Dear Captain Awkward,
I have a friend problem, lets call her Anne. She is a good and generally supportive friend, but she can be hard to deal with sometimes.
She constantly needs validation, from everyone Example, she makes a pie. She posts the pie on her 4-5 social media accounts. She messages her friends all pictures of the pie. When I meet up with her the day after, she tells me about the pie again and how her mum really enjoyed the pie. She will then repeat the pie story to every other person she comes into contact with.
She’s a story topper. I announced to a large group of my friends that I hadn’t had a drink in X days. (I was the group drunk previously, this was a big deal for me). She immediately announces that she’s barely had a drink in two months, for whatever reason. She isn’t a big drinker to start with. Another example – my partner came home from fishing with a huge fish he caught, he was really proud. Anne immediately launches into a tale of this one time her dad when fishing on a boat and this happened and that happened, etc etc. This story is told repeatedly to various people throughout the rest of the day.
She perceives any ‘criticism’ as a direct attack on her person. I’ll say ‘oh hey Anne, you forgot to put this game piece back in the box’. She’ll start defending herself, she forgot because this reason or that reason, and actually it wasn’t even her fault at all.
My main issue recently is that she considers herself the queen of social justice. I tried to have a debate with her about a hot-topic issue, and all she can do is patronize me, tell me I don’t understand the issue, and actually – she ‘splains to me A LOT. I consider myself a feminist, and she knows that, but her idea of debating is just shouting at someone until they just give in. We debated one article, and while I agreed with the general subject (BLM) I heavily criticized the author and the format of the article. She essentially implied I was racist, while assuring me that her opinion of me was not lowered.
Obviously this is a whole bunch of issues, but my question is how can I broach how rude and attention grabby her behaviour gets without her becoming defensive and overly upset? How can I let her know there are various ways to approach social justice without one way being the correct, true way?
Please can I remain anonymous
Hello Anonymous Friend,
If saying “here’s the game piece you left out of the box” triggers a shame spiral, any “These behaviors are bugging me!” conversation with Anne is going to make her pretty upset. That doesn’t mean the behaviors don’t need addressed, just, there’s no magic way to do it without upsetting her. She sounds pretty insecure to me, and like she’s making a lot of bids for connection and affirmation to compensate. I have a lot of sympathy for what it’s like to be in that headspace, and oftentimes it’s not fixable without some self-searching and some social friction from others when the behaviors become Too Much. And a lot of time and patience from others…and the occasional honest conversation along the lines of “I love you, but this thing you’re doing is driving me up a wall, please knock it off!”
You could try calling some things out in the moment, if you can do it very gently – “The pie looked great, is there a reason you’re telling me about it again though?” “Good story, but you told it already today. Did you realize?” Try to do it the same way you’d tell someone they’ve accidentally tucked their skirt into their underpants or they have spinach in their teeth, without judgment or speculating reasons why it is happening, coming from the place of “I would want someone to tell me if I were doing this.” She will not like this at all, but over time it might help her start to catch herself. You can also nip future debates in the bud: “Nope, I’m not discussing this with you.” “Nope, I don’t think that’s a fair criticism, let’s drop this.”
If you do this, she’ll react how she reacts, there will be some awkward arguments and conversations, and over time you’ll figure out if the good parts of the friendship can outweigh the friction. The gentle focus on recent, specific incidents might lead you to the deeper “Hey, are you feeling okay? You’ve been really down on yourself/seeking reassurance a lot lately” conversation.
Here’s another suggestion: What if you engaged with Anne (and pie photos, and stories, and debates) exactly as much as feels right and comfortable for you, and let the rest go? Like, one round of “Cool pie! I hope it was delicious” and then disengage from the need to either respond more OR monitor how she behaves with others. Hit the “unfollow but stay friends” and/or the “mute” button on your various social media feeds for a good while, and you’ll see the stuff half as much as you do now. At social events, when you’ve heard a story once for that day and it starts up again, go into another room, or start a side conversation with someone else. Respond when she engages you directly and let the rest go. It sounds like you overlap with her in a lot of in-person and online spaces, and that this much interaction isn’t making you happy. Maybe make your hangouts with her more pleasant by making them rarer but more intentional, like, a monthly Breakfast! With! Anne! where you give her your full attention.
Good luck sorting this out, Anonymous Friend!
237 thoughts on “#951: “My friend is A LOT right now.””
I hope things work out. It sounds like (and correct me if I’m wrong) that LW and Anne have been friends for a long time. I’ve definitely been in situations where the longer I’m with someone, the more their annoying personality traits, well, annoy me.
I think Captain Awkward’s advice about disengaging and pulling back is pretty solid. If you are around her less, and don’t feel pressured to sit and listen to her story after the first time you hear it, it’ll be easier to enjoy her positive traits when you are actually around her and listening intentionally.
this actually sounds very familiar. However, this is my spouse. I even hate answering “how was your day” because her day is going to be a million times worse than mine. Maybe it’s the same, maybe it’s different. idk…
Wow that’s just sounds awful. I think the captains script are good when the problem are at a level 5 Badness, but if you hate basic normal day to day questions that sounds more like a level 8 of badness (the levels of bad are out of 10, and are completely arbitraryly made up by me). I don’t know if you have tried coupl counseling, but it might help. Also if things are that bad, from your single comment that I’m no way gives us a wholistic picture of your marriage, your spouse might need the D. And by D I mean divorce
Ugh I hate typing on my phone. There are so many typos. Sorry guys
I’m sorry @dannrusso, that sounds really tough. This becomes infinitely more complicated when you can’t take space from a spouse the way you can from a friend.
The first thing I’d like you to consider is that your spouse’s needs are not being met, and the second consideration is that you are not obligated to meet all of those needs. We all need to do our own work, but in the meantime perhaps try sidestepping her “I’ll ask you so that you ask me” approach and see what’s going on with her?
Start slow, be compassionate, and then you may find you’ll have the opportunity to explain that you also need support/comfort without worrying about her reaction. Emphasize the difference between “listening” and “waiting to talk.” Good luck ❤
Couples Counseling helped Spouse and I to reconnect when we had gotten to that stage of irritation and anger.
We have wildly different communication styles and our interpretation of what the other person meant was massively incorrect. So. So. Wrong.
It’s not perfect between us, but there is love, security, comfort, and sometimes passion. It’s a good marriage because we care enough to try for each other.
I hope that you find your way to love and comfort, with your spouse and/or on your own
I actually used to do this. For some reason, I had gotten the impression that it expresses sympathy/ empathy with the speaker, while reassuring him/her/xir that, “Hey, it could be worse,” and taking their minds out of a possible obsession spiral about how awful the speaker’s day was. I had the good fortune to read someone’s account of how this is NOT what that accomplished from another source.
Were I to go back in time to my past self, I would gently, and without judgement (dude, I was so tetchy about feeling judged. Still am, but at least I am aware of and working on it) point the behavior out, maybe saying, “It feels to me like this is something that happens often in our interactions. Do you see it? What, specifically, are you trying to accomplish by it.” Then I’d LISTEN, including stating what I said back to me and trying to appreciate the motives, and say, “Well, when I said someone mugged me and stole both my kidneys, I was actually looking for a bit of sympathy and maybe wondering if you could drive me to dialysis or just take organ meats off the dinner menu this week. Humor me?”
But sounds like you might have already tried this with your spouse, so idk, indeed.
Love means never having to say “Please take organ meats off the dinner menu” after you’ve been kidney-mugged.
Or perhaps… only the once. Sometimes love means believing in teachable moments.
I used to do it too. I was a very awkward person one time, and people often commented that I was icy, aloof, and closed off. This was affecting the quality of my relationships (especially romantic), so when I decided to do something about it, I looked up advice online. A lot of the advice said that in order to be more open, you can empathise with another’s story by telling them a similar one of your own. My motivation was definitely to be more sympathetic and open, even if it came across as one-upmanship. The way I got out of that was by realising it was bloody annoying when people did it to me, so now I just listen and ask open questions 🙂
I do think that this can be a “empathy” tool for some people. I actually try to think of it in terms of improv. When you’re doing improv comedy one of the things they tell you to do is to take someone else’s idea and build on it. You “Yes And” their idea.
The thing about “Yes And” is that it starts with “Yes” which looks like acknowledging the world or the space or the scenario that someone else has created. In improv that might mean accepting the fact that you and your improv partner are now on the moon. You respond to them being on the moon by also being on the moon with them, once that’s been established, THEN you add Gozilla on the moon. “HOW DID GOZILLA GET ON THE MOON! Oh GOD, LOOK AT HIM BOUNCING THROUGH THE CRATERS! RUN! BOUNCILY!”
I think too often people skip the Yes, and go directly to And. One partner says “I love the moon, I love being able to see the earth rise!” And the other person says “BUT HERE IS GODZILLA.”
But ultimately Godizilla on the Moon is way funnier than just the moon or Godzilla.
What you’re asking for is not for people to never share related stories, or to never also tell you how bad THEIR day was. But for them to first acknowledge what you have said, to listen and to accept your information, before they add on with theirs.
Life, like improv is not a contest, there is no prize for being the MOST put upon. I’m not sure of a good way to remind people of that. Maybe watch some whose line and talk about improv? I don’t know.
But I do also think that this can come from issues around insecurity and unhappiness where people seek affirmation and “winning” as a substitute for real satisfaction with their life.
I definitely often respond to painful stories with similar painful stories of my own, and I hope it comes off as sharing, as sympathising, as baring our souls to one another, and not as one-upping. It is VERY IMPORTANT if you are doing this, to make sure you are acknowledging the other person’s feelings and needs and putting them first.
I don’t think that’s where LW’s friend is coming from, though. To me it sounds like they’re having a big insecurity problem and desperately trying to make themselves sound cool and interesting all the time, and don’t have the emotional energy to think about other people’s feelings. They’ve forgotten or haven’t realised that people like being listened to more than they like being talked at, and are, sadly, driving people away. But I don’t think there’s really anything LW can do about that. Friend will have to figure it out themselves.
Guilty, shame-spiraling spouse (and friend) here. My husband and I only recently made a major breakthrough in this area. We had to come to an agreement that we both deal with significant stresses and that “who has the least spoons??” is a competition that is equally unwinnable and damaging to our relationship. The resolution was to be respectful of each other’s experiences and make sure each of our physical and emotional needs were being met, and learning to communicate better when they aren’t. Husband was bristling because he needed to hear that he was appreciated, and once he started receiving that affirmation he’s gotten so much better about having an awareness of my needs and taking initiative. I needed to feel that I was respected, and needed affirmation that my needs (due to anxiety, depression, and crippling lack of self-esteem) weren’t unreasonable or selfish and didn’t make me a lesser partner.
There’s a quote that really helps me find perspective when I start spiraling: “Asking for help with shame says: you have the power over me. Asking for help with condescension says: I have the power over you. Asking for help with gratitude says: we have the power to help each other.” – Amanda Palmer, “The Art of Asking”
If you can manage it, it might be a good idea to have a discussion about what both of you need and how those needs could be met or aren’t being met right now. Graciousness will earn both of you all the goodwill in the world.
This was an issue in my marriage for years. I kind of snapped one day and told my husband that there is actually an unlimited amount of tired in the universe. If I am exhausted from dealing with a teething baby, a vomiting preschooler, a father who is a stroke victim, and an autoimmune disease, that does not make him any less exhausted from work. He is as tired as he is, and he doesn’t have to be defensive and argue that I can’t be tired because he is more tired.
Best of luck with this, OP. I’ve found that unfollowing and pulling back has really helped on social media. Boundaries can be hard (ask me how I know!), but they’re worth it.
I have a friend who is exactly like this, and isn’t just a story topper, but also can’t stand to listen to compliments about others, i.e. if I mention how amazing/great I find someone else, she will take it as an implication that I don’t find *her* as amazing/great, and she will direct the conversation back to herself. A part of the reason why I enjoy my friend’s company is her ability to passionately articulate and persuade when it comes to social issues, but she seems only able to interact with me as an authority, or as someone who needs validation. I get messages from her all the time with selfies and stories about the latest stuff she is up to, but I never get asked about what’s going on with me. Very quickly it’s feeling like a one-sided friendship–I’m only there to respond with “yah gurl!” and it’s slowly starting to feel hollow. I don’t know if I have the emotional reserves to be a booster club type of friend, and it could just be that I’m selfish or self-centered and get tired of acting as a dependable and interminable font of support. I’m interested to hear others’ perspectives on these types of friendships.
It being selfish or not depends on your cultural background, but, tapping into reserves isn’t sustainable. If the common mode of interactions with this person cost you reserves, you need to work out with this friend a new common mode of interaction, or interact way less often, or you’ll burn out.
I think its kind to your community of friends to take good enough care of yourself to not burn out. That’s not selfish at all, given my cultural background. That’s just being an adult.
I recently had this situation with a friend where I felt very much like her Hype Woman and emotional dumping grounds. It also felt like she wanted her friends to show up for her (literally and figuratively) but she rarely could be counted on. Then I got food poisoning of the “holy crap, I think I am actually dying” variety and it brought all the feelings I had been having to a head.
After a playful message from her downplaying my illness I basically said “look I know you are trying to be fun and playful but honestly it feels like things are pretty one sided with us and like I can’t count on you.” She responded immediately (and with a lot of excuses) and we agreed to talk in person a few days later. During that conversation I took CA’s advice and focused the conversation on behaviors – namely the behaviors I need from a friend in order to feel valued by them. Since then she has taken what I said to heart and our relationship has improved greatly.
So I would say, try talking to this person and tell them what you need out of the relationship (once you have a clear picture of what that is). It could be this person just doesn’t have it in her to engage meaningfully with people about anything other than herself and if she cannot adjust her behavior to give you more space in this relationship, an African Violet may be in order. IT DOES NOT MAKE YOU SELFISH to want to be seen and heard by your friends.
It’s really nice to hear a story with a resolution that was pretty good! Sometimes people do just need a bit of a kick to realize the patterns they’ve gotten into, I think.
@exhaustedfanclub It is ok for you to want a friendship that is healthy.
OP: I wonder if at dinner sometime with a small group of these friends, having a discussion “what is a healthy relationship like” would be enlightening. At worst, it would become terribly obvious if she tries to dominate the conversation .. at best, she might (might?) pick up a hint or three.
Regardless of how things go with this person, I hope you’re able to spend time with some other friends (without her), that help you feel restored and nurtured.
I have a friend like this. She messages often, but it’s usually just a comment or passing thought about her life, with no actual reciprocity about my life. And social activities tend to be asking me to join her in something she wants to do. Or if we plan together, she has a tendency to flake (not always, but there’s a pattern). I didn’t discuss or try to fix this with her and instead have chosen to slow fade the friendship.
If it were a few years ago, I may have brought the issues up, but at this point I’ve grown to dislike interacting with her so it’s just not worth trying to fix. I’m also skeptical of the emotional labour and/or efficacy of attempting to repair this type of dynamic, but perhaps others have had positive experiences trying to mend the relationship.
sometimes the repair goes well. Sometimes it goes badly. always, it costs me a lot of energy (and probably them too). Slow fade is a reasonable thing to do, for relationships that aren’t high value.
And, they might choose to fade as a result of you asking for a change. And that’s okay too.
