I’m (cis-woman) in a graduate program and I’ve got this friend (cis-man), who’s also in school, but an undergrad. We are both a bit older than the rest of our classmates, in our mid-30s. So of course we self-identify as members of the same tribe and become fast friends. We both love thinking hard about the same intellectual pursuits, we share a cynical attitude towards pop culture, millennials.
Lovely, right? But here’s the thing. Mike* doesn’t have a whole lot of emotional support. There’s me and an ex who moved away recently.
So pretty much every time we hang out he does the emotional download. He occasionally suffers from bipolar disorder, so it can get intense.
We also engage in intellectual debate – fun! – but he’s the assertive sort that has to Win. I like to learn. I don’t want to win. In fact, competition stresses me out. Meanwhile, Mike’s a freight train when it comes to verbalizing his inner monologue. To contribute to a conversation, I have to pluck up the energy to actively interrupt him. He lets me do this. And when I do, he listens. Unfortunately, I really want him to ask me what I think. To ask *me* questions for once.
Why this irritates me — I flashback to Depressed Mom who suffered from depression’s peculiar kind of narcissism. I was socialized to be a Good Listener — and I don’t want that job anymore.
Pretty much I was navigating this. I thought I was doing a decent job compartmentalizing the mommy issues. but THEN he wants to introduce sex into the picture. Sex is nice, he’s a good friend, win-win. He sold it pretty well.
Nevertheless, I sent what I thought was a thoughtful email about how I wasn’t interested in FwB. It would just turn into a mess for me. I’m in NYC. I’m *up to here* with “caz.” It would make me hate him. He responded well, and things went back to normal.
Sort of. After percolating for a few days, I got angry. I felt like a free-therapy-blow-up-doll. The idea of hanging out with him became exhausting. But I thought this was my issue, not his. So I soldiered on.
He didn’t bring up sex again for a few months…until this weekend. and I want to block his phone number. I want to punch him in the face.
I think a lot of my anger derives from stereotypes about male privilege, my own less-than-ideal past experiences with exes, and the aforementioned mommy issues. Can you help me untangle some of this???
My peanut gallery/greek chorus says dump him. It sounds like, they say, I just don’t like him. I do like him. I think?
Hi, I’m Jennifer and I’ll be your Greek Chorus today.
What I’d like to suggest to you is that you reclaim your graduate education from being All About Mike. You don’t have to dump him or not dump him from your life – he’s your colleague, he’s gonna be around no matter how you feel about him, and you might as well be cordial. It’s more about restoring him to his proper place in your emotional universe as “that one friend from class who it’s nice to have lunch with every so often.”
First step: “Dude, I do not want to sleep with you. Do not raise this topic again.”
Second step: If he does mention it again, end the conversation immediately.
Third step: Become less reachable by text and/or however y’all regularly communicate. Get busy with something else, whether it’s your graduate research or reorganizing your spice drawer. Begin the process of converting Mike to a smaller-doses-friend.
Fourth step: Give all hang-outs with Mike a hard out time and avoid alcohol when you do see him. You won’t repeat the old patterns with your mom because you will end conversations MUCH SOONER with Mike. When he gets monologuing? You can cut him off (“Mike, you’re doing the thing again. The thing where you talk over me.” “Let me stop you there….“). You can also leave when it gets to be too much(“Well, great to see you, I’m going to the animal shelter to pet & socialize dogs for a while. See you in class?“) Also, save yourself from embarrassing “it just happened” sex when you are feeling lonely and low. At least a part of why you wrote to me was so that a girlfriend would stop you before you actually sleep with him. I am willing to be that friend to you, Internet Stranger. Do not let this man that you don’t really want to be with logick his way into your pants.
Fifth step: So, about your mom…it’s cool that you can recognize a pattern repeating itself and pull the ripcord before you get in too deep. When and if you tell Mike about your mom and her monologues, he won’t necessarily make the connection between his behavior and her behavior. He’ll put himself in your shoes, not the shoes of the villain in the cautionary tale you just told him. He will never get hints, either. If you want him to do something or not do something, you gotta say it directly to him. “Mike, you’re wearing me out right now, I gotta go.” If he’s a good dude he’ll understand. (I am a professorial wordy sort and I love an intense dude and sometimes our conversations are more about taking turns riding the Word Kraken than give-and-take. You just gotta interrupt sometimes. It’s ok.)
Sixth but VERY IMPORTANT step: In your graduate program, where are the women? At least one of them is going to be more interesting than this guy to talk to about your studies, don’t you think? By pairing off with Mike so soon, you missed out on some opportunities for professional networking and social interaction. It’s time to reconnect with the others, and it’s probably gonna be pretty awkward at first because you and Mike were so insular, but don’t stop. Not all of these people will be Your People, but I reckon somewhere in the cohort is someone you overlooked initially when you were busy contemplating the Incredible Mikeness Of It All, maybe someone who found his or her own “Mike” and is now taking a second look, someone who does not suck.
Do not let Mike be the lens through which you see your peers and your program. Do not let him be the translator of this experience for you. Make it your business to have your own relationship, even if it’s superficial, with every single person and prof in your program. And let Mike find/make his own support system. He doesn’t get to latch onto you and put you in that role! You both entered a new place at the same time, so why are you his only person? That’s on Mike, not on you.
Seventh step: “Millennials” are your peers. They are legion. They defy categorization and description – there are too many of them to even begin. Learn from the ones around you.
Eighth step: Does your campus have movie nights, grad student socials, speakers, etc.? You’re in NYC, of course it does. If you feel lonely, go to some awesome free stuff. Maybe go with Mike sometimes, if you do want to keep up your friendship in some capacity. Having a structured activity that you enjoy together can keep the Mike-train from jumping the tracks into your vulnerable, tired ears.
Ninth step: Repeat after me: “I am here for me, not for Mike. I came here for me, not for Mike. My first priority is me: my learning, my career, my friendships. Not Mike.”
Mike is but a fellow passenger in this experience you’re having. You are the driver. Make sure it’s your favorite music on the radio and that your map is taking you where you want to go.