#735: “A work-friend wants to drastically escalate the closeness of our friendship. How do I (nicely) rebalance things between us?”

Dear Captain,

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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110 comments
  1. About 25 years ago, I experienced a revelation. I was hanging with a friend at his apartment, watching TV or just yakking, I forget. The phone rang. He didn’t get up to answer it. I had never seen someone just ignore a phone call like that. He wasn’t avoiding talking to anyone in particular, he said; he just didn’t feel like answering the phone just then. LW, it blew my mind that a person can just decide not to answer the phone if they don’t feel like it.

    Fast-forward to today, and we’re getting notifications on our smartphones and pop-ups on our work computers constantly. But a lot of the time, life is just like it was 25 years ago. You don’t have to always answer the phone — or the door, or the text, or the e-mail, or the skype call, or whatever.

    • Absolutely. I just did this last week. I’d texted a low level-friend and they answered with six texts and two phone calls within 10 minutes. After the initial “Gotta answer them all!” feelings it was really a relief to a) take my time b) only answer to what I wanted. It really drove home how refreshing it is to do things on your own schedule. LW, I hope you’ll try it and that it works for you.

      Also, Cap, you named your cat after a character on the Wire?! So cool. Note to self: do not get a new cat just to name him Omar.

      • anthrok8 said:

        Of course not. You adopt a cat in order to call him The Bunk!

        Related, I had to mightily resist calling about a dog at a local rescue called Mr. Smiley. I don’t think they meant “melancholy cold warrior Smiley.” But I do. And then of course he’d need a dog buddy called Karla.

      • My cat is McNulty and while most people are like, “what? McNulty?!”, a few people are always psyched to put it together with the Wire.

    • Carolyn said:

      As a kid I learned this from my father – I asked him one day why he wasn’t picking up the phone and he replied “the phone is a tool for my convenience, not to make it more convenient for people to bother me.” So, I have never felt apologetic about my phone allergy – I grew up watching the master at work! Back in 2005 my boss got pissed at me because I didn’t always leave my cell phone on (personal cell – nothing he paid for or relating to his practice, he was just a monster who got off when people jumped at his command) – I told him the same thing my dad always said and he told me that made me selfish and uncaring about others. I remember thinking to myself at the time “yes – selfish with my attention and caring about myself!”

      • Becky B said:

        ” I told him the same thing my dad always said and he told me that made me selfish and uncaring about others.”

        This reminds me obliquely of an ex-friend who liked to squall that I was “being selfish” whenever I’d bring up something related to myself OR, because he was the kind of time & energy draining friend, related to how I felt about something he was doing.

        It took me a bit to realize that he never applied the word to himself whenever things were stuck on the All About Him channel. So once I realized that I was “selfish” only when I wasn’t paying all my attention to him, I stopped the guilt-feels and am glad he and his sanctimonious self have been out of my life for a few years now.

      • Tapetum said:

        Unfortunately, I learned the opposite lesson from my parents. My father was(is) a physician, and we always had to answer the phone, no matter how awkward the timing or what else was going on, within three rings if at all physically possible. I still find it incredibly hard to ignore a ringing phone, though lately I’ve gotten the hang of running to the phone, checking the Caller ID, and then hitting the mute button if I don’t want to talk.

      • Cactus said:

        I had a boss like that. She would freak out when I wouldn’t answer my texts and turn it into “the kind of person [I am]” rather than it just being something I sometimes did when I was busy. It was so irritating, because come on. If it’s Sunday, and I have plans, and some of them include taking long nature walks, and then I have to drive home, what do you expect? I don’t text and drive. And does it matter whether I answer at 10 or at 8? (And furthermore, why are you changing everything for Monday on a Sunday night anyway? Your freakout is a result of your poor planning, not my ignoring my phone. But I digress.)

    • I’ve been on both sides of this as boundaries continue to be a thing I struggle with (recovering Savior here). It is really hard for me to navigate from safe and superficial interactions through the friendship maze of vulnerability and bonding, sometimes landing at acquaintance, sometimes friendship, sometimes bff, and sometimes that gal whose photos I “like” on FB.

      Boundaries can feel like a rejection and spark a bit of panic and self doubt in the recipient. But if you are compassionate in setting them you are not only teaching them how to treat you, but you are teaching them that boundaries do not mean mind games/silent treatment/retraction of love. You are demonstrating self love and healthy behavior, behavior they may one day emulate. And it is certainly NOT your job to teach them, it is just a very happy consequence of taking care of yourself. Healthy behavior, just like unhealthy behavior, can be contagious.

      • Girl in the Stix said:

        My approach is: I am giving people information: “here is how I want to interact with you.” It’s direction, not rejection. If they are people who truly want to befriend you, they will think, “Super! that’s what I’ll do to be friends with her.” If they are people who want to impose their agenda, they’ll be the ones snarling “who does she think she is?” And then you get to give more directions, like, go to hell. 😉

    • I really wish more people would understand this! This particular post came at an eerily great time, since I am considering breaking ties with someone and needed this boost of validation. This person will put on the guilt trip if you don’t answer in a timely manner (“Guess you’re not that interested then.” “You could have just said no [instead of ignoring me].” etc.) My father does the same, getting angry when you don’t answer exactly when you want him to.

      I personally hate phone conversations, but as much as I try to enforce these “call only in emergencies, otherwise text” boundaries, often times people do not like to comply.

      • kaathe said:

        “Guess you’re not interrested then” -“yep”
        My grandma is great at emotional extortion and stuff like passive aggressive display of disappointment when stuff doesnt go her way (like me cutting my hair..)
        I learned just to act totally oblivious, because I wont secondguess meself because a person, fully knowing their demands are unreasonable(or they’d spill it like other requests they can articulate just fine) want me to do stuff.
        Nope. Spill it or eat it, but I will ignore any passive aggressive clouds of demands that linger like a dead fart, wanting to be acknowledged because that helps with plausible deniability.

        Same goes for implied BS like’so you dont like me enough(to do Thing)’ which gets answered with a flat “if you think that way, thats your interpretation”

        Worked usually

        • sole said:

          I LOVE this technique in the face of passive aggressive displays – I know exactly what the person is trying to get me to do, they know what they want me to do, but I will smile guilelessly until they have the stones to spell it out.

          Also, I’m stealing farty clouds of passive aggressive demands as a phrase for the rest of eternity, so I owe you one!

        • With this person in particular, I am VERY straight-forward with what I want out of the relationship. And such comments are always met with disdain. But it doesn’t seem to “correct” (for lack of a better word) the behaviour at all. Which is why I’m thinking of cutting ties.

      • Nanani said:

        Same, currently struggling what to do with one person in particular who has decided “text rather than call” means “send a text that says “CALL NOW””. sigh :/ People are hard

    • Phone is for my convenience, not that of my caller.

      But I had to train my mother, who blessherheart, learned to text after my brother in law put her on his plan and gave her an iPhone. I wanted her to have a cell so she could call if her car broke down between Colorado and Texas. She now sees her cell as a way to text me to ask things like, “So what are you having for lunch?”

      I had to explain to her – after I ignored her noontime texts because I was at work and I turn my phone off at work – that texts are for urgent things, like, “I am at baggage claim” or “Car broke down!” not general questions about Life, The Universe, and Everything.

      It was not fun not accommodating everything she wants because she is my mother and I love her and she asks so little, but I HATE TEXTING.

      We are now back to our happy email relationship and it works for me. So I am saying that it can be done – you can convince someone else to change behavior if you are willing to set boundaries.

    • Courtney said:

      When I first used a cell phone as my only phone, I was answering it constantly. I had a demanding job a husband and a small stepchild who was a regular in the principal’s office and a bunch of volunteer obligations. I was *constantly* on the phone, and it felt like a digital leash. It drove me nuts.

      Fast forward many years, and I was divorced and starting over in a new town. The first time a new acquaintance started blowing up my new phone, something crystallized in my head: This is MY cell phone. I have it for MY convenience. It is not a digital tether to keep me connected for other people’s convenience. I have it for the times that I want to be able to communicate with others or look stuff up on the net. Its existence does not obligate me to be connected 24/7.

  2. lakeline said:

    This is spectacular info and I’ve done it a couple of times with people who’ve jumped from acquaintance RIGHT OVER all of the other friendship steps and landed at bestie. I am naturally a pretty friendly, understanding, supportive person, but sometime in my mid-30s I stopped giving into the “Must Support At All Costs” feelings and started listening to the “Warning: Attention Suck” alarm bells.

    The most successful part of all of it has been contacting people only when I choose to be available. I’ll watch texts/voicemails/messages flow in, but I’ll only respond when I’m in the right mental space to be supportive instead of just RESENTFULLY supportive.

    I know I’ve seen this done to me (usually in a way that’s much less kind than detailed here) but to me even when it’s not how I *wanted* the relationship to go, I’d rather have people back off early than resentfully put up with a relationship they don’t want.