Oof, this is so much like my best girlfriend. I’ve really had to pull back from for my own mental health, but I feel kind of bad about it because I’m just not reaching out as much rather than having a confrontation about it. More of a slow fade. No matter where the conversation is, she steers it back to something relating to how interesting or pretty she is, or how good she is at something or other. It’s so exhausting. I understand needing validation like that is very possibly from a place of low self esteem, but @exhaustedfanclub you are not self-centered or selfish for wanting more out of the relationship with your friend than she is giving you, and not having the spoons to just keep giving all the time without getting your emotional needs met as well.
I don’t think my friend is a mean person, she’s just blissfuly self-absorbed. I’m pregnant right now and a few days ago my friend paused, stared at me for a second, laughed merrily and said “wow, for a moment I forgot you were pregnant and I thought to myself ‘gee, you’re really putting on a lot of weight!'” And when I first told her I was pregnant, she said “My period came early I must have been pregnant too but then had a miscarriage” (despite having an IUD and that being a real statistical improbability). I honestly had no idea how to respond.
My husband is good about saying “This isn’t about you right now” to her at times where she’s inappropriately jumping in to direct a conversation back to herself. That has helped a bit.
Lord does that bring back memories! I have a friend who sounds very much like that. When I was pregnant with my first kidlet, she literally called me up about some or another crisis, and when told her I was In Labor, like, right that very moment, and waiting for a call back from my OB, she just barreled right over this unimportant tidbit to continue to vent about her crisis.
She remains, to this day 18 years later, the only non-sales person I have ever hung up on. We’re still friends, but only because a) she doesn’t do any kind of fade – you’re either besties, or not talking at all, and b) it’s never been quite worth the fireworks and drama that would ensue trying to break things off altogether. I mostly manage friendship levels by physically not being in her proximity very often.
“when told her I was In Labor, like, right that very moment, and waiting for a call back from my OB, she just barreled right over this unimportant tidbit to continue to vent about her crisis.”
Late to the conversation, but just chiming in to say how familiar this sounds. I once went to a so-called friend in distress and told her my (then-)husband had beaten me up. She responded by telling me about her awful day at work. She made it all about her. The friendship died of disinterest soon afterwards.
Thanks for this – going through the same thing, except they are twin friends. And it’s like… they really AREN’T terrible people they’re just… in their own world and don’t really seem to care all that much about maintaining other friendships. I just realized the other day that they have never really shown an active interest in my life or who I am. That when I DO volunteer information, like when I having a rough time at work, one of the twins immediately turned it around with ‘oh, well, you think YOU have it bad listen to what I have to go through’ and the other will back it up with MORE stories about how I’m complaining about nothing.
My last straw was a month ago when they came over for Game Night, sat down on my couch then proceeded to rip into my religion, working themselves into frothing diatribe about how all Christians are fucking horrible, stupid, superstitious, backwards and apparently didn’t remember (or didn’t care to remember) that I identify as Christian and I just… was done.
Like, I knew they didn’t like religion and fine, that’s okay, I can understand how it can screw people up but I’ve always made a point of keeping it out of relationships unless that person specifically says, ‘I want to talk about religion’ so the fact that I could remember their beliefs and was respectful of it and they didn’t even stop to think ‘wait, is anyone religious in this room before I rip into it’ was like a death blow to the relationship. I haven’t seen them since and they haven’t seemed to notice my absence. Makes me feel low.
Oh, Mmarple, I’m really sorry. I’m kind of glad they’re not around and aren’t hurting you at the moment, but that still hurts. I hope you feel better going forward.
Thank you for your kind words, that actually makes me feel better. Lots of second guessing in my mind – I’m not exactly young anymore, and I chose to be childfree so its really hard to meet and make new female friends when your in your 30s and chose a different life path than most people.
I came to the conclusion that being around people who are mostly okay but sprinkled with bits of WTF negative grossness aren’t the best people to hang around. Back out into the world for me 😛
Mmarple: HAPPY EASTER!!
[intentional caps loc]
Also, so sorry that mentioning how you’re being a respectful Christian was immediately followed by a “frothing diatribe” from another perspective, plus cats. The irony…
Oh man, cat thing was crazy in a bad way and that is an example of, well, someone who is an extremist. I know the internet hates religion so I was leery of even mentioning it but I want people to know there are.. how should I put it? Not Crazy Christians out there too? Like, I don’t think God hates gays, I don’t think women are meant only for child-bearing, I openly disagree with parts of the bible and I don’t think that makes me a bad Christian.
Also going to stop here, because talking about personal beliefs is like opening a can of worms. ROCK ON, CAPTAIN AWKWARD AND AWKWARDTEERS
I totally know what you mean about the internet hating religion thing. I try not to take it personally because a lot of people have been really hurt by the church, especially around gender and sexuality issues, and it’s really easy to wind up in a #notallChristians sort of defensive mode. But I think there are a lot of us who don’t bring up our faith unless asked and who see social justice issues as part of living out that faith.
If it’s something you want to chat about, let me know and we can figure out a way to get in touch off-thread.
Thank you so much ! Sometimes I feel pretty isolated online, so if something comes up I’ll take up your offer : )
I haven’t been active on the forums lately, but I still have an account there under the same handle. If you ever want to connect, feel free to PM me.
mmarple, that sucks. You have every right to expect a certain level of not being attacked, even by proxy. And I’m an atheist. I have a lot of Christian friends, who I respect for holding to the ideals of Christianity.
If it helps any, I had a good friend that I had to give up on, she didn’t notice for three months and I felt low for a bit, but it didn’t take long for me to feel much better about it. In the end, we went to ‘distant pleasant acquaintances’ and it’s *fine*. Ghosting was *great*.
That’s kind of what I was thinking – a relationship comes down to respect. If I can respect your view even if I don’t entirely agree with it, while you do the same for me, we can get on just fine (I mean, my dad is an engineer and believes in nothing and hates religion and we love each other and get on just fine).
The reason I didn’t take it up with them is because in the past I have argued with them about minor other things and saw they are of the ‘I am Smart and Therefore Always Correct’ school of thought so I knew that bringing up how offensive they were being would just result in one huge fucking blowout and I have other friends in the group who are on the sidelines I didn’t want to drag into it so I just made a mental note that we were done with each other. Plus with twin friends, its basically two-on-one, no matter what.
Also, this wasn’t out of the blue, I’ve been having problems with their behavior for a couple of years now and have had an over all feeling of apathy from them, and what kind of friendship is that, where your friends are just kind of ‘meh’ about you?
I know I’m going on about it, sorry!, but I can’t say anything to anyone else because I don’t want to hurt my other friends in the group but one thing that bugged the crap out of me was one event that happened last year:
I had scraped up enough money for an X-Box One and Fallout 4, something I’ve been wanting for AGES, and decided to make it into a celebration and put together a Post-Apocalyptic Party (I mean I just dropped four hundred dollars for this game and the system). Another friend and I put together dinner, I made Nuka-cola cupcakes (actually made out of mountain dew, they were freaking amazing) and got everybody together. The twins then proceeded to criticize the shit out of the game ‘what’s wrong with these graphics, what the hell is going on, this game is weird) and criticize not my friends contribution to the food, but MINE ‘these cupcakes taste weird’ and just criticized EVERYTHING the ENTIRE night.
And that was the start of the decline which ended with last months blowout. So now I’m in a weird spot where its like, is there something wrong with me? and then remembering that not everyone is going to like you and its unhealthy to be angry all the time at your ‘friends’ and its worth it to drag yourself back into the world to make new friendships even when you have nasty social anxieties.
aaannnd end of story, sorry for unloading on you, indeed ghosting is an excellent option here since bringing up any criticism towards their behavior will just end in a huge fight.
I had a flavor of that person as a roommate. Ended up throwing out my jewelry (or possibly pawning and donating the proceeds to the poor and fibbing about it so I didn’t sinfully try to get it back) and trying to poison my cat as extreme measures to bring me to Christ, and I swear, having to throw up a defensive arm because you accidentally said something nice about another person was so exhausting (“I’m sorry I said I liked the lines of the Carbon-Carbide building! I’m sure you’re a better art deco architect, even though you are a professional chef and have never mentioned any training in architecture!”), I think I prefer the theft. She also openly admired Dolores Umbridge for her pacifist stance and would consciously imitate the “hem hem” thing. Strange woman, and half my reason for posting this is to hope that someone says, “This is not normal, and you were right to kick her out of the house,” because she was so Very, Very Good, and I still feel guilty about putting my emotional safety (and the physical safety of my beloved pet) and mere money (she had said she was going to pay half the rent, but the Homeless and her debtors back in Canada needed the money more than I did) before her good works, which really were good and important. (Dear self; Can we please STOP needing validation of this? It was a shitty thing to do, but the right thing to do, for me, and even if it wasn’t, dwelling on it WON’T change the past.)
The other half is to feel you on the “only able to interact with me as an authority.” You, um, may want to think about taking a step back. It’s really, really hard to be friends with someone who puts herself in that relation to you. I see that you feel that as a loss, but I recommend that you be very careful about maintaining your boundaries around this person.
You had me at the first sentence and it just kept on getting worse. ADMIRED DOLORES UMBRIDGE?! I can’t even.
You were so very right to kick her out.
Thank you! Until I manage to train those particular brainweasels to be good little ferrets and work to make my brain a better place for everyone, you have NO IDEA how much it means to hear someone else say that.
Hey, Awe Ritual’s brainweasels, knock it off, or the Very Very Good Roommate will come for you and you won’t think she’s so good then! Seriously, Awe, that person is Very, Very Not Good and you did right to take care of yourself and kitty.
Dear Awe Ritual, this is such a magnificent line that I’m going to copy it and send it to a friend who I think will take great comfort from it. I just wanted you to know how much I enjoyed the way you expressed yourself. 😎
OMFFFFFFG with admiring Dolores Umbridge I am comprehensively and permanently done
Allow me to be the voice of “This is not normal” and “You did the right thing.”
Your Very, Very Good Roommate is actually your Very, Very Toxic, Controlling and Passive-aggressive Roommate, and all of those actions, aside from being boundary-less and beyond the pale, were designed to provoke you into a (completely normal and predictable) angry reaction, so that she could play out the role of the Very, Very Good Persecuted Martyr who is Too Good for This World and Never at Fault.
I have a couple of these in my extended family, and I have marginalized them to the fullest extent possible, just short of No Contact. Because engaging with this type of person will eventually make you as toxic as they are.
You did the right thing, and good on you.
“Very, Very Good Persecuted Martyr…” Wow. I never thought about it that way. It really puts a lot of things into a new perspective. (And I didn’t even have to mention her series of blog posts sincerely weeping for the soul of me, the hard-hearted hoarder who would not Submit to the Angel Jesus sent to personally lead her into salvation by letting said Angel rule every aspect of her life…yup, this is starting to make a LOT of sense.)
Thanks. A lot.
My mother has martyr tendencies, and you have made me Very, Very Happy that mom and Jesus never did get along.
Okay, this person was straight-up Terrible. She tried to kill your cat. For Jesus.
Feel free to tell your brainweasels, from me, that Jesus doesn’t like cat-killers, and removing them from your house is absolutely the right move.
Thanks! Roommate believed that I was breaking the First Commandment by putting my feelings for the cat before my eternal soul in Christ, and being a right plague buboe by putting the needs of an animal before those of humans. By her lights, she was doing the most caring thing that could be done.
But… I’m a goddess-worshipper, and I have a pretty strong knowledge of Scripture. I’m pretty certain Jesus was not down with conversion under duress, especially of those called by other gods…
I’m also pretty sure Jesus would not have been down with killing a poor innocent cat. Sheesh. That. Is. Terrifying.
I’m pretty sure there are commandments about not stealing or bearing false witness in there too…
Also, I know Christians who own pets. I’m an atheist who’s owned pets. Having a pet does not mean worshiping that pet as a god. (Despite the apparent belief of some pets that it would be appropriate for you to do so. I’m looking at you, needy ragdoll cat.) Where the hell did she get this bullshit?!
Dolores Umbridge definitely wouldn’t have been.
(P.S. stealing “a right plague buboe” because that is the best insult I have seen in years)
Oh god. Speaking from experience, it’s pretty common among Christian extremists to say that liking or caring about something “too much” is tantamount to idolatry. The goal of this is to strip their victims of their identities, support systems, safety nets, and anything that might distract them from the Christian extremist herself (or the extremist’s church). This is a cult-like manipulation tactic and it is WRONG. I have also noticed that the “idols” that these extremists find always tend to be things that she already doesn’t like and wants to get rid of. The extremist conveniently never seems to hear from god that your relationship with the extremist herself is an idol.
You were RIGHT to get rid of this person.
Didn’t Dolores Umbridge have a wall of idolatrous kitty plates?
“Believe Actions over Words” that roommate was not good. She is a criminal- a thief and a liar. And your poor kitty, threatened! I’m so glad you two are safe now.
Thank you! Me, too!
OH MY FUCK THAT IS NOT NORMAL AND YOU WERE RIGHT TO KICK HER OUT. Throwing out or pawning your things *alone* would be grounds to throw her out, but trying to *poison* your cat?! That is beyond unacceptable and she’s lucky her stuff probably wasn’t on fire when you threw it out after her.
I’ve ranted about this before and I’ll rant about it again: it’s not just money! As long as we live in a capitalist society, money is absolutely necessary if you want to eat regularly and sleep indoors. It is not shallow or self centered to want to eat regularly and sleep indoors! Or to be able to take your poor cat to the vet, for that matter!
And if “good works” were so important to that manipulative asshole, why didn’t treating you like a person with rights to their own beliefs and safety in their own home count as a “good work”? Charity starts at home, jerkface!
She was… definitely a varsity-level human to deal with, and I’m sure it was much worse to be her than to be around her. I believe in her own head, she was trying to do the best thing for me.
I think you are right about money. If I may just spit a little bile (her son was a dear friend of mine, and took her in, so I got perhaps more follow-up than was good for me on this), she procured rent-free housing for two years after she left my house, and, even though she was working full-time, when that ended unexpectedly, she had not made ANY provisions (including possibly saving an emergency fund or deposit) to find an alternate abode. From where I stand, it was selfish and shallow to make certain that everyone was scrambling to make certain she was taken care of… but I am quite biased.
Yeah, she lost any possible high ground, or middle ground, at “tried to poison my cat.” She’s lucky she isn’t in prison.
I think it might be good for her to have some legal action taken against her… but not my call.
Try looking up virtue signalling. Although her actions went beyond empty gestures/words to boundary-violating actions that were all about other people (ie, you and your cat, in this case) sacrificing for the sake of her virtue.
That…wasn’t a shitty thing to do. She tried to kill your cat. She tried to kill your cat. She tried to KILL. Your CAT. She didn’t uphold her end of the contract (because she didn’t actually give you the money that was owed) and therefore wasn’t owed shelter anyway. Lesser, but still pertinent, she admired the “pascifism” of somebody who upheld discipline through TORTURE. Also, she tried to kill your cat. For Jesus. Pretty sure that’s not pascifism.
Removing her from your home was the right and proper thing to do, even if it was hard and felt icky. I hope with time the brainweasels calm down and you can feel okay with this, because you do not deserve to feel bad.
Thank you. I know it sounds hollow, since I’ve said it so many times, but really. Thank you.
If someone tried to poison my dog, I literally don’t know what I would do.
Their belongings would be returned via balcony tossing for sure.
