#446: The Territorial Friend and The Pollyanna Defense

Dear Captain Awkward,

Three years ago I picked a new flatmate from a bunch of randoms-off-the-internet and this person turned into one of my besties. Even better, she had a bunch of wicked-cool friends who are now my friends as well, and I’ve brought my own pals into the mix as well. 

One of these friends used to be really busy all the time with work, but has recently settled into a more normal-hours job and has been spending a lot more time with my former flatmate (we’ve now all moved to a big city and live separately). I learnt a long time ago that I can’t stand jealous friends and I aim not to be one. I love it when my friends are friends, and as long as they don’t deliberately exclude me, I’m happy for them to hang without me. 

But this friend has lately seemed to be rubbing it in my face that the two of them are spending time together without me and are planning to move in together. She also mentions frequently that several of the group have known each other since they were 5 yrs old, and I’m just a recent addition. I don’t know about you, but I personally think it’s how well you know a person, not how long.

It feels to me like this person is jealous of my friendship with former-flatmate, which I can understand. The problem is that it feels so very high school, and I also thought she and I were getting closer when we were on a recent holiday without former-flatmate (and I thought we bonded), so I’m disappointed that this has reverted back to an apparent rivalry that I don’t wish to partake in. 

I’ve been too afraid to mention it to any co-friends in case they think I’M jealous of THEM being friends, but I’ve recently heard word that actually I’m not the only one getting the mean girls treatment and everyone is sick of the behaviour. 

BUT, no one has spoken up, and I’m not sure if it’s worth getting into a major drama over. Former-flatmate still texts/messages me all the time so I know she still cares (and is poss oblivious), even if I haven’t seen her without mean-girl for months. 

So I’ve got two questions: How do I broach this with our co-friends to not sound like a high-school bitch; and do I/how do I broach this with either former-flatmate so she knows what’s going on (if she doesn’t see it herself) and (more terrifyingly) with mean-girl herself?

Thought I’d Left High School

Dear High School:

Don’t broach! Don’t confront!

Just say “That’s great!”

Friend and I are getting a place together!

“That’s great!” “She’s a great roommate, you are lucky!”

We’ve all known each other since we were five, and you’re the new girl!

“That’s great!” “It’s great to have friends who knew you when!” “I’ve so enjoyed getting to know all of you!”

She might find this behavior really irritating and insincere. And that will make her avoid you. Which is better than her passive-aggressively baiting you, so count it as a win. Just because someone’s trying to hand you a sack full of their insecurities doesn’t mean you have to take it, open it up, pull them out one by one, and deal with them. Friendship is primal stuff, and she’s obviously trying to sort out something about her place in the pecking order and deal with some jealousy. No rule says you have to participate in that process.

Give her a lot of space at social events. Admit to yourself that you don’t like her, so don’t feel like you have to invite her to everything. Admit to yourself that she doesn’t like you, so if she’s throwing a birthday party for herself and inviting you out of obligation, you can just be busy that day. Make as little effort possible where she is concerned, and let the people who have known her since she was five sort out the rest.


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31 thoughts on “#446: The Territorial Friend and The Pollyanna Defense

  1. I think you’d be better off looking at (not really your) friend’s behaviours rather than make excuses for her. Maybe she’s jealous. Maybe a unicorn stole her cupcakes, that’s not a reason for her to shit on you. She’s counting on you to stay silent and take it. Don’t engage. Go directly to awesome grown up-land and collect a kitten.

    1. “Maybe a unicorn stole her cupcakes” is my favourite phrase from now on. I shall actively search for occasions on which to use it! Thank you for making me grin on an otherwise not-so-great day.

  2. One of my family’s favorite idioms might apply here. “Never wrestle with a pig. You’ll both get dirty, but the pig will like it.”

  3. And there’s no harm in saying to Awesome Friend, “Hey, I feel like we haven’t gotten any one-on-one time for months. Let’s make just-us plans!”

  4. The two replies to this kind of thing I was taught are:

    1. “How nice for you!”

    2. “Fantastic!”

    Be careful with tone of voice on #2. It can sound terribly sarcastic.

    1. I like “How nice for you” a lot. Something about it just conveys to me that you really don’t care so much about what the other person says, but it isn’t at all rude.

      Also, I totally agree with everyone who says don’t engage. This isn’t a friendship you need to save or a fight you need to have.

    2. I say “that’s nice”.

      “All the female characters on Show You Love are big old bitchy sluts.”

      “That’s nice.”

      “Field You Study In is not a real science.”

      “That’s nice.”

      “Anyone who didn’t vote for Party is criminally insane.”

      “That’s nice.”


      1. There’s a joke about “that’s nice.” .

        Two women were recovering in a maternity ward. The first woman said to the second woman:

        “When I had my first baby, my husband bought me a diamond bracelet.”