    • Polychrome said:

      Good for you for figuring it out in your mid-30s! It took me till my early 40s to hear that “warning: attention suck” alarm about certain people. dramatically needy people can also be charming and funny, but yeah, emailing and texting “wow, golly, oh no, go you” etc. etc. resentfully but on command is no way to live.

  3. storyranger said:

    “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 wish I’d had this when my housemate was trying to escalate our relationship from housemate to FAAAAAAAMILY. Setting a once-a-month game night or movie would have been much less stressful then daily gab sessions at the door of my bedroom that ended with me awkwardly saying I needed to go to bed because “I need to sit on the internet by myself and not talk to anyone right now, thanks” was deemed not good enough to be left alone. I regret not addressing it at the beginning, because although I know they would have taken it very,very badly, at least my needs would be on the table and it would be a choice between respecting me or not vs. a game of proving to me that I needed to “get out more”.

    • Ha. I have no clue what I would do in that situation. Thankfully I share a house with my best friend, who’s more introverted than I am. It’s totally normal for us to say, “I’m gonna go in my room and close the door, ttyl.,” and then abruptly leave the room.

      I think most people may understand the concept of alone time. Sometimes it can seem awkward, but personally I’d prefer it if someone straight up said, “I want to be alone, thanks.”

      • storyranger said:

        My other housemate and I had a standard setup of 5 minutes of pleasantries when I get through the door, then she’d leave me alone unless I sat down in the common space or she’d texted me in advance that she needed attention that night. It was super functional for both of us.

    • I have no idea how I would be able to function if I couldn’t get my alone time in my own house. Thankfully, my best friend/ roommate is more introverted than I. It’s totally normal for us to say, “Cool story. I’m going to go into my room and close the door, though.” Then one of us leaves the room.

      I think most people at least try to be mindful of someone’s need for personal space/time. I’d actually prefer it if someone said, “I need to go be alone. Catch you on the flipside!”

    • crooked bird said:

      “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.”

      YEEEES. This also works with children who are getting you into the spiral of “acting out –> negative attention is better than none.” I used to work at a preschool and this spiral is SO frustrating, because the child actually takes up way more than their “fair share” of your time & attention yet it’s so (almost) totally unrewarding for them. I eventually realized that pre-emptive positive attention (the sooner the better, i.e. the moment I walked in the door usually) was the best, maybe only way of communicating to the child that negative behavior was NOT the only way to get what she needed.

      Because that’s what the spiral is about, it’s the other person’s belief that if they don’t aggressively seek it (in whatever way) they will never get your attention. So you let them know that’s not true and they hopefully calm down a little. Coming from the other end of things, I’ve been “the needy one” on occasion, notably in marriage to a serious introvert (it’s gotten a lot better) and I can say that to the needy one this breaking of the spiral feels like a profound relief. NOT (necessarily, of course it depends on the person) a promise of “I will have this person’s attention always forever now” but a revelation that they do actually like you and it’s OK, and you won’t have to fight for every scrap like you’d started to think you did.

      Of course it’s neither your job to care for this person, nor are you married to her, so you certainly don’t have to do this unless you actually want to! But I can attest it can have good effects.

  4. B. said:

    Hi, LW! 🙂 I’ve been (still am, trying to stop being) that clingy friend, and I think the Captain’s totally on the right track with her advice. The kindest thing you can do for both yourself and your coworker-friend is to be honest with what you want out of this relationship. Once you’ve decided for yourself what you want -seems to me like you’ve mostly got it down- and you feel that you are in a good place, you should tell her about it. This conversation could be very fraught, so it’d probably be best if you were feeling calm, and good about yourself.

    At least from my experience, it really helps to give your communication’s frequency some structure and, like the Captain said, stick to the schedule you’ve agreed on. If you tell your friend you’d like to hang out at certain times on certain media, it’ll probably alleviate her feelings of rejection (which are not your fault, but people’s gonna feel how they’re gonna feel). If she’s anything like me, giving her a clear structure will also help her immensely, because it will reduce her feelings of anxiety and “give her permission” to concentrate on you when it’s designated friendship time, instead of thinking about you all day (which can get really exhausting). If it’s any help, once the initial shock wears off she’ll probably feel grateful for your honesty.

    I don’t know how to prevent this kind of dynamic from starting. It’s really not your fault that another person’s expectations about you don’t match your reality, and there’s not much you can do about that until there’s an actual behaviour that bothers you. When that happens, you can reinforce your boundaries, or take a step back, or both. But it’s really not your fault how another person acts.

    As for scripts, if you’d like some alternatives to the Captain’s:
    – I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed right now, and need to lower the frequency of our texting. I still like you, I just need to take it a bit slower.
    – I’ve got a lot going on at the moment and need more time for myself. Mind if we catch up on [date, place]?
    – Hey, can we please compromise on a weekly date that works for both of us to catch up? I’ve lots of things to concentrate on, and texting is stressful for me right now.
    And if she contacts you again:
    – That sounds cool/That’s too bad! You’ll have to tell me all about it on [previously established hang out time]!
    And if she insists:
    – I really can’t pay you the attention you deserve right now. Please, let’s just wait till [hang out time] to catch up, ok? Then I can give you my full attention!

    To sum up: don’t promise anything you don’t feel comfortable with, but do honour (within reason) the promises you make. See what works for you and adjust your future promises of friendly interactions accordingly.

    Personal note: thank you for sending this question, LW, and thank you, Captain, for your advice 🙂

    • Oort Cloud said:

      I just think it’s really cool that – as someone who recognises they have things in common with the other person in this scenario – you responded the way you did. Your scripts sound like a useful addition too 🙂

      • B. said:

        Why, thank you! *blushes* This comment, as well as the other replies, made for a nicer morning ^^

    • anthrok8 said:

      I agree with Other Commenter about adding perspective.

      Re: you can’t act until there’s a behavior to act about. I used to think that. But then, how do some people always seem to have X-type of interaction, positive or negative? We are acting all the time, whether we see it that way or not. If, as the archaeologists say, one stone is a stone, two stones is a wall, and three stones is a ritual complex, having three or four relationships like this blow up has to raise the question “is there something about how I present myself that helps create these kinds of dynamics?”

      (Ask me how I know…)

      I think just repositioning the idea that only talking when, how, and with whom you want to talk as *proactive* rather than *reactive* might help. When you talk with who, where, when, why, and how is good and healthy for you *all the time with everyone*, not just with problem people in your life, it’s a different thing.

      It sounds colossally selfish if you’re used to the idea that you’re available unless you are not. But it’s not. If being available all the time is disastrous for you, it’s your responsibility to not engage in that dynamic. This does not mean:

      There are not some people for whom you are pretty much always available, or will pretty much always make exceptions.

      That you are always less available than more. To most people, even.

      That wanting interaction means only ever talking to people who are easy or make you feel good.

      That you don’t treat some people differently. Tour mental energy is not an egalitarian distribution system.

      It just means that you enter into all interaction aware that it’s not enough to just be supportive. You manage from the get go when and how you interact.

      Your “time to tap out” muscles are stronger if you look at it like this, I think.

      Another thing you can do is pay attention to how people you do like and communicate well with do their thing. One thing I’ve noticed is they tend to have good boundaries and they aren’t offended when you do either. It’s unlikely those friendships are just accidents while cling film friendships are inevitable. Being intentional all the time helps reset the awkward situations, I think.

      • B. said:

        I think this is a really useful mindset! (and very well explained, too) *carefully adds to mental notes*
        Thank you 🙂

    • Lisa said:

      Very lovely and kind additions to the scripts provided.

    • mamacitaconpistoles said:

      I think my super long comment got eaten. But my tl;dr is:

      1) agree, the perspective here is really good, thank you.

      2) you can act before the problem behavior is there to act against. Mostly I think it’s a matter of changing perspective. LW, You’re not “a person who needs to be left alone a lot, and socially ept people know and respect that.” You’re “a person who needs to be left alone a lot, and applies and enforces that boundary with everyone all the time. Even people you like and find easy.”

      If you thought that way, would things change with other people in your life? Maybe not. But, maybe! Either way, “do I want to talk.to.you right now?” is a choice you make with everyone all the time. Some people hear the message better. Some people get the answer “no” more frequently than others. Some people almost never hear “no.” But everyone is subject to the evaluation.

      It makes me far, far more aware of when things might be a problem, if I know I am actively thinking and deciding when there are no problems.

      (Obvs infant kids and emergencies and such are different. This is about grown up people being social beings.)

      • I loved your caveat! The fact that infants have no respect for boundaries and my need to be left alone most of the time is a large part of the reason I do not want any. 🙂

        • as a parent with intense boundaries and high alone-time needs, let me say: those are TOTALLY EXCELLENT REASONS NOT TO WANT KIDS.

          i love my kids but more than once i have ended up literally crouching on top of furniture repeating “stop touching me. stop touching me. stop touching me” over and over.

          • I’ll make it a one-sentence response to the next person who asks me whyyyyyyyy I don’t already have kids or at least one in the oven, being near the biological-clock-stopping age of 30 and all! The touching thing would also drive me NUTS. Suffice to say that is a large part of the reason I do not have a significant other either.

