful to the LW, but knowing a diagnoses (vs. looking at behaviors) is unproductive.

          1. Sorry JenniferP!

            In any case, LW’s “friend” is just a Not Nice Person and will continue to be a Not Nice Person. Run away and get help! Good luck!

  7. LW 313 here. I just wanted to thank the Captain, and those who’ve commented about my letter from the bottom of my heart. I didn’t realize just how frustrated, and relieved, I was until feeling reading your responses. Thank you for helping me validate my experiences, and for your lovely advice!

    1. BE OKAY. <3, Everyone Here

      P.S. The movie Me, Without You is on Netflix-streaming and is quite good. Can be a good film to watch about long-term friendships where the roles get calcified a certain way and stop working for people over time.

    2. Frustrated and relieved — that sums up my feelings when my abusive-best-friendship came to an end after 10 (!!) years. There weren’t quite as many red flags as with your friend, but there were enough. I remember the time we had a political argument, she said some really fucked-up things, and I dared to disagree with those things — that culminated in her having a screaming tantrum, threatening me with a knife, and shrieking at her husband to get me out of their house (I was living there at the time). He later told me that she had had a PTSD flashback. I had, without knowing it, said the wrong thing which set her off. He was generous enough to allow this was not my fault, but I was clearly expected to just pretend it hadn’t happened since it wasn’t her fault either because PTSD.

      A few years later I moved so I could level up and she friend-dumped me for being “ungrateful”. (I think the summer I spent stopping her from killing herself erases any and all debts I owed to her, frankly.) I was pretty sad about it until I realized how incredibly refreshed and relaxed I felt not having to deal with her bullshit.

      Hey, maybe we should throw a general party to celebrate being dumped by assholes, as it’s happened to so many of us!!

      But seriously, LW 313, like everyone has said, you don’t deserve that treatment — but it’s also ok and normal to be sad about losing your friend. I was, and it passed and I found better friends who don’t scream at me or threaten me with knives, and I bet the same thing will happen to you too!

      1. We’re gonna need a really big room, but I’m in! I’ll bring my awesome green tea elixir and a bottle of bourbon for them what want it.

        (That reminds me: it’s time for my annual unsent “Thank you for dumping me and saving me from a life of horrors” e-mail!”)

    3. I ended a friendship that started in eighth grade: I was angry and hurt and it still took people outside the situation saying “You do know that you don’t have to keep being friends, yes?” to give myself permission to get out. Five years later I am so much happier without that person in my life; I hope that you find as much happiness for yourself, and more.

  8. Also, LW 314. I’m so sorry that you’re having to deal with that! That’s an extremely aggravating and stressful situation. *e-hugs if you want them*

  9. Ugh. I sympathize with both 313 and 314. I have a friend (“friend”?) who does not allow me to disagree and who demands high levels of affirmation. And, when someone gets on her bad side, she “conferences” with people to try to get them to adopt her opinion (and sometimes shun the person who is out of favor).

    I haven’t talked with other people about this, but I have cut back my interaction with her. I’ve also noticed that others will periodically do the same. People do notice.

  10. Not being friends with someone, or not having sex with someone, can never be a form of oppression. It’s possible that your former friend feels like previous friends have rejected, ostracized and mistreated her because she is trans* and autistic. It’s even (very) possible that this is true. Nonetheless, no one has ever owed any other person friendship, nor anything else above basic human respect and dignity.

  11. I left a majorly abusive friendship about a year ago and it was definately one of the hardest things I had to do. My ex-best friend gaslighted me like crazy and fucked with my brain so bad, I didn’t know which way was up. Like, there were scholarships that I didn’t apply for cause I didn’t feel as if I deserved them. Anyway, its still a sore spot for me and I’ve had people not take it seriously because I broke up with a friend instead of a significant other (my ex even called me a lesbian. I am bi-ish, but that’s beside the point) so its nice to find a place where an abusive friendship is even a concept. Finally as a mostly recovered person, it does get better eventually.

    1. Seconded. I had an abusive friendship from 7th-10th grades, when I finally blew up at her at school and just stopped talking to her. I don’t remember if it was before or after that happened, but I read an advice column in the paper listing signs of abusive friendships and many of the list items were things my friend did/said to me.

      I recently tried searching google for info on abusive friendships and couldn’t find much.

      And, you’re right MsKay, that people don’t take it seriously the way they take abusive romantic relationships or abusive families seriously. They say, well, you can choose your friends. But at the time I really felt like I couldn’t choose my friends and that I was stuck with this friend and in this friend group for reasons outside of my control.

      It’s sometimes still a sore spot for me, too, even though the breaking up thing happened over ten years ago. (Although part of that is because I haven’t been fully able to avoid her since college – we still have mutual friends and I moved back to my hometown for a while).

      But, yeah, abusive friends suck. Hang in there.

  12. LW #2, I pulled the gossipy shit a few times in university, telling one friend something another friend had told me in confidence. It came back to bite me royally in the ass and I lost two friends over it. I also learned my lesson and stopped being such an asshole (I hope).

