A few months ago, two of my mutual friends/acquaintances split apart. They were quite close and while I don’t know a lot of details, evidence indicates to me (and actually both friends confirmed) that the friendship had turned codependent and one friend decided to make a permanent split for a variety of reasons that are his and I have never attempted to pry.
They live in different cities and my interactions with them never coincide. Luckily. I see them both regularly as one is my coworker, and I have grown a lot closer to the other as we started working out and playing D&D together on a regular basis.
My question concerns the co-worker friend. It’s looking like she is viewing me as her new bestie and I am worried because her behavior is setting off a lot red flags of bad/codependent friendships I had in the past where I essentially ended up becoming someone’s therapist and taken advantage of. I have done A LOT of work in the past year identifying my own behavioral issues in these friendships and setting up firm boundaries so I don’t get cast in the role of therapist for someone again, but apparently I messed up along the way to where I am now.
I have a lot of sympathy for my co-worker friend, as I understand that losing a friend is difficult. I had also split up with my boyfriend around the same time, so I could commiserate with her and the hardship of losing someone who was a huge part of your life and moving on. However, I was not prepared for an average of 8 to 10 texts per day, seeing each other at work, facebook messages, and the what not. Communication ranges from bemoaning her loneliness, ramblings of being upset at other friend, and also random bits about her life that I think would be more appropriate for a Twitter account or a handwritten journal. Most of time I just don’t know what to do with it or how to respond. I end up getting overwhelmed by the amount of messages and feeling suffocated/exhausted.
This behavior is very new and only happened after the cut off from the other friend. I don’t want it to continue and I feel very uncomfortable around her now. I am not good with people who come off as clingy. I get frustrated, frazzled, and there are many many instances where friendships either ended or relationships never got past the 3rd date because the other party demanded more of my time and attention than I could give them. I am highly introverted, I need a lot of mental and physical space, and I really really really enjoy being alone (this includes not getting lots of texts). This is How I Do Me and while she and I have known each other for a few years, she has never really gotten to know me well enough to know this. Our friendship level has been mostly at work, rarely hanging out outside of work due to living in different city issues.
I guess my question is two-fold. 1) How do I nicely assert to her that we have very different communication/friendship styles and while I think she is lovely person she really really really needs to stop because our friendship really cannot sustain this and 2) Is there a better way to identify these situations so that I can stop them before they start? I know this one seems pretty small, but I have ended up in several very intense and dramatic friendships that all went up in flames. I don’t know how I keep getting here and it’s beyond frustrating and upsetting.
Any advice would definitely be appreciated,
I am not the bestie you are looking for.
Dear Not The Bestie:
I’d like to suggest an experiment. That experiment is: Outside of work and work-related communications, respond only to the communications from your friend that you enthusiastically want to answer.
Don’t want 8-10 texts/day? Not into Facebook messages or chatting? Your only criteria are “Do I want to interact with Friend right now?” If the answer is no, and nobody seems to be bleeding, sprouting extra demonic heads, or on fire, respond once with “Sorry, can’t talk right now, see you at work tomorrow?” Then turn your phone off if you need to, or use the mute/block button, make yourself invisible in chatting programs, and don’t answer anything else. You do not have to immediately respond to every communication from somebody, even people you like.
This will feel very uncomfortable, I predict. Your friend will not like it, especially if she is used to getting immediate replies, and it may make her escalate her behavior to try harder to get your attention. You will not like it, because you don’t like to be rude to people and it will feel rude to leave her hanging. I don’t typically like to use “training” to describe interactions between fellow adult humans, but there is an element of training to be done here. You are retraining yourself to honor your own comfort level and desires.You are retraining her about what she can reasonably expect in terms of communication from you. You are training yourself (maybe) to turn your ringer off, put your phone in another room, and enjoy some solitude at the end of the day, without guilt or pressure.
Try it for week and see what happens. She may gradually adjust to the boundary without conflict (in which case, problem solved, keep on doing that thing), or she may grow very anxious and ask you if you are upset with her about something. Her asking is an opening to have a conversation that you very much need to have, along the lines of “Sorry, I know I haven’t been very responsive to your texts, and I don’t like leaving you hanging, but I’m finding that I can’t keep up with the volume of texts from you.”
Related scripts, depending on her responses or how you think she will best hear what you have to say:
- “I love seeing you at work, but I am not much of a texter.“
- “I can tell you are putting a lot of effort into being my friend right now, and it’s having the unintended consequence of stressing me out. I’m not much of a texter and I don’t have the bandwidth to keep up with you there.”
- “I am lucky enough to see you at work every day, and I’d much rather talk in person than online or over text.“
- “I know you are hurting right now, but I don’t feel comfortable being your sounding board about Mutual Friend, sorry.”
Important: Don’t try to justify or explain why you can’t talk right now, or couldn’t text her back. You don’t owe her a complete account of your weekends and evenings, so keep it simple. “Wasn’t near the phone, sorry! What did you want to talk about?” Have the awkward conversation, clarify your preferences, and then follow it up by responding once/only to the communications you want to answer and being consistent with that. And remember, your task here isn’t to manage all of her feelings about loneliness and friendship, or to take the place of the what was lost, your task is to make your needs clear and ask her to respect them.
She may decide that in fact your reserved communication style doesn’t suit her, and that she wants more from your friendship than that (“But I thought we were friends….” “You seemed fine with it, why the big change?” “I feel embarrassed and like nobody wants to talk to me ever.”) It’s understandable that she’d have feelings of rejection and anxiety about maybe screwing up your friendship, so be gentle and patient. She may avoid you or be short and reserved for a while. Remember that what’s been a growing problem for you has been a comfort and felt like growing intimacy to her, and give her a bit of time to adjust and save face.
If she protests, or shame-spirals, you can say, “The frequent texting started right when you and Mutual Friend had your falling out. I knew you were missing him a lot, and I care about you, and I figured it would be temporary. But now that it’s gone on a while, I need to let you know that it’s a bit too much for me. I’m not angry at you, I’m just asking you to respect that we have different communication styles going forward. I’m much more introverted than you are, and while I appreciate your enthusiasm in being my friend, I wanted to talk to you about this before it grew into a problem.”
If you want to maintain good ties with her, there are things you can do after the awkward conversation to show her that you like her. Suggest going to lunch together once a week to catch up. Buy her a nice journal as a pick-me-up present. Set aside a few minutes every day when you see her to ask her how things are going and informally catch up – maybe a coffee run, maybe an IM session. It’s counter-intuitive, but when a potential friend’s behavior makes you feel avoidant, interrupting the cycle of “I run, you chase me” by taking the lead in making plans or initiating communication can help you reset things to where you want things to be.
I think you are already training yourself to identify these situations early on. You figured out pretty quickly that you don’t want the same frequency and intensity of contact that this person does, and you asked for help in stopping it. The key going forward is to keep checking in with yourself as you form new friendships. What do you want out of friendship? Does it feel reciprocal? Do you feel enthusiastic about the level of interaction you are having? When you get a text or email from them is it nice/exciting/comforting/cool or does it make you feel annoyed or avoidant? If you give only what you want to give to the friendship, does it feel balanced and safe, or does it feel like you are being chased or doing work? If you practice giving only what you can give freely, in time you will cultivate relationships that feel respectful and reciprocal.
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