Meetups Galore + #515: Easygoing vs. Picky: How to fight with your friends.

Hello! First, a reminder from Kate in Bristol:

Hi all – just a quick reminder that Bristol UK is meeting up at The Canteen on Stokes Croft this Saturday, from 11am to 3pm.  I will be wearing a rainbow tie.  For further info please see the original announcement:

Hope to see you there!

Griffy Kate

Second, there is a Washington, DC-area Meetup in the works:

Hi! I’d like to announce the next DC-area meetup:

Date: Tuesday, 5 November 2013
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Place: Busboys & Poets @ 14th & V (2021 14th St. NW)

The venue is accessible by metrorail, metrobus, Circulator bus, and Bikeshare; see for details. Street parking may be scarce; there are a couple of garages within a block of the restaurant where you can expect to pay $6-10 for the evening.

Busboys & Poets has a variety of well-labeled vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free items, and it’s wheelchair-accessible.

Find our group by looking for the red balloon I’ll bring with me. So I can ask for the right size table, please e-mail me atbokunenjin@gmail.comif you’re planning on coming or have any questions or suggestions.


Eat, drink, and be awkward.

Next, a question.

Hi CA,

My close friend S is generous, kind and supportive.  She is also very picky (she describes herself this way and tells stories where she was picky and it caused trouble/stressed her out).  S is good at stating her needs/boundaries.  Because of this, I often agree to do/eat/see what she wants.  I have preferences but they don’t seem as important as her needs.  However, this has been going on a long time and I feel like the decision making is lopsided.  When we do things my way, she sometimes seems uncomfortable or complains.  Also, there are times when she asks for things in a way that makes it hard to say no.
Example:  We have plans to see an exhibit after work.  When we meet up, S says she is too tired to walk around looking at things and wants to do dinner/drinks instead.  I don’t want to make her do something she doesn’t want to and at that point it would be weird to cancel or go alone so I agree.  Later, when we go to the exhibit, she is stressed by all the people there and asks if we can rush through the last two rooms.  I’m not happy but don’t want to make her keep doing something stressful or pay to go see it again alone.
Another one: I’m in charge of buying tickets for a concert.  We want the cheapest seats so I can get them either very close or very far.  I prefer sitting close, so those are what I buy.  S prefers sitting far away and at the concert she refers to the fact that we’re too close or complains multiple times.  She paid for her ticket so I feel she has a right to complain.  However, I usually try to enjoy things even if they aren’t what I would prefer to do.  I make an effort to be easygoing and try to focus on the fact that we’re spending time together, not specifically what we’re doing. I don’t complain when she changes plans and try to mention something good about it (“Well, I needed to eat anyway.”).  However, I don’t want to make her feel like she has to be cool all the time – enough pressure to do that.
I’ve recently tried to be good about stating my disappointment (while still agreeing to the change).  The last couple times I’ve done this, S looked at me with some panic and started apologizing and explaining profusely.  I told her it was fine but felt like I was in charge of managing her emotions.
Any scripts/suggestions of things to do?  I’ve taken some breaks when I was really annoyed but it’s an important friendship.


You are slowly changing the way this relationship works by setting boundaries and speaking up for your own needs and preferences. This is about roles. You have pretty set ones, where she self-identifies as The Picky One and you self-identify as The Easygoing One. Your role within the relationship is changing and your friend is needing to adapt, which causes some predictable but fixable friction.

Let’s talk about “picky” vs. “easygoing” as interaction styles, with 10,000 caveats about everything being relative and also about these not being fixed, binary states.

“Picky,” when you’re not picky, is often not used as a compliment. We use expressions like discerning, knowledgeable, “has high standards,” exacting, assertive, direct, detailed, “knows what she wants,” “no nonsense”, strict, etc. when we mean the good kind of picky, and “picky” when we mean “WHY AREN’T YOU MARRIED YET HERE LET ME FIX YOU UP WITH MY LOSER COUSIN WHO SMELLS LIKE OLD SOCKS.” Ms. Picky is The Princess and the Frog. Ms. Picky is The Princess and the Pea. What, are you some kind of special unique snowflake? Why are you so sensitive? Picky, when you are picky, is armor. “I may have these quirks and needs that make me vulnerable and easy to laugh at, but you wouldn’t want to disappoint me.”

“Easygoing,” on the other hand, has pleasant overtones. Easy to please, pleasant, nice, polite, relaxed, team player, sunny, sanguine; Mr. Easygoing is the youngest son in all the fairy tales who wins the kingdom and the heart of that picky, picky princess by being basically the most chill dude ever. The easygoing coin has its flip side, with words like naive, spineless, “a follower,” wishy-washy, passive, doormat, etc., but the trope “Uptight serious person is transformed for the better by meeting laid-back fun-loving person”  shows how deep these archetypes run.

Before about the age of 30, I thought I was an easygoing person, because which would you rather be – someone whose sleep can be ruined by a single legume, or the person who makes friends with talking animals? In my personal relationships, I set out merrily down the Path of Least Resistance and strove to be easygoing in all things. I would prove my worth to people by being super-accommodating. They would be happy, and I would be happy because they were happy, and if at any point anyone was unhappy, I would use the power vested in me as a middle child to entertain and smile and cheerlead and mollify until everything was chill again.

A couple of problems with that:

1. I am not actually relaxed. Like, at all.

2. When you need stuff from others (and you will need stuff from others eventually), being super relaxed all the time doesn’t exactly work as the quid-pro-quo the aggressively-relaxed person thinks it does. “When you need x, I just go with it, so obviously the reverse is true!” Nope. Weirdly, other people are not mind readers, so they can neither suss out your wants nor give you the credit for the robust emotional work you were doing in prioritizing their wants over your own. You haven’t built up a favor reserve that you can draw on at need, you’ve just taught them that it’s normal for you to always go along with whatever they want, so when you do speak up it comes across as you being uncharacteristically difficult.

3. When you’re not in the habit of asking for anything, the thought of bringing up the topic is wicked scary. You don’t want to risk negative reaction from the other person, so you avoid it. And the longer you avoid it, the bigger the problem grows. And the bigger the problem grows, the more likely your expression will come in the form of passive-aggressive behavior or a FEELINGSBOMB vs. a reasonable conversation.

At both extremes, the dysfunctional kind of easygoing and the overbearing things-can-ONLY-be-my-way sort of picky work as a defense mechanisms against not being listened to or respected. “I don’t trust you to actually believe me and meet my needs, so (choose your own adventure)…

  • …I will avoid asserting them unless I absolutely have to, and when I do, it will be with maximum weirdness.”

My gut feeling is that both kinds of folks come by it honestly. At one time or other in their lives, I’m betting that someone taught them that they would not be respected or believed when they said they needed something. Some coped by avoiding the issue and shutting down, some coped by fighting harder, and those extreme coping methods helped them survive whatever that situation was but have become maladaptive over time or when applied to other contexts. So one way we can help is to believe our friends and take them seriously when they express a need or try to have constructive conflict with us, even when they do it awkwardly.

In defense of being picky, life is short! Be picky! Use this one precious beautiful life you have the way you want to. Don’t date or hang out with people who you feel “meh” about. It’s okay to ask the restaurant to leave okra out of your stir fry. It’s DEFINITELY ok to speak up for your physical safety and comfort and happiness. Sometimes people are tired of explaining their food allergy to the waiter for the 10,000th time and need to go with “I just really hate tomatoes, thanks.” A lot of what comes across as “picky” is people being good at asserting themselves against cultural or gender or class expectations. And a lot of it is people doing their best to manage difficult, heartbreaking shit that they didn’t choose.

In defense of being easygoing, Letter Writer, you are easygoing in the best possible way. When you don’t have a strong preference, you go with the flow and look for things to enjoy about the experience. When you do, you state it. You’re not mistaking “I don’t have a preference, so whatever works for you is great!” for “I don’t care” or being a doormat. I think you are handling this whole thing very well, and I think it is good that you are scaling up how much you state your own preferences. In a way you are learning from your friend’s example. But a rebalancing is necessary.

When roles & boundaries change inside a relationship, friction is a pretty routine part of the deal.  Person A has been puttering along, assuming everything is working just fine and that everyone understands and agrees on what “fine” means. When Person B wants to change things, it can trigger a crisis for Person A.  You say “Howabout when I choose the tickets, we’ll sit close, and when you obtain them, I’ll sit wherever you want.” The other person’s brain takes in the information but along the way the Jerkbrain hijacks it and adds a special discomfort and doubt meta-message that says “EVERYTHING YOU KNOW MIGHT BE WRONG AND POSSIBLY THAT MAKES YOU A BAD PERSON.”

The bigger/more active the Jerkbrain, the more disproportionate the response. So people with self-esteem issues, anxiety, fears around abandonment, etc. will have a much larger and more serious response to mild criticism than people who feel more secure. Fun, right?

If the message hits Person A right in the Ol’ Shame Place, what comes back can be a pretty stinky FEELINGSBOMB. Depending on the person’s level of self-awareness, empathy, or coping skills, it can take the form of:

  • Blame and deflection. “You made me feel uncomfortable, now I’m going to put that all back on you. Enjoy dodging my FEELINGSCHRAPNEL!”
  • Outright refusing to acknowledge there even is a problem. Remember when this Letter Writer said “Spouse, could you cook sometimes?” and got an outright “No!”? 
  • A really awkward shame-spiral; over-apologizing, over-explaining, over-justifying, panic, emotional outbursts.

The good news and the bad news are the same news: We’re probably all going to be Person A  (We’re doing fine!) in some situations and Person B (Let’s change this up!) in others, because a) we don’t all want or like or need the same things and b) you can try to talk yourself out of needing stuff that you need and wanting what you want, but eventually, the level of “easygoing” that allows a person to avoid any and all conflict or change in relationships is called “being dead.”

Conflict is not 100% avoidable, so you might as well speak up for what you want and and try to deal with others directly and constructively. I believe that this is a skill that can be learned and practiced. It may never feel awesome, but it can feel less scary. The more you do it, the less scary it gets. It’s not a magic talisman against assholes and corrupt and unjust systems, but in cases like this, with two friends who like each other and want only good things to happen, you can work on making it safe for each other to express needs constructively, and over time, learn that the passing discomfort of speaking up about mismatched expectations and desires is survivable.

You’re doing great with this so far, Letter Writer, but hopefully we can generate some ideas that will help you take this to the next level or at least act with more confidence.

As the Identified Picky One, S. has staked out a little more territory than is exactly fair, and you are allowed to try to put balance and fairness back into the relationship. Your need > my preference, probably, but my preference = your preference, so how do we negotiate matters of preference? Taking turns? Whoever initiates the plan decides the plan? In the case of the concert, she likes to sit far away. You like to sit close. If both of you are similarly-abled*, “far away” and “so close” are not competing moral positions. You both get to like what you like. My friend Dave and I have this exact issue when we go to the movies, and we’ve sort of worked it out where we alternate based on who picked the movie & bought the tickets or stay within a range where “close” starts at 5 rows back, not 2nd row, where he’d like to sit, and “far” = “middle.”

So say you decide to have a discussion about this.

You say:Hey, let’s make a deal. When I make the plans, I will pick the seats. When you make the plans, you can pick the seats. Once we’re sitting at the actual thing, no complaining. It’s a huge bummer for me when I’d rather just concentrate on hanging out with you and enjoying the show.

Best case scenario:

She says:That’s fair.”

Congratulations. You have officially worked this shit out.

Other possible scenarios:

She says:But I literally can’t enjoy the concert unless I am sitting where I want to sit.”

You have some choices:

  • Suck it up. Sitting far away is the Price of Admission for concerts with this friend, and you can do it as a favor to her.
  • Find a different partner for concert-going. Sitting far away is the Price of Admission with this friend, and it’s too high. Call her when you can do stuff that you’ll both enjoy equally.
  • Continue the discussion and see if you can come up with a fair solution. Make it clear that your dislike of sitting far is just as valid as her dislike of being close, so, what would she suggest?

She says:That’s fair” but when it comes time for the show she still complains about it. “Ugh, I haaaaaate sitting this close.” 

Some choices:

  • Call her on it. “Hey, you’re being kind of crappy right now.
  • Appeal to fairness & her sense of absurdity. “I’m confused. When you say ‘I want x,’ you’re just stating a need. But I when I do the same thing, it’s somehow a huge problem? How is that fair?”
  • Restate your own preference, neutrally. “Oh? I really like these seats, it means I can see everything.Advanced move: Once you do this, do your best to give exactly zero of your attention to the question of The Seats, They Are Too Close. Respond normally to other topics, but be a broken record about the seats. “I really like them. I can see.”

This “Huh. Well, I like it,” broken record tactic for dealing with Highly Difficult People can also apply to Mildly Difficult People. It’s the most even-keeled, least hostile way I can think of to communicate “I can live with the prospect of your slight displeasure” without deliberately escalating a conflict.


She says: “Welcome to my shame spiral about how I am the most picky person ever and I worry that makes you secretly hate me but I can’t help being the way I am and I am sorry I suck so much and you are a saint for putting up with me! Please mix your own discomfort at not getting your wishes met with a healthy portion of my own self-loathing!”  (Implied: “So pretty please can we sit where I want to sit? Because you don’t want to have awkward emotional conversations like this over theater seating, do you? Surely you are not so petty as that? You’re easygoing! I’m picky! These roles work for us. Don’t ruin it.”)

Unproductive, manipulative, emotionally exhausting arguing makes everything all about a) who you are as a person and/or b) the past. If you say “Can we sit closer sometimes?” and suddenly the argument shifts into the territory of “BUT I AM JUST AN INHERENTLY PICKY PERSON,” or “YOU THINK I AM A TERRIBLE PERSON,” it’s a minefield. You’re not arguing a course of action, you’re arguing with someone’s entire personality. At some point you’re either going to abdicate, or you’re going to get frustrated and agree with their Jerkbrain’s view of themselves, and they will never forget it.

I’m not saying that the past never matters in an interpersonal conflict, but there are at least two ways of invoking it that are big red flags of dysfunction for me. The first is where you say “That thing you did hurt my feelings, could you stop and maybe we can work out a different way of handling that?” and the other person counters with a tale of something bad that happened to them, perhaps as a child, that is the reason they are this way and couldn’t help doing what they did. Suddenly, the conversation about how they upset you turns into one where you are apologizing to and comforting them. It can feel very cathartic and like you are connecting emotionally at the time, but the next day you’re still mad, and when you go back through the discussion it doesn’t add up. “Wait, you borrowed my car without telling me because your dad was never around? I don’t think that’s how it works.”

The other red flag is when the person constantly dredges up old fights and old slights. You don’t have to forgive, and you definitely don’t have to forget, but in an ongoing, mutual relationship, where everyone has apologized, done their best to make amends, and made sure not to repeat the offending behaviors, responding to “I wish you would stop doing x” with “We could try to fix it, but instead, let’s review, in detail, every single time you have ever been wrong” is equivocating. Badly.

Sometimes when people feel threatened and cornered they can’t even help taking it there. They just start throwing stuff out and doing whatever they can to deflect, deflect, deflect. Everyone manipulates sometimes, it’s just a really human thing to do when we’re hurting or scared or ashamed.

I think becoming a better communicator is about getting better at advocating for oneself (more regularly, sooner, when problems are small, more confidently) AND about getting better at detaching during difficult conversations when someone is bringing a conflict to you so that you can heed what the person is actually saying over the shame-y, terrible call of your own Jerkbrain. It’s not about being unemotional and Vulcan; feel your icky uncomfortable feelings! It’s not about reacting perfectly or pretending that you are okay when you’re not okay. Sometimes you gotta cry, or put your foot in your mouth, or walk away and think about it before responding and trust that the bond that you have with this person will survive if you make a mistake.  But the skill or habit that you want to develop is the ability to say, “Hey, Jerkbrain, shut up, we’ll deal with you later. Right now, I need to pay attention to what my friend is actually saying” and deal with that. 

That’s why when you practice “active listening,” the first thing you do is restate what the other person said back to them. “What I am hearing is that you are upset about x, is that true?” When you restate their points, you demonstrate that you heard them, and you also make a tacit agreement that x is the topic of your discussion.

So, if you feel like you are in an unproductive argument that’s ad hominem or ab antiquo, one thing you can do is try to refocus things on the present/future and on action:

I don’t hate you, and I’m not actually even angry at you, but I do want us to come up with a fairer way of dealing with stuff like this when our preferences clash. I love hanging out with you, and I want to do it without this being a huge issue between us. Can we work on that?

If you are still upset about (past topic), we can try to talk through it again. But right now, I need to talk about (present topic). Could we try (course of action)?”

Reassure the feelings, refocus the discussion on what you can do. Also, make the other person your partner in figuring out a good solution:

“In a perfect world, how would you like this to work from now on?”

You may not agree, or be able to satisfy this vision, but when someone is really stuck on the negative it can help to ask them to articulate a positive. It gives you more information about where they are coming from and what you might possibly be able to agree on. It resets the power balance, especially if you’re the one in the position of auditioning solutions that they keep shooting down.