          • moss said:

            And that’s how we teach our kids appropriate boundaries. I have a kid who loves to climb on me and I have had to enforce the “don’t touch unless invited” with him on several occasions. I hope his future Significant Othern or Casual Acquaintances appreciate me.

          • As a parent, let me say that “I don’t really want kids” is a totally excellent reason not to want kids.

            (Very glad I had mine, but it made me even more aware than I already was that it is *really* not a good idea to put yourself through that level of hassle unless you really do want them.)

          • ^You sound like the kind of cool parent I’d love to get the beverage of your choice with when you need a break!

            It does amaze me how frequently I’ve heard, from members* of my own family no less, “Eh, just try it. You’ll be happy you did.” WTF?!? What if, as I strongly suspect, I would be so unhappy that it felt as though happiness were a purely hypothetical concept that was never to become a practical reality for me ever again? Kids don’t exactly come with a 30-day or 30-month or 30-year satisfaction guarantee; there’s no way of getting a full refund if you find the maintenance too much of a hassle. I understand that propagation of the species necessitates that a desire to have kids is kind of the default, but it’d be really nice if, on an individual level, people would view reproduction as an opt-in rather than opt-out choice.

            *Okay, so pretty much just one uncle. I think my grandma would really like some great-grandbabies, but she hasn’t said anything more than in a general sense directed at the collective lot of her grandchildren. And luckily, my dad is much more interested in spending time with his adult daughter than with any of his never-existent biological grandkids (he’ll have his hands full when my stepbrothers start the families they’re intending to have).

  5. Clarry said:

    I’d like to underline the part about not owing her an account of your weekends or why you don’t feel up to listening to her tell you about her troubles any longer. This has usually been the trip-up part for me. I’d give some perfectly reasonable excuse, and my time-suck friend would explain just as reasonably why I could have and should have returned her call right away or done what she wanted. Really, “I didn’t want to” is all the excuse and explanation you need. Back in the days before caller i.d. but when there were answering machines, I’d come home one day, heard the message from my friend and gone about my business relaxing after the day’s work. When the phone rang an hour later, I answered it, and the first thing she wanted to know was how long I’d been home and why I didn’t call back right away. I explained that I was unwinding a bit and thought I’d call her later. I still remember the tone in her voice as she whined “How could you think it wasn’t IMPORTANT?” I drew back from the friendship big time after that, and I’ve never been sorry.

    A good way to identify these sorts of situations early on is to check if you’re taking turns in even the most minor of interactions. Then ask yourself if you mind if you’re not. Friend stays on the phone with you ranting and complaining. You’re a good friend, and you listen. Now wait and see if Friend makes time to listen to you when you have a need to rant and complain. If yes, good, you’re taking turns. If no, ask yourself if you mind. If you don’t mind (some people can be wildly humorous while they’re complaining, and I don’t mind because of the entertainment value), note that. If you, draw back because you’ve learned something about the give and take with this particular friend.

    • anthrok8 said:

      Not just in amount of time in taking turns, but also kind of interaction. They want.to spend time processing being lonely, and you… Don’t have any particular problem that day and want to talk about candied beet recipes or Great Aunt Mildred’s bike accident or comparing media reporting on successful vs failed fashion businesses? Can they switch gears?

      They’re upset and need to process and have you listen to how sad they are. You’re upset and want a window shopping buddy, a beer, or to go bird watching, or make a decision. Can they do that?

      How much AND how are important to note.

    • peregrinations said:

      Great advice about paying attention to whether Friend is taking turns early on! I had to African Violet a former friend and coworker who was so much like LW’s description of their friend that I had to wonder for a while if we were talking about the same person. I noticed early on that there wasn’t reciprocity when it came to venting and supporting one another, but at the time it didn’t matter to me because I was in a good mental health and life space and didn’t have much to complain about, and I’m happy to support friends. The problem came when the proverbial poo hit the fan for me and ex-“bestie” brushed me off and minimized my concerns, even after specifically asking for support.

      So my advice would be to ask yourself not just do you mind not taking turns now, but do you think you will mind when [imaginary bad thing happens]? Do you have other friends to turn to for support? Could you keep from resenting Friend for asking for so much from you without offering support in return? If you can’t truthfully answer “yes” to these questions, you might want to draw back.

    • Proffie Galore said:

      Yes to not explaining what you were doing. My time-suck bestie filled the air with extra-detailed stories whenever I made noises about having to go. I responded with extra details about why I was needed elsewhere. I meant this to show that she was one person in my life out of a bunch who also had very reasonable expectations of my attention — like my kids and my students. I kept thinking she’d realize that she’d had me for an hour and now it was someone else’s turn.

      One time I was saying I needed to get to another commitment, and Bestie’s adult daughter said, “We get it. It sucks being you.”

      That’s not what I meant, but that’s what they heard. Now when I have to see them (because reasons), I just say, “Hey, good talking. Gotta run!” And I’m outta there.

  6. Lisa said:

    Yes, this. I can give you x minutes but then I need to shift gears. Do you want to come? Or do you want to hit this same gear with someone else?

  7. TurquoiseDra9on said:

    Slightly different situation, but as a We Used Our Words success story:
    Speaking as the clingy friend, I have a dear friend who is an introvert. My friend tends to be fairly scatter-brained about making plans, so I am in the awkward position of knowing she wants to see me (she has specifically stated such), not wanting to be overwhelming, and yet still needing to be the one to reach out.
    We had supper the other day and I said that I had been missing her recently due to both of us having a crazy summer, and would now be an okay time for me to be reaching out more often? She said yes, but that she might need to cancel a few times on me if she was dealing with too much socialization and needed a quiet night at home. Knowing that it’s not personal, I can then take a few last minute cancellations or ‘sorry, busy that night’ replies in stride. Then, she said the thing that made me all warm and fuzzy.
    “If it gets to the point where you are doing all the reaching out and your jerk brain* starts acting up, let me know and I’ll do some reaching out.”
    She reiterated this later in the evening.
    I figure that will get me through at least the next two or three months where I can reach out, see her or not depending on schedules and spoon levels, and still feel like she really does want to see me.

    *She doesn’t read this blog, but knows all about jerk brain from listening to me.

    • Mookie said:

      Wow, couples are always praised for their synchronicity and harmony and having the whole opposites-cooperating-to-cement-a-good-relationship deal, but rarely are friendships given the same accolades. You two make great friends. I’m literally half-sobbing over this. Everyone should have a friend like you and like your introvert. That is SO AWESOME.

  8. Mayati said:

    LW, you didn’t mess up. You can’t prevent this sort of thing from happening — other people appearing clingy is a result of 1) their actions and 2) your perceptions, not any behavior of yours that could warn folks away from being more into you than you’re into them. You don’t need to establish “I am not your therapist!” boundaries preemptively. And even if you’re establishing or changing them later in a relationship, they are still 100% valid.

    • Kris said:

      Yeah, this is the part of the letter that didn’t really get addressed, but I find it a bit concerting so many people seem to ascribe to the whole “taking ownership” of literally every single thing that happens to them in life. Not that taking a look at your repeating patterns is necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes bad people/bad things occur regardless of what you do. It smacks of both victim blaming and magical “I attracted this through the power of my brainwaves” thinking, which seems to mostly serve the manipulative people (who SHOULD be taking responsibility for their behavior) who are trying to downplay their actions.

      Of course, if you continue to let people treat you in ways you don’t like, that points to a need for re-evaluation for your own sanity; but unless you’re deliberately poking the bear, its not your fault that other people don’t understand boundaries. You could probably avoid the issue from coming up ever again if you never let anyone in… ever. But even the most extreme of introverts probably wouldn’t like that. Just be honest about your level of introversion/boundaries/preferences/etc and either people will respect that without much of an issue, or they won’t (which is an easy sign to cut those people out of your life… pronto!). But being introverted unto itself certainly doesn’t warrant the blame of attracting needy people.

      • mamacitaconpistoles said:

        I’m not saying it’s LW’s fault their acquaintances don’t know how to boundary in a way that works for them. I am not saying LW can make reality the way they want it to be with the power of positive thinking. I don’t believe in emotional snake oil.

        I am just saying I like thinking of boundary reinforcement as just this thing I do much of the time and a crisis I manage much less of it.

        Will thinking about myself as a person who owns my time stop people from testing that boundary? No. Is it my fault if they do? No. Do I always handle it calmly? Hell no I don’t, much though I wish otherwise. Are people who don’t approach it my way deserving of whatever boundary testing they get? No.

        All I am saying is, it helps me to think about my default setting as “I give permission for people to access my time, every time.” Internalizing that perspective just makes it more likely I won’t feel like a total mess who can’t handle stuff every time it comes up.

        • Mayati said:

          That’s a really useful way to think about it! But I was worried because LW seemed to describe this person coming into her life and getting uncomfortably close as her (LW’s) own “fuckup,” though. That’s not internalizing a perspective about where you want your boundaries to be in general, it’s more self-blamey than that. Thanks for your comment, it made a point I was struggling to articulate.