At the time, I doubted my perceptions. It was so far out of my experience of people, you know? You don’t deliberately cause named animals to ingest substances intended to harm them.
She was quite the learning experience.
Heck, she’d probably be ejected via balcony tossing.
She tried to POISON your cat?!!
That is so beyond normal, so beyond basic douchey personality traits into the realm of horrifying cruelty, I would have a very hard time not straight up decking her. Kicking her out was friggin’ mercy.
Also, in case it needs repeating, kicking her out was wise and vital to your safety. You made the right call.
Who…Who does that? Who tortures an animal? Why?
I… don’t get it myself.
It’s weird that it’s scarier to me thinking that she probably didn’t get any pleasure out of the act. Who would want to worship a god that demanded that an animal be killed for the crime of being loved by an unbeliever? It’s like something George R.R. Martin cut from the tenth draft because it’s just too icky.
Man…there isn’t any logic there.
Like, listen, I just got two “friends” evicted when I came over to help a mutual friend move out and it turned out they were hoarding animals. There was poop everywhere, some of the animals were starving, and they had *ducks* locked in the basement. Ducks! Locked up in the basement because “they might fly away and get lost.” They are ducks, they WANT to fly away!
So I called Animal Protective Services. We’re not friends any more.
I mean, they sincerely believed that they were helping these animals. That was their genuine belief. So, what else can be done? If someone deeply, sincerely believes an untrue thing, there’s no reasoning with them. And when that belief puts someone else in harms way, it doesn’t make you a bad person to step in an intervene (or, in your case, step out from the situation altogether).
I’ve heard of deeply religious parents weeping as they threw their gay kids out of the house because they don’t feel righteous about it. They see it as making the hardest choice of their life, to put their child’s eternal soul above their own selfish desire to love and support them. Yeah. All I can do in that case is wonder why you’d ever worship a god who demanded that of you.
From the sound of it, her logic was “Taking care of this animal costs money that could otherwise be used for Good Works I Approve Of, and also loving it takes up Love that The Awe Ritual could otherwise be Devoting To Jeebus. Therefore, if I get rid of the cat, I will be Saving T.A.R.’s Soul and getting more money for the deserving poor.”
Which, by hanging together logically, just demonstrates that you can prove anything if you pick the right postulates.
If someone tried to poison my dog then I would swing for their murder and it would be 100% justified, premeditated and all.
And honestly, being Very, Very Good starts with Not Stealing because Thou Shalt Not Steal, and paying you rent, because I’m fairly sure nowhere in Scripture does it say Thou Shalt Mooch off of Thine Roommate and Their Good Nature. You were absolutely right to kick her out.
I hope she gets a taste of what she did to you. Even if she believed she was acting with the intention of helping you, well, they say the road to Hell is paved with Good Intentions. I hope Karma has her number.
Yeah, I’ll be honest, I said “arrest” but really and truly, if I caught someone deliberately trying to hurt my cat, I would beat the living tar out of them. I mean, that sincerely. I would physically remove them from my house with as much unnecessary force as possible. And THEN call the cops.
There aren’t a lot of things that would make me that angry. But trying to hurt a pet, especially with something like poison–that relies on the animal TRUSTING you. No.
WOW! I too have brainweasels (I call it The Rat), so I feel you.
Setting aside EVERYTHING else (which you shouldn’t!), “Not paying rent” is the A-#1 most acceptable and necessary reason why you were 1000% right to make her leave. It was not shitty or wrong or unkind. She decided she wasn’t going to hold up her end of the arrangement, for whatever reason, and consequences ensued.
Brainweasels, please come on a play date with The Rat. I’m sure you can both eat ice cream and give your hosts a break! 🙂
Selflessly donating your money to the homeless? Good thin!
Promising other people significant sums of money which you don’t intend to pay? Bad thing! Very bad!
You are totally justified in kicking this lady out, she sounds like an awful person to live with.
I am rendered nearly speechless. The theft is one thing, but the attempted poisoning of a beloved companion animal is beyond the pale and shows a lack of empathy I associate with sociopaths. Wow.
Allow me to validate you: “This is not normal, and you were right to kick her out of the house.” Times infinity.
Well, trying to poison your cat already made her just about the most despicable person not in politics, but then you added she admired and *imitated* Dolores Umbridge, and I have to wonder if she was actually literal evil, because…no. Nobody does. (Her “pacifist” stance? What? Oh, her stance of taking any sort of power away from her opponents so they couldn’t fight back when she stripped them of their rights? Yeah, sure, I *guess* that’s pacifist…)
Okay, beyond the poisoning of the cat (which I am… speechless on – as a devout Christian who is typing this carefully around the cat on my lap, I can say with assurance that the Bible says NOTHING pro-cat-murder [or pro-any-pet-murder, for that matter) as a crime, a sin, and a terribly wrong thing to do… Delores Umbridge LOVED cats! I mean, seriously! Would not poison a cat. (One of the few lukewarm mediocre not terrible things about her.)
All that to say, holy cats, I’m amazed you didn’t kick her to the curb with a literal bootmark on her bottom. Garbage person. An absolute garbage person. (As for “good works” well…Christian Scripture teaches that if you have works but no love, you’re not doing it right. And she sounds like someone who only imitated love, but didn’t have any actual love. …poisoning someone’s pet, wtf, i would’ve straight up had her arrested, no lie.)
This is not normal, and you were right to kick her out of the house.
I have had my share of housemates who it turned out I could not live with, but NONE of them tried to *poison my cat* (here there be EVIL BEES). None of them went through my things. None of them ever failed to pay their share of the rent (at least, not for more than a month, and they always caught up).
Don’t stress about still needing validation. Some people are really, really good at gas lighting, and getting over their view of the world can take far longer than you wish it would.
So, so, so, so not normal. Nope, nope.nope. nope nope.
Intentionally trying to take away things that you love in the hopes that it will convert you is just horrifying. I think that’s an actual torture method: you have nothing left, you may as well join me/tell me everything. Was your roommate Angelus or a Dark Lord of the Sith (thinking Exar Kun)? For the record, I also find the book of Job awful.
You had to apologize for having a different taste in architecture??!!! Bees, bees, bees, bees! Giant, fuzzy, attack bees in formation!
And openly admiring Delores Umbridge is pretty ghastly on its own.
I think you are incredibly awesome for actually getting her and her giant killer bees from hell out of your house instead of just cutting your losses and running in terror yourself – which would have been a totally reasonable choice as well.
That’s super impressive, and likely standing your ground like that likely involved a whole lot of toxic blowback from her which is part of why you’re still hurting.
That stuff doesn’t just go away. You were in a toxic and abusive situation. It’s okay for it to take time. It’s also okay for you to go talk to someone professional if you are concerned about how much time it’s taking to stop feeling like you did something wrong. Because you didn’t do anything wrong.
You’re pretty amazing, internet stranger.
Oh wow, yeah that sounds familiar. I moved out of my last house because of a roommate/kind of friend like this. She was really into social justice too, and any time I messed up on something she would correct me in a kind of annoying self righteous way. She also didn’t seem to have any concept of give and take in a friendship and would just talk at me in a monologue about a social justice topic or other topic she was interested in, whether I appeared to be interested or not, and rarely asked me questions about my life or how I was. She didn’t seem to pick up on social signals and would even follow me around the house as I was trying to do other things, talking at me. I don’t think it was any kind of cognitive inability to pick up on cues, I think she was just really self absorbed. I think she thought we were closer friends than I did, or at least liked having someone to listen to her talk and talk, because she kept trying to do stuff together after I moved out, while I tried to quietly ghost away.
I know it’s cowardly and hurtful to ghost on someone, and I think she does wonder why I don’t hang out anymore, and feels a bit lonely because most of her other friends live further away and don’t visit the house much. But I just got so tired of how one sided the relationship felt. And there’s no real social protocol for “breaking up” with a friend. Just the idea of having such an awkward conversation with her like “I don’t want to hang out with you anymore because you’re very self absorbed and it’s very draining to just be talked AT all the time” made my anxiety sky-rocket. So I don’t really know what is best to do in these situations. Maybe she could have learned to be a better and less selfish friend, but I don’t want to have to be her test subject.
I feel gohosting gets too much hate. If you are being ghosted or needing to ghost someone, then clearly something was not functioning in the relationship. It obviously sucks being ghosted and not knowing why, I ended starting at the ceiling asking that question so many times. But if it’s happening then the SS Friendship boat has clearly sunken to the bottom of relationships ocean
It is OK not to want to train her into better behavior, for any reason or just “I don’t wanna,” especially if the very idea of trying it makes your anxiety spike! You did the right thing by taking care of yourself – you put on your own oxygen mask first! That is brave and awesome.
“I get messages from her all the time with selfies and stories about the latest stuff she is up to, but I never get asked about what’s going on with me.”
What happens if you send her a message with selfies and stories without waiting for her to ask? I remember this discussion from before: a “if she cared, she’d ask me” vs. “if she feels comfortable, she’d share, and I shouldn’t put her on the spot by asking questions in case she doesn’t want to share.”
Or maybe your friend is just clueless?
So, I would (1) test what happens if you initiate sharing spontaneously the way she does, (2) take the results from that, sit her down and go, “so, you share stories but never ask + when I share you do X, what’s up with that?, and notice the response v. carefully.
I’ve gotten into this dynamic before: I would want a friend to be supportive to me in a particular way, but for one reason or another I feel like I cannot ask directly for what I need (In my case, the reason is a mix of “not wanting to risk hearing a dismissive answer” + “care from others is not a thing I get in life” but ymmv). So then, I try to be supportive of that friend in the way that I would like them to be supportive of me. In the beginning this works, because I can experience supportiveness vicariously (if this made sense at all), and also, because I have hope for the future. After a while, I end up feeling exactly as you describe: “I keep giving her this thing that she never really asked me for to get her to give me some of the same back but she never does, so now I feel resentful and used and not valued.”
imo, you can give this one final push and state your needs explicitly–and if you feel like you can’t, dig around that because that in itself is information. This eliminates the, “Oh, I didn’t realize you felt this way” factor. But if she does know you feel this way and she does not give you what you need, it may be pulling back time. Her reasons may be whatever, and are irrelevant. She has the right to say, “I want you to be cared for, but *I* can’t care for you”–but then at least you know where you stand.
These were my 2 cents which may or may not be applicable to your situation. In either case, good luck.
With all due respect, I’m wondering if being a “generally good and supportive friend” is enough to balance out all the negatives in this relationship?She sounds exhausting, frankly. Perhaps it’s time to gradually start distancing yourself and find “generally good and supportive” friends who don’t need to be the centre of attention at all times and don’t make you walk on eggshells around them lest they get really upset by something they view as criticism.
I think one of the most important things I’ve learned as an adult is that it’s okay to distance myself from or even end friendships when they’re doing me more harm than good and there’s no end in sight, and only I get to make that call: There’s no objective standard for “I’m not enjoying this anymore”. I don’t do this often at all, but giving myself permission to do it every few years removes so much unnecessary stress from my life.
If possible I downgrade or end the friendship kindly, in whichever way I think the other person would appreciate most (non-confrontational distancing, telling them outright, etc), but if they’re going to take it hard no matter what I do that’s not my fault. I can respect the ex-friend as a person and even grieve the good things about the friendship, whether that’s a long history or deep talks or whatever, and still remember that it’s better this way.
The thing is, friendship isn’t free. It uses up time and energy that I might otherwise spend on other friends and activities, even ones I haven’t found yet because I was focusing my social energy on that person. I’m always surprised at how other people show up when I’m open to “new” socializing again, often people I’ve seen at this or that event, clicked with, and meant to contact sometime but didn’t because I was always busy. Suddenly I make room for them, and I connect with someone more supportive, positive, or otherwise good for me than my ex-friend.
There is one thing that’s made my more frustrating friendships better: Moving away. I have great relationships with several potentially exhausting old friends because we only talk on the phone for a half hour a few times a year (plus I stay out of their social media arguments, and they don’t start ones with me). I wouldn’t want to see them in person all the time, and when I do I can’t say I enjoy it, but we have really nice phone chats and long histories that I appreciate and value.
I agree, she does sound exhausting. I had a similar friend – always had to be the center of attention, sensitive to the barest the hint of criticism, boundary issues for example, saying “I don’t want to talk about it” made her push herder instead of backing off) and instead of being the queen of social justice, she thinks because her mom’s a nurse or something that means she can comment on other people’s health issues. I made a couple efforts to point out some of her (in my opinion) inappropriate and uncomfortable behavior, but after that didn’t do much good, I backed off from our friendship and I’m frankly better off for it. Yes, things are a little awkward when I see her at social events, but we’re both polite (since she actually is a reasonably nice person, under it all) and our mutual friends know why I made that decision.
And I made that decision because it is NOT MY JOB to try to “fix” her. I’m not her parent or her partner or her therapist. Me trying to manage her behavior when she didn’t think that she was doing anything wrong would have been inappropriate. The only thing I can manage is how much I interact with her.
I too have a person in my life with similar traits. Just need to sprinkle in the inability to take a compliment. She requires constant validation but also greatly dislikes getting compliments. So there’s no way to win. It’s always a moving target. I’ve come to realize that it doesn’t matter what I do, she’ll going to be upset because she’s always upset.
Also the same SJW competition. I didn’t realize that feminism was a constant competition. Some discomfort is required to grow, and that sometimes sucks, but I get the most ‘splaining from her.
All this to say that I’ve been putting up boundaries with this person in my life and it’s been unbelievably helpful for me. This person I’m talking about is family, so she’s not a close friend. In that way, I think it’s easier for me to leave the room/leave the conversation/let someone else respond to that group email etc.
I’ve only been working on these boundary things for the last few months, but it’s been a great relief. I hope they help you too LW!
LW, I think I understand where you are coming from. My situation is/was a little different, but it may help you with perspective.
My oldest friend (“Amy”) and I have been friends since around 1990. I considered her my best friend for decades. She held my hand after I was sexually assaulted, and she knows of my struggles w depression and medication. I’ve been clinically depressed (moderate to severe/suicidal) for most of my adult life.
Amy is extremely competitive. She is incredibly successful in our former industry (I’m an attorney now-but Yay her for her success! Thrilled for her!). Yet any award I won, she won more. Any bad day I had, she had worse. I was in LA for 4 weeks? She was in Brazil for 6. For many years I just let it go. Until last year.
I moved to a new city and she helped me (carrying pets on the plane). After, she really tore me up about not keeping up with my SSRIs. She compared it to her six months of postpartum depression she had over 17 years ago. She got over that and why aren’t I taking care and blah blah/I’m better than you…. and I wanted to punch her. MAJOR falling out. Severe long-term depression is not the same as short-term PPD. It’s just not. (Not that PPD is not serious, it’s just that they are different diagnoses.)
Point being – Does this person add to the party that is your life? Do they bring a nice bottle of wine, and try to socialize, and pick up at the end of the party? Or do they show up late, already tipsy, eat all the food, and drink the booze everyone else brought?
Balance out what this person brings to your party. If the competitiveness and/or neediness is too much, limit your time. If the competitiveness/neediness is something you can recognize and just say, Yeah Whatever, Old Friend, chalking this up to your own shortcomings!; and then let it go, and carry on.
Okay I think I started rambling there – sorry. Hope this was helpful. Good luck LW!