If you feel like the person is unfairly assigning you responsibility for their feelings, you can be blunt about that:

“I can see that you are genuinely upset about this, but I do not think that I want to do what you are asking me to do. Is there something else I could do right now to make you feel better? Is there a way we could both think about it and talk later?”

It’s okay to disengage from the conversation if you feel like it’s cycling through the same stuff without anything being resolved.

“You’ve given me a lot to think about. Can we take a break from this conversation while I sort through it?”


I think I have a good handle on what you are saying, but I am feeling overwhelmed/sad/hurt/scared/up in my own Jerkbrain and need a little more time to process. Can we take a break and come back to this later?”

I think people are justified in asking you to schedule a follow-up discussion before tabling the current one, and giving a time-frame is one way of showing that you are serious about resolving things, but someone insisting “NO, WE MUST SOLVE IT NOW” (always especially charming when they’ve been stuck in the past for the entire argument) when you’ve specifically said you need a break is another sign that oof, here lies dysfunction.

Letter Writer, you and this friend are probably going to be just fine overall. Half the battle is treating your own preferences as the equal of hers and recognizing that you’re not responsible for all of her feelings. You’ve clearly nailed that. Now there is just the work of making that the new normal. If you like, think a little bit about the kinds of spaces and activities where your friendship functions well and skew your time together in that direction. She might not be the world’s best concert or exhibition buddy right now, but she might be the world’s best brunch partner. During this time when you’re recalibrating everything, set her and yourself up to succeed by choosing brunch.

*Come on, accommodating a friend’s disability with minimal friction is just the right thing to do.

169 thoughts on “Meetups Galore + #515: Easygoing vs. Picky: How to fight with your friends.

  1. I sympathize with LW’s friend as much as LW. I’m autistic and am considered picky for it. I think LW and their friend are doing pretty good at it, though. Good for them. And excellent advice, as usual. It’s more than enough to handle the rest of the relationship.

    1. Exactly this.

      And that makes me want to suggest an additional solution to at least one of the issues. If friend gets overwhelmed by crowded exhibits, etc, it might be worth asking them if they’d be okay to go ahead, find somewhere quiet, and meet you when you come out, LW. Because that is a thing I am cool doing, and while that obviously doesn’t mean everyone would be, it.. might be useful?

    2. I am on the spectrum too and this letter/answer made me feel slightly uncomfortable because it reminded me of my relationships with my sisters, wherein they are the LW and I am the friend. What are for other people preferences are often for me needs, eg. where to sit so that I don’t have sun glare, or a place being too noisy etc. So my sisters are used to cowtowing to me on everything. But this means I get used to getting my own way and sometimes it’s hard to separate between a preference and a need, so that can cause friction. But we’re kind of aware of it and working on it.

      1. One of my friends has a child on the spectrum, and she organizes fun outings and activities that accommodate them. Since the work she puts in directly benefits our group, we don’t feel put out when we modify things to accommodate them.

        Also we know from experience what the child enjoys, not just a list of things to avoid from their parents. It gives us the confidence to suggest/plan other things that might be enjoyable and non-triggering.
        I took them to an activity of my choosing with my kids (got permission from parents first, of course), and they loved it! It made me feel invested and engaged with that child in a way that couldn’t happen if their parents were controlling everything.

        Part of the resentment that comes with having a ‘picky’ friend is losing the natural give-and-take of a close relationship. If you can find other ways to give that to your family and friends, they might not feel as put out by accommodating you.

    3. I’m an Aspie myself, and I’m on the “easygoing” side of this scenario. My two sisters, who I’m currently living with, are the picky ones (especially the older one). Sad thing is, “picky” is putting it lightly. This is giving me a lot of insight into how I can hopefully deal with them — though of course it’s also on them to hear what I have to say and do their part in resolving our conflicts, not just me. In any case, I’m definitely bookmarking this page. 😀

  2. I think there’s also a different kind of middle ground if your friend tries to change plans on you – let her change her role in the plans, but not yours. At the gallery, she could have rushed through the last two rooms and then met up with you in the gift shop (this happens A LOT when I do similar things with my family, as I either dawdle or zoom through with no middle ground). Or you could agree to split up for the night when she starts to feel uncomfortable – she can rush through the rest and go home, you can go at your own pace, and maybe you can meet up later in the week to talk it over.

    Same deal with the seats. If she complains about sitting close, you can let her know that you really love the seats, but suggest that maybe she can find a single seat further back and you can meet up after the show to carpool home and talk about how great it was. You can do events together while not being right beside one another. Her needs do not equal your needs (though it’s great that you’re treating them with respect) and there are different ways to compromise around them.

    1. I did this recently in a situation where Friend wanted to drive to X Fun Thing, and I much preferred taking the bus. Mutual Other Friend is self-described picky and I find our very rare get-togethers almost always cater to her preferences and it was starting to grate/make things less enjoyable. We had already planned to take the bus, and I was informed (not asked) that we would now be driving because Mutual Friend said so. This was an issue for me because it would mean leaving way early because of traffic. Usually I fold and play the easy-going role, but this time I told them I’d met them at X Fun Thing. It felt good to assert my own preferences (and in the end, they took the bus as well.)

    2. I definitely agree with this. I’ve spent a bit of time hanging out with friends but not doing exactly what they’re doing because my preferences and/or needs are different from theirs. I don’t sit close at the movies. I will choose no movies over sitting close. If my friends really want to sit close I will happily sit not with them and then hang out after. I strongly prefer biking/walking over driving short distances. If my friends want to drive, I will meet them at the place. I hate playing RPGs. Absolutely hate it. But I love my RPG-playing friends and partners, so sometimes I will bring my knitting and my iPad and sit at the table with them while they are gaming so we can enjoy each others’ company. No one has to have hard feelings about it.

      I feel like there’s a social norm that says its weird (and therefore wrong) for friends to engage in this kind of parallel or semi-parallel play, so some people might balk at the idea of going to a concert/movie and not sitting together, and I think if a relationship consists of _only_ parallel activities eventually it will lose some of its connectedness, but if a relationship is solid and connected I think doing a subset of your activities in this parallel way is absolutely fine.

      1. THIS! I really dislike our social narrative that makes doing different things side by side not okay.

        My partner’s father always makes snarky comments about my boyfriend and I doing separate activities when hanging out at their house. But sometimes we can’t agree on an activity. So we each get out a laptop and do our own thing sitting next to each other. It works for us, it makes me feel safe and not pressured to find an mutual activity for the whole visit (which is often an entire weekend). Oh and we can’t hide because his bedroom door is glass, wheeeeeee.

        1. Reasons to love my MIL-to-be: there are times at her house when we’re each sitting at a computer, doing our own things.

        2. I would do this with a friend. I felt like the fact that we could showed what good friends we were. That she could come over to my house and we didn’t have to actively entertain each other was just so enjoyable.

      2. Have you ever watched a costume drama where rich people repair to the drawing room after dinner? Some play cards, some do needlework or paint, some gossip or tell stories, some play music or sing, some write letters, and nobody’s feelings get hurt. They’re all in the same room enjoying the company, but everybody’s engaged in the amusements of their own choosing. There’s a long history of this kind of thing; no reason not call upon it nowadays!

        1. I love those moments! In fact, I have friends who have a regular open house where at any given moment people are watching Mythbusters/reading/knitting/crocheting/making jewelry/doing leatherwork/on their computer/plotting fanfic and it’s lovely because you can wander from group to group as you will.

    3. I think I have bought into the social norm that doing things separately in situations like that (seeing an exhibit) is Weird and Wrong and maybe even Mean and Being a Bad Friend. This has happened several times so getting used to it as an option (and maybe even practicing some of the scripts) could help.

      The other problem in the situations I mentioned is that my first thought is usually “Oh no – friend is stressed! MUST FIX!” so I agree to whatever but then end up feeling resentful. I don’t think I could have done anything different about “I’m not feeling up to go to the exhibit” but I probably could have prioritized my preferences when she wanted to skip the last two rooms. In that situation, though, when she suggested we rush through the rest of the museum, I didn’t have any time to think about the problem as it was in a crowded room/lots of people.

  3. Our Captain is being more compassionate than I would, right now, but I had a recent case of a Picky Friend turning a fun get-together into “This is all about my wants now and if we decide to do something else, Sulking Shall Commence,” and I’m still a bit raw about it. My Picky Friend wasn’t being a bad person, but they had set their sights on doing something specific and were not being too cognizant of the fact that their strongly expressed preference, and resistance to alternative options, was causing inconvenience and discomfort for others in the group. Not malice, just a little bit of selfishness. (And it all worked out in the end, I hasten to say.)

    I get the sense, LW, that you believe Picky Friend’s preferences are often more important to her than yours are to you. And that may be true. But “less important” does not mean “unimportant,” and there is absolutely no reason you can’t occasionally say, “I know you prefer to sit in the nosebleed seats, but this time I’d really rather sit close. I brought some earplugs, want a pair?” Or more than occasionally, if sitting up in the stratosphere makes a performance considerably less fun for you.

    The good Captain is also on the money with the idea that you can try suggesting activities for a while where your preferences are more in sync. “I don’t have the spoons to see a concert this weekend, but I’d love to grab coffee at that place we both love and gossip about the baristas.” There’s no reason she needs to know that the reason your spoon drawer is depleted is because she keeps using them up, unless you WANT to have that discussion.

    Best of luck to you!

  4. Ooof. This response hit pretty close to home for me, re: knee-jerk emotional manipulation. I’ve got to stop doing that. Thanks, for hopefully making me a better person to deal with.

    1. Me too. I’ve had a lot of relationships in my life where my needs were ignored or belittled, and I can definitely see how that made me someone who aggressively self-advocates, regardless of how reasonable or fair that is in the moment. That history is important for me to know, so that I can learn to shape my reactions more appropriately, but it’s not an excuse to trample over other people or for my preferences to take precedence over anyone else’s.

    2. Ah, see, this is hitting the opposite side for me — I was extremely “picky” as a child, and I caught a lot of shit for it. I’m not really sure how you work with an aggressive, inflexible kid — which I was — to get that kid to try new vegetables, not bring a book to the dinner table, and clean up their elaborate play areas without learning (as I somehow did) that all of my personal preferences are stupid and I’m asking for way too much to have them respected.

      So in college I switched to the opposite tack, trying to be the Most Awesomest Easiest-Goingest Person EVAR. The trying to build up a “reservoir of favors” is SO CLOSE TO MY EXPERIENCE. I always thought of it by investing in the bank of friendship that I could later withdraw from. Unfortunately being pleasant and accommodating does not always translate, in other people’s minds to, “going to need to ask for help later when I invariably have a mental health crisis.” (Also it led to me baking an embarrassing number of cookies as preemptive peace offerings, which is perhaps the most ineffective method of communication ever.)

      And now — now I am still learning how to communicate in a non-manipulative way, because I can only bear to bring up my needs when I’m desperate.

      1. This is my experience, exactly. I was a Difficult Child (TM) who was constantly being subtly reminded that she was Difficult, and as a result, I tend to pipe down as much as humanly possible whenever people make suggestions that I don’t agree with and quietly stew about how much I don’t want to do X thing. For instance: I went to a con with a friend over the summer on the assumption that we’d be sort of splitting our time between “stuff she wanted to do” and “stuff I wanted to do” but it turned out that she’d basically planned on what she was going to do that day and assumed that I’d be following her around. I was bored and miserable, but I didn’t want to pipe up and go “hey, friend, can we maybe do some stuff I’d like to do?” because that would make me [ominous music] difficult.

        1. I went to a con with my husband earlier this year (the man unto whom I have specifically promised to cleave and vice versa, etc etc :P) and we spent a grand total of ONE panel together, because although our tastes are very similar in some ways they’re wayyyyy different in others. Walked in the door, went “My stuff is this way!” *point right* “Cool! My stuff is that way!” *point left* “Have fun!” *zip* in opposite directions. We texted back and forth about things we found to buy, met up for food, met up again for the single panel we both wanted to go to… and it was AWESOME. If more things had been on both our must-see lists we would have spent a lot more time together, and it would still have been awesome, but being attached at the hip was not required for solidarity or love or friendship.

          *Jedi Hugs* if you want them! You are not being difficult to want to do some things according to your preferences. Your friend was being either selfish (knowing you have different Things You Want To Do and deliberately ignoring that), or thoughtless (assuming that everything You Wanted To Do was exactly the same as what She Wanted To Do and then not asking), or… assumed you’d speak up if you had a problem. (You did have a problem, only the Not Wanting To Be ‘Difficult’ problem was bigger in the moment than the Dear Gods This Is Boring As Heck problem.)

          It is totally cool to speak up and say “Hey, I want to go see [panel] instead, would you like to come too? Or should we meet up in the food court afterwards?” ‘Difficult’ would be throwing a tantrum, or whining, or passive-aggressively sulking in the hopes that Friend will notice and make things better, or demanding that things go exclusively your way, or any number of other things that have appeared here in the past. 😉

      2. In my (somewhat similar*) experience, I came to realize that being “the coolest most laid-back accommodating friend/girlfriend ever” didn’t build up a bank of favors because it only felt like a favor to ME. No one else could see the effort it took for me to be so constantly agreeable, so it didn’t “count” as favors or buy me any reciprocity for my own needs. I’m working on it. I’m getting better.

        *Especially the preemptive cookies thing. When did I decide that the best way to buy cooperation and assistance was with baked goods? “I am caring for you by bringing you brownies that you didn’t ask for, now care for me by helping me with this need I have that I feel guilty about having, and that guilt is going to make me ask for help in the weirdest most uncomfortable way possible.”

      3. Yeah, the RESERVOIR OF FAVORS really hit some notes with me too. My experience didn’t/doesn’t really break along the picky/easygoing lines, it’s more about me genuinely being able to roll with stuff (like the letter writer who wrote in about how they honestly don’t have opinions about dinner and the like most of the time) and maybe knowing a lot of assholes? Because I often find myself going, “Dude, really? I’m decent to you, I show up on time and I am careful with your stuff and generally do my best to be there!” when I have asked for a small accommodation like dinner at X versus Y, and they just tune it out. Or someone will be doing/saying something disrespectful and I repeat myself a handful of times until I have to get stern, and then *I’m* the jerk, not the person who repeatedly ignored the requests to knock it off. So this letter really rang some bells for me about *why* this plagues me, and some ways to try dealing with it. But ultimately, maybe I know some assholes and can only resolve to make better friends where I am now. Learning to be healthy and have perspective is really hard, but worthwhile– and I bet you make rad cookies. 😀

        1. Ugh. So with you there. For me, better friends did help. As did not talking to my family as much. (Problematic behaviors, we have your source!)

  5. Great response, Captain!

    I keep having different variations on the same miscommunication pattern, that I might be seeing a little bit in this letter. That is: when a mild comment or observation is being used, or perceived as being used, as an implicit request. Eg:

    Statement: Gosh, that’s loud.
    Implied request: Turn that shit down.

    Statement: Oh, it’s cold in here.
    Implied request: Get me a friggin’ blanket or turn up the heat or apologize for your house being an icebox or something.

    When I’m feeling shy or insecure, I use indirect statements to communicate my wishes (like “I miss you” for “I am horribly lonely, please call me or show up on my doorstep and spend hours petting my hair”) but when I’m feeling assertive and confident, I just ask for what I need. Ironically, many people completely fail to pick up the subtext of the mild comments when I’m upset, but read non-laden statements I make when I’m calm as implicit requests. This is because it is a really bad communication strategy when the stakes are high and you feel that the outcome really matters.

    1. I am extremely literal, and terrible at getting subtext.
      I usually only notice it after the person using it starts getting a nasty tone after a month of ‘being ignored/snubbed/however they frame my lack of response.’

      By then I can tell they are angry, but have no idea at what. I have found asking why they are angry at that point leads to either denial of anger with a side of nasty talk behind my back (“Esprit is such a bitch! She doesn’t care about what anybody else needs.”) or FEELINGSBOMB of ALL THE WAYS YOU DON’T CARE ABOUT ME AND ARE A BAD PERSON.

      I have friends that I care for deeply, have known long enough to know what they need from me, and how they prefer to be shown love. I am personable and genial with strangers and acquaintances.
      But that middle ground of deepening an acquaintanceship into a friendship, maintaining good work relationships, getting along with my children’s friend’s parents, being a good neighbor. That all tends to end in Person with direct communication style thinks I’m A-okay, Person with indirect communication style thinks I’m a cold, unfeeling, bitch.

      I used to prefer people without boundaries for the simple reason that even if it’s offensive or inappropriate, they say what they mean and I know where I stand.
      But that’s not really where my life is now, so I’m feeling out how to communicate better from the other end of the spectrum.

      1. Holy shit, are you me? I too am genuinely oblivious to implied subtext or subtle cues. If someone is not actually yelling at me, I have a lot of trouble telling whether or not they’re mad, for example, which can cause a whole shitload of problems.