          • mamacitaconpistoles said:

            Oh boy I relate to that anxiety about having done something wrong.

            But, you know. It’s a thing. It’s a process. You see the thing you don’t like happening, and instead of “omg what did I do here we go again!” It’s “ah yes. I have a set of tools for dealing and so now I will deal, and move on with my day because this is not fun, but it is not the end of the world, either!”

            It makes such a difference, for me.

          • Lisa said:

            Even if you are at “fault” it could be because of what makes you awesome and not something you should change. My best friend is fantastic at small talk, funny and kind and makes you feel like her new best friend. I love that about her and wouldn’t want her to change a bit. But sometimes when we’re out it means spending half the night talking with strangers. So I don’t think you should look for what your doing. Just work on setting boundaries as so many awesome people here have suggested.

      • oregonbird said:

        The ‘I attracted it through my brainwaves’ possibility is gaining a lot of coherence in the scientific community; it seems to slot into the multiverse concept. Hopefully the whole shebang will be named ‘Pratchett’s Trousers Theory, and we’ll all end up taking boring classes in middle school in mental sanitation. Until then, we’ve got C.A.

        • Nanani said:

          …No. That is not a thing.
          You can’t attract things through your brainwaves in any universe, plus the multiverse concept doesn’t work that way.
          The multiverse is really a mathematical solution to the problem of waveform collapse, saying that in fact, the quantum waveform DOESN’T collapse, but each answer to the equation is true in its own universe.
          So in human scale terms, it’s more like, there are an infinity of universes where a cosmic particle hit your brain and gave you the urge to bake banana muffins instead of going to the park where you met the annoying person, and an infinity of universes where you went to the park and met them. (and an infinity of universes where you don’t exist, and an infinity of universes where nobody exists because there’s no life on earth, and so on)

          Also, “I caused with my BodyPart” is always going to be vitcim-blamey phrasing.

    • Anne On said:

      I agree with Mayati. I believe people like this co-worker exhibit this behavior the way other animals send out sonar signals. When they get a likely ping back, they move in closer to investigate. (All kinds of boundary pushers do this.)

      Some people send back these ping signals when they don’t realize they are doing it, especially if they’ve been groomed by previous relationships. Wherever in the process you recognize that you are in one of these situations is a good time to deal with it. I wish there was some sort of talisman to ward off these creatures preventatively, but dealing with them is just a part of life.

      Good on you LW for pushing back!

      • This is genius. The sonar signals theory + “I give permission for people to access my time, every time” (thx mamacitasconpistoles) are now added to my empowerment mantras.

      • Polychrome said:

        I love this metaphor too. It kind of lets both scenarios be true — there are kinds of people who push boundaries, and there are also kinds of people who unconsciously ping in response, and the boundary pushers hone in. I definitely have had the feeling, cripes, *again*? and it does seem possible to consciously learn to recognize the boundary pushers more quickly, even if you don’t realize you are sending out pings.

    • Mary said:

      What stuck out to me was that the LW felt she’d fucked up because she felt she was going to have to hurt her friend, and if only she’d done something else, or been the perfect boundary-setting-person who set boundaries invisibly, she wouldn’t have to do that.

      LW, I don’t think it works like that! At some level, setting those boundaries is always going to make the person being boundaried-at feel a little rejected and rebuffed: the people who do boundary-setting really well set boundaries clearly and early, but even then, they don’t usually do it in a way that the boundaries-at person doesn’t even notice. They just feel, rightly, that it is worth causing the other person’s short discomfort now at an early stage in order to avoid causing them potentially much more discomfort later on, if the relationship inequality really gets out of hand. But it’s never totally cost-free.

      Learning to do it better just means noticing the amber flags as early as possible, and feeling entitled to set the boundary. It doesn’t mean the question never arises. You have noticed at an early stage where you are still interested in being this person’s friend! That is good! That is not fucking up, that is getting better at it!

  9. rhythla said:

    My mom used to do something similar, which started (well, got worse) when I got to college. She had always been overbearing, controlling, etc., rarely let me or my sister go anywhere or do anything, and only if we were basically on the phone with her the whole time to “know we were safe.” When I got to college, she would IM me every day and call fairly frequently for 1-2 hour long conversations. It was unsustainable. I was just too busy overloading with classes and their respective homework, let alone building a social life, to spend that much time talking to my mom. (This was also around the time that my parents started turning into Fox News Republicans [aka, racist, homophobic, transphobic, sexist, etc.], so we had very little to safely talk about.)

    I discovered that I didn’t have to answer the phone every time it rang from my mom. At first, I “needed” a “legitimate” excuse to ignore the call because she would always grill me about why I didn’t pick up. I had terrible anxiety over it at first. Eventually I realized that I didn’t need a reason and she didn’t “need” to know. So I stopped giving excuses (which would always lead to a fight anyway) and just said, “I was busy then; what’s up now?”

    About 3 years ago, I realized that I don’t have to pick up the phone at all if I don’t want to and that I don’t have to even return the call. If I’m not in a good space to talk to my mom, I don’t do it – all that does is guarantee a fight. So I just don’t pick up. I’ll usually listen to the voicemail to make sure it’s not an emergency, but it never is. Because I see my parents regularly professionally where we can have some pleasant (i.e., SHORT) personal interaction, I do not feel that I need to schedule any additional interaction time with them. (Mom lost the privilege of my private company a few months ago when I had to walk out of their house because she began screaming at me over something stupid.)

    It took my mom a long time to realize that I will not jump at her command anymore. With her, it was definitely a power and control thing. But through consistent boundary setting (I’m talking 5+ years), I have gotten her mostly to a point where I can handle my limited interactions with her. If we weren’t faaaaamily, I sure as hell would never talk to her again (I plan to African violet her if she pulls any more stunts).

    My sister, on the other hand, used to pretend that her phone battery was dying constantly. “Sorry mom, battery’s dying, gotta go!” because the hardest part was getting off the goddamn phone with mom. I don’t recommend that strategy because all my parents talked about for a few years was how “irresponsible” and “unorganized” my sister is for letting her phone die so much. I personally wanted to scream the real reason, but I didn’t. :p

    • LD said:

      My mom wasn’t quite that bad, but both my brother and I have struggled with the “Mom calls too much/gets upset when we don’t answer the phone” thing (ironically, my brother is JUST AS BAD as my mom about it as far as calling me goes, even though he complains about her all the time). I fixed it by doing what the captain has suggested many times–be the proactive caller; if my mom hears from me 2-3 times a week, even if it’s not for long, she doesn’t call, b/c she knows I’ll call. If I forget, then sure enough, after 4-5 days have passed, she calls at inconvenient times, etc. and I have to ignore the phone until I feel like calling her. My major issue isn’t so much the talking on the phone, but being interrupted. I hate being in the middle of doing something, whether it’s watching TV or reading or cooking, and having the phone ring. There’s maybe a handful of people I even feel comfortable talking on the phone with for more than a couple of minutes. I totally used to do the “my battery must have been dead” thing when I was younger and felt like I had to give a reason.

      My bro, on the other hand, just never answers the phone, and while he’s an adult and doesn’t have to, he does still live at home. It’s common courtesy (and somewhat basic safety) that if you tell the people you share a house with that you’re going to be back from a trip at X time, and hours after X time has passed, you’re still not home b/c you changed your mind to come home at Y time, maybe you should at the very least send a text at some point so they’re not wondering if you’ve been in a car accident. But he never does this, even though he does a lot of day trips for his work, so it’s not an infrequent occurence. I finally got Mom to stop calling me to find out if I’d talked to him/if I would call him since he ignores her (go to phrase: I don’t know, that’s between you two). I really, really wish he’d just call her sometimes like I do. They’d both be less frustrated with each other.

    • Holly said:

      When I first left home Mum would ring regularly. One brilliant weekend I went to college on the Friday, got invited to a party straight after, ended up staying over all weekend (totally platonically), off to lectures on Monday, and then back to hall of residence. To find many phone messages from mum. So I rang her back. “Your flat mate said you were still out!!” “yup, just got back after a four day weekend, how are you?”. She took months to stop hyperventilating. Nowadays we ring eachother on sundays only. 🙂

    • I had to have surgery for the first time at age 46, and I was pretty scared about it (it wasn’t life-threatening, but it was orthopedic, and I was facing six months of rehab afterwards, plus it was just that it was the first time). I figured I ought to tell my mother. Bad mistake, and I should have known better. My mother has always had a tendency to make everything About Her (up to and including my teenage suicidal ideations), and she freaked out because a) she was halfway across the country from me, b) she was no longer able to travel due to her own health conditions and so couldn’t come “hold my hand,” and c) to her, because no one related to me lived less than 1000 miles from where I live (I have friends, but there’s a reason I live this far from my relatives), I was out here All By Myself. Her reaction to this was to call me multiple times daily to tell me how worried she was about me. This stressed me out to the point that I finally said, “Mother, do *not* call me again. I will not answer. If you want to communicate with me and it’s not a real, physical emergency, write to me.” I think she realized what she was doing to me after that, because she got real quiet, told me she loved me, and hung up. We had a lovely snail mail correspondence (I treasure those letters) until she went into assisted living this past fall and we started talking on the phone again (once a week). I am so grateful my sister lives near her. I could not have dealt with Mother’s transition the way she is.

