Dear Captain Awkward,
My problem boils down to this: can I say no, or do I have to be polite?
I’m not a social person. I don’t have friends at the moment. The reasons for that are many –mostly boiling down to living at home again while I look for a job. At school, I had close friends I still talk to over the internet, but until I get a more permanent job with fixed hours I don’t have a pool of people I can talk to in a neutral space where I can happily make friends. I’m fine with that. But my parents believe friends = happiness.
My parents recently hired a 20-year-old decorator (I’m 23) and the three of them think that we should be friends. Apparently he saw my books and “knew” he could have an intelligent conversation with me, which he can’t get from his other friends. He also thought it would be nice for me to have someone who would ask how my day went. I said no.
From what I’ve seen and what my parents have said, he seems like a good guy. He’s intelligent, has had a pretty crap life so far, and what he’s made for himself despite that is impressive. He also has ADHD and a tendency to talk and talk and talk, which is exhausting. It seems like the biggest plus point in his favour with my parents is that they sympathise with him.
He calls me by my family nickname instead of my actual name, although I’ve asked him not to. He makes jokes about my quietness (usually the typical “you never shut up, do you?” and “can’t get a word in edgeways around her!”) that I can’t respond to with anything but silence. He phones once or twice a day; I refused to give him my number so he calls the house. He’s turned up on the doorstep unannounced twice. And I don’t know if this is normal behaviour or not. Very few of my friends ever came round to my house. But I feel unsafe when alone there. I’m constantly on alert in case he appears.
So I avoid him and then feel bad, because he’s just very enthusiastic and he can’t help his ADHD. Why should I judge him for that? I think I’m being paranoid, picky, or a sullen, uncommunicative, ungrateful cow towards a young man who just wants to be friends. I know I’m probably abnormal for not wanting to make friends right now, and I shouldn’t be so fussy, but I really, really don’t want to spend time with this man.
So – what can I do?
Probably In The Wrong
I don’t think you are even a little bit in the wrong. There are situations when close friends “just drop by” each other’s houses (and in college when house = dorm room, that is much more likely) but it’s not normal for someone you just met, and calling twice/day is definitely way too often!
And do you want to know why it is way too often?
I mean, there is no objective standard for measuring these things.
I mean, some friends somewhere probably call/text/gchat each other more than once a day and everyone has a different idea of what “normal” is.
He is calling/dropping by way too often because it is too often for you. And the correct barometer for measuring whether this amount of contact is too much is your personal subjective feeling that it is too much. That is in fact the only correct way to measure this.
There is also only exactly one compelling argument or deciding factor in the whole “should this guy and I be friends?” question.
That factor is not whether your parents feel bad about you missing friends from school and trying to set you up.
That factor is not whether your parents went to some trouble and meant this whole thing kindly.
That factor is not how this guy felt when he saw your books, or the effort he has put into becoming friends, or how much he’d like to become friends.
That factor is not whether rejection would make him sad or hurt his feelings, or fuck up your parents decorating schemes.
That factor is: Do you like this guy and want to be friends with him? It sounds like you don’t. Then “No, I don’t” is the only acceptable answer, reason, argument that anyone should need to end this thing that is making you feel stressed and unsafe.
There are two conversations to be had here. I am not sure which order they should happen in.
“Hey, parents, I know you meant well when you tried to hook Decorator and me up as friends, but unfortunately I don’t actually like him. I don’t want to mess up your professional relationship, but I am going to ask him to stop calling or coming by to see me, and I’d appreciate a day’s notice if he’s going to be around so I can make it less awkward and arrange to be at the library or something.”
The cool response here is: “Whoa, we’re sorry. That is very awkward, but of course we’ll do whatever we can to make it easier on you.”
The coolEST response here is “Whoa, we’re sorry, that is very awkward, but of course we will do whatever we can to make it easier on you” + taking on the responsibility of letting him know.
That would look like this, incidentally: “Your interest in our daughter was very kind, and we had high hopes that you would become friends.Unfortunately she’s let us know that she doesn’t want a personal relationship with you, so we’d like to keep it strictly business from now on. She especially would prefer it if you not stop by the house and come only at prearranged times when we’ve scheduled work. I told her we could count on you to respect that.” + subject change to work.