        1. *raises hand* Oblivious-to-subtle-cues person here too! And then someone’s stewed for a while about stuff that is upsetting them, and I don’t notice they’re upset, and they don’t want to come right out and say anything because then they’d upset me, but they stew some more and then lose their cool and FEELINGSVOMIT ARGH ANGST WHY DON’T YOU EVER YOU’RE SO MEAN and wow, now I really am upset, way to spare my feelings, dude… 😛

          We’ve fixed that now. He uses his words. 😀

          1. I too love a subtle cues person.
            They’re so great at the Bubble of Love wherein they create a warm safe space out of lots of small daily acts of consideration. There’s no giant flashing sign of awesome, and yet being with them feels better than being anywhere else.

            We had to have the “If you Use Your Words, I can Show My Love ” talk. Where with the help of a therapist I convinced him that I really do prefer he bring an annoyance or need to my attention in the moment when he is experiencing it.

            I try to use my words when I notice the little things he does, and tell him that they make me feel loved. He tends to dismiss his effort as “whatever, no big deal.” But when it happens every day it is a big deal.

          2. @espritdecorps:

            I notice the little happy/caring things! They’re awesome all right, and I’ve gotten much better at doing my own little happy/caring things back. 🙂 It’s when things are wrong I don’t notice, at least partly because he’s doing his best to not give little signals to say “I wish you’d do ~” or “I wish you wouldn’t ~” or “That ~ of yours is really annoying me”. I Used My Words and told him that I needed him to Use His Words after a couple of monumental blowups that could have been completely prevented by better communication earlier, and now we also have a habit of randomly wandering past each other and asking “Everything good? Anything bugging you?”

            And you’re right, it’s a really big deal when just being around someone can make it feel like the weather’s better, because they do all the little things that make you happy. 😀

          3. The reply-nesting is full, but I just wanted to say that this particular subthread makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I try to make a Bubble of Love for all my friends, and if your dude is anything like me, Esprit, his self-effacing ‘whatever no big deal’ is anything but. It is such a thrill to be thanked for little subtle things that you really only did to see a smile from someone you love, and it sometimes feels strange to hear it verbalized, and when people tell me outright I blush but I’m preening inside.
            Your dudes are super lucky to have you.

            So signed, Subtle Cuer

      2. Fifthed, or whatever. 😀

        I just tell new people to be direct. Really, really direct.

        “I am terrible at subtle. No, really. I am painfully oblivious to implied stuff. I suck out loud at it. If you want something, you should just tell me. In very short sentences, of uncomplicated words. I will probably give it to you! And even if I say ‘no’, then at least we both know that there was something going on, instead of you just getting mad, and me remaining clueless. But I won’t ever get mad at you directly asking me for something.”

    2. I also do the “I’m too insecure right now to ask for what I need outright, have some timid hints instead” thing. It’s. . . not helpful to anyone, really. I’m working on it.

  6. It may also help to decouple ‘stating your preferences’ from ‘disagreeing with your friend’ by bringing up your preferences right at the beginning of suggesting something – for example, “hey, That One Band has a concert next month, and they have seats right up front like I like; want to come?”.

  7. My best friend is picky. She’s fussy about food, has social situations she’s not comfortable with and can’t deal with many things including crowds etc. There are many things I want to go to that don’t end up happening, or end up being changed to suit her needs.

    The thing is, she isn’t being picky AT ME. She just has different comfort levels and realistically, I’m happier (if somewhat ticked off) doing things her way, than she would be doing things my way.

    That doesn’t mean we always do things her way, but it does mean that often, if I want to do something specific and do it my way, I have to resign myself to the fact that I won’t be doing it with her. And that’s OK.

    Previous posters have some great advice for you, make sure your expectations are clear up-front (e.g. not just event, but event + sitting up front/it’ll be crowded but I won’t rush through) and that you’re OK with her turning you down and OK with yourself for not giving in if she does want to change plans.

  8. I wish I’d read this when I first got married. The Husband and I spent the first five years of our marriage driving around to be at all the family gatherings, accommodating everyone else’s needs since we were young and didn’t have any kids yet. We told ourselves we were building family capital and when we had a baby, they would do the same for us.

    You can imagine how well that’s turned out.

    So, about five years ago (about when the sleep-dep haze cleared out), we started stating our needs and our boundaries more clearly. There’s been a lot of friction and GUILTBOMBS about it. Since open and honest communication isn’t my mom’s thing, and since there are complicating factors, we’ve been found ourselves consistently and repeatedly sidelined, excluded, and marginalized at any family gathering.

    Now, your Picky Friend doesn’t seem like she’s likely to do that to you, if only because her anger seems to be self directed. But I mention it as a possibility that you may want to think about. The Captain, of course, covered this possibility but I’m calling it out specifically.

    (Happily, one of my complaints was that there are too many damned family gatherings. So, when my mom moves a family party to accommodate my second cousin’s daughter’s best friend’s birthday party, ignoring my repeated statements that I have long-standing annual pre-paid commitment that weekend, I just don’t show for the party. True story.)

    1. Holy crap YES to everything you said. This quote sums up my entire relationship with my entire family: “You haven’t built up a favor reserve that you can draw on at need, you’ve just taught them that it’s normal for you to always go along with whatever they want, so when you do speak up it comes across as you being uncharacteristically difficult.”

      I have always been the “easygoing one” and my sibling has always been “picky because of health issues.” When it was just me, I figured it was no sweat to let everyone focus on Sibling when I went home for visits. Then we all had kids, and as an adult, I developed the same chronic health condition that Sibling has. Now there are things I need tweaked in order to not get sick when I visit.

      My family seems to be categorically unable or unwilling to reset their perceptions of us. I feel like I am literally not allowed to have needs. Over the years I’ve worked really hard at stating when I (or my kids) need something clearly, calmly and respectfully. I feel like every time I ask for something – no matter how nicely or rationally or respectfully I do it – the immediate response is “OMG, why is she being so DIFFICULT!”

      I get FEELINGSBOMBS (Sibling), flat out denial (Mom/Dad) or Bringing Up That Shitty Thing You Did Three Years Ago (Sibling’s spouse). It’s like a checklist of checky boxes. I guess I really needed to read this today!

    2. Oh hey! Are you me? Because this was us. You should’ve seen us at Christmas time. Both sets of parents are divorced, all live at least an hour apart from each other, and we live 4ish hours from their general area.

      Holidays are fun!

      Tomorrow is my kid’s first birthday party, and you know what? My step-mother gave me flak for daring to have it at MY house, instead of a billion miles away close to them. Never mind that she’s never been here in the over 4 years I’ve lived here (and won’t be tomorrow. My dad is coming solo.) FIL gives us similar crap. MIL would but she’s too polite. My mother and step-father are the most easy going. Not that she wouldn’t be happy if I stuck around or come see her more often, but she totally understands the need to flee the nest and will visit me here whenever she gets the opportunity. And guess which parent we make the effort to see the most often?

      This holiday season we’re staying home. Not “going” home, because home now is in my house where my husband and kid and I live every day. We’ll see how the family reacts. At least if they have temper tantrums over it, they’ll be over 200 miles away from me and I can ignore them enough to enjoy my own holiday.

      1. My MIL lives 4 hours away, smokes heavily, and has aggressive dogs.
        Most of Spouse’s side of the family lives here, and we would all go down to her home for the holidays.

        After several visits where she threw a fit when I didn’t want her to hold the baby while she was smoking, and refused to control/corral her dogs because that would be cruel, we booked a hotel near her for the next Thanksgiving.
        She then accused me of trying to ruin the holiday so I could ‘steal’ it from her, and told us not to come if we were going to be nasty about it.

        So now we do Thanksgiving here, and it is marvelous! Some years we have it with my family, some with a blend of both.
        This year a group of friends rented out a nice restaurant with people from of all our families. Booked in advance, cheaper than all of us having small separate dinners, no drama, no cleanup!

        I’m so grateful to my MIL for ‘punishing’ us.

      2. (If the Cap doesn’t mind the tangent….)

        I feel you. My mom called me one year and started talking about my daughter’s birthday party and I was about ten minutes into a fairly confusing conversation when I finally realized that she expected me to have it *at her house*. She was all kindsa pissed when I explained that I would throwing my kid’s party. When I asked her why she had made that assumption, she just gabbled at me and finally said, “I don’t know, I just thought I would throw her the party.” (There was no precedent for this, no discussion before hand, nothing.)

        I have so much more to say but it’s long and off topic. Maybe I’ll check out the forums and see if there’s a “family boundaries and the holidays” thread.

  9. My opinion is strongly that an invitation can be accepted or declined, but not negotiated. So if I want to do something specific with friends, I make it very clear what I’m inviting them to do. For example:

    Husband and I are going to the Renaissance Faire on Date X with another friend, and wondered if you’d like to join us. If you want to carpool with us, we leave at time y and get back at time z and typically stop for dinner on the way home. If you’d like to drive on your own and meet up there, that’s cool too!


    Would you like to come over and play board game A? I’m free on evenings b, c, and d.

    Other times, I just want to catch up with people and don’t really care what we do, in which case it’s

    Would you like to get together for a meal/game night/craft night/hiking sometime in the next few weeks? I’m free dates a, b, and c.

    Anything that I specify is non-negotiable and will be met with a light and cheerful, “I had already planned on doing X, but I’ll catch up with you next time.” Anything that I don’t specify is negotiable and is likely to be accommodated, possibly with caveats: “your kids are welcome, but there will be alcohol and uncensored adult conversation present.”

    I am also J through the roof on the Myers-Briggs scale, so ymmv.

    1. I am much of your mind, Kacienna. I would describe myself not as picky, but as inflexible. In other words, if I’m invited somewhere and I accept, I won’t complain about things like LW’s friend, even if I would rather rush through the end of the exhibit or sit further away. In those situations, my feeling is I accepted, and should get what I can out of it and will probably have a Super Fun time. I have put myself in Friend’s hands and trust that it will all work out.

      But if I accept for Plan A and then Friend decides “actually Plan B” when I show up? That could easily not work for me in the moment, even though Plan B might have been fine if it had been specified ahead of time. It feels a bit like a bait and switch, even if it’s not meant that way (which is usually isn’t, of course), and if it happens too often I will take steps to control for it, like some of the strategies that have been suggested elsewhere in the thread (setting boundaries in advance, only hanging out in casual situations that don’t take a lot of planning, etc.). That way, I can still socialize with people who are more easy going and flexible without being frustrated myself.

      1. I get what you’re saying about the bait-and-switch and I might feel that way too if it was something I really looked forward to that was changed, or something I really disliked that was the new plan. For the most part though, I’m super-easygoing when I accept someone else’s invite – sort of a balance to my being inflexible if I plan something. If the activity itself is important to me, then I plan it myself. Now if someone accepted my Plan A and then tried to change it to Plan B at the last minute, that would not fly at all. It would be “Oh, so sorry you can’t make it – catch you next time!” (Exceptions made for close friends with true emergencies, of course).

    2. Whatevs. I’m P through the roof and I think invites are also non-negotiable. I mean, I’m straight-forward and upfront about what the parameters are, but you always know what to expect when you do a Cait-sponsored thing.

      1. 🙂 Certainly didn’t mean to leave you out…was probably more looking for a way to save face for myself if the consensus was that my way of handling invitations was mean and weird 😛

  10. I’m dating a chronic “laid back” kind of guy. And I say chronic because I have to coax his preferences out of him. Part of it does seem to be that he really doesn’t have many preferences, but still getting him to express the ones he has can take a little effort. And I wanted to bring him up because LW mentioned being a middle child making them more the laid back type and I wonder how common this is. I’m the eldest of two and will swing between being overly demanding and being way accommodating (working on the middle ground, I”ll get there).

    But my partner wasn’t just the middle child he was middle child epic level. His older sister is…..demanding to say the least. And had a red dye allergy that made her psycotic when she ingested red dye. And his younger brother is severely autistic, it’s a miracle he is verbal, and has severe brain damage from being born with a high fever. So there was no room in that family for my partner to make his needs known.

    I’m encouraging him to set some boundaries with his parents, especially in light of him finding his mother cleaning his room and throwing things* out recently. My partner is 24 and living at home after college until his finds a permanent job but he has a well paid temp job.

    Anyone else notice the middle child syndrome?

    *Things she decided he didn’t need anymore. Plus she reorganized other things. His room was cluttered, but nothing gross.

    1. My mom is a CLASSIC middle child, and I love her dearly and have a solid relationship with her but … I know that in any emotionally difficult situation, I simply cannot trust her to ask for what she really wants or say what she really means. The guessing games are not fun.

    2. Oh, man. I used to have epic middle child-ness as well, and you summed it up well; There was no room in my family for me to make my needs known. (And any attempt was SO SELFISH OF YOU.THERE ARE MORE KIDS IN THIS FAMILY BESIDES YOU, YOU KNOW.) My attempts to set boundaries and politely assert my needs resulted in me not having talked to my mother for nearly a year. Yeah.

      But the good news is that I’ve gotten waaaay better at communicating needs (and politely but firmly expecting those needs to be met), and now I’m the one in the relationship with a chronic laid-back person who takes weeeeeeeeks to tell me his needs and even longer to convince that yes, it is okay if he does things that are not at all a big deal. (We’ve been dating almost a year and I’ve lived in my current house for 7 months or so, and I just convinced him that yes, it is okay for you to leave your toothbrush in the toothbrush jar in the bathroom instead of bringing back and forth between my bedroom and putting it in a travel case every night. And not for lack of saying this 7 months ago.)

      I find it really hard to walk the line between being pushy and being supportive/reassuring. Mostly (unless it’s a major-problem-thing), I just say things, wait a long while and then say them again casually, and then rinse and repeat until it sinks in. Any other recommended strategies for encouraging the chronically laid-back to be a bit pushier?

      1. I’m sorry you had it so rough with your family and setting boundaries! That rarely seems to go well. My parents are having trouble with my boundaries too. Living with them at 23yrs old doesn’t help.

        All I do with my partner is make sure he knows it is safe to assert himself. Ask what he really thinks. Double check, it’s a little tedious sometimes, but he’s getting better. He’s starting to trust more that I’m not like his family or his exes. And I mean trust on an unconscious level, he’s known for a long time that I wont respond badly to stated preferences (much less needs!), but to really deeply believe it takes time. And sounds like your partner is even worse, is he a socially anxious person*? That can make it even worse!

        *not in the clinical sense, I’m not diagnosing, just the “does he often worry about what people will think?” sense

      2. I’m been with my current partner for four years, and we are slowly working our way out of this problem. We used to have colossal fights because of it. I am a pretty direct person–if I have a preference, I will state it, and I often make the mistake of assuming others will do the same. Getting my partner to express so much as the slightest need, meanwhile, is like pulling teeth.

        Some things I did that helped:

        1) Whenever he does state a need or (gasp) a preference, thank him for telling you and express how happy it makes you. Eventually he will start to realize that you are never going to get mad at him for expressing his needs.
        2) Whenever you ask a yes/no question, remind him that it is okay to say no. Some people really do need to hear it every time.
        3) Reassure him that he is not stomping all over your needs by expressing his. Do this by drawing your own boundaries, and compromising or saying no when you need to. Some people are paranoid that expressing needs will force others to comply with them. Doing this shows him that it won’t.
        4) If you have reason to think he’s not being truthful, double-check. Triple-check if necessary.
        5) If you need to, establish a word or phrase he can say when he’s having trouble expressing something and needs reassurance.

        After four years, I still do the first three, and sometimes the fourth, but it’s getting better. It just takes time.

        1. Thanks, both you you. I do some of these strategies and the others also sound helpful. Also, the reassurance that I’m on the right track and that it has gotten better for other people is helpful. Thanks!

        2. Wow, you’re awesome. I need to do more of what you do.

          “Some people are paranoid that expressing needs will force others to comply with them.”
          I assume that once our needs have been expressed, we can negotiate on how to solve any conflict between them. But you’ve made me realise that my hubby assumes if he expresses a need or preference, I will understand it’s been so difficult for him that I will comply no matter what. Which is why he gets upset when I express a conflicting need. Some work to do here, I think…

    3. The link I see fairly often is when one child is pigeonholed as The Sick One and nobody else gets to take on that role, ever. Which is separate from (though hugely overlapping with) being the sibling of a person with disabilities, because it doesn’t have to occur when someone is disabled, and can happen even when everyone is actually quite healthy. The message gets sent, implicitly or explicitly, that if you’re not The Sick One, you do not need special attention and your unique needs do not matter.

      It also feeds into, “My problems are not of maximum severity, therefore I do not deserve help.” Like, “I’m only brutally depressed, but some people are suicidal and I’m not; therefore if I seek treatment, I’m an awful drain on the system taking resources away from people who really need them.” (So not true!)

