Dear Captain Awkward,
When I was in university, we had a tightly knit group of five friends, and I’m glad to say that group has stood time and is still together. Two years ago, I moved abroad to a different country and I only see the rest of the group occasionally, around three or four times a year. Mostly, this has worked out well, as we communicate via a group chat on the internet daily, so I feel like I’m in touch with them – and hopefully, they feel the same.
…well, almost everything has worked out well. There is one friend in the group, who I’ve never felt really close to – you know, one of those people who you enjoy being in the same group with but would never go out for a coffee just the two of you? I’ve kept her on the same level as the rest of the group: informing well ahead of time when I’m coming to visit my home country so we’d be able to make plans, asking about her life through chatting, even sending Christmas cards and presents. What I’ve figured out is that she’s really not the most responsive long-distance friend you can get.
The least of the issues I have with her is that she ignores the cards and presents I send her, neither thanking nor replying the gesture. A bigger issue is that she obviously doesn’t prioritize me very high on her list of people she wants to see: when I try to fit the friend group into a very tight schedule of visiting-home-from-afar, she takes her time replying about her schedules, half of the time cancels at last minute (often to spend the evening at home instead), and the other half of the time gives me the impression that she’s not coming to the meets I organize because of me but because of the rest of the group that she wants to meet.
Now I’m an adult. I can take it that someone doesn’t consider me as a very good friend, or a friend at all. I would be capable of ignoring this and concentrating my friendship efforts on the rest of the group if it wasn’t for this: she constantly picks fights with me in the group chat, acts in a way that is disrespectful to me, and is sometimes downright mean. I talked with another friend in the group and she had also noticed this, but advised me to be the “better person” and said that the Problematic Friend is having a really stressful time at work. However, I don’t feel like being the better person anymore. I am so sick and tired that things I write about my day online to my friends can always be turned against me in some way.
I know I should pull away from her and phase her out of my life as she’s currently a pretty big angst factor for me, but this leaves me with only bad options. The group chat is my main communication method with the rest of the group, all of whom are wonderful people but, from my experience, not the best in communicating through for example email. If I was to suggest us to start using some other method of communication without the Problematic Friend, I don’t know if others would react to this positively – everybody knows she is stressed and others are probably more empathic to her than I am – and I’m sure the P.F. would raise a huge fuss about it. Also, I have a long history with being her close-distance friend, and that was actually quite pleasant. She is a nice and supportive person, IN PERSON, so just for that reason I would feel bad for “letting her go”.
“Expat Go Home”
This person may in fact be going through a stressful time, but she also is behaving like she actively dislikes you and does not want to be friends. So I think you are very smart to stop trying. Stop including her in invitations and planning around her schedule. Definitely don’t send any more cards and letters. Phase her out of every part of your life except this one group chat where some passing contact with her is the price of interaction with your other friends. She is allowed to feel about you any way she likes, so this is an issue about how she treats you in a group space. Since she is publicly saying mean stuff to you where people can see it (group chat), you are justified in coming right back at her in that forum.
Her: Mean, snide thing.
You: Well, that really hurts my feelings.
See also: “That’s a crappy thing to say”, “Wow.”, “Ouch!”, “That’s pretty mean, don’t you think?”, or “Not cool, actually.”
Keep it short, don’t qualify or explain, don’t get drawn into a discussion of your friendship dynamics, history, or feelings, etc. Say “Ouch!” when she hurts you, and then continue talking to the people who are engaging with you respectfully and kindly, or, if you need to, bail on the discussion and try again another day. It’s actually on her to apologize, or to tell you what she’s actually angry/upset about if she does have some beef with you, or to stop responding to your chats at all if she isn’t going to be a basic level of polite to you. It’s actually on the other people in the group to figure out how to deal with one of their friends bullying another friend.
If you’re nervous about how this will “create drama” and foment some kind of crisis in how your friend group communicates, you’re probably not wrong, but I don’t think you’re doing anyone any favors by pretending that what she’s doing isn’t a problem. Right now this group chat thing only works if you take her bullying behavior without complaint, ergo, it’s not working. And the thing where your friends ignore it and hope that it will go away on its own is also not working. “Please be a basic level of polite to me in a group conversation” isn’t an unreasonable request. You don’t have to “be the bigger person” by silently putting up with a bully, and you don’t have to solve every feeling that everyone will have about this.