What I hear in your story is that you feel pain anger and betrayal at your friend’s actions. Which is your right! You are the expert of your life and decisions.
But I am feeling puzzled at what sounds like venom being directed towards a person who, if I’ve parsed this correctly, went on the plane with you to help carry pets when you moved and voiced concerns that you weren’t taking medication you’d been prescribed-?
Moving is a life stressor and a time when even local friends who own pickup trucks and hatchback cars run and hide.
Did she go on the plane with you so you could carry-on your pets in the cabin?
Seeing a friend go off meds that are working is absolutely unbearable. In my experience, there’s a period of days, weeks immediatly afterward where everything seems to be fine – just long enough to say #toldyaso. And then the residual meds have worn off and now Cherished Friend is boasting of making an under-10 child parent them, or spending a lot of money to get “spiritually adjusted” by a long-distance stranger over the phone, whom she met online.
Was she telling you that you need to take your life-threatening health needs more seriously, using herself as an example, perhaps badly?
From the context of policychick’s friend having had a short term depressive illness and policychick having chronic depression, my guess is that perhaps policychick’s friend was trying to hassle policychick that they were taking the SSRIs for ‘too long’ because look I got over my past thing much quicker than this why aren’t youuuu?? It’s so sadly common for people to assume taking meds longterm for anything mental illness related is a sign of weakness. 😦 And if my interpretation is correct, as someone who has taken SSRIs for many years, will be taking them for many, many more, and is recently (through a med switch, not coming off altogether) realising just how addicted my body is to these things, allow me to Laugh a Hollow Laugh in policychick’s friend’s face.
You bring up some good points, and it has been an ongoing point with Amy and I.
Yes she did make the flight with me (two cats in the cabin require two passengers) and Yes I paid for everything – flight, rental car, meals, hotel. I move a lot and this was the third time so I’ve done the drill and I never ask anyone twice unless they volunteer!
I think what peeved me was (what I took as judgment, since she is always ‘better’ than me) it is not easy to stay on meds when you don’t have a doc or insurance. Here in my new city, it took me six months to get on a state insurance program that would cover my meds. Out of pocket would have been $600/month. Then there’s the side effects for two months while you ramp up… It is not easy to be on long term SSRIs, and that’s putting it lightly.
I know she is concerned and has certainly seen me at my worst. But I didn’t need a lecture or to hear about how her six months of PPD sorted out so what’s my problem? Oh, I need to be on meds? OMG THAT HAS NEVER OCCURRED TO ME WHO KNEW? IF ONLY SOMEONE HAD TOLD ME.
But I take your points and I should be more generous in my interpretation of her words.
I hope you will be what *you need to be* in your interpretation of her words. If *it helps you* to be more generous, great, but it is VERY MUCH a dick move to lecture anyone on how they are handling their mental health care needs, *especially* around a cross-state-lines move.
She probably didn’t know how rude she was being, but she crossed a line. Mental health issues should be treated like Health issues. If friends know about it, they can offer support, from ‘how can I help you’ to ‘here’s something that you’ve mentioned in the past’ and *maybe* if they’re real close, ‘here’s what helped me’ but never ‘you should’. Especially never ‘you should do the thing that worked for me’. It’s like, ‘hey, you should get a cast on your bleeding leg because I got a cast when I broke my leg’.
I also hope you have what you need, and feel better. Internet hugs.
I notice the social justice bit didn’t get addressed, and I think it’s a potentially important counterpoint from the rest.
“We debated one article, and while I agreed with the general subject (BLM) I heavily criticized the author and the format of the article. She essentially implied I was racist, while assuring me that her opinion of me was not lowered.”
LW, you didn’t mention your race or Anne’s, which I assume means you’re both white (and gives a strong hint that you unconsciously view whiteness as a default). If you are, criticizing the author and format of an article about Black Lives Matter has a really, really high potential to be racist, especially if the author of it is Black. Saying, “I agree with this point about oppression on principle, but I don’t like the way it was delivered” is a form of tone policing. It is not up to white people, ever, to criticize how Black people talk about racism and anti-Blackness. Thinking that our opinions on the subject are relevant and desired is us acting out white privilege.
If that’s indeed the case, and you responded to what would seem to be Anne’s actually very nice attempt to explain why you were engaging in racist behavior with a centering of your own hurt feelings and frustration at having that racism pointed out, it would be an example of white fragility.
Here is a good explanation of tone policing:
And here’s good reading about what white fragility is, and why validating it is dangerous:
View at Medium.com
There is no single “correct, true way to approach social justice,” but there are, to be frank, a LOT of really bad ways to do it — ways that ultimately reflect the privilege of the person attempting it and reinforce the oppression they’re ostensibly standing up against. In the same way that you want Anne to be open to feedback and comments without meeting a wall of defensiveness, all of us who want to act in solidarity with marginalized people need to be open to call-outs and call-ins, set aside our knee-jerk reaction of hurt feelings and defensiveness when somebody points out that we’re doing or saying something problematic, and instead just say, “Thanks, I hadn’t thought of it that way, I’ll fix it going forward.”
Thanks for this!
I think a good practice in general is this:
If someone says “that’s racist” or “you’re being racist right now”…
1. STOP TALKING (or typing)
2. Instead of defending yourself, think about ways that what you did or said might be or could be racist.
3. Process any uncomfortable feelings that come up from that on your own, without turning it back on the person who pointed it out to you.
4. Don’t do that thing again/Be more aware next time.
Really good advice for any -ism, really!
The one caveat I’d put on it would be that it doesn’t apply in situations where it’s clearly based on a misunderstanding that oppression is about 1:1 behavior between people, such that it can happen to a person who has privilege on that axis. For example, if a white person tells you that you’re being racist towards white people, obviously that’s not actually about your behavior being racist, but about their misapprehension of exactly what racism is and how it functions.
At that point, you can definitely keep talking to them about it—and for people like me who are also white, I would say it’s actually very important for us to attempt to help other white people understand why there is no such thing as “reverse racism.” (If the person we’re talking to is a person of color, though, we want to be really careful about “whitesplaining” racism to them, even if we genuinely think they don’t get it. Depending on the context and our relationship, it might be better to just drop it or let another person of color handle things, unless they ask for our help.)
In the very, very vanishingly rare cases where, say, a person of color accuses a white person of being racist when they’re not, following Cap’s method is still a really good idea. We might *privately* ask some good friends who are marginalized on the relevant axis, “Would you mind giving me your honest opinion on whether or not this was [racist/whatever],” but that would be for our own personal reference going forward. We should still respect that whatever was labeled as “racist” by the person in question is a trigger for them and avoid it with them, and not treat it like some sort of “gimme” or “gotcha” that they were “wrong” about it being racist.
I think both of you make wonderful points. May I also add, though, the (usually) fellow who has found that a good way to shut down a dialogue about feminism is to call feminism racist, either because of feminism’s admittedly-deplorable past record with race and intersectional issues; or that talking about rape is really just a secret agenda vs. blacks (which, ew, YOU brought blacks into that conversation, buddy); or saying that childcare or paid housekeeping is a race issue— may I add him to the “rare exception” pile? May I continue to ask him (especially if he is an ALM advocate) if he isn’t using the race issue as the conversational equivalent of a smoke grenade? I apologize for digging the rabbit hole deeper, but I’m afraid this person is all too common in my corner of the Internet.
Do what you feel in those conversations, but also, maybe stop looking for the exception to the rule in this particular thread?
Sorry. I can see how what I said would be annoying, distracting, and not constructive, and I wish I could take it back.
Apology appreciated! Dealing with those dudes is super-annoying, too, so thanks for taking on the Sea Lions.
This is a question I have had for awhile about this, because this is the advice I generally see given when someone says “that’s racist” (sexist, etc.). What if you do all these things, process your feelings, don’t turn it back, think about the ways what you did could be racist, and come to the conclusion that you still don’t agree? I mean, I still don’t think anything good is going to come out of arguing that point with that person, but is it OK to disengage at that point? If so, is there an accepted way to do that?
I think that with good reasons these conversations tend to assume that the person *is* being racist/sexist/bigoted, but if one has done the examining and doesn’t see it that way, is there another way to deal with it without being a jerk?
I think you say “You’ve given me a lot to think about” or “Maybe you’re right” and disengage from that particular conversation if you can. Racism isn’t about personal intent anyway, so trying to prove that one instance of your personal behavior wasn’t racist is gonna just lead you down a rabbit hole that you don’t want to be down.
FWIW, I had this happen exactly once. I apologized to the woman who claimed I was being racist, then privately showed a few other women of color I’m friends with anonymized screenshots (after asking them first if it would be okay) to get their genuine opinions about it. They agreed that I wasn’t being racist and this was just a personal issue for the original woman.
I therefore confirmed that it wasn’t something I’d have to watch out for in general, but it was still a sore point for the original woman, so I now know to avoid it with her just in the general “don’t do things that make people uncomfortable” sense. Beyond that, there’s no reason for me, a white woman, to argue with a woman of color to “prove” that I wasn’t actually being racist, except to soothe my own ego. And personally I think it’s more important for her to know that I will listen and stop when she says something is racist than it is for me to be “right” about this one particular instance.
Personally, as someone affected by racism, I think that at that point you can politely say something like ‘you’ve given me a lot to think about’ or ‘thank you for bringing this to my attention’ or something like that, to recognize that you’d want to be let known if something you said was racist, even if you ultimately disagree with that assessment.
I would also say: look at patterns. If you are very frequently told you’re being racist, try to figure out where that is coming from. Is it coming from a white friend who is deflecting or using their white guilt to project onto you? Are you often, I dunno, drawing Frida Kahlo as being a white lady even though that’s extremely racist? Are you in a social sphere where some people feel pressured to use the language of racism to bring up any problem with each other?
Ideally speaking, you don’t want to be in an echo chamber where nothing you do could possibly be racist, but you also don’t want to be in an echo chamber where everything you do is racist–unless legitimately everything you do *is* racist.
This is a great strategy. Thanks so much for the suggestion!
I am happy to have a discussion about tone policing the oppressed, but you are making some wild leaps and jumps to put the blame at the feet of LW. We don’t know op, her friend and very importantly what was actually in the article.
They’re not particularly wild leaps and jumps. Not mentioning your race (especially in the context of discussing racism) frequently means a white person is speaking, and white people’s opinions on BLM are almost never relevant. And even so, I did caveat the response and make it very clear that it was about *IF* the situation was a particular way.
To be frank, the idea that we can’t even talk about this hypothetically based on informed guesswork is… well, problematic at best. If the situation is what I suspect, it absolutely *needs* to be addressed. Obviously all we have to go on is the brief description from LW herself, so the only way to do it is what I did, i.e., to say, “If X is the case, then Y.”
I would even go so far as to say that this defensiveness of LW without knowing any more than the rest of us is, itself, potentially some white fragility in action. If the White Fragility Hat doesn’t fit LW, then she can just… not wear it? The idea that this sort of exploration of the potential issues is “blaming” or attacking her is a pretty textbook white fragility response. My comment and Cap’s suggestion aren’t value judgments—simply a statement of fact that a white person criticizing BLM would be engaging in racism, and good advice in general for how to deal with being called out.
The captain above has a fantastic list of steps of what to do when being called out. Which I whole heartedly support and agree with. I think that you raised some valid points in your comments Eye.
But we still know nothing about the op her friend or the article. Op can be a person of color and the article could have been about the treatment of black people in america and could have still had some bad elements in it (be it bad grammar, toxic views on gender, or anything in between).
1. Why are you still defending a hypothetical version of LW who my advice wouldn’t even apply to? Again: If the hat doesn’t fit, she won’t wear it, so stop trying to jam it on her head… and stop trying to snatch it off her head if it does.
2. “Bad grammar” is almost never objectively bad, but rather a function of being “grammar other than that of dialects primarily spoken by rich, white, formally educated men.” The social construction of “good English” is inherently racist, sexist, and classist with no actual eye to objective linguistic merits.
3. If the article had “toxic views on gender,” unless the author was also white, it would be an intracommunity issue to handle. It’s not the job of white women to criticize misogyny in the Black community..
“Bad grammar” is almost never objectively bad, but rather a function of being “grammar other than that of dialects primarily spoken by rich, white, formally educated men.” The social construction of “good English” is inherently racist, sexist, and classist with no actual eye to objective linguistic merits.”
LW said ‘format’, not ‘grammar.’
Also, just as a general point, I wouldn’t underestimate the ability of rich, white, educated men to use incorrect grammar, by the standards of their own dialect, when they write. (Take it from one who has had to edit same.) Class privilege allows people to get away with a low,level of skill because they can always hire someone else to clean up ther text and can expect to be taken seriously even when they write ungrammatically.
This! I read that line and assumed that the writer of the article, perhaps, used a lot of jargon, made poor grammar choices, or cluttered the article with lots of cliches. That kind of thing would grate on my nerves as a reader regardless of the topic. So to be accused of being racist because I object to the overuse of cliche, or slang, or bad grammar….that would be off putting. But as Ruler of Cats says, we actually don’t know what LW meant.
Assuming that a writer of color is guilty of these things is pretty wildly racist though.
I don’t think she did. The writer is not named or described.
On the other hand, recognizing that White people frequently demean the grammar used by people of color (and Black people especially, including alternatively and sometimes simultaneously mocking and appropriating phrases from AAVE – see, for example, the recent viral fame of Danielle Bregoli) is not racist, it’s recognizing a racist pattern. LW used some common code phrases for racist critiques of people of color writing or talking about racism – we might be misinterpreting the coding, but since we’re working with limited information, we can’t know for certain, and erring on the side of repudiating possible racism (while qualifying the critique to make it clear that it only applies in the cases where the interpretation is correct) seems to me the better option than letting it go without comment.
That… would still be racist for a white person to criticize about a piece about BLM. Especially when you consider that “correct” grammar is typically defined by who speaks a dialect, and not its objective linguistic merits. Again: White people’s opinions on how a message about racism is delivered are not necessary, nor relevant, nor wanted.
I’m speaking, by the way, as a professional editor. I can’t imagine any scenario where it would be appropriate for me, a white person, to criticize a BLM article for “using jargon” or “making poor grammar choices” or “being cluttered with cliches,” unless I was directly and personally invited by the author to give that sort of feedback. Just the idea makes me cringe all over.
Before we get too far into critiquing an article THAT WE HAVEN’T READ AND DON’T KNOW WHO WROTE:
If a particular article doesn’t grab you the same way it does someone else, you can say that in a very general way. “I thought x article was really thorough, and this one didn’t grab me quite the same way, but I might not be the intended audience.* What did you find compelling about it?”
*A true fact. There are lots of pieces written about BLM and race relations that are written for white people, and a lot of conversations and articles that are simply not. There are conversations feminists have among ourselves that we would not be cool with a dude critiquing from the outside, and if a dude subtracted style points, that doesn’t make the discussions somehow invalid.
I have a rule on this website that we don’t correct or discuss letter writers’ or commenters grammar or spelling for a reason. Let’s extend that umbrella to speculating about articles we haven’t read.
The BLM piece could have been written by a white person, and that could have been the basis for LW’s critique. We don’t know. I think a white person’s opinion on how poorly another white person delivered a message isn’t necessarily irrelevant.
I agree it should be addressed, but we don’t know anything about the article, and lots of white people are writing lots of problematic “ally” thinkpieces about BLM.