      1. I had to check this ‘my problems don’t truly warrant treatment’ impulse in myself this weekend. I’m mildly colorblind, and always thought of it more as a cute quirk than a handicap, but in certain circumstances I am unable to comprehend data because my eyes do not see the color red. I sent the most sheepish and self-effacing email to my school’s disabilities office to ask for accommodations, and I still kind of feel like a fraud. Seriously, though, why? Because I don’t deserve to see the fluorescent protein markers until everyone with “real” impairments gets their needs met first? Because my grades should suffer slightly until every public building has a handicap ramp and an elevator with Braille?

        That kind of logic doesn’t compute outside the nuclear family. Because in the big bad world there isn’t just one benevolent caregiver with finite resources to distribute amongst siblings, so negating your own needs doesn’t necessarily mean there is more caring to go around for other people. Actually, in no parallel universe anywhere would anyone benefit from me not being able to see the fluorescent markers. Except maybe some nefarious flesh-eating virus. Or the curve of the class grading average :-/

        The funny thing is, I actually consider myself more picky than laid-back. I guess the stakes for asserting myself become a lot higher when it isn’t possible for me to just go with the flow. And paradoxically it becomes so much harder to ask for something when you need it most desperately.

  11. LW: it sounds like you’re on the right way! You’ve already made some headway. Great job!

    In your example about the exhibit I would be annoyed that S didn’t get in touch earlier about her wanting to change plans. Like you say, when you met up it was too late to go alone/cancel. That may mean she get’s her way right then but I suspect it also made her feel guilty. Or something, IDK. I would focus about communicating those kind of things earlier on. It would probably make thing easier for both of you. Kacienna has some great suggestions.

    I think it’s a difference between being picky and super selfish. Maybe that’s just my brain comforting me right now, since I’m both picky and a perfectionist. I often think my way is the best way and that logically, everyone should choose what I choose. Maybe sometimes in my head I’m all ”whoah, you shoulda picked the fish instead, it’s much better” when out to dinner but there’s a difference between that and being jerky by actually saying it.

    And really, life would be kinda boring if everyone did exactly as I wanted them to.

    Great answer Cap; very kind!

    1. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately in terms of food, in who I would consider a “picky eater” (a negative in my book and something I am generally unwilling to accommodate) versus someone having food restrictions or preferences, even really restrictive ones (totally reasonable and generally willing to go out of my way to accommodate if I’m able). I’ve distilled it down to a few behaviors, mainly– Do they communicate about their preferences/restrictions beforehand if possible or do they wait to voice them until it’s too late (food is purchased, dumped in the soup, or even already on the table)? To what extent do they take responsibility/proactive steps to manage their food concerns v. being defensive and reactionary? To what extent do they appreciate it if I do cater for their preferences but manage for themselves if I don’t v. *expecting* me to accommodate their every food need/want? To want extent are they polite to hosts/waitstaff grilling them about ingredients v. rude/confrontational?*

      If it’s more the former, I’d consider them “having a food issue or preference” I’m happy to work around. The latter, you get to deal with your own shit without my help, yo. I think this could apply thoroughly to non-food preferences as well.

      *I know some people have serious food intolerance/allergies they have to aggressively police because some other people are asshats and their health is important. But to me there’s a league of difference between, “Hey, I can’t eat any meat or dairy or eggs or gluten or nightshades… will there be stuff I can eat at the picnic or should I bring my own food?” / “(Asks a million questions) Thanks for your patience, looks like I’ll just have a salad. Can we go somewhere else next time?” and “I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU COOKED FOOD FOR DINNER. YOU KNOW I DON’T EAT ANYTHING THAT CASTS A SHADOW.”

      1. Yeah, I’ve been working through “picky eater” definitions myself. I actually don’t have a problem accommodating them, but I’ve had to deal with picky eaters who weren’t just picky, but arrogant in their pickiness: insisting that the few things they ate were the only “real” foods, and everything else was “crap,” as I tried to eat. After dating someone with serious allergies, I will try to be accommodate people. But not knowingly rude people.

      2. My line for picky eaters is about how reasonable they are. One of my picky eating friends will always be welcome at my table because zie tells me in advance, doesn’t make ridiculous demands (“You must accomodate my broccoli, Cheez Whiz and persimmon ONLY diet or you’re a meanie!”) or fuss at the table (“OMG it’s CARBS and they are EVIL!!!”)

        I will do my best to accomodate allergies and dietary preferences. But I’m not buying all new cookware or driving myself into a frenzy for you.

      3. IDK, I would characterize myself as a picky eater (I have absolutely no actual food allergies or restrictions, just a strong dislike of certain textures, flavors, foods where I can’t tell what every bit is unless I’ve made it myself, tomatoes, cooked peppers, onions, mushrooms, seafood, eggs, basically all breakfast food unless it’s cooked a certain way…the list goes on.)

        The thing is, I don’t actually expect anybody to accommodate my preferences. At a restaurant, there’s usually one or two things on the menu that I’m willing to eat. In other situations…well, if someone’s cooking, I basically just say that I’m a picky eater (because, frankly, the list of things I won’t eat is daunting and even I can’t rattle it off off the top of my head) and offer to bring a dish. It’s not really that hard to not be an asshole about it, IMO.

      4. Yeah, I agree with all of you. And I think these all can be applied to non-food social interaction as well. It’s cool to be picky if you state your preferences upfront, if you try to renegotiate the situation in the moment and for the future when you didn’t realize something would be a problem, and you’re polite about it. But if you retroactively come up with preferences, badger people for not magically knowing them, whine the entire time, are rude about it, don’t recognize that other people get to have preferences too and those might be different than your and require compromise… yeah, it’s a lot harder to work with you (and I’m less inclined to do so).

  12. “Suddenly, the conversation about how they upset you turns into one where you are apologizing to and comforting them”


    A snapshot of a previous romantic relationship.

    In my current relationship, we are both fairly “easygoing”, and also very concerned with making sure the other person is getting their needs met, and it has occasionally created a feedback loop where I try to get them to express a preference without expressing my own because I’m worried that they’ll just go along with it without taking their needs into account, and they are doing the exact same thing with me, and we are both aware of what’s going on. We’ve gotten pretty good at sidestepping this particular whirlpool of concern, though. Yay for getting better at communicating!

    1. My husband and I have gotten to the point of often being able to give both a preference and a rating – at which point his 7 trumps my 3, or my 8 wins out over his 4. This works if the people involved are acting in good faith. It doesn’t work if someone always puts 10 on their own preferences.

      1. This should be standard procedure for deciding on a restaurant in groups.

        “Where do you want to go? I’m feeling a 6 on that new sushi place.”

        “7 for barbecue, 6 for sushi”

        “That place with the Mac n Cheese, 8”

        “Mac n Cheese! Done”

        1. This is BRILLIANT.

          I too have the spiral of each person trying to find out what the other one secretly wants. Our problem is that we’re both a bit indecisive so a lot of the time there IS no secret preference to be found. But I think we are both more comfortable generating an idea once we have established that no one has a strong preference.

        2. Hell to the yes. I have a broad selection of friends to choose from and tend to do things one-on-one because I enjoy lots of different things (like cake and coffee and dumplings and wine and lunch and cheap and fancy and all sorts), but each of them really only enjoys one of those things. Getting them all together and catering for all the preferences and requirements can cause friction, though sometimes it’s really nice to hang out in a group.

          That number rating system would go such a ways to easing the pain, especially if everyone was honest. Honesty’s the key.

          I don’t know if it’s an Australian thing, but there’s a massive social pressure to be laid-back and casual and look like you’re too cool to be emotionally invested in a decision. Then the complex ‘I don’t mind’ dance commences: where each ‘I don’t mind’ is assumed to mask a secret preference, which nobody will dare negate by suggesting an actual suggestion.

          1. My friends group has a chronic problem with the “I don’t mind” dance. The way we solve this is to list all the options we have, and then take it in turns to eliminate one each. You MUST eliminate one when it’s your turn. What we’re left with is the option nobody cared strongly enough against to eliminate.

        3. I did a Master’s in maths and ended up in a friends-group where everyone was a mathematician who hated expressing preferences (I generally fall more on the picky side of things, but ended up censoring myself because I was worried we’d only ever do what I wanted otherwise). The way we dealt with this was that we had a rating system (not strictly numerical – I think it went “veto, preference against, mild preference against, neutral, mild preference for, medium/strong preference for”) and we’d hand around a piece of paper with everyone’s names and the available options where everyone would fill in their row. I forget the exact system we used to determine e.g. the restaurant we were going to in the end – I think it was something like “remove all vetos, then remove all with a preference against, then (maybe) all with a mild preference against, then figure out which of the remaining is most popular” – but it worked *really* well – the “piece of paper where everyone writes down their rating” helped with the people who were too shy to honestly say they didn’t want to go to X place verbally to the group. I specify we were mathematicians because the system is probably a bit more complex than most people think necessary. >>

      2. I had a partner I used to do this with. It was awesome. We’d do -5 to 5, so we could express “negative, neutral, positive.” Generally, we’d do things if we added them together and got a positive number, not if the number was negative, and talk it over if we were neutral.

        My current partner says “But my number is dependent on your number.” and I’m all like YOU’RE MISSING THE POINT.

        1. Ahahaha, I am totally like your partner on my bad days. “No, I want to be absolutely certain I can be more laid back than you! Trusting you with emotional management of this situation is really uncomfortable!” I mostly do it after I’ve had to deal with severely passive-aggressive people like my relatives, who WOULD make a point of always ranking their preferences less strongly, and then get angry that their preferences were never followed. /o\

      3. I think this is a wonderful technique – with one caveat. My partner and I do a similar thing (although without the actual scoring, which I will suggest!), but his preferences are generally stronger than mine – for example, if we’re going to eat out, he always feels about 8 about Chinese, and I have a 4-5 preference for Italian. That means that we can get to the point where I still feel about 4-5 about Italian, but 9-10 about actually getting my way occasionally, so we have to take that into account as well.

        1. I used to have that with a former partner but about home cooking, like how often we’d cook fries vs. mashed potatoes for example. A strong preference about getting my way occasionally is a good way to put it!

    2. “Suddenly, the conversation about how they upset you turns into one where you are apologizing to and comforting them”

      My mother has this down to an art form. The most mild comment is likely to draw Guild Shrapnel. From today:

      me: Oh, hey, did you move the ice tea I was drinking?
      Mom: Geez, I don’t do ANYTHING right. What else did I do wrong today? I’m such a bad mother.

      She’ll do things that are truly aggravating and inconveniencing to other people, like losing important bills or paperwork, and then blame them for being aggravated and inconvenienced. It’s truly something to witness.

      1. This is 100% my mother. I think I need a recording on repeat that says, “I am not having needs AT you. I am not asking general questions to prove you’re a terrible mother.” that I can just play 6 times every conversation.

      2. I’ve fallen so deeply in love with “How do you want me to respond to you when you say something like that?” since I started using it. Because if they want, I will totally reassure them that I love them and think they are worthy! …But then they will tell me where my iced tea is.

        1. Oh man, I should try that one on my dad sometimes. Why did I never think of it?
          I love my dad dearly, and we usually get along great, but when he’s had a particular rough time at work, or is just having a bad day, he can become the master of having passive aggressive guilt trips at you, and any sort of minor critique, or anything he perceives as such, will set him off.

          Clearly he doesn’t want me to confirm that yes, everything in the world is his fault, but I also don’t feel like apologizing and placating him, just because I suggested the pasta sauce he cooked is a bit on the salty side. Maybe this will produce something useful.

      3. Oh my god my grandmother. Once, she washed a pair of my pants (I did not ask her to do this), ruining them with bleach in the process. When I asked, “Hey, what happened here?” it turned into a GUILTSPIRAL and I ended up having to comfort and reassure her. SHE RUINED MY PANTS AND I WAS AT FAULT. I still don’t understand how the fuck that happened.

    3. Oh, God, you’re dating me. I used to do that ALL THE TIME. I’ve gotten better and now usually just express a choice instead of spiraling. But years of this have trained me well.

      I think the best approach for me is to take the person at their word- they say, “Where would you like to go for dinner?” and it means, “Where would you like to go for dinner?” without trying to translate it through Jerkbrain, because Jerkbrain is jerky.

    4. In my current relationship, we are both fairly “easygoing”, and also very concerned with making sure the other person is getting their needs met, and it has occasionally created a feedback loop where I try to get them to express a preference without expressing my own because I’m worried that they’ll just go along with it without taking their needs into account, and they are doing the exact same thing with me, and we are both aware of what’s going on.!

      I totally do that! And I have friends who do it too.

      One time two of my friends and I were hanging out in a city, and when it came time to get some food, it turned out that all three of us were terminally indecisive and skittish about asserting preferences. We seriously wandered around for an hour trying to decide where to eat – or, rather, trying to get someone else to decide where to eat.

      This turned out to be a very valuable experience, because when we realized that nobody was gonna be the assertive decision-maker, we all began to Use Our Words in calm, measured, non-assertive, but very clear ways. Like “I would somewhat prefer X type of food, though really I’m fine with anything.” Or “I’m not really feeling this place, though if you guys are really excited about it I’d be okay with eating here.” And once we had all stated our (weak) preferences, we managed to come to a decision 🙂 And we all acquired a new skill!

      1. In situations like that, I’m a big fan of “…Okay, if nobody cares, I am going to make an arbitrary decision and say Restaurant X! If anybody wants to veto that in favor of something else, go for it.”

        It communicates that I’m not actually expressing the secret preference I had all along — the key is to admit explicitly that this is arbitrary and for the sake of decisiveness — but that I am expressing a preference for us actually deciding somewhere to go before the next century. And sometimes someone will indeed go “Enh, I’m not feeling Thai right now, really — what about that Italian place back there?” If no one vetoes the Italian place, then AWESOME, WE HAVE A DECISION, LET’S GO.

        I run into this not infrequently in my group of friends, because a lot of us genuinely are pretty easygoing, and will state our anti-preferences (“I just had pizza for lunch, I’d rather not have that for dinner too”) but then wait for someone who actually cares strongly to make the call otherwise. Which is great up until you realize that no one cares strongly, and so no one’s stepping forward to resolve the issue.

        1. Another thing that can work is “okay, I’ll pick three places at random/that are nearby/whatever, then X rules one out, and Y picks between the final two.”

  13. I want to hone in on this a little bit:

    However, I don’t want to make her feel like she has to be cool all the time – enough pressure to do that.

    I’ve recently tried to be good about stating my disappointment (while still agreeing to the change). The last couple times I’ve done this, S looked at me with some panic and started apologizing and explaining profusely. I told her it was fine but felt like I was in charge of managing her emotions.

    LW, does your friend describe herself as picky? Because what I’m reading into this here is not someone who’s trying to manipulate the people around her into Her Rules, All The Time; it’s someone who has a very narrow, well-defined comfort zone, a self-image (not self-imposed) as “the picky one/the pain in the ass”, and a fear of having to justify her own boundaries.

    Reiterating point #3 in the Captain’s answer, having been both “the easygoing one” and “the self-protective personal boundary enforcer” in reaction to abusive and controlling relationships, I recognize that framing. Both come by it honestly, indeed.

    Like others have said above, I think you’re already doing everything right. You’re providing compassionate company in which she can explore and test her own boundaries a little. A couple of things you can do to up that even more:

    – when she starts down the panic-apologize-explain pattern, STOP her, tell her it’s okay, tell her EXPLICITLY that you are not having needs/boundaries AT her, and reassure her of your affection and respect. “It’s not about you, I’m enjoying hanging out with you, I’m just really interested in this artist. I know you’re tired. Would you like to just go ahead and go, and meet me at the cafe down the street in half an hour? I would love to know what you thought of the exhibit.”

    – when you make a statement that she reads as a request (echoing staranise above), explicitly point it out.
    [drive past X Restaurant]
    A: Oh, I love that place.
    B: *slightly panicked* Did you want to go there? I thought we were going to Y.
    A: Nope, that was just a comment. A suggestion would look like “Oh, let’s go THERE instead.” I am looking forward to Y. Maybe another time, though!

    – when she starts echoing this behavior back to you – stopping an emotionally charged moment to explain in calmer tones – explicitly thank her and express your affection.
    B: I don’t mean to complain, I just find the noise and the people here really uncomfortable.
    A: I really want you to enjoy yourself and I didn’t realize it would be this uncomfortable when I made plans. Thank you for being honest about it. Would you be okay with finishing out the event/leaving and meeting up later/waiting until intermission to move/whatever? We can plan differently next time.

    Looking at these scripts, there’s a lot of explaining. That’s okay.

    I think a lot of time, misunderstandings between people acting in good faith come from social shorthand and trying to communicate big, complex feelings and concepts in gestalt. (see above: misreading statements as implicit requests). Using our words takes more WORDS, and time, and that’s time that can also be used to catch our breath, sort our thoughts, and express ourselves through body language. Words and time can help take the emotional urgency out of an uncomfortable situation, help ease past it, and turn it into a learning and growth experience. Taking that time is an act of kindness.