You’re a grownup, obviously, an can handle your own difficult conversations, but as the people with a professional and ongoing relationship with this guy it’s not a terrible idea if they delivered the news.
Chances of the cool response based on what is in your letter?
Low. Very low.
So brace yourself for derailing responses.
- “He’s not that bad.”
- “Take pity on him.”
- “But he has had a bad life and can’t help being annoying. Have a little compassion! Is that how we raised you?”
- “He hasn’t done anything wrong, exactly, has he?”
- “It’s not a crime to be nice and friendly, right?”
- “This will make it weird for our wallpapering scheme.”
- “Just give him a chaaaaaaaaance.”
- “y u so picky?”
- Etc., etc., etc.
I don’t know if it’s a gendered thing, or a busybody parent thing, or a thwarted matchmaker thing, but the subtext behind all of these derailing questions is the possibility that they’ve invited someone into your life who is creeping you out is harder to take than the prospect that you might just not be nice and accommodating enough and that’s somehow why this isn’t working.
I think “He drops by too much and it makes me feel scared and uncomfortable when I am alone here” is actually good information for your parents about what you need to feel safe in your own home. Those are your instincts trying to protect you! Maybe from an actual predator! Okay, more LIKELY from a really annoying dude who is going to talk at you for a long time, but a) people with really poor understanding of boundaries are not good people to have dropping by the house uninvited and b) you get to decide your own safety threshold. If you feel unsafe around him, if you’re always on edge worrying that he will drop by, he does not actually have to ax murder you to prove objectively that those feelings are important and worth listening to.
However, your feelings of unsafety might not convince your parents if they are in the middle of bringing a full derail at you and try to “logic” (or, let’s face it, bully and pressure) you into remaining friends with him so that they can save face. In my experience, people who don’t get this REALLY don’t get it and will keep looking for “facts” to try to pressure you into doing what they want.
So one recommended strategy is (once you’ve mentioned the safety concerns) to refrain from explaining it too much. “Sorry, I just don’t like him. I would prefer not to interact with him. I definitely don’t want him ever to come here when you are not here, or when it is not strictly about work, and I definitely want the option to be somewhere else or at least not socialize with him. I recognize that it’s your house and you get to invite who you want to. I don’t want to make it any more awkward then it has to be, but I feel very strongly about this.”
If they keep pushing you, some good scripts to have in your back pocket:
- But I don’t actually like him.
- But since I don’t like him, why are you so invested in our friendship?
- Yes, it is bad news, and he will probably be very hurt. But if you try to force me to be friends with him, I will be very hurt.
- I will do my best to be civil, but the best way to make sure that everything remains civil and polite is to minimize how much time I have to spend with him and get him out of my life as soon as possible.
- It’s really weird that you are so invested in this.
- Unfortunately, “pity” is not a good enough reason to be friends with someone you don’t like.
The guy sounds painfully socially awkward and a bit clueless and like he could really use a good friend. He’s really enthusiastic at the thought of being your friend, because maybe it’s been a long time since he’s connected with anyone, and probably doesn’t mean to overstep his bounds so much.
Ha, did it feel like I was guilting you for a second there?
What you need to keep in mind is:
- Many socially awkward people are lovable and people that you want(!) to have in your life. Hello, look around at where we are. Hi, awesome folks!
- That friend doesn’t have to be you. You don’t owe him anything – not making up for his sad life, not as a trophy of what he’s made of himself, not as a favor to your folks, not as your weekly Reaching Out To The Awkward Charity Good Times!
You don’t like him. You don’t have to. That’s enough of a reason to not be around him. No guilt necessary.
The next conversation is for the Unfortunate Decorator.
There are lots of ways to let him know that you don’t want to interact. The simplest and most direct (and ultimately the kindest) way is this:
“Decorator, this is very awkward. I know you are putting a lot of effort into befriending me, and my parents meant well by introducing us, but unfortunately I am just not feeling it. I would prefer not to be friends, and I definitely need you to stop calling or dropping by the house to see me.”
