I have had a rough few months in which I have temporarily moved home to deal with a highly stressful situation. The crisis itself has largely passed, but I’ve decided to stick around for the holidays, since I do love my family and they don’t seem to mind me crashing with them for a while longer.
The most prominent issue in my life right now is with one of my new friends in my new state. He’s a nice guy and all, but he’s kind of…irritating. I didn’t say much to him before I left to go back home, but he knows that there was an emergency and that I’d be out of town indefinitely. Since I left, he hasn’t stopped pestering me to ask me how I’m doing (crisis situation, wtf does he think?) and sending me pictures and motivational quotes in the name of trying to cheer me up at least once a week. The latest was a picture of a rainbow intended to “Brighton [sic] your day!”
I’m aware that there are far worse problems to have, but he’s driving me nuts. I haven’t responded to him in nearly two months because of other priorities, including not wanting to get sucked into a drawn-out conversation I don’t have the energy for, and he is damn near impossible to shake once he’s got any sort of handhold. However, he’s also damn near impossible to shake even after two months of silence on my part, go figure.
I feel like I’m on the other side of Letter 366, where I’ve got the avoidant attachment style, and the harder people cling, the harder I push them away. I consider myself very independent, and I know that’s feeding into this as well…if I’m going to be cheered up or have my day brightened, I want it to come from within, when I’m ready to start feeling better on my own. My close friends know to let me wallow in self-pity until I arrive at a more balanced frame of mind on my own.
Is it all right to tell him, “Don’t call me, I’ll call you?” I’m not necessarily sure I want to cut him out of my life entirely, but I am sure that I need him to drop the contact attempts way back and make the ones he does send less saccharinely feel-good.
-Let Me Mope in Peace
Dear Let Me Mope:
I want to tell this person on your behalf that texting someone for 2 months without getting a reply = “YOU ARE ACTING LIKE A WALKING ADELE SONG. LEARN TO LET GO, DUDE.”
You could send him a message that says, “These attempts to cheer me up are kindly meant, but I’d rather you stop sending them. I’ll get in touch when I’m up for it.” Then don’t reply to anything else (until you’re up for it, which could be never).
A basically cool person might feel embarrassed about bugging you and being called out on it, but he won’t take it out on you – you’ll get a “Sorry!” text and then he’ll leave you alone. A not-cool person will ask “Whyyyyyyyyyyy???” and make it all about his feelings. Comforting someone about why you don’t want them to comfort you is not your jam, I’m thinking, so: Since you describe this person as “impossible to shake,” which response do you think you’re likely to get, and is it time to skip directly to the “block” function on your phone?
True story: I’ve blocked people or stopped replying to their way-too-frequent-for-our-level-of-intimacy texts and then run into them down the road, and I’ve even had them ask “Hey, did I do something to piss you off?” to which I’ve said “You are way more of a texter than I am and I couldn’t sustain my side of the conversation so I stopped trying.” You’d think that would be the most mortifying & awkward exchange in the world, but once again, cool people have been like “Ok , I figured, no problem thanks for telling me” and really irritating people have reminded me why I stopped talking to them in the first place.
I hope all the home front stuff improves soon and that your holidays are happy ones.
I (a woman) met a guy at a conference a few months ago – we spent some time hanging out and we hooked up. It was nice, he was smart, and I enjoyed talking to him. Work will occasionally bring us to each others’ cities, and we figured we’d stay in touch and see if it worked out to meet again in the future.
We have continued to message each other, largely initiated by him, and at first I was excited, because he is smart and has had an interesting life and holds multiple degrees in subjects that I’ve also studied. However, I’ve noticed that our conversations, since parting ways, have been pretty one-sided. I ask him about his thoughts, his projects, his opinions – and he shows little to no interest in mine. I’ve tried expressing myself without waiting to be asked, talking about what’s going on with me, but he doesn’t really…seem to engage? He’ll respond with some kind of platitude (“Cool!”) or just ignore that I’ve said anything and continue on with his chosen topic.
I’m especially sensitive to this lately due to Jess Zimmerman’s piece about the gendered division of emotional labor, which argues that men tend to expect women to pay attention to them and listen to them, and then refuse to reciprocate. It helped me realize that I have a pattern of getting involved with men who don’t really see me as an interesting, thoughtful person, who never really listened to me (past the wooing stage) so much as waited for me to stop talking (with varying degrees of patience).
I’ve already decided that I don’t want to continue the friendship in its current format, but I’m struggling with what to do about it. Do I just ghost and stop responding to his messages? Do I call him out on it? If I do that, what words could I use? It feels so desperate and needy to have to ask someone, “Why don’t you think I’m interesting? Why are you talking to me if you’re not actually interested in anything I say?” There are the mean voices in my head that say, “Well maybe you’re not as interesting as you thought, missy – maybe you *shouldn’t* be listened to.” And then there’s the added complexity of vulnerability/feelings from us having gotten naked together.
I feel like this is going to keep coming up in my life as a heterosexual woman, and it would be handy to have some scripts to address this with awesome guys who might just be clueless about emotional labor. Or should I move on from these guys as quickly as possible, without saying a word? What do you think?
-Seen but Not Heard
Dear Seen But Not Heard,
If you’re looking for permission to ghost, I heartily endorse a decision to stop replying to this self-involved dude with your precious time! I think that moving on quickly from people to behave like this is the way to go in the future. I’ve been on both sides of this one – feeling like I’m providing free therapy/listening/entertainment to some guy AND/OR also feeling like I don’t have the interest or energy to sustain a text/chat conversation with someone from afar – In either case, it’s never a sign that “all is well, definitely go ahead with feelings.”
I mean, you could ask him, “Hey, have you noticed that you never ask me any questions? When we talk about your research you’re very chatty, but when the subject comes to my work you’re Mr. One Word Answer. What’s that about?” You could also try doing less in general – responding less to his messages, reaching out less, being unavailable – and seeing if he fills the gap with effort. But both of these tactics put more emotional labor on you, to get him to see a problem in the first place or to wait him out.
Down the road, when everything is working with someone, conversation will flow both ways and it won’t feel like work. I hope you find a balance between fun make-outs with hot conference-goers and finding the people who really get & appreciate you. You’re plenty interesting, and in fact way too interesting to spend your time being some dude’s flattering mirror.
*With full credit to the originators of the phrase.