I think we should all back away from the “Let’s find a situation where maybe the Letter Writer wasn’t being racist.”
Maybe she wasn’t being racist, in which case, good. Stop having these kinds of conversations with Anne. Maybe she was being racist, even unintentionally. People make mistakes.
The exercise of trying to thread this needle of “did they really really mean the racism, though?” or “Is it possible that they weren’t being racist?” every time someone suggests that something racist happened perpetuates racism, and we all need to stop that, full stop, blanket statement.
The issue here is that conversations about oppression with Anne feel competitive and performative to the LW. Refocus, please.
Thanks for putting a stop to this. The comments on this subthread were really making me uncomfortable and unsafe.
FWIW, my read is similar to Eye’s, and whether it actually applies here or not, it could apply and should be addressed in case it does. Eye qualified zir statements as conditional and contingent upon the assumptions ze is making and noted those assumptions, so I think it’s pretty clear that the comment only applies if those assumptions are correct.
she/her, thanks 🙂
Oh lord, I commented before seeing the moderation note, which is a good one. Please delete my comments on that part into the stratosphere.
I got u. ❤
There are obviously a lot of comments re: the racism part, so I thought I’d try and clarify.
Yes, me and Anne are (non-American) white, the article was written by a black woman. The argument, we had was really stupid, (it was through text) and turns out we were arguing about different things. She thought I was arguing the content (black peoples’ lived experiences in America), whereas I was arguing that I just thought the article was crummy – the use of a clickbait headline, arguments that went nowhere, sources used that did not support the authors point. The authors argument had a lot of merit but she was undermining herself with sloppy technique.
I thought these were fair (or unnecessarily nitpicky?) comments to make, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not an expert on a lot of SJ matters. I try to be fair, and I always try and recognise my privilege, and I’d like to think I’m mature enough to accept being challenged on anything I say.
My general beef with Anne re: SJ, is how she deals with conversations like this. Generally I don’t get into it with her (it gets a bit echo-chambery), but if any one else says something she doesn’t agree with, she kinda just shouts at them until they shut down. Like with our argument – she was so determined to make me see the author’s point (which I never disagreed with!) that she couldn’t recognise we were arguing different thing.
A thousand times thank you for the links.
Oh my goodness this sounds like my former co-worker. She was exhausting to work with because she would Just.Not.Shut.Up, whether it was telling us how awesome she was for doing something or explaining why she did something to be sure we knew it wasn’t her fault if something went wrong (she was never wrong, oh no). And she was really super sensitive to criticism (and would get angry and lash out), so I’m very grateful I didn’t have to manage her. But she also had an incredibly warm heart, and did a lot of volunteering (a lot!), and really cared about all her social justice thingies.
I don’t know for certain, but what she dropped about her childhood made me think it must have been pretty rotten–maybe not only not getting enough attention, but also a very unsafe environment to be wrong or make a mistake in, which is why she lived life in a sort of defensive crouch of I Am Never Wrong And Always The Best. Reminding myself of that and feeling sympathetic for her helped me to stand working next to her in an open-office environment for a few months. (That sounds so condescending and patronizing! But it did really help me, as a mental exercise. I was super relieved when she left, though.)
However, as kind-hearted as she was, I can’t imagine voluntarily spending time with/being friends with her. I’m presuming your friend must have some positive qualities. Do you enjoy doing activities with her? How did you become friends? Or is she just someone in your friend group? If she’s someone who you occasionally see at parties, maybe you can do what I did–work up some sympathy, take a deep breath, and let her talk, even though she’s one-upping and really insensitive.
However, if you’re really friends, maybe she’s an activity friend! Or an we-volunteer-for-one-thing-together-that-doesn’t-allow-us-to-talk-while-doing-it friend! Or an I-show-up for her only one out of four events/invitations friend! It’s okay to set limits or acknowledge to yourself that you kind of can’t stand her for long periods of time or in certain contexts.
And in either case, maybe hide her on your social networks so you don’t have to see 15 posts about that fantastic pie 🙂
Yeah, I’ve hidden SO MANY PEOPLE from my social media feeds because I can’t deal with them online, but love them in person.
Bingo! Yes be all accounts she had a horrible childhood and her parents were (are) abusive pieces of crap.
She is generally a very good, and always generous (perhaps too much) friend – just very tiring sometimes.
I have some of those qualities, and it’s because I was abused as a kid and am TERRIFIED of making mistakes, because well, I was “punished” for mistakes I both made and didn’t make and I was raised to think I was a shitty person, so I made up for it by becoming obsessive about helping others. I have definitely turned the dial back on my “making a mistake” anxiety, though, and I lash out less at criticism. It was a hard thing to do.
(Example of punishment for mistakes I didn’t make: My mom used to gaslight me by claiming that she revoked permission for an activity, and since I had done that thing, I was now grounded for a period of time. This was stuff like “stay late after school” or “go to the dancewear outlet”, mind you. Stuff you would find Liz doing in Sweet Valley High books.)
I’m conscious of it, though, and work hard not to be insufferable.
My sister-in-law is a lot like OP’s friend — every story has to be turned back to her somehow, she has to be at the center of conversation. This is a little easier because I don’t have a big emotional investment in my relationship with her, she is more of an occasionally required irritant. I try to avoid rewarding her with attention or affirmation, and move the conversation on, back to the person with the original story, if possible. So it’s:
Person: I just got a new job!
SIL: I had a job like that and I was really good at it.
Me: Hmmm (or Really!, or That’s Great!). So, Person, when do you start?
I don’t think SIL even notices I’m doing this, actually, as it isn’t possible all that often. If I had to deal with her more regularly, I wonder if this sort of subtle behavior modification would have any effect? I sort of make a game of it in my head, anyway, and it keeps me from being so annoyed with her.
Making it a game really helps! I had a friend that whenever we’d hang out with her, we always had to watch the X-Files. It got to the point that I’d be enthusiastic about literally any other plan anyone else suggested, whether I wanted to do it or not, just to see what would happen. Another friend noticed and started doing it too, but we literally never did anything anyone suggested but her the entire year we hug out.
Ha! I used to work with a woman who always, ALWAYS, took the other side of a discussion (not even argument). It was irritating so after a while I started agreeing with her (no matter the subject) and then she’d hop around to the other side; I assume just to keep arguing? It was amusing and I could better dismiss her silliness when I saw it for what it was – a way to gain attention.
Bless her heart.
It’s not selfish to want to be asked about yourself once in a while, and I think you know that that’s some not ideal socialization talking rather than a reasoned assessment. I don’t have actual advice on giving gentle pushback, but I wanted to remind you that becoming smaller is not the solution.
Meant to be to @exhaustedfanclub , whoops.
I just want to add that I’ve noticed that I have some friends – whom I really like and enjoy in person – but I cannot handle their online social media personae. There’s just something about the image they project or interactions they pursue on social media that irritates me. The mute button is your friend here. I love the Captain’s suggestion to pull back; I would also suggest that you think about which interactions you enjoy the most with Anne, and try to do those things with her, and think about which interactions you enjoy the least with Anne, and try to avoid doing those with her.
Any suggestions when that person is your spouse? He just can’t seem to stop himself from reposting right-wing memes….
It’s definitely okay to unfollow your spouse’s social media presence if you need to.
I have a very close family member whose politics are dramatically different than mine, and who loves sending me really offensive right-wing memes and links because he “wants to get my take on things” (really, he just wants to argue with someone.)
I asked him, politely and kindly, to stop. I asked him twice. The second time, I said, “I love you and I cherish our relationship, which is why I’m going to block you on social media because your posts ruin my day, and I don’t want to associate those negative feelings with you.”
Then I blocked him on all my social media accounts where we were friends. He pouted for a little while, and while he was pouting, I proceeded with our relationship as usual – sent him funny articles about mutual interests that were not politics, called him just as regularly as I always do and chatted about mutual interests that were not politics, etc. After a while he realized that I do value the relationship, and now we just don’t talk politics, and he seems to be over the blocking thing.
“he ‘wants to get my take on things'”
If this insincere bullshit could just be blasted off the face of the earth, the world would be better for it. There are certainly valid, constructive ways to say, “Hey, friend with opposing views, I ran into this thing and I’m curious about it and would love to discuss it with you if you’re up for it.” That’s totally a thing that can happen between consenting adults! And it can be great and awesome and both people can grow from the experience! But hooooo boy. I can almost hear your family member’s tone through the internet, and I am rolling my eyes so hard. I’m glad you were able to excise that part of your relationship.
An anecdote: I was on public transit on International Women’s Day, and a number of my fellow commuters were wearing red clothing and pink hats. Hooray! And then…The Mansplainer boarded the train. Not hooray. He literally STOOD OVER an older woman sitting nearby (I mention her age only because the apparent disparity of physical power was scary as fuck, and the dude knew it and was leveraging it) and asked about her hat. She proudly said, “It’s my pussy hat! Do you know what it means?” and He said, “Yes, and let me tell you why I have a problem with it…” and off he went. I let him go on for about 5 minutes before I gathered the courage to tell him to sit down and shut up. (Which he eventually did, but not without some tough guy bullshit.)
I was just so freakin PISSED, not only because he decided to force his garbage opinions on a train full of clearly-not-interested women, but because he asked such a bullshit, disingenuous question to kick it off. Like, if you just want to regale people with your opinions, go post it on your Facebook wall or Twitter or something. But stop asking insincere questions when it’s obvious that you don’t actually want to hear what the other person has to say.
Honestly? My experience is that people rarely seek out other people’s opinions on things, and it’s even more rare for men to seek out women’s opinions on anything. So if a man says he “wants your take on” something, it usually means he’s got another agenda. Possibly he wants an argument, possibly he wants to trap you into saying the “wrong” thing, possibly he wants an opening to give you his opinion. But the chances that he just uncomplicatedly wants to listen to your views on something are very low indeed.
Possibly my favorite moment in my life is when the personification of a southern born-again white male who is my partner’s uncle sent word that he wanted to “have a discussion” about our different take on religion the next time we were together. I was an atheist living in sin with his nephew, he regularly spams out bigoted forwards between hosting adult baptisms in his backyard–no way was he looking for a free exchange of ideas.
What Dude had not fully put together is that I am extremely well-versed in Christianity, including having read the entirety of the texts found in Qumrun and Nag Hamadi. I countered every one of his condescending, intended-to-be-rhetorical questions with citations from his own (supposed) belief system. With witnesses.
For some reason, he hasn’t wanted to “discuss” the matter further.
I totally agree with you. It’s basically the opening salvo of someone with a different opinion who is spoiling for a fight. I find it extremely disrespectful and passive aggressive, the person uttering those words is generally trying to “prove” that they are an oppressed victim of your intolerant beliefs – especially once you’re read the offensive meme that they’ve sent you, and flames are coming out of the sides of your face, and then they say something like, “I don’t agree with everything [insert offensive pol here] says, but he makes some good points” and insist that “they just wanted to hear your opinion” once you are offended and frustrated and have reached a boiling point.
Meanwhile, somewhere off in the corner, the point is quietly lost that you never once tried to foist YOUR opinions on them by sending them things that were sure to offend THEM.
Good for you for shutting down the asshole on the train!
Ugh, hbc, my FIL has tried this because of my views on feminism. He countered all of my research and points with “well I read back in college that women have 12 speech centers and communicate X and women should be mothers”. You’re doing the lord’s work, shutting down these folks.
My FIL tried that with me a couple of times. He’s an accountant, right wing conservative, reasonably intelligent, I’m an Econ / Poli Sci BA, MBA, who reads econ theory books for fun. So when he tried ‘Ross Perot’ on me, I was like, ‘GOLD STANDARD, DON’T MAKE ME LAUGH, 15 minutes of why it’s laughable’, and we do pretty well now.
It helps that my MIL really likes how happy her son is with me, and the grandkid. She stopped the worst stuff, at least in front of me.
Did anyone else watch Kristin Wiig’s Penelope skits on SNL? I immediately thought of her.
Wow, this is fantastic, thanks for sharing it! I actually Lol’d. 😉
To paraphase two other wonderful advice columnists –
1) Your friend is a jerk and won’t change.
2) Dump the frenemy already.
Actually the pulling back advice is much better, and I was overly harsh. Still, the goal should be your happiness, not changing Anne’s behavior because that may not be possible.
Oooh, LW. I have an acquaintance who’s like this, kind of. For her, it centers around her fandom activity (which is where we met). If she posts a chapter of one of her fanfics, she expects a certain kind of response within a certain (pretty short) timeframe. She also has gotten angry at people for doing things that she perceives as taking attention away from her fics–writing “her pairing,” posting on “her chapter update day” (like, say, if she posts chapter updates on Mondays, anyone else in her friend group who happens to post a fic on a Monday gets passive-aggressive barbs and sulking), stuff like that. Same goes for whether you don’t reblog her meta/headcanons, don’t respond promptly to her “having a bad day”-type Tumblr posts, etc. Most of her response to not reacting to her precisely the way she wants is passive-aggressive snarkiness, sulking, and silent treatment, but sometimes she’ll also vagueblog that people are triggering her by not replying to her chapters promptly or effusively enough.
Note up there where I said “I have an acquaintance”…? A year and a half ago I would have said “I have a friend,” and in fact defended her, because I really do believe that she’s hurt when she doesn’t get the attention. I still feel bad for her, but eventually it got to be… just… as the Captain says here, “a LOT.” (The breaking point was watching her publicly berate a mutual friend for being so insensitive as to post fanfic on a Monday, thus taking some of her spotlight–as if fic was a zero sum game.) I realized that she needed not just a ton of attention but a ton of attention in a very specific choreographed way (exactly the right compliments, exactly the right soothing noises, at exactly the right times), and that I could not do that. (To be clear, I don’t think she’s making up the fact that she uses fic comments as a way of bolstering her mood/self-concept, and I do feel bad for her that she appears to really be hurting. It’s just that I couldn’t be that on-call compliment person anymore.)
Honestly, I wish I had a better ending to the story than “she went from a friend to a small-doses friend, and thence to an acquaintance because she really doesn’t want to have small-doses friendships and ended up cutting me off.” But that’s how it went, and honestly, in the end, it was kind of a relief. We’re cordial to each other when mutual friendships bring us into proximity, but nothing more than that… and it’s a relief to not be constantly worrying that I’m going to miss a fic chapter or Tumblr post and ruin her day.
Wow. She… called dibs on a day of the week? I want to be sympathetic, it sounds superlatively tedious to have had to deal with her, and I cannot imagine how awful inhabiting that person’s must be, but I really did just burst out laughing.
Right? I had much the same mixed bag of feelings!
I think part of the reason that was the last straw was exactly that, that it was just SO out of bounds. “I work through my issues with fanfic and it’s traumatic for me to put myself out there and not get positive feedback” is a lot to ask of your friends (especially when you’re way specific about the method and timeframe of the feedback), but I can at least sort of see how that thought process works, even if there are almost certainly healthier coping mechanisms than “micromanage your friends’ fannish behavior.” “Monday belongs to ME” is… another step beyond, and it was enough to get me to go “oh wow, this has got well out of control.”
Either your ex-friend is my ex-girlfriend, or OH DEAR GOD THERE ARE TWO OF THEM. And unfortunately, there are probably two of them.