      I will note that I learned my lesson and that I did not tell her about my second surgery (not related to the first, a year and a half later) until after it was over. I could have used the kind of support I wanted from a mother, but I knew better that time than to think that’s what I would get.

      • When I was in high school, I had a floater (one of those weird, shadowy shapes you sometimes get in your eyes) that wouldn’t go away for over a week. I’m a Type I diabetic, and due to the ever-present threat of retinopathy and eventual blindness, anything going haywire visually is a cause for concern. I set up an appointment with my eye doctor, but her hours being standard business hours that conflicted with school, I would need a parent to call in for me in order to leave school in order to the get the appointment. Why I didn’t just ask my father is a mystery to this day, but I suppose because I lived with Mom, I felt like she should probably be the one to call the school. I waited until the night before the appointment.

        Naturally, when I told her where I needed to go during the school day and why I needed to go there, she freaked right the hell out. “WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME?!??!? YOU KNOW I WOULD’VE MADE THE APPOINTMENT FOR YOU” etc., etc. When she finally finished screaming about how CONCERNED she was and why hadn’t I shared my CONCERN with her, I took a deep breath and said, “Mom, the reason I didn’t say anything before is because I knew you’d react exactly like you just did. And frankly, I’m worried as hell as it is, so I really don’t need you adding your worry to mine.”

        The happy ending to that story is that sometimes a floater is just a floater, as it was in that particular case. The unhappy ending is that my mother learned nothing from that incident, and I spent pretty much the rest of her life (she died when I was 21) being made to feel like I was an inadequate daughter because I wouldn’t just TELL her things, even things I knew she’d overreact to. Glad your relationship with your mom worked better than mine did!

        • Yeah, that’s… familiar. Sorry you lost your mother so young, and sorry she exhibited that behavior with you. I know exactly how that goes, because while my mother is still (luckily) alive, I am in my thirties, and she STILL does the exact same thing of “why do you never tellllll me anything,” and “why are you so secretive”

          These are hard patterns to break.

          • Thank you. And I’m sorry to hear that yours continues to do more of the same. It’s kind of…I’m not sure “interesting” is the right word, but it’s the only one I can think of that encapsulates the quasi-anthropological detachment I feel from the situation, that while a lot of the other people I know who lost (a) parent(s) young will lament that they can’t call on said parent(s) for advice or emotional support in difficult situations or to bear witness to an important event (graduating a program, starting a career, getting married, etc.), I can only make a noncommittal mumble and quickly change the subject. I’m pretty sure my mother would’ve reacted to my major life decisions with, “YEAH BUT YOU SHOULD MOVE IN WITH ME AND WE CAN TALK ABOUT EVERYTHING TOGETHER AND YOU CAN ALSO SOMEHOW GIVE ME GRANDBABIES WITHOUT HAVING SEX WITH THE FILTHY, IMPURE LIFE FORM KNOWN AS A MAN.” Believe me, I totally get why you’d continue to be “secretive.” :/

      • When I had a breast cancer scare a few years back, my overbearing, controlling, narcissist mother wanted to accompany me everywhere I went at all times (probably wringing her hands, picking out caskets and wearing sackcloth and ashes in the role of The Soon To Be Bereaved Mother) and I flat refused to deal with her shit.

        I finally had to tell her, straight up, that her anxiety and bossiness made me extremely upset and anxious when I needed to be the opposite of upset and anxious, plus I ended up having to care-take her feelings and needs rather than focusing on having necessary medical procedures done. I said something like, “It would cause me 500 times more stress to coordinate our schedules to carpool or drive over at the same time then wait for you to be ready to go or have you honking and revving your engine in my driveway, sit in the waiting room with you fidgeting, talking at me and freaking out about MY medical procedure, thereby making MY BIOPSY and MY possible CANCER somehow ALL ABOUT YOU and your feelings, worries and thoughts than if I just go in BY MYSELF, ALONE, with a book to read, choose not to talk to anyone except the doctor and medical personnel, and get through it ASAP.”

        And that is what I did.

        She still huffs and moans about this, and is outraged that I have a metal tag embedded in my breast (so the doctor can tell where the biopsied cyst is and spare me another biopsy in the same spot) for reasons I can’t even begin to understand (e.g., she thinks all sorts of nonsensical things such as “pink light bulbs cause cancer” and is squeamish about things while I have a medical librarian and medical malpractice paralegal background and was OK with the tag being put in there) but she also knows my description of her likely behavior is 100% accurate.

        Note also that I refuse to carpool with her to visit family on holidays, too, because being trapped in a car with a narcissist for six hours is my idea of sheer hell. She has been an asshole to me in cars since I was small, and most recently threw a rage tantrum at me because she resented having to help me pick up my car from a repair shop (something I’ve done for her a hundred times). So now I go to the repair shop that is at least 3x more expensive and which takes much longer, not that I can afford that, only because they have a shuttle that will get me to and from work.

        I have also learned my lesson about telling her anything about my medical check-ups. Either she will use something the doctor said to harass and control me for 6 to 12 months (e.g., “You have borderline cholesterol? Well, you can’t eat THAT delicious thing you just put on your plate, surely!” or “You gained some weight? You need to exercise more, so let me tell you all the ways you could exercise more!”) or she will freak out about it (e.g., my biopsy) and ask me questions about it non-stop with the goal of getting me visibly upset about it.

        You are very wise.

        • Oh my FSM. I’m so sorry you had to deal with that. My mother wasn’t anywhere that level of awful, though she had enough moments that even now, nearly eight years after her death, I’m remembering and automatically wondering if there was any part of my childhood that was in the same zip code as normal.

          But at least it sounds like you’re in remission with your mental health still intact? High five for doing what had to be done!

          • Yep! Turns out I just have dense tissue. No cancer. They had to be sure, that’s all. It was a lot of fun (it happened between October and February, so I had that looming over my head that holiday season–GOOD TIMES), but I’m 100% okay and I never let myself freak out until I had something specific to freak out about, so no ulcers or anxiety-vomits at any time. My mom even bought me and other family members cemetery plots (ignoring my oft-stated wishes to be cremated) and didn’t ask any of us first. So that was groovy.

        • I also don’t have a mother who’s nearly as awful as you describe yours to be [wry g]. Sending all good thoughts your way for strength to deal with her.

          • I don’t know. Sounds like we both have tough rows to hoe. It’s taken a long time to figure out that it isn’t me that is the biggest problem in our interactions. I’m willing to shoulder my fair share of blame for things going wrong or getting awkward and unpleasant, but I used to take it all. No more. Too bad I had to be practically middle-aged before that realization dawned.

            Know that you aren’t the only one who had to learn not to tell your mom about anything important until it was a fait accompli, though. I once didn’t bother to tell her I was quitting three (!) shitty underpaid jobs and driving across the US (because why not, if all that is keeping you somewhere is three shitty underpaid jobs?) from NC until I hit Memphis, and even then I just sent a postcard. When I eventually called from Las Vegas, alive and well and traveling about every weekend, she was predictably upset, but she didn’t get a chance to argue me into not doing it and feeling bad about considering it!

          • mmjustus said:

            I, OTOH, took a three-month cross-country trip alone when I was forty (and wrote a book about it [g]), and while my mother insisted that I call her every week, our conversations at that point consisted of, “where are you, honey, and what fun things did you get to see and do?” I actually got to the point where I looked forward to our conversations because it was fun to have someone to tell about my jaunt (I also had an email list I was sending updates to, but that’s not quite the same). But then traveling never bothered my mother — if it had she’d have divorced my dad long ago, because he spent lots of time in the hot spots (in both senses of the term hot) of the world on business (he was a petroleum engineer) and she says he only ever called her once while he was gone. She says she assumed no news was good news.

            The only time I was ever really pissed off over traveling was that when I was married, my parents didn’t care one way or the other if I stayed in touch, but after I got divorced, boy, howdy, did my mother want to know where I was at any given moment until I basically shut her down about it.

        • storyranger said:

          What is it about car rides that makes people think “now is the time to shame, blame, and tame my progeny to my liking”? (My mom used to use the ride to school every morning to make me cry. Math class was real fun after that.) I mean, I guess can see the usefulness of trapping someone in a small space where they can’t escape unless they’re willing to risk grievous bodily harm as a means to make your point, but how that comes off as “great idea” and not “terrifyingly abusive” to anyone is beyond my comprehension.

          britpoptarts you’re awesome for recognizing car-rides are a hot-button and enforcing your boundaries.