        The second woman said, “That’s nice.”

        “When I had my second baby, my husband brought me a Rolls Royce.”

        The second woman said, “That’s nice.”

        “When I had my third baby, my husband bought me an apartment in Rome.”

        The second woman said, “That’s nice.”

        The first woman asked “What did your husband buy you?”

        The second woman said, “My husband sent me to finishing school.”

        The first woman asked, “Whatever for?”

        The second woman said “So I would learn how to say ‘That’s nice’ instead of “Shut the fuck up.'”

  5. Love this! (I also like :shrug: “OK!”) It indicates accepting the situation without getting pulled into any passive-aggressive barbs this person is throwing out.

  6. I love being oblivious when you think someone might be acting passive-aggressive. It works on two accounts. If it happens that you’re wrong and they aren’t being passive-aggressive (unlikely here, I think) then you’re not causing drama when there wasn’t any. (Having someone get all ‘and what do you mean by THAT’ when you really didn’t mean anything by it is…startling, to say the least.)

    And if they are being passive-aggressive, it shuts them right down. Maybe you…didn’t notice what they were so-subtly trying to get across? Well, what can they do now? Complain that you aren’t hurt by your hidden barbs? Keep trying?

    It sounds like other friends may well be getting tired of the behaviour too. If she’s lucky, maybe one of her close friends will talk to her about it. But I think for you, it’s better to do what the Captain says and just keep cheerful. There’s nothing she can do ‘back’ to that, it stops any potential drama right there.

    1. This!

      I honestly have missed out on and survived so much drama in different environments because I am so oblivious to social situations. Which means I get the good everything- no one can call me out on stuff because I’m smiling and happy and so nice to EVERYBODY with no shade, and I get all the gossip afterward!

      1. Hah! I used my Unintentional Shield of Obliviousness last week to great effect when I called a cheery “bye-bye!” to someone, complete with a big smile and a wave, and didn’t realise until later that she was flouncing off in a huff.

    2. I also love Clarifying Question.

      “Slightly ambiguous comment.”
      “What do you mean?”
      Not passive-aggressive person: “Oh, [explanation!]” <– Now we're on the same page! Problem solved!
      Passive-aggressive person: "[Silence/shiftiness/hedging]" <– Now I know you were just being passive-aggressive and I can freely ignore it! Problem solved!

    3. Obliviousness can be so useful. I remember once, after I’d dyed my hair, my stepmother looked at me, paused a moment and said, “That’s… really different.” And I said “Thanks!” and grinned. I didn’t realize it was a backhanded compliment until months later but I couldn’t have given a better response if I’d known.

  7. What to do has been spot on. I was in a similar situation a while ago, but I always just smiled and acted like it was a good thing, because it was. I didn’t let him drag me into his jealousy-pit. Took about a month for him to get the message and let it go, but it works.

  8. If mean girl is baiting other members of your friend group the same way it may be an effort to isolate former flatmate by creating conflict and demanding loyalty. Don’t take the bait is absolutely the best advice. Do pay attention to how it progresses. If it is an effort to isolate former flatmate it will surely progress.

  9. The thing about annoying little social games is that they are only games if you play along with them.
    Otherwise, they are solo performances that don’t have to affect you.
    You don’t have to talk about it or clue anyone in. They’ll get it or they won’t. What you DO is spend time with the people that you want to spend time with. Keep in contact, talk, do things. Don’t give the game player your headspace to play with.
    From Labyrinth:
    “You have no power over me….!”
    (I watched Labyrinth last year after a long time, and I was amazed at how certain parts really held up….and how dated the mom’s 80’s trendy look and house looked. So. Very. 80’s. Also, now I have the music going though my head again. Pardon me while I go dance for a bit)

  10. Drop the rope. She can’t make friend into a tug-of-war if you won’t play.

    Also, it sounds like she’s doing this with other people too, so don’t take it personally. Some people need to claim a Bestest Friend Forever- just us two against the world! and everybody else is a jealous hater. You are just one of the people she feels threatens her- which is kind of sad and pathetic, really.

  11. I have worn down, in succession a sister in law, and two step mothers, all three manipulative, self centred and passive aggressive. Blandly polite, never reacting, not even ‘understanding’ that they were trying to hurt me, hurt my relationships with my husband, or my father, or my children. Never running them down in public (only venting with a trusted bestie).
    Drives ’em absolutely bat shit crazy. Gives ’em nothing to get a grip on.

  12. As everyone else says- seriously, don’t engage.

    I mean, how is her behavior effecting you outside of minor annoyance? Everything she is doing is under-the-radar enough where you can’t call her on it, and really, it says for more about her insecurity then about you are anyone else that this is going on.

