I am an intense person! I have grown to accept this. It’s the way I am, it’s not going to change, and I’m in the process of working this reality into something like self-love.
Some people don’t like my intensity as much. One such person is a close friend of my boyfriend’s. This would be fine — I firmly believe that there are people in the world who are not meant to be friends, and that’s more than okay with me — except that he believes so firmly that we should be friends (on HIS terms) that it’s a conversation he has with me whenever we are in the same room. We have things in common like tangentially related careers, fierce intelligence, and, notably, my boyfriend; ergo, to this guy, we should be friends.
I don’t believe we make good friends. One critical reason for this is that I believe he is a manipulative person. This is evidenced, in my opinion, by the very fact that he claims the only reason we are not friends is because I am not friendly enough with him (“Well. You’re *my* friend”). When I am not being friendly enough with him, he grows sad and uncomfortable! (This argument held more weight with me when he lived with my boyfriend; it kind of sucks when your friend’s girlfriend is neutral to you in your own living room, I was told.) The heavy implication is that if I was a more emotionally generous person, I would already be his friend and then everything would be fine.
My not trusting him is not enough reason, to him, to discontinue the conversation, because again if only I were to change my mind about him everything would be fine (if only I would see him as a PERSON). I would prefer to reach a state of mutual understanding with this dude such that we civilly exchange hellos when we must share the same space and then go back to our respective lives without further ado. My endeavors to do so have so far been categorized as “unfriendly” and yield the same conversation. I am afraid of any attempt to freeze him out (e.g., repeating “I’m not interested in this conversation” over and over, as has been tempting) may result in all of my boyfriend’s friends disliking me, ice witch that I am. Community is important to him and it would mean the end of us if there was a schism between me and the rest of his crew. Do you have a good script for this?
Dear Intensely Ineffective:
This person constantly harangues and harasses you about how unfriendly you are and whyyyyyy are you not friends, and YOU are the person who is “too intense?” YOU are the person apologizing for your personality and worried that you might create social friction, and this person’s argument is that there is something wrong with YOU?
For those who can’t see or hear the video, there is a cat hiding under a piece of furniture while someone tries to pet it and laughs at its yowls of distress. Another person in the room also laughs along.
Letter Writer, you are the cat. This dude is the asshole trying to pet the cat even though the cat clearly does not want to be touched. And your boyfriend is the offscreen jerk who is laughing at this little scene instead of saying “Wolfgang, leave the cat alone.”
You don’t have to be friends with someone who constantly audits your behavior for sufficient “friendliness” and (barf) “emotional generosity.” You don’t have to be friends or get emotionally closer to someone you don’t like. You don’t have to make a convincing case for why you don’t like them or hear out their case in full. They don’t have to be on board with your decision to not be friends. You have done your part by being a basic amount of polite and cordial to this guy, and you have done more than your part by not biting his head off when he obviously tries to provoke you. You have fulfilled the social contract of how romantic partners need to treat each other’s friends. This dude has to learn to live with the fact that not everyone will like him, and he has to stop making his abject failure at this part of adulting into your problem.
He needs to be told.
“I’m not interested in this conversation” is a perfectly good script. Repeat it like a robot. “No,” is a classic for a reason. Try also: “I’d like us to get along at social events, for Boyfriend’s sake, but ‘friend’ is a strong word and I don’t appreciate the pressure you put on me about this.” Be super blunt about it. “I don’t want to have this conversation today.” “Let’s change the subject.” “Please stop bugging me about this, it’s very annoying.”
See also “But we’re not friends” and “But I don’t like you.”
Often I recommend a strategy of two polite attempts to redirect a conversation and then giving yourself permission to disengage if the other person won’t take you up on it. In your case, I say make two attempts to redirect and then activate either FIGHT or FLIGHT. How that might play out in real life:
Him: “Hey, why won’t you be more friendly?”
You: “Whoa, awkward question. But, how is work going? Are y’all bidding on that one job?”
Him: “I feel like you’re MY friend, why won’t you treat me like a friend? God, why are you so unfriendly?”
You: “I’m not interested in having that conversation. But, hey, what are you going to order for dinner? I think I’m going to get the crispy pork and Chinese broccoli.”
Him: “I just don’t understand why you won’t…”
You (Option A): “No, I don’t understand why YOU won’t get the fuck off it already.“
You (Option B): “Ok, good seeing everybody, I’m going to head out though.” Then, get up and leave. Make it obvious as to why.