          • Right as you identified, it’s the “Can’t escape” aspect, exactly the same as an Elevator Pitch. You’ve got the person’s attention, they can’t leave, but have to sit there and take it. And of course, as the lecturer is not laying a hand on the lecturee, ignoring the fact that said person is in charge of a vehicle that weighs a ton or so and can cause grevious bodily injury, they don’t see it as ‘abusive’ because, again, no physical harm was caused.

            Doesn’t matter that it can have the same emotional effect as punching the wall next to the victim’s head.

    • storyranger said:

      rhythla, are you my sister? Because my mom did the exact same thing to me in my first year of uni. I didn’t have a cellphone, so I started just never being in my res room because “I need to study/eat/bathroom”. Can’t pick up the phone if I’m not there, right?
      I viscerally remember the terror when I got a cellphone, of having her call unexpectedly when my battery was low, repeatedly tell her I had to leave because my battery was dying, inevitably have the phone die, then get yelled at for “rudeness” the next time we spoke because I had dared to hang up on her.

      I’m glad some boundary setting has made me have the guts to turn the phone off when with partner, at least.

    • Proffie Galore said:

      Rythla, you are my hero.

    • meadowphoenix said:

      Yeah, my mother did that. And when I didn’t answer she called the campus police. Who blamed me for not answering.

  10. Aurora said:

    Oof, this one’s hard. Does Work Friend have other friends than you, or are you just a convenient person because you were in the group with Work Friend and Mutual Friend? I was totally going along with the answer here until I hit the possible response “I feel embarrassed and nobody wants to talk to me ever” and suddenly all the Feels happened.

    I’ve been that person who nobody wants to talk to ever because I was a depressive bag of moping for something like 2 years. It feels even worse when you’re going through an active tragedy (which losing a friend to moving kind of is, at least for some) and then people seem to up and abandon you. However, from your perspective, you are not the new bestie; it’s not your place or your desire to suddenly step in and fill the Best Friend slot. All this is artificial and born out of a panicked desperation to have a new person, and of course nobody asked you if you wanted this role. It’s not fair to you to force you to have it, and that’s what Work Friend is (probably unknowingly) doing.

    Having Come to Jesus and boundary-setting talks with very sad/freaking out people is hard, because no matter if you’re the friggin Shakespeare of friend-to-friend conversations, they will interpret everything you say as “I NEED HELP AND EVERYONE IS GONE AND I’M DRIVING YOU AWAY TOO AND THIS SUCKS AND NOBODY WILL EVER LOVE ME AND YOU’RE MAD AT ME.” Or something. In lieu of a harsh conversation, does Work Friend have any other friends? Do you know them? If so, can you…well, “foist them off onto said friends” sounds awful, but that’s what it is. Namely, can you do stuff like talk to these other friends, tell them what’s going on, and enlist help? That way, someone else volunteers, you don’t have to be Constantly Contacted Support Pillar, and Work Friend can feel like somebody cares.

    • Clarry said:

      I realize every situation is different, but in general, I recommend NOT sitting down and having a boundary-setting talk. Instead, the person who needs to set a boundary, say a once a day general answer to all the text messages, a once a week great phone call, and a once a month fun outing, just sets it. S/he doesn’t make any announcements, doesn’t give any explanations as to why, s/he just stops answering every text and starts phoning once a week. That way nothing is up for negotiation. No one has to get on board to agree to it. And there’s no pushing away. The new (actually better) system simply goes into place. I’ve been sending my mother a nice long email letter every Tuesday morning for years. I’m not sure if she’s figured out that there’s a schedule. She emails me whenever she feels like it. I read her email, decide it’s not an emergency, and answer all her concerns on the following Tuesday. I never checked with her to see if this was okay, never complained that she emailed too often; I just did it, and it works for us (me). The great advantage to this is that the person who’s feeling down and needy gets nice surprise phone calls without insult. No one says “I’m angry” or “You’re a big time suck of whining”. All the emphasis is on the amount of time that works and is positive and is fun.

      • Manattee said:

        Word! It’s so much kinder and actually works better to get the kind of interaction you want.

      • Aurora said:

        Yeah, I was advocating not sitting them down for a serious talk. That will probably just make them feel like shit and get you nothing out of the conversation but a big guilt-trip at best.

  11. Amber said:

    Just popping in to say that your cat is the most cutest evar.

  12. flowerfaerie said:

    This letter and the comments has made me suddenly realise something about my own actions! I have an chronic illness and my energy is extremely limited. I tend to always, always, always have a large glut of ever growing (social) messages that I “need” to reply to, which I invariably have not done all of yet. I’m lucky that I have quite a few friends who message me, but I cannot physically keep up with all of them without forfeiting everything else in my life. Some of them send huge amounts of text and it is very difficult for me to even read the message, let alone reply to it all. I’ve been forced to just read and reply to what I can. Some of my friends get this, some of them don’t. I’m even less likely to reply to the ones that don’t, and here’s the thing: I just realised that I feel guilty if I do anything that would show that I had chosen to do something before speak to them. The crux of this is that I have barely actually posted to my social media accounts in several years, especially the ones where I have real life friends and family! I always feel like if I write a status, people will think “but why did you ignore my message?” and “oh so she did see it, she just didn’t reply!”. I wonder if anyone else has felt like this, I hadn’t even really realised I was doing it. Not immediately replying to people is an art that I think I need to refine!

    • Yes!
      I don’t have a disability, I’m just extremely introverted- and answering texts and emails is very, very draining. Like, dealing with interactions makes me feel like I’ve been lifting weights all day kind of draining.

      So they do pile up And then I take a couple of hours (more like a couple of days) and answer the ones that really need answering. And others just sit in the shame pile. I have a few emails in the shame pile right now, but I just don’t have the energy to devote to them, and maybe never will.

      An you know what? It’s mostly okay. I did mess up about ignoring important things a few times, but mostly it’s just social stuff that’s only between me and that person. And friendships are usually more resilient than one or two unanswered messages, and the world won’t end if everything isn’t answered straight away.

      The thing is, about social media? It might HELP you. So you say you’ve been ignoring people? Do you think you can make a Facebook post sort of replying to them all in a very general way, and tag all of those people on it? That way you get everyone at once, and it would take 5-10 minutes to do?

      Or maybe write a short update on your mood/health/whatever else your friends are worried about, and just let that hang up on your wall for people to find and make their own conclusions?

      Or post an article (or listicle, or funny cartoon) that talks about your exact issues, such as being unable to get back to people, and tag all of those people you did not reply to?

      If none of this works, or if I’m way off base here, sorry, and please ignore. I know you weren’t asking for advice. Your problems felt similar to mine, so I decided to jump in and share my solutions, but I’m just a person on the internet and don’t know your particular circumstances, of course.

    • This comment resonated. If I get multiple texts from multiple people in one day, you can generally find me curled up in a fetal position and sucking my thumb under my bed. Facebook? Forget it! I’d delete it entirely if it weren’t my primary means of staying in touch with best friend and storing albums of hiking pictures and my recently deceased cat that various phones have eaten in a fit of pique. I was diagnosed with ADHD earlier this year, and I’ve always been kinda introverted anyway. Social obligations are lower on my priority list than the stuff I need to do in order to get paid/build a career in creative pursuits, and since I am admittedly shit at concentration, I know where I need to focus my energy. It helps me to remember that the people who are worth the energy I have left after attending to those obligations are the ones who will understand why I have to operate that way.

    • monologue said:

      There are a lot of people that will understand this! Go for it and post on your social media if you want.

      rn I have a group chat with a bunch of friends who like the same entertainment thing as me. It moves fast bc there are 15 members. Some of us read most of what’s there, some of us skim and don’t write much unless certain topics come up, some barely ever pop in and have turned notifications off bc there are too many messages. We also see each other on 2 other platforms. It’s quite common to see some chat members on another platform at times when they could use the 1st platform or the chat, but I never think, “ugh, why won’t that person check platform 1 or the chat!!” I just see that they are on whatever platform and interact there. So your friend that got no reply might like or reply to your fb status instead. If they really need an answer to their question or something maybe they’ll ask again like, “Hey, I was just messaging you actually, I’m wondering if we’re still on for Friday?” but most ppl probably won’t ask you why the heck you didn’t reply to them before posting elsewhere and probably they won’t think that either. I think of it kind of like, you just emailed someone and then you bump into them at the photocopier. You might say, “hey I just emailed you about x!” but you probably won’t be thinking “why aren’t you at your desk reading my email rn instead of photocopying!?!”

  13. MJ said:

    On the multiple-friendships-blowing-up thing – I can’t speak to your situation (maybe you’ve just had bad friend luck), but here’s what I figured out about mine. I’ve had more than one friendship blow up spectacularly over the past few years, and I figured out that conflict avoidance was pretty much 100% to blame for those blow-ups.