      1. Yesssss!!! (Long-term lurker here, and your comment inspired me to actually reply for once!)

        I have a lovely friend who’s recently been through a lot of therapy, and I’m noticing a knock-on effect on me – it’s very refreshing. At the beginning, she was incredibly indecisive, struggled to make any plans at all, and then had a frustrating tendency to bail at the last minute. And now – she’s still fairly indecisive, and she still changes her mind at the last minute when she realises she hasn’t got the time or energy or social stamina to do whatever she’s agreed to, but now she shows her workings, so I can tell what’s going on. And it means that we have some very honest and direct conversations, because if I know that she might pull out of something we’ve agreed, I can also be upfront with her about whether or not that’s likely to be a problem for me, and vice versa.

        It’s working so well that I find myself doing the same thing in other relationships; so if I’m not sure whether or not I’ll be awake enough for a social event, for example, I ask whether the other person would prefer for me to be a ‘maybe’ or to just say ‘no’ outright. It turns out that a lot of people really like it when you use your words.

  14. “My gut feeling is that both kinds of folks come by it honestly. At one time or other in their lives, I’m betting that someone taught them that they would not be respected or believed when they said they needed something. Some coped by avoiding the issue and shutting down, some coped by fighting harder, and those extreme coping methods helped them survive whatever that situation was but have become maladaptive over time or when applied to other contexts.”

    So much this. I was raised in a household where I was not allowed to have needs, especially emotional ones, because they were inconvenient to my dad. I have trouble recognizing when I have a need, let alone saying something about it. It protected me when I was little, but it’s making mature relationships with other mature people difficult. The majority of the serious fights I’ve had with my husband have been because I let a need go unexpressed or even completely unrecognized for too long, until it built up and came out as anger. My husband’s very kind and accommodating if I can actually identify what I need and ask for it, but getting rid of this programming is going to be the work of a lifetime.

    1. “Getting rid of this programming is going to be the work of a lifetime.”

      Yeah. One of the unexpected benefits of having kids is that it put me into ‘debug mode.’ I can see myself programming my kids and it gives me the opportunity to make some tweaks to my own programming.

      My mother was a second-wave ‘Superwoman’ which meant that she was already doing more than she could handle, and my under-employed, alcoholic, step-parent was not helping. So I learned to meet my own needs, as mom would start crying with guilt at being a bad parent if I asked for anything, and Step was best when avoided.

      This led to my being the sort of person that would hop around on a broken ankle for several months while insisting everything was fine, didn’t need any help, thank you. When in fact I permanently injured myself, and should have let someone pay for me to see a doctor.

    2. I didn’t really recognise this about myself until I was in a psych assessment where they asked me what I want to do with my life and I started talking about what was realistic, socially responsible, etc. They had to ask me a few times with increasing emphasis on the WANT before I admitted a couple of vague ideas.

  15. I am sometimes the friend, in that I want to do things and then… I run out of spoons/cope/energy/whathaveyou. And museums are surprisingly exhausting. Like, they are one of the most exhausting things I can do. It doesn’t seem like it should be that way but there you go. Lately I don’t even make the plans, because I feel so bad about cancelling them all the time, and the only people I see are the people who are like family — and work. It’s just all the energy I have.

    So I wouldn’t have the spoons to plan the thing, and then if upon getting there I found that it wouldn’t work as well as I’d hoped, or I couldn’t keep going as long as I wanted, it just sucks. I do get into apology fits sometimes because I feel terrible about it. I don’t want to be spoiling people’s fun just because my body doesn’t work right these days. It sucks.

    I like to think I deal with it better than your friend — I make a strong effort to not make it about me, I rest when I have to and let others have their fun, I make suggestions instead of guilt trips when it comes to splitting up and meeting later kinds of things. Still, my friends have to take care of me sometimes, and they’re learning ways to do so efficiently — and I’m learning to just accept it without guilt and pay it back in love later.

    One of the top things my friends do is refuse to accept my negative self-talk. Sometimes they challenge it directly, sometimes they dodge it. But they don’t accept it as the Truth Of Things Today. They give me positive reinforcement instead. That helps set us as a team solving a problem instead of opponents.

    Sometimes we sort of put aside time for the Gripefest of Why All This Shit Sucks. You might make space for your friend to have that time, and set it aside from any conflict or planning about what you’re doing. I mean, sometimes you just want to whine about how it’s not fair, because it’s not, and then you kind of get it out of your system for the moment and move on. Making space for that might help her feel heard — or it might make you feel more responsible for her feels, I guess, in which case don’t do that.

    I guess overall, the captain’s advice is really, really good. I just feel your friend’s pain, as well as yours, and it’s not fun, so I hope you can work it out soon.

    1. Seriously, what is it with museums? They exhaust me too! I have a secret theory that whatever climate control settings they require to maintain the art ends up physically stressing living things.

      1. It’s all the slow walking and standing. Human being aren’t really designed to do either for long periods of time.

        These days I deal with musems by striding boldly from wing to wing, which seems to help a little bit 🙂

        1. Exactly this! Starting to use a wheelchair made SO much difference to my ability to enjoy museums, seriously.

      2. I actually enjoy museums – but only if I’m alone. If I’m with somebody the need to keep track of them and either wait for them to look at something I’m not interested in or hurry up and finish looking at something I’m interested in because they want to move on is stressful and causes me to hate museums.

        (Note that I lose people very easily in even a small crowd, so “need to keep track of them” is a big stressor for me. I can’t rely on finding them easily, usually they find me.)

        1. What I’ve found is useful when going to museums with a group of people is to pick a post to meet as if we get separated (often by room/floor, not just for the end). This both alleviates the stress of having to find each other or do a big texting round-house to track everyone down and sets the expectation that it’s okay if we don’t stay together. (I’m a compulsive reader who wants to read every single line on the signs, so I’m super slow in museums. And I hate someone hovering or peering over my shoulder trying to hurry me.)

          Not sure if that would be helpful for you, but it works for my social groups.

      3. Museums are my favorite things ever, but yes, they are incredibly draining. With me it’s a combination of the ‘museum walk’ – that slow walking an standing on hard floors that slowly destroys my feet and back – and sheer overload: my eyes and brain simply can’t take in any more information. I actually looked at a friend once and said, ‘I can’t look at any more beautiful things.’

      4. Yeah, I was going to say it’s definitely a lot about the slow walking but I think it’s also about concentrating on the art or the exhibits, taking in information and , in some cases, the mere presence of a work of art or a whale skeleton or an impressive or intricate machine can have an effect on you.

      5. Yeah, pretty much. Lots of mental stimulation with standing and walking and paying attention so you don’t accidentally run into people while staring at the artwork, and it’s usually just a bit too cold at least for me… I love it when there’s enough benches that I can actually sit down from time to time. I also miss the Smithsonian. Free museums means you don’t feel guilty for pooping out after 20 minutes (at least, not for financial reasons), or even just deciding that you weren’t really in the mood for portrait galleries after all and want to go look at spaceships instead.

        1. Free museums are THE BEST. The one where I grew up was free to enter with a donation bowl, where I live now certain floors are free and the major exhibits have a charge. It applies to things like the zoo as well though – normally entry is $21 but if you have a yearly pass it’s free so it doesn’t matter if you don’t go the whole way round and look at all the animals. Considering it’s on a hill with a couple of quite steep tracks that’s very good for me and I only go to the top on some visits.

    2. I’m with you on the museums AND the planning. Initiating making plans and following through with the making of plans (nailing down the “when are you free?” “what time?” “who’s driving?/where should we meet?” blah blah) is one of my most spoon-expensive activities. I don’t know what’s what that.

  16. I have a close friend like this, and the way I’ve tried to deal with it is simply being more thoughtful about what I invite her to. She’s both picky and a big complainer when things don’t go her way, so I’ve learned over time that there are certain activities where we can have an awesome time together (i.e. things where my preferences align with her) and things we just shouldn’t attempt to do together — I just go to those type of things with other friends. I’ve also learned to be very clear about the things she won’t like ahead of time when inviting her to group things where it would feel weird to exclude a good friend, but I know what I’ve picked won’t be her thing — i.e. “I’m having my birthday dinner at an outside venue, where it will be pretty loud and potentially chilly. Make sure to bundle up, or we can grab a special lunch another time if you prefer.”

  17. Thanks for scripts CA. My biggest gripe is when you plan something, then last minute or close to it the person either doesn’t want to go, or maybe doesn’t feel well, but instead of saying “do you mind if I bail on this for reasons?” They go anyway, complain, act grumpy and are all around a pain in the ass. Pretty much makes what should have been a good time, a lousy outing. I guess I can deal with this the same way in most cases – but last time it happened was Renfest and the unhappy so you have to be unhappy too person was the driver. It was so bad, I almost told her to go home and I’d hitch a ride with strangers, but my caution kicked in.

  18. One thing the letter writer might want to try is introducing the 100% concept into the friendship. The basic idea is for everybody to just state up front 100% of what they want, and then make a decision from there. It’s nice, because a surprising amount of the time, everyone can get what they want, and even if they can’t, everyone’s needs and preferences are heard.

    I bring this up mainly in case there’s some big difference between the way you perceive the friendship, and the way your friend is perceiving it.. (For example, she may feel like she’s bending over backward to choose activities that the letter writer wants to do–in her head, it may be “Well, if I have to go to this concert even though I’d rather watch a movie at home, at least I can sit where I want to” without realizing that you would’ve been fine with the home movie option.) Even if that’s not the case, I think it would help to sort of expose the “favor reserve” all the time, not just times when you’re putting your foot down.

    1. This is great! My husband and I are both Easy-Going People, which means we can be comically willing to sacrifice our preferences for the other.

      We once sat through a showing of Hunger Games when we were both really tired and uncomfortable (fancy clothing & uncomfy squeaky seats) and wanted to go home but didn’t want to impose on the other person. We were walking out of the theater and one of us said, “Wow, I’m so tired I could have just left half way through and gone home to sleep,” and the other said, “Oh my gosh, me too. Why were we here 90 minutes longer than we wanted to be?!”

      So now we use “Hunger Games?” as our shorthand for “I’m not really enthusiastic about this anymore and would like to do something else but I am willing to continue if that’s what you’d like and I don’t want to make you feel like I’m having a terrible time at this thing that you were excited about but are you possibly feeling the same way?”

      Using the 100% concept would help us to avoid that situation from the beginning and could be a more direct way of dealing with changed enthusiasm levels. Not that secret partner-codes aren’t cool too.

      PS We did really like The Hunger Games, but an 11:30pm showing after a big dinner was not a recipe for an enjoyable total movie experience. Also, squeaky AND uncomfortable seats are the worst. “I have to move now or my legs will revolt against me. BUT THE OTHER MOVIEGOERS WILL HATE ME AND GLARE.”

  19. I’m pretty laid back (and when I was younger, a bit pathologically so) and I have noticed that laid back types seem to attract picky friends, and visa versa. The friends I still have from my early 20s are much more picky than friends I have chosen more recently, and it’s always a little bit of a negotiation between “paying the price of admission” vs. limiting my time with them vs. establishing a new paradigm between the two of us. Sometimes the negotiation has involved all three things. With one friend, I ended up not speaking with him for two years, then establishing a new, much stronger relationship, but I accept that I will always be going to the restaurant that he likes (even if he asks where I want to go).

    I’ve found that it is actually pretty rewarding to go through the process of working this stuff out. As for a laid-back type, you learn that you can choose what you want, and if a friend won’t negotiate at all with you, you may decide the friendship isn’t valuable for you after all.

    I hope that helps, LW!

    1. I have noticed that laid back types seem to attract picky friends, and visa versa.

      Absolutely. As a needs-denying person, the most difficult (yet often most rewarding) friendships I’ve had is with other people who try to accommodate others. After a few passes of self-abnegating at each other (since I’m very good at avoiding questions that try to fish out my actual feelings or preferences) we have to actually level with each other. It’s less immediately stressful to be around someone who will advocate for their own needs for me, because then the question of what I want (which is sometimes frightening, because I get afraid of wanting the wrong thing) rarely comes up.

  20. Oh man, this is one I’m terrible at – I’m admittedly a complete doormat when it comes to picking places to eat/hang out with my friends. They know I can’t stand pizza, and won’t eat it, but they still like to go to places that only serve pizza and want to make me chip in for the bill, even if I don’t eat anything there and spend half the time in the bathroom heaving because just the smell of pizza makes me violently ill. I am not very social, so I don’t really get out a lot and know many areas outside of where I work and where I live, so picking places to go or eat is nearly impossible for me. Add in the fact that I’m terrified of disappointing people, or making someone do something they don’t want, and I usually just let everyone else pick what they want to do, and just go with it, even if I hate what they want to do and will end up A.) going hungry B.) Being bored out of my skull or sometimes even C.) Having a panic attack.

    This has resulted in me dreading hanging out with my friends, to the point that I’ve pretty much dropped completely out of the social circles I did have. I rarely get invited to anything anymore, and if they do invite me it’s usually to something they know I either hate or just plain can’t handle, so I’ll have to decline.

    Mostly I just go to work then come home and mess around on the computer, or with my cat. If I do go somewhere it’s probably with my roommate, since he’s more tolerant and has a better idea of my various problems, but that’s very rare as our work schedules are both whacked out and we’re both pretty busy with life stuff.

    So…cautionary tale. Being over-accommodating and/or picky are both bad routes to go, and can end up disrupting or outright destroying your social life. Try to find a good balance – like, take turns deciding on stuff, and make agreements beforehand. Like, she picks what to do one day, you get to pick where to eat, or something like that. Or, she gets to decide all that stuff one day, and the next time you hang out, you do. No complaining unless there is a serious issue, no guilt-tripping, no whiny manipulations.

    1. It sounds like those are some pretty terrible friends. Are you sure you wanted to hang out with them in the first place?

    2. I’m having a hard time understanding the level of rudeness/entitlement of your friends! They pick an activity/food you can’t stand, you come along to hang out, they expect and even demand that you pay for it? YOU are not the awkward one in this scenario!

    3. Oh man, that sounds painful. I hope you find a way to build more positive relationships in the future, where your friends can benefit from your presence without significant cost to you.

    4. omg you guys … Does anyone have insight into what “I’m terrified of disappointing them or making them do something they don’t want to do” us all about? I’ve been known to completely freak out over choosing a film on Netflix, even one I haven’t seen, in case my partner or friend doesn’t like it. (And then hates me? Or just feels bad or uncomfortable? Or is just indulging me but is secretly seething with resentment?)

      You can extrapolate the effect that this has had on my sex life and social life … that is, works great if I can identify someone who statedly wants what I want but hoo boy, if they’re not my libido/interest clone …

      Socially this means I usually try new things out solo before floating them with anyone else – or making new friends in that milieu so I don’t have to introduce old friends to that new interest or activity and thus gave to justify it/risk them not liking it/what have you. Again, this is a less viable strategy for one’s partnered sex life. 😉

      I trace it back to family dysfunction (“but you’re not entitled to NEEDS! Why are you having a meltdown?). So … but … what now?

      1. I think it’s fear of being covertly loan-sharked, where you don’t know that you’re putting yourself in debt to a person, but you are, and they’ll try to collect later. Or that they’ll bottle all their feelings up until an explosion happens.

        It can help to make it really normal for people to say no or express their preferences, so you know that if they don’t like something they’ll say so. Or make offers that aren’t demands, so they have to enthusiastically agree before it happens.

        Then you can get used to being okay with not caretaking somebody else’s emotions. Don’t let somebody blame you for their failure to express their needs or preferences. If they knew it was okay for them to say no and they didn’t, that was a choice they made, and responsibility rests with them. If they’re not happy that they said yes to something they ended up disliking, their lesson is not to say yes to it again; it’s not your fault.

      2. I used to have this very badly, and it still returns in waves & in certain situations. (It used to be especially bad around gift-giving times.) Some things that have helped me include: not taking excessive responsibility for other peoples’ feelings, trusting that people will use their words (and making sure people know they can & shoudl use their words) if they have preferences/desires, not living “for” other people, trying to figure out what I want (independent from someone else’s preference – this is for some reason really hard for me to do, and much easier if I’m physically alone.) Not making each small thing a moratorium on a friendship – Like, honestly, if I say, “Hey, do you want to go do xyz”, and the person says, “Meh, I dont’ really like xyz,” that’s totally ok, and it’s the most likely “worst case scenario.” And finding lots of really great people who don’t need/want me to subsume myself to their identity, and who don’t prompt that type of behavior in me.

    5. MateytheFirst – wow, that sounds really horrible. I agree that they aren’t behaving like good friends.

      About the unfamiliarity with places to eat….when you’re messing around on the computer, would you be able to look up restaurants in different areas around your town/city and try to determine if you would be okay going there? (Not sure if you have other food limitations besides no pizza, and it would definitely depend on where you’re located.) Plenty of places have menus posted online and Yelp/Urbanspoon/Google maps are always handy for reviews. Also, I find it hard to think up restaurants on the spot so you could have a couple tucked away in your memory. Maybe you could even try them out on your own (if that’s not too stressful) or invite your roommate or a coworker you like/friendly acquaintance/someone else.

