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!