But mostly, I am commenting to say, “I hear you, and dear lord is that ever stressful/frustrating.” And I don’t think there’s any way to deal with it other than moving that person to small-doses friends, at best, because not only is it frustrating and irritating, it can suck all the joy out of something you do for fun.
Well, take comfort: logically, there can never be more than seven of them…
For each fandom.
You may want to revisit if you want this person as a friend. You are annoyed by her in person and online, your not interested in what she talks about, she can’t celebrate your achievements (because she’s too busy celebrating her own, or trying to one up you) and she called your a racist (but she is cool with it). Okay, I am generalizing A LOT but does this sounds like a friend?
Life Hack: You don’t have to be friends with or hang out with people who you don’t like or emotionally drain you. I would consider a slow fade to nothing.
That doesn’t speak badly about you or her – it’s just that you don’t fit anymore as friends.
Learning the “You don’t have to be friends with or hang out with people who you don’t like or emotionally drain you” lesson was a hard one for me to learn too, but so very worth it. Even friends who you’ve known for a long time don’t have to be your friends forever… if you’re not getting enough positive to outweigh the negative in a personal relationship (platonic or romantic), it’s okay to say to yourself “this isn’t working for me” and cut back/walk away from the relationship.
LW, you don’t owe anyone your friendship or your time. It’s a gift you give to those who are as invested in you as you are in them!
yeah honestly this kind of reminds me of my own situation a bit. I had a couple friends who I’d known for like a decade and had been really good friends with. Over time they changed into emotion policing people that I just couldn’t stand to be around. They weren’t the people I’d made friends with and I realized it wasn’t healthy so I made the decision to end it and haven’t really seen them since. I don’t regret being friends with them but I don’t regret ending it either.
This really resonated with me.
I had a friend for nearly two decades. A dear friend. Who declared that my child was like her own to her (she’s single, no kids). But. BUT. With kid number two safely gestating, I took child to go see her. She was more than an hour and a half late – which I remembered being peeved about because I could have taken the train at N o’clock or N+1 o’clock and she insisted on N so “we’d have more time together.” Her roomies let us in to wait. Kid was STARVING and behaving badly (and pregnant me was far to tired to police him for 90 minutes) – by the time she arrived he’d broken one of the fidget toys “for guests” in her living room. She declared there was no time to go to lunch with us, checked facebook, scolded kid (because they “don’t make those anymore!”), realized she was late for her next appointment, and bolted out of her place. Kid and I ended up crying for a few minutes before we got lunch by ourselves.
At that moment – when she hurt my child because he was hungry and grumpy and playing with something I said was OK (there were LOTS of grown-up delicate things at her place, SO NOT CHILD SAFE) – she became a small doses friend. It was a long time coming, but I can’t regret it.
Funnily enough, the last time we met for coffee she told me that she was “sorry I haven’t been spending time with you, but you were stomping all over my boundaries and I had to protect myself” and citing when I’d parked at her place – and come up for a coffee and a ‘hello’ when I arrived – “as why I went silent on you” (This happened years ago; before sending the kid into tears, I really was not, and could not have been the last time we met). I don’t regret being friends with her, but I wish when I first realized she was warping narratives I’d called her on it. Instead, since the other parties were only acquaintances, I was her agony aunt…
Yeah, we were good friends for a long time, and I don’t regret it, but I don’t want to be friends anymore.
I don’t have anything to add to this except this behavior was NOT okay, and you were right to take care of yourself and your children by ending it. Jedi hugs if you want them!
I think the advice to address it holistically is really smart — “Hey, I feel like I’m walking on eggshells about little things lately (like *tiny example* and *other example*). It seems like you’re stressed out and needing reassurance more than normal. Is there anything I can do to help you feel loved so you’re not having to come back again and again for more reassurance? That’s got to be hard and stressful in itself.”
I’ve had friends like this, and yes, it is draining. I’d say to make sure you’re spending time with people who charge you up, and time by yourself if that energizes you. Good luck!
Oh, I love this script. It might beed to be something you only do if you’re feeling able to do it, LW; I know that the Ritual Soothing Dance can be exhausting, especially when it’s mixed with trying to get your needs met. Good luck!
Seconded on the loving of the speech.
Yes, definitely only if you feel able to do it, LW. It’s a hard line to walk because that conversation can be SO SO HARD. If you have the energy, it might be worth it, but if pulling back is what you need, do that instead.
“Muting” on twitter is wonderful. It gives you everything you need from blocking (they don’t show up on your feed!) without the emotional baggage that blocking/unfollowing carries. I mute all the time. Some people are muted briefly (ex: one account that goes basketball crazy is muted through the whole season because I do not care about basketball), some people are muted forever (ex: my one friend who I adore in person and didn’t realize I hated her social media presence until it was too late). They are none the wiser.
LW, you are 100% ok to proactively limit your interactions with her. And you may find that the less you’re around her, the more you like her – or that you don’t miss her at all and it’s time to just let it fade away. African Violet, even, if necessary.
Yes! I recently muted someone in my social circle for the first time (previously I’ve only used it for famous or “Twitter-famous” people I found annoying), and I find that it isn’t even really stopping me from interacting with them — it’s just making it easier for me to save that interaction for when I feel up to it, because I still see other people’s replies to their tweets on my timeline and can click into the conversation if I want to.
Well, some of this “one-upping” behavior is stuff I’ve done too. It has its roots in my so-barely-there-but-there autism spectrum wiring, which is much more obvious in male family members, so mine went undetected. Anyway, I’d hear you tell your story and I’d immediately think of it not as communication or a solicitation for empathy, but as an invitation to play, and HERE’S ONE OF MINE EVEN BETTER. And I’d do that, every time. I adore being “on” in those heady times when I feel safe, and I always, always went too far.
It’s such a recent revelation that I can measure its start-point in weeks. I didn’t catch it b/c of the rate I’d burn through friends and jobs. The friends would ghost and the jobs end in fiery shouting. I was too busy scrambling (try getting work without being able to name personal references) to figure out how damaging my (self-defined) “charming and quirky lil’ mannerisims” were. It’s lashed up by my personal gollum, caffeine, which I excuse b/c, hey, you’re sitting there having some, so that means I can… But it’s a bona fide addiction for me; it changes my personality. Chocolate may as well be in a syringe- it’s the perfect delivery system to unleash my manic, grasping, anti-social beasties.
What could a friend have said that would slow you down a bit, do you think, without losing the fun part?
Hmm! What a kind question… -Maybe if they’d of said that when I did this, it was hurtful to them; that they felt I was erasing or invalidating their experience.
Similarly, a couple of times I was “halping” and the people found my injecting my own ish unbearable and said so, in the moment. One said “You mother your friends” -emphatically not intended as a compliment. A sibling told me “If you’d spend half the time on yourself that you spend telling me what to do, you’d get somewhere in your life.” Those got through to me, though I didn’t have the tools to course-correct until much later. Like that line of Penny Lane’s in “Almost Famous” “The truth just sounds different.”
Edit: “That when I CHOSE to do this…” Pointing out my personal responsibility.
I’d like to know also! My husband has mild Asperger’s, and exhibits many of the same behaviors. I have difficulty sometimes explaining to him why the things he says are sometimes not very tactful, or are downright insulting, even though I know he doesn’t mean it that way.
From my own experience, you’d get farther with “I think” prefaces, over “I feel.” Logic triumphs over emotion, and writing what I now know is the opposite of neurotypical, empathy-guided persons, I ruefully concede what an uphill struggle our differing communication sets can be to match. I’ve never seen it so clearly as now, as I age out of the degree this presents as.
I came across John Elder Robison’s book “Look Me In The Eye” and found a kindred spirit at last. (He’s Augusten Burrough’s older brother- it’s a rollicking read.)
Thanks for the book recommendation! Definitely adding that to my to-read list!
Not Dragon!, but I often do the same thing and maybe another voice would be helpful? Fearful of irony here. It would help me if more people were willing to tell me what they wanted. “Ask me a question about my day.” “Can we talk about just me for a bit?” It’s remedial as all hell and it kind of requires that they know what they’re looking for in a response, though.
I think I might only be willing to take those statements at face value instead of a rejection (as long as their tone is playful or matter-of-fact or bland) because of my flavor of the autism, though. Not sure it would work for everybody.
I think you can totally build a relationship where asking for what you want is the norm. My partner and I have a relationship where I can say, “Please praise how clean the bathroom is!” and she will make happy noises. I can say, “I need you to listen to how my day was and tell me I handled the hard thing well.” She can ask me to acknowledge the hard thing she did, or (conversely) to NOT mention something for a (short predefined) length of time. We managed to set it up as a relationship default sorta by accident, but it is much kinder for her very literal minded communication style and my need for acknowledgement and social interaction.
I recently set up the norm with the kiddo I mentor “I will not get mad at you for asking to do something, but in return, I would like you to as calm as possible if the answer is ‘no’ or ‘not now’.”
You can build these relationships – my husband and I have it (17 years and counting). Our relationship mantra: I can not read your mind, please don’t expect me to.
It helps that we are both a little on the autistic spectrum and that I did not get a lot of traditional female socialization. Example: Last xmas, I was shopping for family presents, and found a jacket I loved (brocade and big enough! I’m very tall). I called my husband and asked if he wanted to get me that jacket for xmas, and he wisely said yes. This goes back a long way, from our first xmas, when we were in an antique store (with clothes) and he asked if it was ok if I knew what he was getting me for xmas. I answered, ‘if that means the gorgeous red goth necklace, then o hells yes. And would you like the top hat you tried on, since it’s actually large enough for you?’
My perception of traditional female socialization: a room mate of mine described walking with her boyfriend and staring at a necklace in a jewelry store with him, then being disappointed he got her earrings instead. I just… I couldn’t parse this. If she didn’t say out loud that she wanted x, then disappointment at y? Wut? He thought enough of her to get something quite nice (2nd xmas, in line with her general style, about 3 days of income for him); perfection usually takes communication. She looked at me funny, but years later said she agreed and had worked to be more explicit.
One reason I love Cap A and commenters so much is that not only do they push ‘Use Your Words’ a lot, they give some examples of words to use. The words can be hard to think of, sometimes. I have totally used some of the scripts here.
I feel you really hard on this–my own usual culture is that sharing our own stories about similar problems/struggles/etc and how we dealt with them is a way of commiserating and showing empathy and giving gentle, polite advice without being prescriptive. Sometimes it’s hard to know when this is okay to do and when you’re pissing off the other person and making them feel like it’s a competition, and so sometimes I just outright ask people ‘hey, before you start venting/sharing, do you want me to share my similar story too if there is one or nah?’ and then take their answer honestly. This IME works even better than just stopping sharing because it makes people feel like you care a lot about them.
Your friend sounds needy,exhausting and insecure. I would spend less time with her and avoid topics of conversation such as social justice . Your friend would benefit from therapy to get to the root of her insecurity.
I genuinely wonder if the friend is at a psychological place to label her insecurity as such?
But yeah. It would just have to be the RIGHT therapy.
I like the Captain’s advice very much about how to address the behaviour with this friend.
It’s important too to take a step back and assess the friendship as a whole, to determine if it’s worth the pain to attempt to fix this dynamic. I’m skeptical of your chances of resolution with someone who “perceives any ‘criticism’ as a direct attack on her person”. But only you can know if it is worth it to you to try to fix this.
Alternatively, since it seems clear you’d like to still have this friend in your life, consider cutting back on your time with this person in the ways Captain suggested (muting social media, limiting time together). I have found that this has worked really well with some tricky people in my life. They are people that I enjoy in smaller doses, so I see them less often, and mostly mute them on social media. This way I can still enjoy my time with them, as I’m less likely to reach the point of frustration.
One of my best friends was an anecdote/joke/story snitcher, in that ze would repeat, often word for word, funny observations I made at an earlier date, with me standing nearby, and without acknowledging it came from me originally.
Ze also liked to stand directly in front of me when there was a conversational circle, effectively cutting me off from the rest of the circle.
There were some other issues that always felt like I was being forced into a sibling rivalry kind of situation, and I didn’t enjoy it.
What helped: I reminded myself that it wasn’t malicious. Some of the worst social missteps were likely directly tied to some mental illness issues going on that have since been addressed properly, so reminding myself that it also wasn’t deliberate helped. Deliberately spending time with other people and not this particular friend when I was starting to get all “bitch eating crackers” toward zir also helped. Lastly, reminding myself that I have my own conversational infelicities at times (and that I likely annoy others with them but they still put up with me) helped.
If certain interactions with Anne can be avoided, avoid them. See if a smaller dose of Anne helps with your annoyed feelings.
If a smaller dose of Anne doesn’t work, try nipping unproductive interpersonal exchanges with Anne in the bud, as modeled above.
If mindfully changing the subject and limiting time with Anne both fail, maybe you need a break from Anne. If you miss her during your time away from her, you have some work to do re: figuring out how to enjoy Anne’s best qualities, because missing her means you value her despite these little annoyances.. If you don’t miss her even a little bit, that is your answer, and it is time to slow fade and maybe find more congenial friends.
LW here – thanks to Captain and all you lovely commenters!
You all have some really great advice, and I think that spending less time with her is the way forward. I do a lot of what the Captain suggested already – I don’t engage when she repeats a story, or in online chat when she fishes for comments/validation I usually ignore it. I also try and space out the time I spend with her, which helps a lot. When I see her infrequently I have a much better time with her and can usually let her bad traits roll off me.
Another strange thing she does (has anyone else experienced this?): some time ago she told me this guy dumped her blah blah, she was tell me why, all the intricacies, how heartbroken she was. I gave her my sympathy. She made me feel like a confidant. I then witnessed her repeating her tale of woe to numerous other people. Maybe I’m just being a precious flower but it feels like it cheapened our conversation, when she just wants sympathy from wherever she can find it. My advice/support just felt less valuable, because she’s happy to get it from wherever she can. Similar situations to this have happened before. Since the dumping incident I’ve become less supportive, because I figure – why bother? When she acts like this, to me, our friendship feels less special/important.
For me, when I have an upsetting issue I wouldn’t dream of telling everyone who might listen, I’d tell my SO and maybe another friend. Am I just more private than her? Or has anyone else experienced behaviour like this?
Well, not everyone is private about the same things, that is for sure.
But it does seem of a piece with her repeating stories over and over searching for — something.
My thoughts exactly.
I hope I am not getting into “diagnosis” territory, but it feels very much as if her FOO was awful to her in a way that completely crushed her capacity to listen to (and validate) herself and her feelings. If you’re feeling it, you can say, “Yes, the pie is lovely, but I like you because you are Anne. You don’t have to convince me of your right to exist and be you!” You can even post the lyrics to Mister Rogers’ “You I Like,” on her Facebook page. But I may be way off, and even if I’m not, as you seem to be aware, it’s not your duty to heal anyone’s inner child except (possibly) your own.
Alternative perspective, if it’s welcome:
I think one of the ways some people tackle social awkwardness — visible or the kind of awkwardness they feel they have, even if it doesn’t show — is to develop scripts (kinda like we do here) to be the Not Awkward Socially Acceptable Person. And I am wondering if your friend is one of those people, because she has refined how she talks to people somewhat and reuses those pieces of refined script, she seems to feel really sensitive about doing something socially wrong (needing validation/game pieces!)/is doing things that might hint at basing her value on accomplishment or utility (pie!), has some habits that people who do a -lot- of their social online have, and…well, seems to be reaching out desperately even though she doesn’t seem confident of her own social value.