Raise your voice. Be the Ice Witch you want to see in the world, be it Elsa or Jadis, Empress of Charn.
This guy is making gatherings horrible and awkward…for you, so I think it’s time to spread that around and return some of that weirdness to sender. You can’t “nice” your way out of this. The social circle, such as it is, is already broken as long as this guy is allowed to keep treating you this way with the consent of the others. I think he is doing so on purpose, as some sort of power play, to keep you “in your place” and to assert his importance relative to your boyfriend. Or because he enjoys needling you and making you uncomfortable for its own sake. Even if his behavior was once upon a time a sincere attempt to connect with you, it doesn’t matter – there is a level of obliviousness that is indistinguishable from malice. He is being an asshat and I don’t see any middle ground here. Prepare the freeze ray. Set your phasers to “STFU, ALREADY.” Permit yourself to get as visibly angry as you feel.
And if your boyfriend can’t handle your justified anger, or if he can’t see that his friend is the one making it weird, then he is the problem and you can kill two metaphorical birds with one unfortunate stone when you break up with his passive ass. Because some of this (a lot of this) is a boyfriend problem, not a boyfriend’s friend problem. What does he do when Intense Iago crawls all over you? Does he agree with his friend’s characterization of you as unfriendly, or think your “intensity” is the problem? Does he lecture you about “emotional generosity?”
You may want to talk to your boyfriend frankly about all of this before you attempt to engage with his bozo friend(s) on any level. If you want to try doing so in a more constructive, less break-up-y way, you could start with “I like most of your friends just fine, but X bugs me constantly about how I should be more friendly to him. I’ve really tried to get along with him, for your sake, but he puts my shoulders up around my ears…”
(and then choose your own adventure)
“…What do you suggest?”
“…Can you tell him to back off? He doesn’t listen to me.”
“…so I’m going to give myself a break from hanging out with him. Can you make plans with us separately for the next month or so? I need a cooling off period.”
“…he makes me really uncomfortable and angry, and I need him to leave me alone. Can you help?”
“…and I’m through being passive and ‘nice’ about it. I just want to give you a heads up that the next time he refuses to change the subject, we are going to have it out or I am going to absent myself quickly.”
Your boyfriend may not know quite what to do and may have been hoping that you all would work it out between yourselves. This is understandable, but it is not working. I think that if you talk to him about this, you need to be completely honest. “Your friend’s conversations about our ‘friendship’ have crossed over into harassment. He won’t accept my attempts to change the subject or be routinely cordial. He’s talking to me about bullshit like ’emotional generosity.’ It has gone too far, and I need it to stop, but since you never intervene to stop it when it happens, and since your other friends don’t either, I am afraid that you all think what he’s doing is okay or that you won’t back me up if I put my foot down. I’m so afraid of looking like a ‘bitch’ that I’ve been letting him walk all over me. But I am done with that, and I need you to know how awful he is making me feel and help me put a stop to it.”
Here are some actually helpful things your boyfriend could do, if he chose:
- He could hang out with friend one-on-one sometimes, without you and the rest of the group. This friend seems to be acting very possessive and territorial, maybe some attention and reassurance of his importance in your boyfriend’s life will calm him down a bit.
- You and your boyfriend could agree to make a better division between couple time, you-and-he and-the-entire-social-group-time, and time when you say “Have a great time, I’m going to be over here with my friends doing my thing” time. Your boyfriend is not the King of England, surely he doesn’t need his entire entourage present at all times, and surely you don’t have to prove your bond by continually dancing attendance as one of many.
- Best of all, he could actively intervene when his buddy goes after you. That could take the form of a subject change or the shape of “Dude, it would be great if everyone I care about could be friends, but you can’t force these things. Leave her be.“
This may take a little time to renegotiate properly, especially if you’ve been silently putting up with it until now. However, if your boyfriend chooses not to be supportive about this (a real risk, since he’s watched this unfold all this time), and if his other friends decide that you are the problem, please believe me when I say this: It was a viper’s-nest-of-assholes problem, not a you-are-too-intense problem.
*Essential reading: Five Geek Social Fallacies. I feel that your boyfriend’s social circle is a hotbed of all of them, and that this annoying dude is particularly a GSF 4 “Friendship is Transitive” carrier.