  21. People have already offered so many excellent suggestions, but I’ll add my piece. My partner isn’t laid back so much as extremely nonconfrontational. This manifests as being willing to abandon hir own plans/itinerary when I ask about the possibility of adding an item or hir availability to assist with something. But being kinda passive-aggressive about it, or clearly unhappy at the change.

    So then I have to call a time-out to discuss the situation. Because I am not demanding the change, just inquiring about the possibilities, but parner tends to assume that saying no is not an option or that hir own needs/preferences are not as valid as mine. Thus I have to probe and ask what hir original plan was, what hir preferences/needs are, and then discuss what option works best for both of us.

    This puts the burden on me, but I am trying to explicitly talk it all out as a way to model that both of us need to feel satisfied with the outcome and that it is possible to get there. And that it is okay to say “No, I can’t help with that right now” or “I’d really rather do X today.” I am hoping that over time, zie will be more comfortable expressing hir needs and negotiating rather than falling into the overly accommodating “victim” mode and resentfully capitulating. Clear communication rather than shutting down. The goal is to shift the burden to a more equal distribution over time as hopefully the maladaptive coping is replaced with more functional tools.

    So you may need to do something similar with your picky friend–paying attention to nonverbal cues and so on and, for example, perhaps asking if she’s hit her limit and should we consider some options at this point so that both our needs can be met in this moment. By opening the discussion, you get to frame it, which can be really helpful in making the options open-ended rather than some sort of zero-sum dichotomy. And it may short-circuit the shame spiral because she doesn’t feel forced to speak up and be too demanding. Maybe?

  22. I ended up having further thoughts on the “laid back” perspective, which I guess is me. It’s rather more a “needs-denying” thing, if I’m honest. I picked it up as my first MO for gaining friends after being socially ostracized for a long time, and I’m in a helping profession, so it’s really hard for me to break out of that mindset and just tell people how I feel or what I want. For a long time, I seriously could not imagine why people would hang out with me if I weren’t providing them with an obvious benefit. Asking for things was scary because suddenly I had nothing to offer the person but inconvenience.

    But my body, stubbornly, doesn’t let me ignore its needs as much as I’d like. I’m disabled, so if I don’t do what it says, it’s really easy for me to end up pain-wracked, exhausted, and incapacitated by emotion. Not to mention, when I try to eat a food I dislike, my gag reflex gets triggered and there is no way I can get the food down my throat without looking like I’m dying. So when I don’t make my needs clear, it’s very easy for my companions to wind up insulted, frustrated, mortified, or guilty. My friends are good people, and they hate the thought of being inconsiderate or causing me pain. Then I feel bad, for giving them cause to feel that way. So to prevent this from happening, I have to let people know that my pedestrian mobility is limited to a fraction of an abled person’s, or that I don’t deal well with large classes of food.

    My mind-hack for needing to state my preferences, but disliking it, was developing the rationale: I want this person to enjoy themselves, and they will not do so if I’m weeping in pain or I look like I have a bone in my throat. So I can accommodate them by making myself easy to help. By being very clear about my non-negotiables and making sure we’re within my capabilities, I can help things proceed smoothly.

    This is kind of a stopgap for “learning to be a real human being who is inherently worthy of love and belonging”, which was the process of more than a decade. I’m moving past this mindset, and am now learning to be okay with causing other people distress. But it worked for me for a good long while.

  23. I am the LW – Captain, thanks for answering my question and giving such a detailed and insightful response! Wow, a lot of that hit pretty close to home.

    “Picky, when you are picky, is armor.”
    My friend self-identifies as picky (which is why I included that in the parenthesis – I know it get used as a criticism pretty often) and sometimes I’ve wondered about that. Your explanation makes a lot of sense. S has some issues that I know she gets pushback on (mainly food limitations). Also, I have to admit the “favor reserve” sounds familiar.

    Previously, I have tried to bring up problems I had with other friends and it didn’t go well. I tried a calm “I have a problem with thing you said/did” and got the two red flags the Captain mentioned – either the “thing that happened to them as a child” or “I am having problems, why are you being mean, you do annoying things too” which…didn’t help. I’m hoping things will go better with S. I don’t think she’s at all intentionally manipulative – I think the shame spiral and complaining are her genuinely feeling bad or uncomfortable. She knows she’s picky and sometimes does things to, I think, make up for it but they don’t always help, as with the excessive apologizing.

    The scripts and suggestions were very helpful. I will have to try some of the scripts in cases like “The seats are too close.” I think the first time she said it, I tried to validate her feelings and agree with some of her points but by the third or fourth time she complained that night, I was getting irritated.

    I have done the go-to-the-concert-alone option. However, S is pretty much my default museum/concertgoing friend – she knows that. I still tell her about the concert after but sometimes she asks questions that I think are…not guilt-tripping but maybe wondering why I didn’t ask her. So she asks, “When did you go?” which is pretty normal but then also “When did you decide to go?” or “Was it a last-minute thing?” which (maybe I’m overanalyzing) seem to have connotations of – why didn’t you tell me? why wasn’t I invited? Did you decide this before the last time we saw each other? I usually just give a vague reply and ignore any other meanings. Am I reading too much into this? Maybe telling her about something she wasn’t invited to is a little weird and I should just not mention it? (Although no one was invited!)

    I’ve read through some of the comments and they are very helpful as well. I’ll try to address some of them individually.

    1. ” I still tell her about the concert after but sometimes she asks questions that I think are…not guilt-tripping but maybe wondering why I didn’t ask her. So she asks, “When did you go?” which is pretty normal but then also “When did you decide to go?” or “Was it a last-minute thing?” which (maybe I’m overanalyzing) seem to have connotations of – why didn’t you tell me? why wasn’t I invited? Did you decide this before the last time we saw each other? ”

      This sounds to me like probing for why she wasn’t invited. There are a few options to deal with this

      – don’t mention concerts that you didn’t invite her to, at least not right after the fact. Once they’re ancient history, if there’s an anecdote about a concert you were at last year, you can more easily deflect the probing with “Oh, I don’t remember”

      – call her on the apparent subtext: “It sounds like you wish I’d invited you – do you want to talk about that?” This could lead to a discussion about compromises on seat locations and so forth. Perhaps also about boundaries – you certainly have the right to decide to go to a concert alone for any reason at all!

      – answer the probing questions at face-value and act as if there’s no subtext unless she makes it explicit. “I decided to go about two weeks beforehand + [continue with conversation as if there’s no subtext]

      – pretend you don’t hear the probing questions and just respond to the rest of the conversation

      I’m sure there are other options as well. I think it’s kind of rude for a person to ask why they weren’t invited to something – sometimes people want to be alone, or be with a specific group of people, or keep the group to a specific size.

    2. You are so much not reading too much into that. I go through that exact question sequence when I feel left out and sad. Honestly, I would take Kacienna’s first or second response, because it sounds like S wants reassurance that you’re not sick of her. Something like: “I still really enjoy going to concerts with you, and I am happy to continue to make plans with you. But I really prefer sitting in the front sometimes, and I didn’t think you would enjoy that.”

      I think if these questions bother you, you need to address the subtext directly instead of ignoring it. If I were your friend and you acted like the under-question wasn’t there, I would be completely freaked out and wondering if you didn’t want to be friends anymore. Admittedly, that’s a bit much to expect of you, so perhaps you could tell her, “I feel like you’re trying to say something else — do you want to talk about it? Can you please talk to me directly about what’s upsetting you? I can’t always pick up on implications. I care about you and would rather discuss things up front instead of letting them simmer.”

      It’s really hard to be the person who needs to say, “I feel hurt and left out and I’m scared you don’t like me anymore,” even if it’s true, so if you can give your friend a safe way to say that to you, maybe she will have an easier time communicating clearly.

      1. It’s really hard to be the person who needs to say, “I feel hurt and left out

        Indeed. The last time I did, it cost me a friendship that I had considered to be pretty strong because [delete FEELINGSDUMP about how shitty the other person treated me]. At the same time, I still feel that saying ‘hey, friend, I am feeling totally ignored by you right now’ was the right thing, regardless of the outcome.

        1. Captain, I set the first line in italics, but it doesn’t show – could this be a problem with the template?

        2. I have a question for those on the other side (people feeling hurt and sad about being left out, asking probing questions) – what would be the best case scenario if your friend addressed the subtext of the questions? I can see that if they said something along the lines of “Oh, I didn’t realize you’d want to come, I’ll invite you next time” that would be desirable, but what if they gave you reasons you weren’t invited? Would it help or make you feel even worse? (All of this is assuming that Friend is acting like they like you in other respects.)

          1. I try to be a direct communicator, but sometimes when I am in a bad headspace, I will slip into these kinds of probing questions. Now, I can only speak for me, but usually, I am seeking reassurance that you didn’t leave me out because you hate me and I’m annoying, but rather to totally mundane reasons. So cutting me off with a, “Hey, it sounds like you might be upset by something, tell me what that is?” and then responding appropriately to that OR giving me the real reason while totally not engaging on any subtext and not making a big deal out of it would be the best strategies for me, but YMMV.

          2. Honestly, I think for me even a short, “Well, I didn’t invite you this time, but I still love you/we’re still friends, and maybe we can make plans next week,” would do it for me.

          3. If it’s ‘I didn’t think you’d like this’ then I have a chance to say ‘yes please’ or ‘I feel so-so, but I’d like to spend time with you’ or ‘I know I often have to blow off/leave early because of health/work/comittments/spoonage, but I still appreciate being invited’. If it’s ‘I only had space/spoons for x’ then I’d understand (still would feel a little hurt, probably, but try to keep the hurt to myself, because it’s on me.)

            The problem with ‘friend is acting like they like you’ is… my abandonment issues, let me show you them. Or not, as is the case. So it helps to have a really clear signal of ‘I’d prefer to do x with [someone else] but let’s do [really fun thing] soon rather than ‘let’s meet up sometime’ which tends to be more of a blow-off.
            And it depends – with really good friends this becomes a lot easier, – it will still sting a little, but it won’t hurt the friendship.

            I think if the answer was ‘you’re a little high maintenance at times, I just wanted to hang out with people who don’t tax me right now’ I’d probably prefer a polite brush-off… and something I can do, and a face-to-face talk about anything that’s problematic, though my experience with ‘trying to resolve stuff’ has been rather negative.

        3. One of the hardest things for me to accept has been that stating my wants and boundaries isn’t a magic spell for getting them fulfilled and respected. A lot of times it just gets me better information about why they’re not. That knowledge is useful and I’m always eventually glad I have it, but there’s a big gap between receiving it and being happy I have it.

      2. I think it takes courage to say “I feel left out and ignored when x happens” in a friendship and have that discussion.

        But, in my opinion, the probing questions where the person fishes for reasons they were not invited to something are counterproductive and self-sabotaging. When I am on the receiving end of this behavior, it makes me cringe, and it almost never results in the answer that the person wanted. Maybe if the “fishing” person is very lucky, the other person will tease out the subtext and open the discussion about the feelings that ends in reassurance. But likely courses of action when faced with a guilt trip:

        -Stop mentioning the events at all for fear of upsetting the fishing-person (or, should we say, anxious-insecure person) because you don’t want do deal with the friction.
        -Try to ignore the subtext of reassurance and fear of abandonment, not because you want to make it worse, but because you are trying to let the other person save face.
        -Irritation and defensiveness, because people get to just go to whatever by themselves sometimes. Or go with other people. Without justifying it or taking care of other people’s feelings about it. The simplest answer to “Why didn’t you invite me?” is “I didn’t want to.”

        “I didn’t want to” doesn’t mean “And I hate you.”
        It doesn’t mean “And I’ll never invite you to anything ever again.”
        By far the safest assumption when a friend did not invite you to some particular thing is “Hey, there was other stuff going on with the decision that had nothing to do with you.” That is a good message to send your Jerkbrain when it starts spiraling into the “Oh god, they must hate me” place. The best thing to say out loud? “Hey, that sounds really fun! Did you enjoy it?” (message = I am not going to make your fun night all about me) or “Hey, that sounds fun! Next time x band is in town, I’d love to come along.” (message = I am asking directly for a thing I would like in the future).

        I know that the feelings of worry & anxiety & abandonment are real, but the self-sabotaging nature of this behavior is also real. Guilt trips, if they ever work at all, only work for a little while, and guilt is a terrible motivator. “The person who always makes me feel guilty because they are worried I am avoiding them” quickly becomes “the person I am actually avoiding, because they make me feel guilty.”

        1. I’m not sure if I would even call it a guilt trip–full disclosure, I’m an avoidant person by nature, so when I’m feeling hurt and abandoned my response is just to disconnect entirely, so not quite the same. I have friends who are basically incapable of being blunt about that sort of thing, though, and if I actually catch the subtext (not always a given), I’ll try to reassure them.

          The caveat here is that these friends don’t do this sort of thing frequently, and that I’m more or less immune to guilt trips under most circumstances.

        2. I am really frustrated by this answer, because more than once in my life the decision not to invite me HAS been directly related to me. (Cue flashback to nightmarish memories of entire lab going on excursions that I later learned about on Facebook. And yes, I was showing obvious signs of depression/BPD! I understand their reasoning, but that doesn’t mean I can forgive them for it.) Then I am stuck in a place where I can’t ask what’s wrong or what I can do to fix it (because then I’m admitting that I’m hurt at being left out and trying to offload those feelings on someone else and that’s a bad person thing to do,) so I can only pretend like I don’t feel awful and ashamed for being excluded.

          I guess I am exasperated by advice that seems to say: Express your needs, feelings, and preferences in a timely fashion, or else any poor treatment you receive is your own fault, except not THESE needs, feelings, and preferences, because then any poor treatment you receive is your own fault.

          1. Hey. You are the expert on your own life, and you are dealing with some really hard stuff, like trying to rebuild friendships and working relationships after a crisis. So if what you are doing is working, then don’t listen to me. Do that thing that is working for you. We’ve been through enough of these threads now, I think, to know that you and I have wildly divergent styles about how we go about this stuff. Styles that would not be complementary if we knew each other in person. So I might not be even close for the right person for you to listen to about this stuff. I feel like these discussions end up really hurting and confusing you, and I don’t know what to do differently to make that stop.

            In response to your frustration:

            I guess I am exasperated by advice that seems to say: Express your needs, feelings, and preferences in a timely fashion, or else any poor treatment you receive is your own fault, except not THESE needs, feelings, and preferences, because then any poor treatment you receive is your own fault.”

            I do think that hinting (which is what asking a ton of questions that are designed to get a friend to reassure you after they do something without you falls under) doesn’t work as well as asking does, and that wanting that to not be true doesn’t make it true. Either people miss your point entirely, which leaves you frustrated, or they get your point but possibly decide to ignore it, which leaves you frustrated. Speaking up imperfectly doesn’t mean your needs aren’t important, or that you must express them perfectly or forever hold your peace, but the point of the site is to teach more direct methods of communication.

            Also, let’s talk about “you should express your feelings but not THOSE feelings.” What I mean is that there is some boundary stuff going on here. The prospect of friends hanging out without you may in fact trigger a lot of anxiety for you, but that doesn’t mean they are answerable for those feelings or that it’s reasonable for them to manage them. If I go to the movies with someone else (or by myself), and you learn of that fact in passing – saw it on Facebook, asked me what I did this weekend and I mentioned seeing it – and it engenders a lot of hinting and questions and need for reassurance from you, you are putting a lot of friction on my decision to do a thing that I had a perfect right to do. To you, it is a quest for reassurance that you are ok and we are ok. To me, in that moment, it feels like control.

            It sounds like the perfect friends for you will recognize your hinting and meet you more than halfway with reassurance, and you’ve given some helpful scripts for us so that we can stop the hinting juggernaut in its tracks compassionately when we encounter it.

          2. Thank you for taking the time to respond to me, though. There is so much good in this post, so much that makes things click into place for me (like the whole description of you feeling like you’re building up good credit by going with the flow, but no one else realizing how difficult that is for you — oy. That explains so many interactions. . . )

            But then I run up into this wall of something I can’t understand, like when it’s okay to speak up and when it’s not, or how you can speak up and how you can’t, and I feel like maybe the answer to all the problems I’ve been having recently is that I don’t speak this mysterious other emotionally enlightened language, and if I could just find a detailed enough grammar book, I might not make so many painful mistakes in understanding. (I know, bad metaphor, no biscuit.)

            For example: people get to do things without you. But how many events can you be left out of before you get to say something? Is one week of not being invited along to lunch (when for the previous six months you had eaten with this same group of people every weekday) long enough to ask what’s wrong? Two weeks? Three? For example: You’re not supposed to dump your feelings all at once on people. But when the situation is already bad, how can you explain that you need someone to make it explicitly clear if you are welcome or not, because you can’t tell? For example: People get to not take care of your feelings. But to what degree can you say, “I need this degree of reassurance [for example: if you can’t hang out with me now, give me a general time frame for when you might be amenable to making plans to hang out later], and if you can’t offer that, then I can’t be friends with you?” I don’t know if these are nuances or if they are really obvious to everyone else.