You don’t need to give any reason beyond that, though phrases like “Sorry, I just don’t think we connect” and “I don’t want to get to know you better” and “I just don’t like you that much” are handy in your back pocket if he pushes you. If he’s un-self-aware enough to push you, he deserves a blunt, honest answer.
When you’ve been really raised and conditioned not to say no, learning how to say it is a process and it’s good to give yourself some practice. There are lots of ways that you can (and probably are) indicating “no” to this guy. For example:
- If he is at the house to see your parents or do work and starts monologuing at you, excuse yourself and go to your room and shut your door. Or go for a walk. Make it clear that you’re not down to listen to his long speeches. “Sorry, I am not interested in hearing about this.” “Sorry, I don’t want to talk to you.” Be blunt, walk away.
- If he’s calling the house phone for you, and you’ve never told him to stop calling, tell him now. “I don’t want to talk to you on the phone, please don’t call here asking for me.” Hang up. Don’t pick up the phone or come to the phone. Don’t ever answer a call from him.
- If he stops by to see you, tell him once (through a window or screen door, don’t let him in): “Why are you here?” He’ll either say it’s for parent/work/house stuff, in which case you say “Well, they aren’t here. Why don’t you call them tomorrow and arrange a time in advance? Stopping by is really not ok.” Or, he’ll say “I wanted to hang out/see you/lend you this book/show you my etchings.” To which you can say, bluntly, “Yeah, I don’t like you stopping by like this, it makes me really uncomfortable.” Shut door or window, go back inside, wait for him to go away and your shoulders to come down from around your ears.
- You don’t have to claim to be busy with something particular, act glad to see him, or be friendly or polite.
- If he asks your parents about what’s up and tries to pressure them to pressure you, it’s a perfect opening for the big conversation with them.
An acceptable response on his part is some variation of “Wow, that is not good news and I feel very awkward now, but of course I understand and will respect your wishes. So sorry to have bothered you” and then peace-ing the fuck out of that room and conversation to lick his wounds later.
There are several uncool responses. One is an emotional outburst involving the words “But whyyyyyyyyyy” or “Give me a chaaaaaaaance?” or demanding a logical, objective reason for your feelings or a list of his supposed errors so that he might correct them or any flavor of pressure on you to reverse your decision. Let’s keep a bit of perspective here, he’s not someone who is or who has ever been close to you, so why would you owe him a long consult? You don’t need to deal with whatever embarrassment or hurt feelings he expresses, or apologize for any of it. I suggest you deliver your news, wait a beat, and then absent yourself from the situation and leave it for others to deal with.
Important safety note:
It is best if rejection conversations takes place when someone else is home. If he drops by when your parents are not home, do NOT let him into the house. Go outside to have it, if you want to, have it through a (locked) screen door, but under no circumstances let him into your space. Chances are that the threat he poses is more of a “Will sit on your couch crying and talking at you for hours” kind of thing, but isn’t that enough reason to make sure he stays outside? Respect your own feelings of distress and fear around him, and limit his physical access to you.
SUPER important safety note:
If you have these conversations with your parents and with him, and he keeps dropping by and trying to insinuate himself into your life, he is indicating that the threat level is raised from “annoying” to “really actually very unsafe.” If he shows up when your parents aren’t home and the visit was not pre-arranged or work-related, do not let him in. Document the conversation you had, document the visit (with a photo, maybe, or just write down the day and time), and consider calling the police to report trespassing. At this time your parents should terminate any contract they have with him and ask him, in writing, to refrain from visiting the premises. Recommended reading: The Gift of Fear.
A happy ending here is that you and your parents and the Unfortunate Decorator have a few awkward conversations. When he comes by to work on the house, you exchange a brief “hey, what’s up” and then have no further interaction with him. He does a good and speedy job with the decorating and definitely does not install any hidden cameras to watch you sleep.
A totally acceptable ending is that this guy feels uncomfortable and steps back from the decorating job and your parents have to find someone else to work with, hopefully having learned an important lesson that you can’t even make 5 year olds be friends with each other if they don’t actually like each other.
An unhappy ending is you having to grit your teeth and smile at someone who invades your space because your parents would feel weird about picking an unsuitable friend for their grown-ass daughter.