    It’s times like this I am so glad I most likely have high-functioning autism (haven’t gotten diagnosed, but have checked a lot of them boxes, yadda yadda). Sure, it sucks that I can’t pick up on obvious social stuff, but that means when people constantly pull up stuff like this I have no idea it’s a power play. My responses tend to (honestly) be-

    First couple of times: “That’s awesome! They are such a great roommate/friend, your so lucky to have known them for so long! I wish I had been friends with her for that long, but hey, better late then never right? :D”

    After the first couple times: *thinks ‘this lady has brought this up multiple times, she is a horrible conversationalist. Ugh, bored.’* “Yeah, I know, right? Anyway, let’s talk about-” <said in a cheerful voice.

    I think I have only hit the second a couple of times because generally people are deprived after the first so they don't seek to put me down on that topic. Generally, I didn't even know what game they were playing until someone pointed it out to me.

    Basically, the more cheerful you are the more you show how much it DOESN'T bother you! Their whole purpose of doing it is to bother you, so BAM- you win by not playin' their game!

    1. It’s times like this I am so glad I most likely have high-functioning autism (haven’t gotten diagnosed, but have checked a lot of them boxes, yadda yadda). Sure, it sucks that I can’t pick up on obvious social stuff, but that means when people constantly pull up stuff like this I have no idea it’s a power play.

      Fellow autistic here going oh man do I ever hear you! Missing social cues has its advantages, and taking everything literally can be so nice, sometimes. See also: I thank autism for the fact that I am unusually okay with my speech disorder and tend to treat it as “this is just the way I talk, anyone who thinks less of me for it is someone I wouldn’t want to know anyway”, when most people who have it are bundles of speech-related anxiety and shame. I figure it’s because as a kid, I just didn’t pick up on the negative reactions people had to it unless they were *very* obvious, and those were rare. Point for the autistic team!

  13. The captain has it spot on with ‘Don’t broach’. It won’t help and if anything, it will give her more ammo to throw at you – something she’s already seeking. By ‘rubbing you nose in’ she’s trying to wake up your inner jealously monster so that she can turn you into the bad guy.

    LW, I’m not sure whether you still want to be friends with this girl, if you don’t that’s fine and you can keep contact with her to a minimum. If you do, try to minimise the time spent with her and mutual friend. That way she will feel less like she has to compete with you for mutual friend’s attention. If she starts doing her mean-girl impersonation, use your scripts (of which many people have provided above), “That’s nice.” “You’re lucky to have such a good friend.” “I’m glad you guys are close.”
    That way you stay in the ‘nice-guy/gal’ boots and he ego-stroking won’t do your relationship with her any harm in her eyes.

    Definitely keep in touch with mutual friend. See her on your own, go out to coffee, enjoy your time together. Don’t let mean-girl taint your interactions. Your friendship is not her business so don’t make it her business by worrying about it. It’s all about you and mutual friend.

    Good luck and Jedi-hugs!

  14. Ooo this hits a rough spot. I had a pretty emotionally abusive and possessive bff when I was growing up. I was pretty much oblivious because she was my bff and when she did something weird well, that was just her, right? All of our friends were mutual friends. Typically most of them were more her friends than mine, like they’d be more likely to spend time with just her (conveniently forgetting to invite me out with them) and almost never spend time with me without her around. But I did have a couple of friends in high school that were more my friends than hers and I would hang out with them when she wasn’t around sometimes. I always thought it was weird that they never seemed to invite me over very often since we literally all lived a few streets away from each other (oh highschool, a time without cars). It wasn’t until a HUGE falling out with my bff (and all out mutual friends) that I learned how she’d basically threaten them if they tried to hang out with me. Or if they found out we were gonna be hanging around over the weekend she’d basically tell them no, they couldn’t come. My bff would be rude, insulting, and say anything to basically keep them away from me.

    I NEVER knew about this until after college. Not a single thing. Completely oblivious. Of course my bff would never mention this to me, and my friends, I guess, thought I knew and was complicit or or just didn’t want to cause drama so they never mentioned it to me. I’m still good friends with one, and for the first coupe of years after the bff break up we’d of course talk about her. She started mentioning all these things my bff would do and say to try and keep me all to herself. I was mortified when I found out. I seriously had no idea that she was basically manipulating all my friends behind my back.

    Not saying this is what this jealous friends of yours will do, LW. But it’s something to keep an eye on. I wish my friends in high school had told me what my bff was doing. Yeah, it would have hurt and made a mess of everything, but my bff’s controlling behavior still made a huge mess out of everything, just later down the line. I was blindsided. I don’t blame my friend for not letting me know, and it’s not her fault I didn’t see through my bff’s facade before then. But I still wish I had been told.

    I don’t know if that helps at all. I agree with the advice, for the most part. But if it starts hitting a line past petty jealousy, I would try to say something. Jealous friends are just a HUGE red flag for me, so I might be just a bit overly sensitive on this topic. :/

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