            It seems like there is a lot of advice (here and elsewhere) to the effect of, “The only power you have is to care less/be less invested/be ready to leave more (or at least act like it) than the person you are trying to form some sort of relationship with.” And that doesn’t seem like much power at all.

          3. Here is one other power that people have when they feel like they are being left out of plans other people make:

            Initiate the plans.

            Why didn’t you invite me to lunch yesterday?” is a question that is almost guaranteed, however valid, to put the other person on the defensive. It translates as an accusation, i.e. “You should have invited me to lunch yesterday.” What you want is for them to tell you how they feel about you, reassuringly, and put it on their radar that they should invite you next time and that’s important to you. What you’re gonna get back is some form of awkwardness, because it’s not lunch anymore. It’s FEELINGSLUNCH.

            Would you like to join me for lunch today? I want to try x new place” or “May I join you?” is a yes or no question. The person can say “Yes!” They can say “No, because reason.” They can say “Not today, we already have plans, but howabout Friday?” You don’t control the outcome, but you will explicitly know what’s up, and you will communicate that you actively want to spend time with them instead of waiting. THAT is power.

            I can’t say if these people at work want to be your friends, but I imagine they want to have some kind of cordial working relationship with you going forward and don’t want to deliberately make you feel crappy. The reassurance you want, that they like you? They want reassurance, too: Is this going to be lunch, or is it going to be FEELINGSLUNCH?

            Close friends will deal with FEELINGSLUNCH and schedule FEELINGSCOFFEE of their own.
            Coworkers? Mostly want reassurances that they will never have to have FEELINGSLUNCH with you.

            I feel hurt and left out when you guys have lunch without me,” is possibly Too Many Feelings to express at work, with people who are not your close friends. That stuff is for a counselor or close friend or journal – Get out the feelings in a safe place, so that when you are with others you can say a simple “May I join you?” or “Please come with me.” It’s not about being fake, but it is about protecting yourself where you are vulnerable from people you can’t necessarily trust to have your back.

            You don’t have to deal with the whole group. Pick the nicest person and ask them. Show them that you can have lunch (vs. FEELNGSLUNCH) and maybe things will relax. Take it really slow.

          4. Hey there Jane. Responding to your last comment to the good Captain.

            “when it’s okay to speak up and when it’s not, or how you can speak up and how you can’t, and I feel like maybe the answer to all the problems I’ve been having recently is that I don’t speak this mysterious other emotionally enlightened language, and if I could just find a detailed enough grammar book, I might not make so many painful mistakes in understanding.”

            The answers to these kinds of questions are annoyingly zen.
            There is no approved rule about when to speak up, so it is always the right time.
            There is no approved way to speak up, so the way you do it is always correct.
            There is no approved way to feel about things, so the way you feel is okay.

            That doesn’t mean your speaking up will be received in the way you want it to be, or that people will feel how you want them to feel, because other people have free will and will do whatever it is they want and feel how they feel, just like you do. That’s why there’s no rule book: people are all different and respond to everything in different ways.

            The Captain and friends aren’t laying down the law about The One True Way to deal with any interaction. It’s more about giving scripts that MIGHT help in a given situation. But we’re just a bunch of people on the internet; we’re all imperfect, we all screw shit up, we are all awkward, and that’s okay.

            In reference to your lunch example, maybe try this: initiate the invitation yourself. Instead of waiting for people to invite you, invite them. Make a decision to go to lunch at X place, and ask people if they want to join you there. This is a risk! And the outcome may be eating by yourself at X place (I recommend bringing a book. I love a good soup & sandwich & novel). But the outcome may also be “Hey! Yeah, great, but Lunch Buddies are all going to Y place, aren’t you coming with us?” or “OO, yeah, Lunch Buddies are wearing me down” or “That would be great! Lunch Buddies never asked me to lunch with them and that makes me feel weird.”

            Good luck out there. We all need it.

          5. The trick to telling other people you feel hurt or left out, but not dumping your emotions on them, is telling them about your problems without “them fixing your feelings” being the only non-hurtful way for that conversation to end. If you say, “I need you to do x or else I can’t be friends with you anymore,” their only choices are to acquiesce to make you feel better, or to refuse and end the friendship. That is a really awkward and uncomfortable place to put them in.

            Give people more than one way out, or trust them to be able to come up with their own fix. Say how you feel, but don’t make it so that the only acceptable outcome is the one you want.

            The secret-emotionally-enlightened bit is this part. It’s holding onto the fear and vulnerability and uncertainty right here, where you’ve put out how you feel, and you don’t know what you’ll get back. The hard part is resisting the urge to pile on demands or reasons or justifications that rule out the possibility of this ending well, but in a way you didn’t imagine. You have to breathe and remind yourself that you’ll survive, whether you get the response you want or not.

            Then, if you get a response that hurts, the traditional response is to freeze your face long enough to thank them for their time, make as gracious an exit as you can, then use whatever resources or allies you need to help yourself cope with disappointment. You can decide what to do with the relationship from there.

          6. @JenniferP: This gives me some good insight and some ideas for how to go forward with other friendships outside my lab. Unfortunately, I think part of my problem is that my role with regard to my coworkers was so ambiguous — sometimes it was “fellow student,” sometimes “supervisee,” sometimes “friend” — so it was incredibly difficult to gauge what degree of feelings or FEELINGS was okay.

            @CommanderLogic: Where does this leave room for reciprocity? I mean: they know where to find me. They’ve known where to find me for a year. Shouldn’t I draw some conclusions from the fact that they haven’t contacted me and maybe take the hint?

            @staranise: Okay. Again, this is good insight for me. I do wonder though: what if “you need to do [x] or the friendship is over” is the truth? Isn’t it sort of misleading to pretend that you will be okay with a compromise when you won’t be? In that case, do you just end the friendship unilaterally?

          7. I’m gonna answer for Logic in case she doesn’t see this- What if they feel just as awkward as you? What if they assume that you don’t come because you don’t want to, and/or they each assume that someone else invited you? What if it’s just gone on too long and they don’t know where to begin? What if it’s not an invitation thing, what if at any time you could have just walked up and plopped yourself down? What if they just aren’t thinking about you and the issue all that much?

            Do you want to 1) start to repair the relationship or do you want to 2) BE ASKED?

            You may never get #2, but doing the asking *might* be the opening you need for #1.

            Right now, you’re in option 3) Be sad and angry and feeling like the whole thing is out of your control.

            Is asking them to lunch harder than living with that for the rest of your time there? If it is, that’s okay, and that’s where the “letting go of that as a thing you want” comes in. But the worst case scenario, if you ask, is probably the status quo, and at least you’ve demonstrated “Hey, guys, I would like to fix this.”

            I really wish you luck in figuring this out.

          8. Hi Jane,

            I’ve spent a lot of time in university labs, so I’m interested in the dynamics of your problem.

            “I think part of my problem is that my role with regard to my coworkers was so ambiguous — sometimes it was “fellow student,” sometimes “supervisee,” sometimes “friend” — so it was incredibly difficult to gauge what degree of feelings or FEELINGS was okay.”

            Ah. That happens a lot in lab groups where some of the participants may be very young, so it’s not any kind of terrible personal failing on your part if you ran into that or misread a situation or part of one.

            Making friends of work colleagues is always a little delicate, because professionalism requires that even if things don’t work out, you need to have a professional working relationship.

            The thing to remember is that your work colleagues are always your work colleagues first and foremost, even if you’re all fellow students and sometimes hang out. And any kind of FEELINGSLUNCH or FEELINGS_anything is usually regarded as highly unprofessional between work colleagues and can have nasty consequences for the peace of the work environment, which will make a lot of people very unhappy.

            “I do wonder though: what if “you need to do [x] or the friendship is over” is the truth? Isn’t it sort of misleading to pretend that you will be okay with a compromise when you won’t be? In that case, do you just end the friendship unilaterally?”

            Are you talking about a work colleague? If so, I’m not sure how some kind of defining “ending a friendship” moment would work or why it would be desirable, because I assume you still want some kind of cordial working relationship with the person.

            Please forgive me if I’m not following your situation correctly, but it sounds like you had some kind of major life event that disrupted patterns of relating to your coworkers that you want back. I think you’d probably get further by letting go of what you *had* with these people and just focusing on what you can have now.

            For example, you can have now a work environment when you mainly keep a cheerful demeanor and greet each of them each day and smile when doing so. Asking people to lunch or coffee is something you can have now.

            Reassurance of your value as a person and that you are loved and wanted may not be something that you can have now from your work colleagues and it’s not a good idea to try to get that from your work colleagues anyway.

          9. Isn’t it sort of misleading to pretend that you will be okay with a compromise when you won’t be?

            Well, ideally, you wouldn’t pretend to be okay. You’ve stated that you’re unhappy with something, and done your accept the answer and leave routine. (As you get more used to it, you can have this second step conversation as a continuous flow with the first, but giving yourself a lot of space to process and calm down really helps.)

            So this is step 1 if you can’t reach a solution you like:

            You: I am unhappy with Thing.
            Person: I’m sorry. Can I try Solution?
            You: I will think about that, thank you.

            So then later you come back and say:

            You: I have been thinking about Solution. I don’t think it will work for me. I know that I need Requirements. Can you think of any solution you would be okay with that meets them?
            Person: No, I’m sorry, you have a Requirement that I can’t meet.
            You: Then I’m sorry, because this is a dealbreaker for me. If I can’t get my Requirements met, I can’t continue to do Thing with you.

            This may start a whole new round of negotiation, now that they know how much is on the line. You may negotiate, if you like, (giving them another chance, f’rex) but you don’t have to. It may also cause the person to say, “I’m sorry, but it looks like we can’t compromise,” and you end the relationship.

            What makes this relationship-ending different is that you should aim to be as calm as you can (which may not be calm, but y’know, try) and remember that this is not a judgment on either of you as people. Just because they can’t give you the kind of relationship you want/need doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, or unlovable, or that you don’t deserve it. And it doesn’t mean that they are a bad, unloving, or evil person. (I’m not saying they aren’t; but if they are, it’s for much bigger reasons than this moment.)

            You can choose to leave the friendship on temporary terms of mutual respect and affection, where your needs are just incompatible right now and you’d like to stop hurting each other; or you can leave on terms of deep affront and anger, like if you need them to stop abusing you and they aren’t going to stop any time soon. That’s up to you. But you’ve done made your feelings clear and given them a chance to try to fix things, so you can walk away with a clear conscience.

          10. I first want to note that this subthread has become really rich in advice and to thank you all.

            @Helenhungtindon: Your comment raised several salient points, I think. In the past (and now, if I’m honest) the idea of working with people who not-so-secretly hold me in contempt or dislike me, while I and they both pretend like everything is swell-dandy-fine, has been a nightmare past coping with for me. I also always thought that if I continued to be friendly to people who didn’t like me or respect me, they would assume that I was incredibly stupid in addition to everything else. “Doing social” (i.e. pitching my personality at a lighthearted, friendly, pleasant level) is very exhausting for me, and I have a lot of resentment about doing it for people who don’t actually care that much about me.

            I guess. . . if you have any ideas for how one rearranges one’s brain to cope with your inner demeanor not matching your outer one, that’s very helpful. (And yes, there is one coworker who I do not really even want to be cordial with. I would rather keep interaction to a minimum.)

            @Staranise: This. . . sheds a lot of light on certain past interactions, and perhaps will help me in better understanding future ones, so thank you very much.

          11. Jane, I’ve got a textbook case of Asperger’s, so I also used to have a lot of anger at continually being expected to pretend emotions I didn’t feel and enact strange and often dishonest-seeming social rituals. I hear you, is what I’m saying.

            But those things mostly no longer trouble me, so how did I get from there to here? I’m not sure there’s one simple answer, but I can tell you some of it. I’ll focus on the pleasant and professional demeanor at work.

            First of all, I discovered moods are contagious. Well, in a way I already knew that, because we all already know that. We all like being around people giving off some kind of pleasant mood, and we all find ourselves wanting to get away from people giving off unpleasant vibes.

            But I discovered moods contagiously affect productivity in a very measurable way — this was when I was working in factory production. I found I could speed up my entire team by a display of happy and upbeat mood. Seriously, it’s that extreme. And this was in a factory production job, where nobody really cares how you come across if you work well. And yet it still has this power.

            Which made me conclude that since one’s demeanor has such a powerful effect on the work getting done, it is literally a part of the job to at least not be a drag. It no longer struck me as “dishonest” or “pretending” since it was now categorized in my head as a fundamental responsibility for getting the job done.

            A professional demeanor is just plain part of any job, and if you aren’t doing it, you aren’t doing the job. I hear you if it’s hard, but the thing to do is budget your energy accordingly and to try to find jobs that don’t have a high upbeat-social component (which customer service jobs do, for example).

            It sounds like you’re saying the headspace you’re in is that your coworkers need to somehow prove they like you and care about you before you feel like the expectation that you have a positive demeanor is fair. That would be completely unreasonable. It’s completely unreasonable to expect coworkers to go around actively proving they like you and care about you as some kind of base requirement. That’s not what you’re there for.

            If you are in a headspace like that, one way to deal with it is to ask if you’re following your own expectations of others. Are you actively proving to each of your coworkers that you like and care about them to the degree you expect? Even if you’re not sure they even like you and they’re grumpy all the time and you don’t know how to approach them and it’s oh so awkward and hard but you’re going to prove you like and care about them anyway?

          12. Well my last comment seems to have vanished, into the ether or the spamfilter or goodness knows.

            Jane, I think I’m confused about who the different people you’re talking about are. It sounds like there are some people you used to be closer with, life intervened, now you’re distant, and you would at least like to be more cordial. Is that right? It also sounds like there are people you work with who you think dislike you. Are they among the people you want to be more friendly with?

            I think my vanished long comment comes down to: What do you want to communicate? If you want to communicate that talking to you or maybe having lunch with you might be a pleasant experience, having a pleasant demeanor and greeting your coworkers each day and smiling when you do it helps communicate that.

            Not talking, not smiling, and not having a pleasant demeanor does not convey, “It would be pleasant and easy to have lunch with this person”, but rather the opposite.

            Communicating that a chat with you would be easy and pleasant isn’t fake or dishonest if that’s the message you really do want to send. Demeanor that communicates that a chat or lunch with you might be awkward and hard work to draw you out and maintain the conversation — well, do you ask people to lunch if that’s how they come across?

        3. The reason why I decided never to do the probing questions thing is my own internal “enthusiastic consent model” of Doing Social Things.

          Back when I first learned about Enthusiastic Consent for sexual matters, I realized that part of it is that you can never really get enthusiastic consent if there are negative repercussions for “No.” Which meant that I had had to be enthusiastically fine with being told “No,” myself. Which meant that if I wasn’t in a place to be enthusiastically fine with, “No,” I wasn’t in a place to be engaging in the first place.

          I started to apply that to all social interaction. I’m really talented at the Aspie Ask-Me-A-Question-Get-The-ENTIRE-Answer-(And You’ll Never Get That 20 Minutes Of Your Life Back), so I’d long since learned to verbally check with people on how much answer they wanted to a particular question, and be cheerfully fine with whatever they chose. So it wasn’t terrible to start expanding that all over the place.

          So when I’m not included in something, I make it clear that I am beamingly fine with this and radiantly pleased that something fun transpired, whether I was there or not. My theory is that if there is no repercussion whatsoever for not inviting me, I will only get Enthusiastic Consent invitations. That’s my goal, anyway. It seems to work.

          I get sensory overload sometimes, so I just cheerfully assume that if I wasn’t invited, the inviter was facing a similar potential problem and just had to make a call on what they could handle and it had nothing to do with not wanting to invite me. That keeps the jerkbrain at bay.

    3. I think the first time she said it, I tried to validate her feelings and agree with some of her points but by the third or fourth time she complained that night, I was getting irritated.

      Another approach is, “Hey, when you complain about this, it comes across to me as you criticizing my actions and saying that I did something wrong. If that’s not what you meant, could you please knock it off with the complaining unless there’s something I can do to help?”

  24. Blarg, I have been the ‘easy going’ person before.
    We were roommates who also worked the same shift at the same job together (talk about too much time with one person! Especially when managers knew we were friends and figured we’d enjoy having desks next to eachother all day!) We had to leave early in the morning for work, and as it was so early, public transit was infrequent. Catch that one train to meet that one bus exchange or you’re going to be late by the time the next one comes!