    One of those friends I eventually reconnected with, one moved away and totally out of my life. So whether you wind up cutting Friend out entirely or you come to some entente with her, by calling her on her shit and making her face consequences for it you are doing her a big, big favour.

  13. It sounds like #313 is using language like ‘derail’ and ‘oppression’ to get what she wants. It’s a nice little setup there–if you disagree with her, or try to just tell her you can’t talk right now, you’re equated with heterosexist bigots. I’ve seen milder versions of that before. ‘You disagree with me? You’re on the same level as an abusive patriarchy-supporter’. That type of language should not be used as a weapon to shut someone down. But some socially aware people have become so conditioned that if they are accused of derailing, oppressiong, or being insensitive in any context–their immediate response is to apologise and assume they are in the wrong.

    Who you choose to associate with and sleep with (!!) is not a social justice matter, and using those buzzwords to get what she wants emotionally and sexually is reprehensible.

    1. I know this is kind of old, but this comment in particular reminded me of a bad friend experience I had a few months ago, so I thought I’d share.

      I blog on tumblr, which is a sort of combination blog and twitter- you can “reblog” posts and have them appear on your blog, but the atmosphere isn’t as formal as a blog like WordPress or LJ- posts can be as long or as short and as serious or as silly as you like. A few months ago, I reblogged a short post about what school did and didn’t mean about you as a person- that being a successful student made you a successful student, but didn’t determine your worth as a person. Having just gone through an incredibly stressful year at school, I found it really helpful.

      A person I followed and who followed me- not a close friend, but an accquaintance- blew the fuck up. They made a post on their own blog saying “fuck the person who made that post and fuck everyone who reblogged it” and then a follow-up post specifically attacking me (not by name, but with enough identifying details that I recognized who they meant) calling me “painfully cis” and “a white girl wanting cookies for not being racist” as well as insulting my taste in books and movies, and closed out by telling me to unfollow them. The deleted this post about half an hour later, but followed it up by saying that they were going to the gym because they needed to punch something, and threatening to “lay out” the next person who spoke to them.

      Needless to say, this terrified me. I unfollowed them as they asked, and spent the rest of the afternoon in a quiet panic, both because of what they’d said and the sheer threatening rage in the way they’d said it. I felt sick. I didn’t want to contact them to ask what I’d done wrong, because good GOD did I not want to bring that vitriol down on my head, but I was confused and upset because theyd never indicated having any of these problems with me before.

      What I eventually realized, after a long period of reflection, is that this kind of behaviour- from the person who attacked me or the LW’s “friend-” actually has very little to do with being a good person/ally on my/LW’s part, and everything to do with the fact that some people will use legitimate oppressions as a club to browbeat others with, and that’s not okay. In cases like this, it’s a tool for the abuser- they could use anything they wanted, and happened to pick this, because they find that it works. Every social group is bound to have a few assholes, and being pro-social justice doesn’t make them not assholes- it just means they use familiar language to bully and frighten.

  14. Like some other people in this thread, I have had a Toxic Friend experience – the first three items on the LW’s list sound very familiar to me. We were very close through middle and high school, and some of this extreme closeness was due to some really traumatic stuff she went through when we were way too young to be dealing with it. I was the only person she fully confided in and it was much too intense for me to process, and I think a lot of our really unhealthy dynamic formed itself around this core of horribleness.

    But even after that whole mess ended, her problems were always more important. She was depressed! Her life was hard! Most of the big conversations we had were about how tough things were for her, and if I ever talked about my problems she had to explain how hers were worse. One time I tried to confront her about this, and she got so upset with me that I cried and cried and asked her to forgive me, and after that I knew better than to talk about my problems with her. But somehow I didn’t realize, at the time, how messed up this was: I held her up as an amazing person and wanted to do whatever I could to please her. It’s taken a long time for me to feel like it’s ok to ask for emotional support from friends.

    There was at least one incident in which she tried to initiate sexual contact, but she never did quite enough to lead to anything and I was too confused/nervous around her to respond on my own. I am pretty sure that if she’d pushed at all I would have started a sexual relationship with her because I loved her in this super-intense way but it would have been a disaster: in this like in anything, I would have done whatever she wanted and convinced myself it was what I wanted too. It’s really scary for me to think about how that could have turned out.

    It’s been more than ten years since I lived near her but somehow I still feel that old pull when she gets in touch with me – suddenly I just want to please her, to have her think I’m smart and capable (because I always felt clueless and insecure next to her). When I feel myself slipping back into that dynamic I feel really gross and embarrassed that after so much time, she still does this to me.

    It took talking about her out loud for me to realize how horrible the story sounded coming out of my mouth, and I did decide then that even though we’ve had minimal contact for the past few years anyway that I am no longer interested in talking with her or interacting with her at all. We have so much shared history and were inseparably close for years, but even the times I used to think back on as great were… pretty problematic in a lot of ways. Reading this column was another reminder that I really need to let this relationship go for good.