I’m basing this on a lot of people I know, especially in fandom etc., who have that one-up style of conversation (I am half convinced it’s a subcultural way of relating; it happens so often and so smoothly with my fandom friends — literally just how they talk — and is so abrasive elsewhere) and are also terribly lonely and are also trying to do something about it, but just aren’t quite doing -well- with that effort for whatever reason.
I don’t think this means that this has to be a good fit with your friendship style/way of being. But for what it’s worth, the Captain’s “bids for connection” observation really rings true to me based on the additional things you’ve said, and…if that’s true, I don’t think she’s living -at- you. She’s not devaluing your friendship by telling the same stories to other people. I think she’s just living, and trying to build connections and support where she may.
“she has refined how she talks to people somewhat and reuses those pieces of refined script, she seems to feel really sensitive about doing something socially wrong (needing validation/game pieces!)/is doing things that might hint at basing her value on accomplishment or utility (pie!)”
This feels really close to the mark. I mean, I’m one of those people who frequently repeats stories (sometimes I forget who I told them to), or I may tell someone something in person that I also posted online (because to me those are different kinds of interactions? Like, online is just a general…thing. Just putting it out there. But if it’s a Thing I Did or A Thing That Happened, I want to actually *talk* about it? And given the way facebook etc works, it’s never a sure thing someone saw a thing? I’ve made that assumption, and then had friends be confused when I referenced a thing I’d mentioned online), and being called up on Social Faux Pas just always makes me feel like garbage (which is *not* my friends’ fault, that’s just my horrible anxiety that likes to remind me of How I Screwed Up Today/This Week/Month/Year/Decade. I grew up with a family that had less than kind ways of calling out missteps, so…yeah)
But the important thing is, like you said, LW’s friend isn’t doing any of this *at* her. But if LW’s friend is making her uncomfortable (and especially the social justice queen stuff sounds bad), then all of that isn’t LW’s problem. Friend needs to stop, or LW needs to take some time off.
FWIW, when I got dumped last year, I wasn’t exactly private about it either, but it was my first, and I was in dire need of support from friends who had gone through this before. I certainly wasn’t doing it in terms of “look at me! pay attention to me!” and dumping it on one party would have drained them, from where I sit.
I guess I’d say that with things like breakups, taken individually, I wouldn’t take it personally if I were you, but the fact that this happens with situations that are non-dumpings does give me pause, along with what else you’ve written in the letter.
I think that not engaging with fishing/repetition is a good plan, as is limiting contact.
I admit, I wince at the example of the breakup, though — that’s a big life change where it’s actually often a *positive* coping mechanism to spread your need for emotional support among multiple people, rather than just leaning on one.
Otherwise, you can overdose that single friend on your continued heartbreak and distress, whereas talking to a number of people can be helpful (just from getting multiple perspectives!), as well as lessening the chance that a specific friend will distance themselves from you because they’re over your breakup feels.
Since it’s part of a *pattern* of her repeating stories, I can see it being an annoyance — but I don’t think you’re necessarily justified in feeling less special/valuable as a friend because you weren’t the only person she turned to after a breakup.
Again — the pattern is the problem, but this single incident isn’t specifically out-of-line behavior.
(FWIW, yes, in this instance, you are more private than some people . . . and that’s totally okay!)
This friend sounds like she’s overall very trying to deal with, and she’s not owed your time, attention, or sympathy. I’m totally onboard with your initial letter, I just felt like this single comment merited a different response.
That wouldn’t bother me so much. I’ve sought sympathy from multiple people after breakups before. Why not? It’s the wanting constant validation about things like pie that would bug me.
Yeah, I don’t think seeking sympathy from multiple folks after something like that cheapens the individual relationships I’d have with them at all? I’d feel deeply hurt if that was the impression someone got from me doing that.
Thanks for this viewpoint, it’s good to see this from the other side.
Why VermillionMinotaur? I often work to translate my interior dialog to simpler vocabulary to make sure I don’t go over my non-native-english speaking coworkers’ heads, and my brain turned this into ‘Red Bull Head’…
Well, I’ve found when I do something like this I usually have two reasons why:
reason one, I’m looking for more validation that the thing in the story was bad/unjustified or that I acted correctly or that the other person really WAS an asshole or whatnot
reason two, I’m using the story and how someone reacts/if they say anything cruel about it as a gauge for how much I’ll trust them/be open with them, etc.
(If I tell someone the story of my appendicitis and they start ranting about how self-diagnosing physical conditions is a Sin I know they’re not really a person whose views on that I can deal with, if I tell someone about dumping a friend because of their homophobia and they get defensive I can tell they are/have been homophobic before, and so on.)
Reason one, for me, plus I was often looking for a way to frame the whole thing so all that pain and awfulness made *sense, you know? That quiet moment of, “Oh. Right. Well, that’s something I learned so I never have to repeat this cycle of awful again.” The day I started giving my friends much-needed peace and quiet about my personal life was the day I successfully learned to say, “What would Captain Awkward say if I wrote her about this?” and “What would Dan Savage write about this? And how would he apologize later when he realized his answer was transphobic?”
Reason one, definitely, for me, with the addition of perspective. Speaking to multiple friends about the breakup and getting their reactions of either “I’m so glad you’re away from him” and/or “What happened to you was absolutely fucked up” was a huge factor in me deciding to start therapy. That validation helped immensely; without it, I’d still be blaming myself for not being small enough.
I didn’t have reason two in mind when telling my friends about *this* particular situation, but it did crop up when two of them blamed me either for missing the red flags (dismissing that this still wasn’t OK), or tried to persuade me to consider what I did to piss my ex off, and that I was just upset because I was the dumpee, and the dumpee always considered themself the wronged party (invalidating and projecting a false narrative, even when I told her that wasn’t true). The latter got unfollowed eventually on social media, and the former, I’ve pulled back. Especially after independent events from this year.
I’d say that context is probably the big issue here. In a healthy relationship, it doesn’t cheapen anything to confide in more than one person – friendships aren’t monogamous, and if someone needs support, they get to decide who to ask. But your basic problem with Anne is that you feel your good will is being abused. She’s demanding a ton of validation because that’s what friends do, while frantically invalidating you every time you say the least thing that touches on an insecurity of hers. Which is to say, the ministrations of friendship are flowing one way.
So while multiple confidants aren’t necessarily bad, I think your insticts are basically saying that she’s been relying on your friendship to get a lot of emotional work out of you rather actually being your friend – that she sees you more as a source than an individual, and any source will do. I don’t know how much of an exaggeration this is – you’re clearly fed up, and fed up judgments are seldom charitable – but it may be that what’s really bothering you is that you feel she’s using an illusion of closeness to get what she wants.
Of course, this wouldn’t be true if it would bother you if a supportive friend confided in you and several others. In that case – yes, that is just having different personal comfort zones, not a betrayal, and it would be unreasonable to object, or possibly your own insecurities speaking? But Anne is clearly not supportive, so what bothers you from her may very well not bother you from others.
I really love your descriptor “it cheapened our conversation.” What a great illustration. That’s exactly what it feels like.
I’ve experienced behaviour like this and, like you, I felt flattered that the person was choosing me to confide in and interpreted it as a sign that we had a strong bond. Then when I heard them telling literally everybody I stopped feeling flattered and re-assessed my idea of the kind of bond we had. There’s nothing wrong with sharing your story with everyone, but there’s also nothing wrong with feeling less sympathetic once you realise you’re Confidante #63.
“it feels like it cheapened our conversation, when she just wants sympathy from wherever she can find it. My advice/support just felt less valuable, because she’s happy to get it from wherever she can.”
Ye gods yes. I had a roommate like this. Gets dumped/breaks up with someone, comes into my room sobbing, I provide tea/sympathy/shoulders/booze/etc., talk for HOURS. For me it feels like a moment of closeness and connection. For her it’s rinse and repeat with the next sympathetic ear. I look back now and see desperate, desperate insecurity and fear of rejection, but both now and back then I feel/felt like she was jerking people around to get the response she needed. She was an approval junkie looking for her fix and you bet your ass it made me feel used. So yeah, I feel that for sure, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you pulling back for that reason alone.
” I then witnessed her repeating her tale of woe to numerous other people. Maybe I’m just being a precious flower but it feels like it cheapened our conversation, when she just wants sympathy from wherever she can find it.”
I dunno, that’s…weird to me? Like, when I’m dealing with something bad, especially if it’s something bad where there’s little to *actually* be done beyond “carry on”…I generally talk about it with just about anyone who I think I can talk about it with? It’s part of how I cope with a Bad Thing–being able to repeat it to other people helps me process it and helps make it feel more real.
Just because you’re not the only one she’s talking about this with doesn’t mean that your conversation with her wasn’t valuable.
Maybe a better way to put it is: there’s a certain level of support/interest/sympathy/practical help/worry I will give to someone who’s actually chosen me to reach out to. I will feel kind of responsible towards them because they chose me. And there’s another, much lower, level of energy I have for someone who’s just putting out an all-stations broadcast of their troubles. Finding out that what looked like one was actually the other makes me feel kind of tricked? Like, I’ve been worrying/helping/sympathising because I thought they were their only source of support when all along they were basically crowdsourcing it. It feels like the balance of attention/energy/effort is unfairly asymmetrical, if that makes any sense? Especially when you hear them repeating their story over and over again in the exact same words they used with you, like they’ve written a script and can’t even be bothered to tailor it to the person listening.
I don’t mean to trick people when I talk to different people about the same thing using the same/similar verbiage.
I process things verbally, so I will often discuss the same issue in the same way with multiple people. I find that I need about three good deep conversations about something when I am trying to process it. I make sure to have those conversations with separate people so that I don’t overburden one friend, but the end result is that I will definitely have what seems like the same conversation with three different folks. For me though, the conversations aren’t the same because I am at a different level of processing/understanding the issue each time I have the conversation. I definitely value each person’s input and willingness to listen.
^This is so soooo me. For truly big things, it is much more than three conversations…let’s just saw, my divorce from my partner of fifteen years was…a long long process. I definitely value each of my conversations, but I am also extremely open about things in my life, and I have found that MANY topics I speak easily about (my abortion, my salary, my being kinky) are topics that other people mark Extra Personal PRIVATE and depending on the person, I occasionally make a point to bring up that distinction. Definitely and absolutely, my discussing my abortion with someone is not a sign of an especially close and intimate friendship (but the way I discuss it, I believe that’s generally quite clear!)
I can get that bit, sort of: there was someone who told me I was the only one who was nice to them every now and then, and it irritated me when I learned that they were saying the same thing to a mutual friend. I think it was also because it created a responsibility toward them, but in this case, it was one I didn’t exactly want. However, it’s not something I’d necessarily *presume* if someone has reached out to me without saying so; if someone is confiding in me, I tend to assume that there are others. For something like a breakup, I’d hope there were others, given that putting this on one person would be a tremendous emotional burden to carry.
Also, when it comes to using the same/similar words when relating the same event to multiple parties, I’m not tricking them! Especially with the breakup or other conflicts, I try to relate what was said, which means repeating things word for word to reduce bias and let the individual I’m speaking with judge for themselves. When it comes to multiple people, it’s helpful for me to get their perspectives, since I’ve been told I’ve been oversensitive growing up, and kind of need them to determine whether or not my feelings are on the same level as theirs. I have to admit I find it at best odd that someone would think my speaking to others cheapens my conversations with them; at worst, I would be deeply hurt at being judged in such a manner and pull back.
What I’ve learnt from this thread is that different people have different expectations about privacy/sharing and about what it means to repeat your story. The other perspectives on this have given me plenty to think about, so thank you all. I could try to explain more of what I was getting at but I think we’re out of threading and I don’t want to derail the discussion.
What wee and code said. Unless someone outright says “you’re the only one” or something like that, I’d never believe it was assumed. Especially for a big thing, like a break-up, a firing, or some other tragedy. Those things take time to process, and I would *hate* to put all that on one friend, especially since, like wee_ramekin, I process things verbally. So my friend is going to be tired of hearing me talk about it LONG before I’m tired of talking about.
I’m not even sure how you would “tailor” a story like that to different people. But again, repeating things is part of processing them verbally. Because you try to find the best words that encapsulate the feeling, and then you sort of…vomit them out. And it takes a few times. But when you find the right sentence, it helps. Yeah, there is a bit of a script sometimes. I’m not sure how I would’ve ~shaken up~ telling friends about how my grandmother went into the hospital literally the very same morning my stepfather passed away, one floor below the room she was in, and my mom didn’t even find out until she went to her house looking for her. It’s a story. Stories have a rhythm. But it’s a story I needed to tell several times to process the grief and exhaustion and fear I had right then. When something like that happens, I genuinely don’t understand *why* a person wouldn’t tell many friends that it happened and how it happened. It’s a Big Event that happened in your life, and it’s going to affect you for a while. Surely that’s something to tell your friends?
It’s…honestly more than a little distressing to learn that there are some people who perceive this as malicious or flaky, as “using” them. I don’t think most people doing this are doing this *at* you. But if you *don’t* want to be that sounding board, then you might as well speak up.
Yes, similar to thathat — If something big and very difficult happens in my life, I would talk about it with multiple people, for processing it — to help wrap my head around it, and to figure out a way i could one day move forward. And of course so friends & family would know what’s going on with me in my life.
And also to explain why I seemed so utterly weird or consumed by depression or whatever, unable to act “normally” — like that line in Graceland, ‘losing love Is like a window in your heart; Everybody sees you’re blown apart, Everybody sees the wind blow.” I have definitely felt like my emotions were already so incredibly exposed and obvious, that it was better to explain why than to stay silent. That’s not a call for sympathy, though it may be in the situation of the LW’s friend; it’s grief and bereftness and explanation of the failure to be the expected light-hearted pleasant person I’d otherwise be.
Like, for something big, I’m *more* likely to talk about it with lots of people, because of that feeling of being “blown apart”. If I’m feeling generally stronger, then I’d tell things to just my SO and one or two very close friends — and that’s because I was in general coping better on my own.
tldr It sounds like people have different privacy styles.
That’s a really good point, unlurking–I could function, post-breakup, but it was definitely at a limited capacity, and there were physical and emotional effects on me because of it. For acquaintances, I could handwave things (and was told I should by family, for propriety’s sake), but for friends? I let them know. And frankly, having been on both sides of either being that only confidante or confiding in only one person, it tends to also make them feel used as well if there’s overburdening.
I have to agree, thathat: people’s privacy styles can be different, but the character judgment toward those who speak to multiple friends in the wake of a huge life event like a breakup is distressing. I could certainly do without it. If you don’t want to be a sounding board, please say so; otherwise, I’d find this judgment quite cruel.
“but the character judgment toward those who speak to multiple friends in the wake of a huge life event like a breakup is distressing. I could certainly do without it. If you don’t want to be a sounding board, please say so; otherwise, I’d find this judgment quite cruel.”
Yes, very much this!
Just reading through the responses again is…upsetting. It makes me wonder if my friends feel the same way and just never said anything. I’m gonna admit, even with folks explaining why they feel the way they do, I remain *baffled* at the perception of “it cheapened our conversation,” and genuinely distressed to see so many folks chime in with agreement.