    I wanted to leave earlier to ensure we wouldn’t be late. She would drag until the last possible second before putting on her coat. If we had to run, then fine but she was “not the running type” so there was no way to hustle if things were getting close to the wire. As it was, we never missed that train but it made me anxious to always be cutting it so close without even ‘running’ as an option. I tried suggesting we leave a few minutes earlier but she just told me I was being crazy, we were never late, so what was my problem? I wanted to mitigate any contribution I might make to our possibly leaving later than that last minute, so i’d get dressed and quietly wait by the door until she deemed it time to rise from her chair and put her coat on. I was told this wasn’t acceptable. Could I not look in her general direction while I waited? God! She doesn’t want that kind of unnecessary pressuring! Huh? Ok, so I worked at playing with my phone and sitting in the darkened den on the other side of the hall from where she was. Could I not SIT there like that? God, she didn’t need someone physical-prescence-nagging her while she tried to enjoy her last leisurely sips of tea! So I started only going to the door when it -was- that last minute. I started waiting in my bedroom. I didn’t want to pressure her in the mornings and if that’s what my standing there was doing, then, OK.. and every time it was the last second.

    Finally I decided this was silly, if she didn’t want to leave early then by all means, but I could just leave and meet her there at the station! I proposed this (with all kinds of awkward) and her response was that this sounded like something a crazy person would propose. Why would I not walk with my roommate to the same station we take to the same job? Had we ever been late? Well, had we? I tried another tack. Use those ‘I’ statements, self! Avoid a feelingsbomb! “Well, I just feel anxious..because of my own weird issues, Not you, me! So for me, it’s probably better I leave early for peace of mind and then you can enjoy your tea without feeling pressure. Win win?” and her response was “GOD! You’re SUCH a drama queen. I don’t even know what to say to crazy behavior like that.” “Wh.. drama que.. but I never say anything! I.. I try to be accomodating! I just.. I..” And of course then I started to look crazy/emotional because that response from her just made me cry. And then *I* felt bad for creating this situation! I should’ve set boundaries! I let this happen and what else was she going to do if I seemed OK with it?

    Ultimately it was a chance rennoviction from our place that had me seeking an alternative living set up with a different friend that got me out of that issue, and while it was never resolved, our friendship was more arms-length after that and better for it.

    1. I really identify with this, Alice. I think I’ve gotten better at using my words, but I sometimes default to being too accommodating. I think a good way to get your needs met in a situation like that is to respond without emotion and just say “Look, the way this goes doesn’t working for me, and it hasn’t worked for a long time. I’m going to leave early from now on.” Repeat like a broken record and make it non-negotiable – you don’t need her permission. “See you at the train station!” You don’t need this advice now but I sometimes do… I have been in situations, too often, where I wish I had responded with a boundary rather than try to accommodate and negotiate around my real needs.

    2. Also your friend’s comments about how crazy that is? Not very kind. Being anxious of missing the train is not bad, wanting to leave early to not miss the train is also not bad. Her reaction was not nice.

    3. Wow, that sounds really horrible and stressful, I’m sorry. It’s good that you’re no longer close friends as she sounds like a bad one. Also, the whole lives-entwined situation would make everything worse.

  25. Thanks for the replies! I usually do #3 from Kacienna’s list but will have to think about what I’d say for #2 (I might start doing some #1’s also). Most of this stuff happened earlier in the year or last year (no concert season during the summer) so I’m a bit hesitant to bring it up, but I think I might be able to say that she seemed stressed with our concert series last year (there were several issues besides the seats one).

    Jane, Hipposcriff – it’s good to hear from the other side. I think that I do a lot of things to keep up my half of the friendship but I can’t be sure how she’s interpreting things. I see her/initiate/respond frequently, but I have been described as a weird loner so my idea of “seeing someone a lot” might differ from S’s.

    I’ve noticed that she doesn’t ask those questions when I go to a concert with someone else (I had a previous concert buddy who moved away and a more recent friend who also likes going, though our friendship isn’t as longstanding as my friendship with S), so it seems to me that there’s also a subtext of “Going to concerts alone is strange.”

    1. I’ve had friends who think going to concerts alone is strange. They also thought that going out to eat, sightseeing or to Ikea on my own was like a solo Antarctic expedition. I tried very hard not to laugh.

  26. CA’s response was great. I just wanted to add that I see a theme of introversion + sensitivity to stimulation in your friend’s behavior. I have a little of this. I really hate sitting too close to the front of a movie theater because of it. If the sound is too loud and the camera swoopiness is too close, I will feel overwhelmed or even nauseous. You don’t need a diagnosis or a disability to have some mild but real issues like this. Similarly, sensitivity to noise / very mild claustrophobia / introversion or mild social anxiety can make a person want to come late / leave early to a stimulating event like a museum exhibit, even if they are really interested and excited.

    Some of these issues might be ones where she honestly can’t change a lot. That doesn’t mean you should tolerate a pattern of never getting your way, being let down, and yet you are the one who gets complained at all the time. But I want to emphasize CA’s advice to seek out events where your needs sync up, if you can.

    If leaving early is a pattern, you can also give her a heads-up when something is extra important to you. “Hey friend, I’d love it if you came to Thing with me, but I plan to stay for hours because I’m really psyched about it.”

  27. [blockquote]The other red flag is when the person constantly dredges up old fights and old slights. You don’t have to forgive, and you definitely don’t have to forget, but in an ongoing, mutual relationship, where everyone has apologized, done their best to make amends, and made sure not to repeat the offending behaviors, responding to “I wish you would stop doing x” with “We could try to fix it, but instead, let’s review, in detail, every single time you have ever been wrong” is equivocating. Badly.[/blockquote]

    Agreed. I have a question about a variation of this, though. What if the old slight is one you’ve never resolved with the other person?

    Say your friend occasionally does behavior X. You find it somewhat annoying, but you’re not sure if you’re being reasonable in your annoyance. Or maybe it annoys you in a way you can only articulate later, and it doesn’t seem like a big enough deal to bring up that long after the fact. Or you do bring it up, but your friend doesn’t think it’s a big deal and you’re still not happy. Then, one day, your friend becomes angry with you because YOU did X.

    Do you:

    1. Bring the past into the discussion (“But you do X too!”)

    2. Be mature, do the recommended active listening, and stay focused on the present, all the while inwardly gritting your teeth because Friend does X too! (You might also resolve to call Friend on X the next time it comes up, but … why doesn’t that ever actually happen? Maybe it’s just me.)

    I’ve chosen each of these options on at least one occasion Neither seemed ideal. It seems like I’m missing something obvious, but I’m still missing it.

    1. This isn’t a perfect algorithm or a rule, obviously, but I think you bring it up after you’ve listened to and/or discussed the thing that they’ve brought up. Either later in the conversation, when the initial issue is resolved, or in a different conversation (where you ask them to focus on the specific issue).

      Of course it’s not ideal, because you have unresolved Stuff. But if “I am upset and I would like to fix x issue” gets met with “Sure, as long as we deal with y, too” then you’re setting up a competition between issues, and now you are not only fighting about the thing that’s bugging you, you’re fighting about who gets to fight about the thing that’s bugging them. It may feel like you’re bringing fairness to the argument, but I think in most situations it’s a derail. You were annoyed when they did y, but they also get to be annoyed that you did x, and derailing is telling them “but you don’t get to feel that way.”

      Listen, talk through whatever it is, make a decision about it, apologize if need be. THEN say “Hey, since we’re talking, we’ve never resolved y.” And you focus on y until it is resolved. Or you do it the next time they do x thing, because now you have a successful “But we agreed that we don’t do x thing anymore, right?” precedent.

      Unfortunately there is a bit of a hierarchy of initiative & timing that goes on when bringing up conflict, which is why silently holding onto slights because you want to be the bigger person or don’t want to “make a big deal” gets you nowhere. “But in the past, I was cool when you did x, so you owe me being cool about it when I do x” isn’t actually a tacit agreement that exists, at least in the other person’s mind, when they’re pissed off, even if that is actually what is ‘fair.’ This makes more easygoing, conflict-averse, etc. people NUTS because we were giving ourselves credit for being The Chill One and now we’re finding out that the credit doesn’t really exist.

      1. This makes sense.

        I’m not so much The Chill One, but I’ve dealt with this kind of imbalance/denial of credit as The Listening One. “Okay, after spending years listening to your problems and enabling you to get things off your chest, I have some problems of my own and could really use an ear and a shoulder. Guys? Guys? Where’d everybody go?”

        The dynamic leads to similar outcomes — Easygoing Person and Friend Who Always Listens couldn’t possibly have any needs of their own, and other people learn not to worry about them.

    2. I think this is one where it matters whether you’ve brought it up.

      For some values of X, if you haven’t brought it up before, you could say something like “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize it would bother you. Can we agree that we won’t do X to each other from now on?” while also dealing any immediate practical issues. This doesn’t have to become “but you do X all the time” rather than “I thought this was okay with you because you did it a while ago and “I don’t need an apology, it turns out neither of us likes this happening, so let’s just not do it, even if other people think it’s okay.”

      If you have brought it up and been dismissed, I think you get to say “I asked you not to do X and you brushed me off. If you want me not to do it, I need you not to do it either.”

      Both of these depend on it being pretty clear that X is the same thing both times–being late for an agreed-on appointment is one thing, even if one time is lunch and the other is a cup of coffee or a movie, but being late for a movie and not returning a borrowed book might both be filed under “being unreliable” but look different enough that it could be a derail. (I don’t think I’d deal well with someone who thought it was okay to make me miss a movie but got upset if I was late for lunch, or vice versa.)

      1. It is very sensible and reasonable. The ideal, it seems, is to not allow the situation to happen in the first place by objecting to X right in the moment. It’s a tricky trick, though, since there’s usually a reason for not doing so. The “I thought this was okay with you script” is pretty good.

        (BTW, I replied to CA’s reply too, but it got caught in the spam filter. Short version: yes, good points.)

  28. My ex was picky (in the negative sense) and very demanding that her preferences be accommodated. As a naturally easygoing person, it was very easy for me to go along with that. Over time, it became toxic. It took me a long time to realize this, but I had needs and wants that were going unfulfilled–even unspoken. That was a big part of why that relationship ended. I have worked really hard since then to figure out what I want. It’s surprisingly difficult sometimes–I repressed my own wants for so long that it can be hard to dig them up.

    Now, my current girlfriend and I are both easygoing and don’t often have strong preferences. Sometimes this makes it hard to decide where to eat or what to watch on Netflix. But she knows about and is sympathetic to my past. She has worked really hard to create space in which I can express my preferences and needs. Sometimes she’ll say, “What do you want to do? No, really, what do you want?” in a supportive way. She’ll encourage me to stop and think about what I want. Often, this produces an answer. “I do really want to run by X store before lunch.” or “I really don’t want to eat X cuisine today.” Sometimes, I truly don’t have a preference, and I can say that, with confidence. She’ll accept that, too.

    I guess all of this is to say: the picky/accommodating arrangement can become toxic. But there are ways out of it. Giving the accommodating person a safe, supportive space to identify and then voice their wants is immensely valuable.

  29. Jane – nested comments are full, but I had a few thoughts on your post. Use or disregard as you see fit.

    I can see how it could hurt to find out that everyone else in a group you felt part of went out and didn’t invite you. There could be any number of reasons: maybe everyone thought someone else had told you but no one actually did, maybe the person who was organizing doesn’t particularly enjoy your company but wanted to hang out with everyone else, maybe the plans were posted somewhere semi-public that you missed. I mention this only to indicate that there are other possibilities besides everyone in the lab secretly disliking you.

    As far as what it’s okay to say and when, I think you get to need and want what you need and want, and other people get to decide if they can meet those needs and wants or not, and then you all get to decide if that makes you sufficiently compatible.

    For something like a group lunch where you all work together and the whole group goes out, I think it’s okay to say “Hey, I’d like to join in with the lunch group if it’s not a private outing – will you let me know next time you guys are heading out?” though I would also not worry about it if you’re left out just once.

    For the way I work, if a friend told me they were sad that I hadn’t invited them to something I’d organized, my response would be that I was sorry they were sad and it wasn’t a reflection on how much I liked them, but that I prefer to socialize in smaller groups, which makes it impossible for me to invite everyone to everything. If they wanted to know when we could hang out next, I would then give them a realistic idea of what the next few weeks looked like and ask them to email me with some dates that worked for them. If they followed up and there was a mutually convenient time, I would definitely make a date to hang out with them. If they didn’t, then I would let it go – this might be a quirk on my part in that if they didn’t do some of the coming up with a date/place in that situation, I would take it as sort of expecting me to do all the planning work and manage their feelings. I like planning, but I like to do it on my own terms and don’t take well to someone else telling me what to plan, even if I’m happy to join in on their plans for the same thing. I don’t know if that kind of response would work for you or not, and not everyone will respond the way I do, but I thought another example of how that interaction could go might help.

  30. I have something I call the “friend price”. That price is what you do, pay, or give up in order to be someone’s friend. *Do not pay more than you want*.

    Many years ago, I had a friend who was broke and lived in the middle of nowhere. If we did anything, I paid for it, if we went anywhere, I drove. I started to get really angry and resentful and practiced Dramatic Shower Conversations, when I realized that a better solution was this: see her when I felt like driving and paying, when her presence was worth the cost of the payment. I felt a lot less resentful, and sure, I saw her slightly less, but when I did see her I wasn’t so angry.

    In a non-angry way, limit your interaction with your friend to things you don’t mind her controlling, Something like a concert is *not* a good choice because it makes your experience miserable. Eating at her restaurant when you want to be somewhere else is miserable.

    Ask yourself, “Will I still enjoy myself if we do this her way, and let her control the flow?” if the answer is no, kindly decline and explain you’re not in the mood for X or Y. You don’t need to reassure her about the stuff you don’t want to do, she certainly doesn’t reassure you about the stuff she doesn’t want to do.

    But–but–if that concert or those drinks or that restaurant is totally what you want, then go with your friend! Enjoy it! And I think your friendship will improve because you may see her less but when you do see her you won’t feel unhappy and anxious.

    1. That’s a very useful way to think about that.
      I have a friend that I really enjoy online interactions with, but IRL things fall flat. Our conversation styles don’t mesh and we don’t have the same connection.

      Pinging each other a couple times a day gets us a huge return on our time/energy/spoon investment, but having dinner is a net loss for us both.
      So even though we talk every day, and live 45 mins from each other, we only get together once or twice a year.

      It’s the other side of HelenHuntington’s enthusiastic consent model of friendship.

  31. OMG we seem to have the exact same friend. Right down to the not doing well in crowds etc. And this comes at the exact right time because I’ve been thinking about how to break it to her these past few months. My problem is not that she’s manipulative (as LW said she didn’t feel about her friend either). Instead, she’s just so much more sophisticated in voicing her needs and preferences that it’s hard for me to argue against that without sounding harsh.

    One word to CA though:
    “In defense of being picky, life is short! Be picky!” – You know, that worked if you were on an island on your own and could puck the coconut tree you like best. When you’re with others, it’s bound to affect other people too, and usually in a negative way. With friends you have to make compromises. You can be picky as long as the other one doesn’t have to do anything to accommodate you, but when others have to cater to your picky-ness it stops being an issue of “respecting my life choices”. If people insist that they have a right to have their needs met 100% regardless of what others need, they will soon have friends that are either “doormats” as you put it or turn away from them and take care of their own needs. And that is sad.

  32. Ooh I have learned so much from this thread. Thanks, Captain!

    Specifically I have learned:
    My partner is both picky and afraid of expressing needs. I genuinely don’t mind about a lot of things, but am good at expressing needs and preferences when I have them.

    If our needs clash, I say, ‘I don’t want to do x because y, what say we do z?’, expecting it to lead to negotiation and compromise. He finds it too painful to negotiate, and gets upset, believing that I am rejecting his needs forever, and throwing his bravery for saying what he wants back in his face.

    His expressed needs and preferences are the tip of the iceberg – he has many. Often I don’t know about them, or they have come across as weak preferences. He feels like he’s compromising all the time by only asking for a few things that are important to him, out of the many zillions. The unexpressed ones mount up until they get bigger and more insistent. I feel like he’s constantly bringing enormo-needs to me that I have to accommodate without question. I resent this.

    I have very little idea of what to do about it, but at least I have a better idea of what’s going on. I probably need to be clearer that I am asking for compromise, not rejecting his needs (OK, I have definitely said ‘needs’ too many times now); but is there anything else I can do?

    1. My gut feeling is: Ask him. Sit down and say, “There’s this thing where I know you don’t ask for a lot of the things you want or need, and I want to accommodate you but I have trouble knowing how important they are. How do you think we can communicate so that you can get the message across to me?” Listen carefully. Maybe go away and separately write down your ideas, then bring your notepads back together to confer. He might be more comfortable expressing himself in some way other than face-to-face conversation.

      If you’re still having trouble, consider checking in with a couples counsellor, since they’re good at helping couples find better ways to communicate.

  33. Man, I know this is probably the least helpful response here, but… at least your friend admits to being picky, LW?

    Seriously. I have an acquaintence who “isn’t picky”. Only, she doesn’t eat any fast food. Or half of the sit down restaurants you suggest. And then, when you say “Ok, well, what do you want, then?” will reply with “Oh, whatever. I’ll eat anything. I’m not picky.”

    And then my head explodes.

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