    I’m introverted, mildly socially anxious, and a recovering people-pleaser. Whenever I sensed any conflict between me and a friend (or relative, co-worker, or romantic partner…) I would do two things: (1) suppress my own feelings to the greatest extent possible and (2) shut down or dodge any attempt to address the issue directly. I had a huge fear of acknowledging that we disagreed or wanted different things – like there was no way our relationship would survive, or maybe that I wouldn’t survive the discomfort of facing a difficult reality. But because of (1), I was pretty much never getting what I needed out of my relationships, and because of (2), the other person never got a chance to tell me what they needed. And just because we didn’t talk about problems, didn’t mean we weren’t both dwelling on them, until the pent-up frustration exploded in a friendship-ending fight.

    PS this post is written in the “aspirational past tense” – I still fall victim to these tendencies all the time. But I’m working on it. I got some advice from a documentary on happiness that was just “Lean in to conflict, always.” When I can bring myself to do it, it works like magic.

    • CJ said:

      I tend to attract very selfish entitled female friends, often from backgrounds of childhood abuse. Said abuse is often used as an excuse for why they get to opt out of the social contract on multiple levels. I swear, if I hear the phrase, “because of my background” one more time….

      These folks are usually great as acquaintances, as they are inhibited from expecting too much of others. But as they become closer friends they seem to develop expectations of me that remain unvoiced. Not being able to read minds, I will eventually fail to meet their expectations for what a ‘true’ friend is. They may not say anything right away, but ultimately they will explode due to the pent up resentment. And it’s usually about some unrelated petty thing that comes from out of left field and rapidly goes nuclear.

      Of course, their high standards for what a ‘true’ friend is don’t flow both ways. Lots of expectations of others, yet not a lot of reciprocity there. “Because of my background”, you know.

      I am not a doormat sort of person. My boundaries are pretty strong and I have a good relationship with the word NO. And I’m not afraid to voice those boundaries either. I’ve often wondered what they find attractive in me, when it would be much easier to go with someone who is more easily manipulated.

      • lakelin said:

        Wow, this is an incredibly familiar story, even down to the “but I have an excuse” replies.

        • CJ said:

          Maybe your circle of friends overlaps with mine. 😉

          Something I forgot to mention about the lack of reciprocity issue. These folks really do believe that their own behavior reflects the high standards they expect of others. They think of themselves as kind and generous people who do so much for their friends and have overcome soooo many obstacles and have suffered sooooo much to overcome their “background”. But I think that’s more about self-validating the image they have of themselves, than the impression of how others may see them.

          When I closely examined their infrequent so-called generosity. I noticed that they didn’t really extend themselves with the recipient in mind. Instead, they only offered goods or services that they either didn’t value, or that were easy and convenient for them. On the rare occasion when they offered their time to a friend’s project (only to discover that they had underestimated the amount of time it would take to complete), they would whine endlessly about how the project was such a burden for them. Then tell all their friends how much they were putting themselves out to help a friend in need.

          • lakelin said:

            I’m starting to think we know at least one of the same people, seriously. Haha.

          • Amy Ann said:

            Jesus Christ, we get it. +10000 already.

            Stop “befriending” abuse victims, because they deserve better than you.

          • Alexia said:

            So what do you expect in terms of reciprocity? Nearly all the people I met have *not* defined what they mean by reciprocity and just expect me to magically divine what they mean. Then they get angry with me for not being a mind reader. We *all* have to use our words.

            As someone who has lived through parental abuse and ended up going NC, I find it interesting to see it from another perspective. I certainly hoped I’ve shed some of these bad habits through the healing at least. I don’t know your friends, but I do want to say that I’ve been getting help for a good decade now and there are still a lot of things I’m learning. I can’t imagine this is any different from anyone else growing up with this type of background.

            I’ve probably run across just as many people as you who do not reciprocate, who only give what’s convenient for them, who complain whenever friendship is anything beyond the most superficial relationship. And every single one of them grew up with a normal, non-abusive family. So pardon me if I don’t feel all that sympathetic to your perceived plight. Again, we *all* have to use our words to define our boundaries in our relationships.

      • Amy Ann said:

        “I swear, if I hear the phrase, “because of my background” one more time…”

        Jesus Christ, at least Ralph Kramden had the spine to make the threat explicit.

        “These folks are usually great as acquaintances, as they are inhibited from expecting too much of others…”

        translated from the original asshole: “You’d think abuse victims would know their roles and shut their mouths…”

        “I’ve often wondered what they find attractive in me, when it would be much easier to go with someone who is more easily manipulated.”

        It’s almost like maybe they’re not looking for someone to manipulate, and why do you keep referencing “attraction” in this context?

        I straight up don’t believe that you’ve had multiple experiences of the sort you describe, ’cause you sound like a piece of shit yourself, tbh.

        • JenniferP said:

          MODERATOR HERE: AmyAnn, I can tell that CJ’s words are hitting sore spots for you, but “I straight up don’t believe that you’ve had multiple experiences of the sort you describe, ’cause you sound like a piece of shit yourself, tbh.” is over the line. Disagree without ad hominem attacks, or come back another thread, another day.

          • CJ said:

            In my experience, when that level of vitriol seems to come from out of nowhere, the writer most likely personalized something they read and it triggered a defensive response. It’s about their stuff, not mine.

            I have friends of all backgrounds. Some were raised in ‘normal’ families, while others hail from some of the worst dysfunctional families you could possibly imagine. The sort of selfish entitled friends I refer to can come from any type of family. It just so happens that these particular folks all seem to share a very similar profile. A profile that often isn’t obvious until we get well past the acquaintance stage. By no means should anyone infer that all people with a similar background are selfish and entitled.

    • Do you mind sharing this documentary? I share a lot of your qualities and wonder if I might enjoy it as well.

      • MJ said:

        “This Emotional Life” from PBS: http://www.pbs.org/thisemotionallife/series/episodes/1. It used to be on Netflix, but seems to be gone. I learned a lot from it, but I’ll caveat that I watched it years ago – there could have been some messed up oppressive shit that I didn’t catch or don’t remember.

    • Alexia said:

      Hi MJ!

      I’m also on the introversion, socially anxious, recovering people-pleaser side, except for one thing – I was raised that anger and fights were bound to happen to me. Like, don’t try to avoid it happen, just let yourself get hit with it.

      Eventually, I did end up realizing that
      1) I needed to break away from the people who had unreasonable, irreconcilable expectations of me, because honestly no one should take on any adult’s anger issues, nevermind a child doing so, and
      2) if I was in a relationship, whether it be friendship or romantic relationship, and there were never *any* fights, something was wrong. Really, really wrong. Because it was a sign that one of us was suppressing who they really were. I can’t control whether the other person is conflict-avoidant, but I can at least try to be honest with *myself* with the other person.

      What was the documentary? I found Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner a great book in that vein. It was recommended by another Captain Awkwardeer in a different thread :3

  14. I hate texting. Phone calls are easy for me to ignore because they can go to voicemail, signalling to the caller that I’m not available for whatever reason. There’s nothing comparable for text messages, so I feel like they’re demanding that I answer RIGHT NOW.

    (I can’t just turn off the phone because unfortunate reasons.)

    My solution has been … to tell friends I hate texting. This has mostly worked.

    • That’s interesting because I feel exactly the opposite way! Phone calls feel as though they’re demanding my attention RIGHT NOW (loud ringing noise! must answer! might be emergency!) whereas texts feel to me like a ‘This is what’s going on in my world; respond to it when you can’.

      Applause to your solution, by the way. Because of the way I feel, my automatic reaction is to try to reach everyone else by text (or e-mail) rather than phone call, as well. Knowing that for X friend the preferred option is ‘call, leave voicemail if I’m not available’ would be fine with me and I’d be happy to go with that.

      And, if it helps, there are probably plenty of people who feel the same way as I do about texts (‘This is me just letting you know a thing, feel free to give your views on it or not as you wish, unless it’s a specific question in which case obviously I’d like an answer but am cool about when I get it’) so if you have any texting friends it might help to picture them feeling that way about the text they’ve sent? Maybe that reframe would at least take some of the pressure off for you in cases where friends do text.

      • See I hate texting (even though I do it) because it means my hands are occupied with something other than writing or code or knitting. While talking on the phone…..

        But I get your point.

        My phone is on vibrate so it doesn’t make much (any) noise.

      • @Dr. Sarah and @Monologue: Good points. I think maybe my reaction has something to do with the kinds of texts I mostly get, which are, funnily enough, the utilitarian kind I find acceptable: “Here is a message conveying information that’s important to you, information you may need sooner rather than later. A response is only required if I need information from you.” These are the texts I have to keep my phone on for. If a friend texts me just to be chatty, I get that same Pavlovian response of “I must deal with this and possibly respond right now.”

        With phone calls, I have a history of hearing from people I can safely ignore until I’m ready to call back. It feels much more relaxed, even though there’s no objective reason.