I’m sorry that my comments have upset some people. That was really not my intention. Maybe it would help if I clarify. A couple of people have said in response to my comments: “If you don’t want to be a sounding board, say so,” which I find pretty hurtful because I never said I was unwilling to listen to my friends – quite the reverse. The context of my comment was when a friend has confided in me about something that’s obviously very emotional for them, and I’ve put a lot of emotional energy into listening and empathising. I leave the encounter feeling drained and I will continue to feel kind of worried/responsible afterwards (because they’ve chosen me to discuss this big and highly personal issue). Then I encounter them again in a public place and literally overhear them going from person to person repeating the same story they told me, in the same words, and I realise they’re not just telling people they feel close to, they’re just telling everybody who’s prepared to stay still for long enough to hear it. What I’m trying to say is: this moment, for me, involves realising that I’ve put more emotional energy into our interaction than they have, because I’m still worrying about them afterwards and feeling drained while they’ve moved on to the next person and forgotten who they’ve already told.
But I am REALLY not saying there’s anything wrong with sharing problems with friends. I also process things verbally and discuss my problems with friends, it’s just that I tend to share important stuff with a tiny number of people. I genuinely don’t see anything wrong with telling as many people as you feel close to, although this whole thread has been an eye-opener for me; I never realised people had different sharing styles before or what they meant. I don’t know if it’s similar to Askers versus Guessers or what? Because I tell one or two people (or nobody at all) and always adjust what I’m saying based on who I’m talking to, I assume that anyone who confides in me is telling just me and maybe one other person and that what they’re saying is kind of tailored to the fact that it’s me they’re talking to. So I feel freaked out to hear the exact same words spoken over and over again to others. But I’ve learned from this thread that many people do need to repeat their stories in the exact same words, and I guess if you’re someone who does that, you’ll assume that anyone who confides in you is repeating a story they’ve also repeated to many others. I don’t know. But I feel sad that discovering this mismatch of sharing styles has upset people on here.
I appreciate the clarification–the context is helpful. I can see why that would be draining for you, especially if this person is telling the same story to anyone who will listen, and to so many people that they’ve forgotten who they told it to.
I can’t speak for others, but prior to learning the above, I felt unfairly judged for telling more than a few people about big life events like breakups. The words “cheapened conversations” and “used” imply emotional vampirism to me, and to be quite honest, I would not feel comfortable confiding again in someone who thought of me that way, when I try very hard to be a very good friend in return. As explained before, I find multiple perspectives useful after a childhood of being told I was overreacting and oversensitive 24/7; the implication that I don’t care about my friends and just want their sympathy is one I found very offensive. I’ll admit to having told one or two strangers, but the most part, it’s been friends, and I certainly remember the ones I’ve told the story to. I don’t think I would have managed to recover without their help; for that I will be forever grateful. This is not something taken lightly.
It looks like, to me, the person you’re describing is different from people like me or the other commenters on here in that they will tell just about anybody. If so, I’m very sorry for misunderstanding you.
Hey LW and danrusso I can relate to this. Something that sometimes worked with my spouse when we got into who has it worse competitions was humor.
Me: I had such a busy day
Her: OMG I was SO BUSY today, I didn’t get a moment to myself!
Me: Well [thing] happened at work and I didn’t even get a minute for lunch
Her: Yeah well kiddo was so hyped up that I didn’t even get a chance to pee all day
Me: you think that’s bad? I’ve been needing to fart literally all day and have been too busy to get around to it!
Works best if the other person has a sense of humor and a bit of insight. But if they don’t, you can still laugh at your own joke. They might be annoyed but at least you’re not recruited into engaging with them at that weird, one-uppy, competitive level.
disengage from the need to either respond more OR monitor how she behaves with others
I am very, very this bit of advice was included at the end because I’ve seen this exact situation from the outside. It was during the Senior trip in high school and one girl, Girl A, told a story to a very small group of us. The group included Girl B. For the rest of the trip (which was about a week if I recall correctly) Girl B insisted on preventing Girl A from repeating the story to anyone else. It didn’t matter where we were at, who she was talking to, or how far Girl A was from Girl B when she tried to talk. By the end of the week she was actively trying to make sure Girl B was no where in sight before talking to anyone and even that didn’t seem to work. Every time Girl B would scream, “I’m tired of hearing that story!” even though Girl A never got the chance to actually say it again. Girl B would cut her off right at the beginning.
You don’t want to turn into Girl B. Girl B was a bully.
I say this because it sounds like your friend might be the kind of person who only wants to talk about one topic/event at a time or until everyone’s heard it and repeatedly reminding her she’s told the story before could result in you preventing her from talking to others at all. That’s not what you want.
I don’t really have any new advice, I just wanted to emphasize the importance of the disengage option.
I’ve only read a couple dozen of the comments, which are wonderful … and have sparked a memory for me. I had an intrusive mother and a good-time-Charlie-emotionally-distant father, with a lot of mixed and confusing messages from each.
By the time I reached my 20s I had three conversational skills — which I thought of as actual rules I had been taught — that were in direct conflict. One was “draw the other person out by expressing interest in whatever they have to say, amplifying, extending, and especially by bringing up ‘something similar that I experienced’, in order to show solidarity” (except that we didn’t have the word ‘solidarity’ in the 60s where I lived).
The second was “don’t ask questions, it’s rude.”
But the third was “answer any question you’re asked, it’s rude not to.” Which, needless to say, didn’t allow for secrets or even for ‘but I don’t know you well enough to tell you that.’ ”
In friendships, this showed up as story-topping (the first time I heard of story-topping it was in a women’s magazine’s advice column, and even though I was alone I blushed to the roots of my hair).
It also showed up as repeatedly experiencing myself being ‘drawn out’ by people asking questions. “How was your day?” (pro-forma answers of course not allowed), which led to “Wow, that must have been so [adjective], what did you do?” which led to long over-sharing.
But since I wasn’t supposed to / allowed to ask questions myself, I never learned how to turn the conversation to the other person. Leading to weird exchanges like explaining all about how my 3 adult kids are doing but never even asking my childhood friend about his disabled kid.
This continues, though it has become much less since I got some education in psychology and chaplaincy. But ye Gods, how did the friends of my youth ever put up with it?
I don’t think I’m an “Anne”, but the first paragraph, about the pie made me wonder, and I’m also a bit uncomfortable with the idea of sharing a story or experience with many people as being a bad thing. I share different things with different people, but definitely one of my traits is that I sometimes experience things, good or bad, quite intensely.
Example, I just texted six people that I hate people because I wanted to talk about something that just upset me at work. Granted two of these people are my parents and one is my husband, but it still feels like maybe the kind of thing that would annoy the LW? If I contact several people, chances are higher that at least one or two will be able to let me vent here and now and I won’t overwhelm any one person. And I’m happy to do the same for them as needed.
The other side of this is that for something good, I can just get so excited that I would absolutely wear down one person. Sort of like a Labrador Retriever. It could be pie, it could be that cardinals are nesting in the rosebush by the window, it could be that I had a really great weekend. I just feel so bouncy about whatever it is that I need to talk to everyone until I’ve run myself down and am okay with hanging out in my crate with a chew toy. Does anyone else experience anything like this?
No, that’s me, too. I usually want my sister, husband, and best friend to know about things when they happen, so I will literally copy and paste texts, changing maybe a word or two for context.
One time I baked a pake (a pie baked inside a cake), and posted it to facebook, instagram, and a forum I’m active in, along with talking about it to like 4 different coworkers. I just really liked that pake!!! It was fantastic! I’m making another one in two weeks! I have 6 pictures of my dog in my office.
I don’t think I annoy my friends? Maybe I do?
Yes to copy-pasting texts, especially since I still use a paleophone and text with my thumb on a hard keypad. I’m pretty fast at it, but it’s much more efficient not to write the same thing four times!
The pake sounds awesome! And I’m sure your dog is lovely too!
I can’t speak for your friends, but I don’t think you would annoy me. Over-enthusiastic people unite!
I’m sorry… I honestly didn’t get past the description of what “pake” meant, because that is awesome and I didn’t realize it was a thing.
I am off to search for pake.
They take some practice, but they’re not that hard. The very outside (quarter to a half inch layer) of my cake is usually a bit overbaked, but I’ve decided to just accept that and move on.
I’ve done blackberry in white cake, pumpkin in spice cake, and cherry in chocolate cake.
1) I’d love to see and hear about this pake
2) You sound charming! I think a key difference between being fun and being overwhelming is if you engage and show interest in what your friends have going on, and then people can each enjoy time to wax enthusiastic about things.
Right? Especially when you MAKE something! And you’re proud of it! Shoot, I want to tell everyone. General facebook post, but I’d also like to personally tell my friends/family.
Somewhat related, my Darth at one point commented that he felt less special when I made (my mom’s amazing) chicken soup for a mutual friend who was sick. I’d made him the soup some time ago, and he said something along the lines of it was nice when I made the soup just for him, but if I’m just going to throw soup willy-nilly, it doesn’t have the same meaning. Similar things about being sent a party invite like everyone else rather than being told in person first. I know Darths gonna Darth, and he’s not in my life anymore, but I think it left me sensitive to the idea of having anything in friendship defined by exclusivity. (Also poly, so…)
I think the LW has gotten to a “bitch eating crackers” stage with Anne, or is close, and that behaviors that wouldn’t normally annoy anyone are annoying her. Enthusiasm for stuff is good!
I sooooo relate to your post, anonymous! For me, some of the difficulty I have with my friend comes from old feelings about my Mom. My Mom was crazy and sucked all the life out of a room with her crazyness. As a consequence I HATE attention seekers. In my mind, when anyone is doing crazy stuff to get attention, I know a) my needs will be ignored; and b)chaos will rein. So it’s really hard to separate the present from the past. I need healing in this area if I am to keep my relationship with my friend. May we both succeed!
I personally avoid attention-seekers because of my childhood. My mother has some serious mental issues, and she had several public meltdowns that were incredibly humiliating and dangerous for us. She did this at home, too, and she regularly hurt us and acted badly in private, too.
I’m in a situation that feels similar but the stakes seem very high. The friend who makes everything about themself, doesn’t ask about me, etc., is someone who’s been struggling a lot and has had many problems for a long time. I feel more like a social worker or therapist than a friend, really. Nothing I say ever seems to elicit further questions, even if it’s the disclosure that I’m also going through a hard time. The thing that makes this more than a fade-out situation is that they recently tried to commit suicide. I know that it would be devastating to lose what little community they have right now, but I was planning to pull back from the friendship before this and now I don’t know what to do. Any advice?
I have no advice. But I’ve been there, and I had to step back.
Oh, jeez. My sympathies–that is a really tough situation. I’ve been in a similar boat, with a suicidal friend who wanted all my attention to be on them, but could not or would not reciprocate. My (now ex-)friend had not actually attempted suicide, which made it a little easier for me to decide what to do.
But I think you should still pull back. You’re not actually a social worker or a therapist; you are not responsible for your friend’s mental health. You’re not responsible for keeping them alive. Being in these sorts of friendships (deeply unequal, unrewarding, feeling responsible for the other person’s mental health, still hanging out with them out of a sense of obligation) is damaging and not a whole lot of fun for either party.
Please start seeing a therapist if you’re not already, and work out how to disengage from this person. It’s okay for you to step away, even if they just attempted suicide.
I realize my comment says nothing whatsoever about talking to your friend before beginning to end the friendship. I hope you feel like you can. Part of the problem in my situation was that my ex-friend had done a really good job of conveying that anything and everything made their depression worse. I truly believed that criticizing them or making requests of them would throw them into a dangerously bad place, and that they would brand me a “bad friend” and talk about me behind my back. I was never able to be honest with them about how I felt.
You can set boundaries with your friend. It’s not forbidden, and it won’t damage them.
I would directly ask this friend to listen to my stuff and give me input. I have a block around this the size of… a v big thing, so I get that it may feel hard. It has 2 advantages tho: (a) lets you know how they relate–whether they have time for your shit at all, and (b) might make them feel that their opinion is valued and that they’re useful and can help others, which may help with being suicidal.
Ofc, this is just a theory. Good luck.
I have mental illness and have attempted suicide so I say this with full knowledge of how dark things get – your friend is responsible for her mental health. She might be vulnerable but that doesn’t mean you have to play a role as a therapist or crisis worker.
I’ve had to be honest with a friend that while I care and I can be there for them in X and Y ways, I can’t be there as a therapist. I’ve made time to talk privately with them, let them be shocked/shame spiralling and asked them whether they need encouragement to get professional help. By affirming that I need to look after me and not get in the way of said friends decision to get help, I’m treating them like a respected equal vs an invalid. This doesn’t have to be a big dramatic heart to heart. It can be an honest moment that is said with kindness.
It’s not wrong to lean on friends when mental illness or suicidal moments strike. But it’s not fair to rely on one person for psychological help and your friend needs to acknowledge that while her needs are not wrong, you can’t fulfil them. It might be the gentle push that helps your friend reach out to someone can help her.
Thanks all – I really appreciate the input.
For me the problem with people like Anne is that their inability to receive anything less than enthusiastic praise goes hand-in-hand with the delusion that placating them amounts to unconditional love.
There is a danger is saying, “Nice pie” just to get her to shut up. It allows her to maintain the false belief that she’s been given a tremendous amount of love and validation, which only makes her more dependent on you as time goes on.
I have a friend who sounds much like Anne. She goes as far as to admit that she has low self esteem and shuts down in a scary way if someone points out one of her simple mistakes. But by the same token, all it takes is a simple “hello” and smile from someone for her to believe that he/she loves her. I often see her used as a doormat only to hear her say, “Well this friend once made a comment that I’m smart/pretty so I know that deep down inside he/she loves me and I’m willing to put up with his/her shit.”
What makes this all the more frustrating is that she is a know-it-all who takes delight in pointing out that she is intellectually superior to most people (just like OP’s BLM dilemma.)
In any case, my sympathies to OP. It’s awfully kind of you to want to find a solution for Anne, because my go-to answer for toxic people is to just cut them off like a gangrenous limb.
The doormat and the know-it-all are probably aspects of the same dynamic, speaking as one who’s fallen into it. Ugh, the vanity of imagining that I was so perceptive, so good at putting together the small clues, that I knew a secret beautiful truth.
I was there a year ago. I’m so sorry. That’s an awful place to be.
Situations differ, for sure. What I reluctantly came to realize in my own situation was that while my friend was in a lot of pain and had a lot of problems, he’d learned how to use the pain and problems to keep the attention on himself, thereby keeping the upper hand in his relationships. I believe his pain was sincerely felt and his problems were real (if often self-created) but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t be used as the stuff of manipulation.
I was a good friend to him, and I knew that if/when he lost me, he’d be losing a lot. Thing is, this was all new and huge to _me_, but you don’t become that guy without going through a lot of good friends over the years. I wasn’t the first. I won’t be the last.
Eventually everything blew up, as it was destined to do. He made some sad noises, from what I hear, but as far as I can tell he’s basically fine with having lost my friendship. It’s the least of his problems, and besides, he’s had a lot of practice in losing friends. I’m… not so fine, actually, but better than I was when I was trying to be a solid friend to a self-absorbed emotional blackmailer. That’ll do a number on you. I hope you are wiser and kinder to yourself than I was.
If any of that story rings a bell, I say: pull back. Fade out. You may find, as I did, that stepping away is a lot harder for you than it is for them.
Oops, that was for Katie.
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