    J, I am so so sorry to read about the sexual assault (and everything else!) you’ve had to deal with from your friend. It can be very hard to enforce or sometimes even *imagine* boundaries with people who are so determined to ignore them. I just want to chime in with people above who’ve said that wanting your boundaries to be respected and wanting to be treated with respect by a close friend aren’t bad things, and even though your friend is a member of a marginalized group she can still be an abusive jerk. It happens.
    I don’t know where you’re located, but if you ever want to talk about the sexual abuse with someone, rape crisis centers can be a great resource. RAINN has a list of US centers.

    Also, can I just say that I LOVE and really miss coloring books? I love the idea of a soothing color-along at an imaginary CA meetup. =)

  15. Just wanted to thank the captain and commentariat again. Turns out, Friend contacted me today. I used the script and it’s officially over. I…didn’t get nearly as much grief from her as I expected, so now I feel like a total asshole, and am second guessing myself, but, that’s that.

    1. The relief might take a while to come for you. You have a therapist or counselor in place, right? And your partner has your back, right? And there are coloring books where you are? 🙂

      1. I am working on the therapist situation, school people can’t see me, but there’s a sexual assault crisis and counseling center near me. Partner has my back. I have procured coloring books. 🙂

  16. I am so glad I found this article, because for years, I have been trying to reason out and understand a friend dumping that I incurred over five years ago (and still struggle with). I had a really tight little friend group left over from high school that remained tight even after graduation. We would annually plan trips to anime conventions together and everything. During college, though, I had started to feel like I was being excluded from the group, but I figured, ‘Hey, I moved to NYC and everybody’s off in their own college doing whatever, so that must be what it is.’ Apparently not, though… After a convention, on a Facebook thread the group had going to plan for the next year, the girl who friend dumped me made a comment that yes, I was being excluded from the group because at the conventions, I would spend time with other groups of friends and not just them, ergo it wasn’t my imagination that I was being cut out. Since I had talked this through with another friend and had thought the whole issue was done with, I got pretty pissed off that this girl basically decided that I wasn’t allowed to use the convention to see friends I only got to see that one time a year, especially when she was M.I.A. almost every time I was with the main group anyway. So I called her a hypocrite and a huge FB blowout ensued, which, from my perspective, was her trying really hard to justify why it was okay for her to do X,Y and Z but not me, and me continuing to tell her she was full of shit; it ended with her deciding that it was all over and blah blah blah. I was not graceful or cool about it, but I was pissed, especially since the whole thing had kind of been building, I think, for quite some time.

    You’d think that was the end of the story, but it’s not. Long story short, even though I told myself shit was better without her, I tried to apologize about two months later when I realized how dumb the fight was, and she sent her mom out to tell me to get off their property (after fake condolences about my recently dead father) as though I was some kind of creepy bad person. Then I started having nightmares about her and some of the other people in the friend group. I knew they all would hang out and still go to the convention together, and I was finally really on the outside. Frankly, I felt like I had just fallen off the deep end and that something in my head snapped. A few of those friends in the group still claimed to be just as much my friend as the ex-friend, but one skipped my dad’s funeral when she said she’d be there (and no one else came to help me out that day), and another continually gave me the run around when I’d ask if we could take turns when it came to hotel rooming for the weekend so that I could have time to build my friendship with them too. Recently, I yelled at this flaky friend for making me feel like I wasn’t important enough to be straight with, telling him that I thought it was fucked up he couldn’t just be honest with me and also for allowing the other girl to run the friendship dynamic. He then friend dumped me as though I was the bad guy because I called him on his bullshit.

    I guess what I’m trying to get at is that I feel like after reading some of these letters, I get super scared that maybe I really am the crazy friend that other people ought to get away from. I know I have a bad temper when I’m provoked, but usually I’m provoked when these situations happen, and it’s me getting down in the trenches and being like, ‘Look, you’re being kind of a dick right now and it’s pissing me off.’ But does that make me an abusive friend? Am I needy because I just wanted to see some validation that I was as important a friend as I was being told? This whole thing has been plaguing me for years, and it’s made it difficult for me to deal with other relationships, especially ones that are with people who know this particular group of friends. I’m not saying I’m perfect, and I’m making lots of self-improvements with therapy, but all this time I’ve felt like I’m a bad person because of how everything fell apart.

    1. I wasn’t there, but I don’t think you’re a bad person, at least not from what you’ve told me. You found a set of crappy friends, they made you feel bad and then when you stood up for yourself, they made you feel worse.

      I’d work on your temper and your grief and keep going to therapy, but I don’t think you’re hopeless just because the people around you who happened to have the same interests sucked.

      1. You have no idea but… that’s some of the most consoling stuff I’ve ever heard about this situation of mine. Thanks for taking a minute to say so. I guess it was just easier to accept that people you used to care about a lot turned out to suck D:

        Jedi hugs!

        1. Hugs back! You’re welcome!

          And you’re totally not alone in blaming yourself for anything bad that you come across. That nasty little voice in my head would blame me for the weather if I let it!

          1. Amen, haha. The whole thing was a pretty big confidence ball buster. I just have to figure out the best way to move forward and regain all that. It’s just difficult whenever I think I’ve made progress, something comes along to pull me back, like a text message from one of them or something of that nature >_<

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