    • monologue said:

      One thing that has worked for me with texting is to remind myself that what I’m doing now is actually important. Like if a text comes in, the sender doesn’t know what I’m doing. Maybe I’m in the middle of a movie and dont want to pause rn. Maybe i’m cooking and my hands are messy. Maybe I’m working. Maybe I’m showering or sleeping. Maybe I’m already speaking with someone in person etc. Those are all valid things to be doing, so if the text is not a big emergency that needs my immediate attention or a request about something that was preplanned or will happen in a hour or something, it should be ok to ignore and answer when I’m ready. Sometimes I even forget and answer the next day, “sorry, I got busy last night and forgot to reply, how are things going there?” Another good one esp for when you’re at work is, “sorry, I don’t keep my phone in my pocket.” This is the truth for me and reminds people that when I’m at work I actually may be physically away from my phone and they shouldn’t be expecting me to drop everything. But it works at home too. People need to chill with their expectations that all people should have their phone on them at all times and reply to all texts immediately.

      I found the more I framed it this way to myself, the less interrupted or annoyed I felt about texts, and also when I think it’s normal it helps me to present my behaviour as normal to others and not feel compelled to make up excuses or whatever for why I didn’t feel like replying. I’m sure some people will be annoyed, sometimes I hear “yeah, I had to get used to how you reply slow sometimes” but that’s ok.

  15. Kittentastic said:

    One way of getting rid of someone’s attention is to just become really boring to them. There was a friend of a friend in our group who would get really close to you face and talk at volume and speed, which was horrible. He kept trying to engage me in conversation and a couple of times when I asked him to please slow down because I couldn’t understand him he got aggressive with me. I’m a bit tougher now, but at the time I had next to no backbone. My tactic was to become really dull. I just answered “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” in a vague dreamy way to every question. Even when he asked me what my boyfriend’s new phone number was I answered that “I’m not sure, I haven’t added it to my phone yet”, and once when he saw me out walking to a friend’s house and asked me where I was going and as I was in the habit of it that I told him I didn’t know! (In the past he had often tagged along if he saw someone out and followed them to what they were doing, so I didn’t want him to know I was seeing mutual friend). I felt mean, because he was obviously lonely, but I couldn’t cope with his way of interacting with me. I’d told him I didn’t like it, and he didn’t change so I became dull, and eventually he stopped bothering me.

    Another person who sounds more like the OP’s colleague was my colleague who expected me to drop everything and listen to her moan. I realised it was all take from her, when I mentioned that a lot of people had cancelled coming to my birthday drinks at the last minute and asked if she was still coming. She yawned and said she was a bit tired so she wouldn’t. I didn’t say anything (no backbone), but just stopped responding to her crisises. She’d phone to try to moan about her boss, and I’d just say, “that’s a shame, I’m sure you’ll work something out. Got to go, really busy today”. It took a while, but eventually she stopped phoning me when she wasn’t getting her feed from it. A few months later I ran into her and she had been moved to a new boss, so yay! Right? Wrong. She started moaning about new boss and said, “maybe Terry wasn’t so bad”. I realised she just liked to moan.

    I’d probably deal with things in a more upfront way now, but becoming dull is a tactic that also works.

    • That sounds very passive-aggressive. I’m glad you’ve moved past dealing with things that way and can use other tactics now!

    • moss said:

      She yawned and said she was a bit tired so she wouldn’t

      My heart broke for you when I read that.

    • storyranger said:

      Becoming very dull has become my number one tactic for the intersection of “people I don’t want to be friends with or see given the choice” and “people I have to maintain a civil relationship with because my job/finances/living arrangements/activity I really love depends on not making a scene”. See: coworkers who like following you home, [fun group activity] acquaintances who start facebooking you all the time, in-laws who want your help in harrassing their children, etc.

  16. Hmm. Maybe it’s just me, but if someone commented on my enthusiasm to be their friend, I’d feel a bit confused by the terminology and upset that I’d done the wrong thing. But I wouldn’t really learn from it.

    I think it might be good just to be honest. For example “I see you left me loads of messages yesterday. I didn’t reply at the time as I was busy, tho. To be honest, I’m the kind of person who often needs headspace, so if I don’t reply it’s nothing personal, I’m just having some downtime.” And also “um, this is a bit intense, why are you telling me this? Why don’t you blog about it instead, and that way I can read it in my own time, and you might get some good advice from other friends. It really helps to get things straight in your head when writing about them, doesn’t it?”

    Or even more bluntly “wow, this is intense. But I’m not a therapist! Speaking of that… Do you think it might be helpful if you did see someone? You clearly think about [person / situation] a lot, it might be good to talk it through with someone professional who is detached from the situation?”

    It’s kindly meant, it’s offering alternatives to leaning on you all the time, and as the Captain says, it’s training her. Or at least, resetting her expectations of how you two communicate and what works for you.

    ***

    Speaking personally I do find writing about emotional or difficult issues to be cathartic; when I put them in a blog I kinda feel I’ve taken them out of my head, and given them a life of their own. Fly, demons, fly! And now there’s space in my head for new stuff, good stuff. LW, is this something that might work for your co-worker? Maybe you could suggest it?

  17. Queen Mab said:

    Agh, codependency! The Captain and other commenters have given you excellent techniques for dealing with your co-worker, so I want to touch on how you can preemptively nip this pattern with others, before it starts. Many needy people aren’t terrible, and if you gently explain to them that they are expecting too much and you need support too, they will check themselves and reset their expectations. The really bad energy suckers I call emotional vampires, where they just feed and feed and feed off of your sympathy and empathy, and leave you a dried up husk. These needy people often cannot see beyond their own inner emotional turmoil and do not understand why they can’t cling like barnacles to anyone who will pay attention. They may be lonely, have poor self-esteem, or simply like being the center of attention in their relationships. When I fell prey to these personalities, it was because I had terrible boundaries and thought I needed to accept poor behavior in order to have relationships. This is, of course, crap. I am a good listener and very patient, so I tend to attract people who needed an audience for their misery. Typically, very needy people follow a familiar script:

    1) They overshare
    2) They demand immediate intimacy
    3) They don’t reciprocate listening or offer emotional support
    4) Pretty much every conversation is about them and their emotional needs
    5) They get upset when you try to set a boundary, i.e. passive aggressiveness, moping, shame spiraling, even anger. These are manipulation tactics (intentional or not) and are designed to guilt you into paying attention to them.

    Once I understood the pattern, I was able to put my codependent radar up to recognize these behaviors, and pull myself out of the interaction. I reduced or removed my emotional and physical availability and gave myself permission to ignore attempts at manipulation. I refused to feel guilt for advocating for my own emotional health, and anyone who took offense to my totally healthy boundary setting was no longer given any priority or weight. These phrases, spoken or written, might be helpful when resetting your investment in these relationships:

    Them: *FEELINGS DUMP*
    You: That sounds really rough. I’m sorry you are going through that. You might want to talk to a professional, I don’t think I can be very helpful.

    Them: *FEELINGS DUMP*
    You: That sucks. What are you going to do?

    Them: *FIX THIS PROBLEM FOR MEEE*
    You: Sounds like you need more help than I can give, I hope it all works out okay!

    Them: *Pay attention to MEEEE*
    You: Sorry, I am busy now. I will catch up with you next week.

    Them: *Why are you ignoring me?*
    You: Sorry, I am busy right now. I will touch base with you next week.

    I stopped answering texts and phone calls from the really codependent, toxic people in my life, and did a fast fade. That might not have been the most compassionate move, but honestly? I found myself getting really judgy and mean towards those people. I found myself always complaining about them and sucking up all the energy in the room, just as they did. So their needy behavior was rubbing off, and that was totally unacceptable. Pulling away was better for everybody, because I was acting terribly as well.

    This book may help: “Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself” by Melody Beattie, may help you identify what you can and can’t control when it comes to relationships, as well as help you understand why you keep having this problem. I sincerely hope you can employ good, firm boundaries, and have better, more reciprocal relationships.

  18. Dear LW:

    In terms of going forward, I agree, you’re already doing most of the work.

    I’d like to reiterate the idea that you can choose the arena and timing for interactions with your acquaintances and friends. If you choose, rather than being the pursued one who responds until it’s onerous, you may have better luck in finding friends who want equal affections.

  19. As someone who is usually on the other side of things, I would like to put in a very strong plea to be upfront about what you’re doing. Because I can imagine myself trying to figure out what’s going on, and it sounds like a really painful process where I notice that their behavior has changed, but maybe I’m wrong? And then, no, see, there’s definitely something different, but maybe there’s another reason? Are they pulling back, or is that my insecurities, or a real thing, and if it’s a real thing, is it because they want to friend-dump me, but, no, they were all kind and reassuring so everything’s fine why doesn’t it feel fine? And I wouldn’t necessarily ask immediately, not if I was not even sure if I was seeing a real thing. And eventually when I’d figure it out, I’d feel really bad at how long it took me. Being told that yes, they are actually changing their behavior, and for reasons, and here is what they want to happen, would stop that before it happened.

    • ETA, it doesn’t have to be a sit-down talk, which might make it look like this is open to discussion, it could be a text or email, but starting out with “here is what I am doing” rather than waiting for Friend to ask seems so much kinder, to me.

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